Polyanna

If you have not seen the movie Polyanna with Haley Mills and Richard Egan, I recommend it highly. It is a children’s movie adapted from the book of the same title by Eleanor H. Porter. It is entertaining and moving. Polyanna is an orphan who goes to live with a wealthy aunt. Her life has been very difficult and yet she has adopted an attitude of gratitude and positivity that is her strength, and far from annoying, becomes inspirational to all who know her.

The word Polyanna has since been used as an adjective to describe unrealistic, starry-eyed idealism. Toxic positivity is a more modern and extreme concept today, purposely ignoring the actual distress of what another is going through. It is more dismissive than just a lack of social grace. I propose that ignorant bliss and the slang, synonymous interpretation of Polyanna is at one end of a positive philosophy, and toxic positivity is at the other. Both are extremes. At the center is a more balanced state, the actual example of the character Polyanna, and perhaps it is very much needed at this time.

I feel immensely blessed by friends from so many different walks of life. Rather than surround myself only with those who adhere to my beliefs, I am challenged by friends who have different theologies, philosophies and world views. Throughout the political ping-pong match of the last few decades in the United States I have witnessed a similar back-and-forth of reactions by those who hold one view or another. My prayer has been in each instance that hearts will remain hopeful, wills determined, anger channeled constructively, and heads cool. For those who are relieved or exuberant with various changes, I hope that they have compassion, not contempt, for those who feel the opposite.

In the news and on social media we see too many instances of rudeness and hatred. The constant presence of negativity on our televisions, computers and hand-held devices does great damage–if we let it. Fake news, strawman arguments and false narratives abound. If evil has a persona then its greatest tactic is to divide, then stand back and watch us destroy each other.

We can resist. We can strive to maintain peace and hope in our homes and communities. We can be more like Polyanna and inspirational, historical figures who despite poor odds and circumstances worked steadfastly, lovingly and peacefully for the good of others.

At the Core

Whatever your assumption about a particular apple, if the core is bad, then however it is prepared, you’ll likely end up with an inferior bite, or pie, or strudel.

Apple core? Every analogy breaks down somewhere. A bad apple can’t really be fixed, but we have the ability to fix core problems in society.

I see the problems around us but I know that in order to correct them there are no easy or quick fixes. Our polarized political system makes more of vilifying the other side and advancing self-seeking agendas than true reform, which is a difficult task at best. But we must keep trying.

Gun violence is abhorrent, and yet gun violence is not the only problem. There are still knives, fists, arson, bombs, cyber-bullying and other objects that can be and are used to harm others. There is no one fix to the problem of violence, because the problem is deeper and more complex than the method used. It is within the offenders. Our mental health system is in a terrible state, and our pediatric mental health system is even worse. Our culture is failing our young people in the formation of a healthy conscience, of a healthy body, of hope, and of individual resiliency.

My good friend, a decades-tenured college professor and wonderful, self-giving educator believes that education is the key. I would agree, except that it is not the only key. Earlier interventions are just as integral–including healthy prenatal environments and pregnancies, committed parents and guardians, and high-quality healthcare. No quick fix here, either. I believe that it is greed, corruption, fear and self-seeking that hinder efforts, that create future problems from impulsive actions, even when many deem those actions as needed. We are not great at evaluating long-term effects.

I avoid extreme arguments and stands because they rarely convince and they are rarely effective. The hardest work comes from getting into the most difficult of arenas, rolling up sleeves, examining evidence, arguments and proposed solutions, being willing to compromise, then agreeing on multiple strategies and preventative measures. Can we do this? Yes.

Will we? That is the question. We are up against much corruption.

Let us not fail. A divided populace is an impotent one. We need committed, selfless, caring citizens, advocates, lobbyists and elected officials to comprehensively fix problems at their core, to value and help our young people, our culture, our nation, and the world.

Though it was a recent meme on social media, the truth remains: We need much prayer.

Missing

Grief is a strange thing. Years may have passed and it hits, out of the blue.

People commented when only a few months after my late husband died, I met Bruce and fell in love again. Years later some new friends were discussing an Army widow who was remarried within a year and implying that she must not have really loved her first husband. Ah, mais, au contraire! I told them about my own experience.

My late husband’s practice partner, a wonderful, experienced Family Practitioner beamed when I first told him about Bruce. He said, “I know how much you loved Bob, and it’s because of that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ love that you have the courage to love again.” Others probably thought I stopped grieving as soon as I found Bruce, but the process of grief continues. I like to believe that Bob went immediately to work in the afterlife, petitioning God for exactly whom he wished to be my husband and his little girls’ father. Grief is an undercurrent of my life now, slowly transforming into a firm foundation of gratitude. And there is much to be grateful for.

This morning I found myself unexpectedly sad, missing my Mom. She was an amazing, quiet, humble and steadfast woman. She was the rock of our family, and when Bob died so suddenly she flew from her home in North Carolina to be at my side. She remained with me and my two little girls until one day, nine months later, flew back to check on things in her home and passed away alone. My Mom and my husband were gone in less than a year. I take comfort that she was able to get to know Bruce and his girls, and was happy for us. So why am I missing her this morning?

There is something I believe about grief, that we never really stop grieving until we are reunited again. It is a process that teaches me to be thankful for all that has been given; yes, even the hard stuff. Not that I’d want any more difficulties thrown my way, believe me, but with trials we have the opportunity to become better people. I’m not talking about the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” No, somehow that negates pain and suffering. Each person has their own path in life, their own trials, and I can only speak on my own experience and those I’ve known or read about. There is at some point a choice to despair or to accept. Sometimes we need to fight–to find cures, to right wrongs–but eventually there is peace in acceptance. There is grace in trusting God, in being thankful for the good that was and still is.

If grief is a process, an undercurrent, then it stands to reason that at times there will be rip-tides that without warning pull me into the depths. I flounder until at last I stop fighting. I rise to the surface and allow the waves to carry me back to shore. At those times I remember, cry, and feel again the ripping pain of sadness. Then I pick myself up on the wet sand and walk toward the sun and the firm ground, with gratitude for the past, determined to love life in this moment.

Prayers and Saving Grace

I saw the movie “Benediction” last night. The beautiful and historic period piece was intriguing. Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet most known for his moving poetry about World War I wrote a letter after the Battle of Somme, declining further service. He was saved from Court Marshal and a death sentence through political and family connections, spending time instead at a psychiatric hospital. He formed very deep connections with his doctor and a fellow patient.

The film is worth seeing, but in my mind had some very loose ends that could have been more accurately and effectively tied. The movie softly jumps from one to another of Sassoon’s repeated efforts to reconcile the horror of war with a productive, meaningful life. There is a brief scene of his intention to become Catholic as an elderly man, and it looks like one more futile attempt to “save” himself.

A man who has previously had many affairs with other men, Sassoon marries a young woman, Hester Gatty, telling her that his whole future could depend on her. With Hester he has a son, and announces to party guests that this child is his future. She makes a comment that he said that once of her, hinting at the breakdown of the marriage.

It is not mentioned in the movie, but in the late 1950s he began to correspond with Mother Margaret Mary McFarlin of the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington. He introduced his niece Jessica to the nun, and she became Catholic. Jessica became a nun herself after his death. I’d like to think that he did find redemption in a belief system that gives meaning to life, to suffering, to difficulties, to attempts to find happiness in the flesh, to betrayals, even to horror.

Sassoon lived amongst famous writers, musicians, poets and royalty. His mother is portrayed in the movie by Geraldine James. She was actually an artist herself, a member of the famous Thornycroft family of sculptors. In James she exudes a sad peace, quiet and steadfast, beautiful and pained. Her younger son Hami is killed in the war.

Sassoon wrote a poem about her, To My Mother.

I watch you in your constant way,

In selfless duty long grown grey;

And to myself I say

That I have lived my life to learn

How lives like you unasking earn

Aureoles that guide, and burn

In heart’s remembrance when the proud

Who snared the suffrage of the crowd

Are dumb and dusty browed…

For you live onward in my thought

Because you have not sought

Rewards that can be bought.

And so when I remember you

I think of all things rich and true

That I have reaped and wrought.

Siegfried Sassoon

Late in life, yet not in the movie, another close relationship formed with a Benedictine, Dame Felicitas Corrigan. After his death she published a book about their friendship, including his correspondence with her. He wrote to her before his death:

All I know is that my pilgrimage has ended as a man before a crucifix finding sanctuary.”

As I see it, four women were “key to his future.” Mother Margaret Mary, Dame Felicitas, Hester, and his Mother each directed him toward the peace that passes all understanding.

Fungal Lessons

Maybe the title sounds odd. Lessons from fungus? In a previous post I related a few concepts, including tree root systems which utilize fungal pathways, to an idea of quantum entanglement. Here, I ponder something different.

I was speaking to a close friend the other day, and though we have different viewpoints, we stimulate each other to think about our opinions. We were talking about the polarization of our country, specifically in regard to politics. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I strongly believe that if we try to understand what fuels someone’s belief system then we can avoid hatred and even polarization. It may not solve the immediate problem, but it can keep us on a more positive path and perhaps a more influential one.

After my friend and I had this deep discussion, I spoke with two other women, spiritual giants in there own ways. I also spoke with my husband, who is very balanced and also quite brilliant. What was their take on the polarization of this country? Three themes emerged:

1) Political division is not the problem, it is one symptom of the problem.

2) The jump that humans take to hatred toward one group or another is not the highest version of ourselves, and

3) The problems in our country (polarization being one) are not due to politics but of a culture of fear rather than love.

Fear fuels selfishness. Fear fuels hatred. Fear fuels corruption. When fear fuels our responses it becomes a twisted mess in which no one solution fixes the problem. Extreme actions often lead to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

There is so much division in this country, in this world. Technology helps to connect, but it can also cause some to retreat and isolate. Human beings are meant for community. Some may of course feel less inclined to be “social,” and some may be physically unable to connect with others, but the optimal state of human life is in connection.

Interestingly enough, city planners in Japan used slime mold networks to double-check subway routes to determine their efficiency. The mold worked together to solve a problem. If fungi, if molds, if primitive life, exist in connection with each other, can’t we? And not just within our families, neighborhoods, cultures and political groups, but with all humanity. What is our network, our pathway to connection? Is it a spiritual one? Is it sending energy? Is it prayer? It certainly comes from a choice to move past fear to love.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Bucket List

The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman was entertaining and moving. As we approach our “golden years” we may regret what we have not accomplished. We wonder why we didn’t do these things earlier, perhaps when we were stronger or sharper or more able. We may feel led to attempt them now.

A friend of mine has become a painter after age 50 and her work is beautiful and selling well. Along with online tutorials and purchased lesson subscriptions, others have exercised their hidden talents, surprising and delighting themselves! I am in awe of my sister-in-law’s ink and watercolor cityscapes. My brother, in his 60s, is building furniture. A few of my friends have visited the Holy Lands and others completed the Camino de Santiago, each saying that their lives have been changed profoundly.

For others, it could be the decision to retire. To relax. The “Bucket List” does not have to involve a lot of money. In the case of retirement or reducing work hours to focus on what feels more important, it may mean quite the opposite.

I do know this feeling, growing in the last ten years, of a change in my once “live forever” outlook. I certainly would never ride horses the way I did then. I once almost bungie-jumped on a date, but would not consider it now. I’d break. Greater is the sense that I have fewer remaining years. At first it seemed sad, but it is reality. My choice is to either become overwhelmingly sad about it, or to rejoice that I have made it this far! I have friends who tragically died younger than I am now. Each day is a gift.

Morning walk with my two oldest sons

My Bucket List included many of the things we did on the farm. I’d always wanted dairy cows. I had them for a few years until I realized I’d developed an allergy. I was so disheartened as the allergy grew worse and they had to be sold. But I had those years with them. I bought a bagpipe chanter, the recorder-like instrument one learns to play on. That process is a slow one, as the family laments my dying-duck attempts. I wrote a screenplay and entered it into a competition. I didn’t win, but took solace that neither did a few thousand other folks. I did it! I am having a children’s book published at the moment, working through marketing details. It was a self-publishing venture with Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. Self-published but — I’m doing it! I’ll include details later as it is launched, and insert a link.

An illustration from “Wendel the Windmill” by my daughter Marie Wiedefeld

Develop your list. Perhaps “Bucket” is not a hopeful-sounding a term, with the image of eventually kicking a rusty tin pail. Consider your dreams, your aspirations, your calling. Acknowledge that we are all creative beings in some way or another. We are all here to make a difference, small as that might seem. I would posit that it will not only fulfill your dreams, but change the lives of others.

Juniper berries by the river, fruit of an aging cedar tree

Wither into Truth

Days of youth pass into memory

Though leaves are many, the root is one

Through all the lying days of my youth I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun

Now I may wither into the truth. 

W.B. Yeats

Wisdom is attributed to the old for good reason. Our life experiences are numerous and our perspective deepens despite our weakened physical appearance. We “wither into the truth.”

Though we age, we are often called upon to continue physically caring for others. We must seek a balance in order to remain strong for those we love. Self-sacrifice that is all-draining renders us exhausted and unable to help anyone.

We are reminded of Jesus’ example but must remember that he did take time to sleep. I imagine that he ate healthy food and cared for his health, enabling him to care better for others. When the time was right and not too soon, he gave all. Most of us will not be in the position of sacrificing our lives, but we are all called to self-donation, to giving, and to some form of self-sacrifice.

Life is a juggle of self-care without self-centeredness, of self-sacrifice without self-destruction. It is at times difficult and even counterintuitive.

And then loss occurs. Tragedies visit more often or earlier in life for some: loss of health, of a partner, of a loved one, of abilities, of home, of youth…

I search for a better concept of loss. If inevitable, how does one best deal with it? I truly think it is with gratitude and acceptance. Pleasurable life experiences are easy to accept and be grateful for, but I am striving to be thankful even for premature losses and for tragedies. Certainly not that they occurred and hurt myself and others, but that life continued and God was there to comfort us with loved ones, with future life experiences, with a “peace that passes all understanding.”

It does seem counterintuitive. I have lost a dear husband early in life. It was tragic. Many people still feel the effects of the loss of him though over 20 years have passed. And yet, had he not died, Bruce and I would not have found each other, and our six children and four grandchildren would not have been born. I stagger in the profundity of emotional pain and of God’s grace.

I search to find meaning in physical pain, so hard to bear, so hard to witness. I do not believe that it is in vain. I ponder why some suffer so greatly, and feel that there is truth in the belief that their prayers and influence are profoundly powerful.

We are called to be generative in old age and thus if we are physically feeble, perhaps this is accomplished in our words, or modeling peace, or praying, or just loving. If cared for by others we become the means for their gain in grace.

“Now I may wither into the truth.”

Yeats contemplates the beguilement of his youth, and reveals to us that as we wither physically and surrender control, we have the greatest opportunity to gain in wisdom, influence and love.

Happy Holidays

Like many women who are approaching six decades of age, I have many different and unique friends. I truly wish that I had all the time that I wanted with each, but that is not to be in life. Covid 19 has added an additional dimension, causing much suffering not only from the illness, but from loss and seclusion. At least where I live, there have been easing of some mandates, but all is not back to “normal.” Will it ever be? Perhaps we need to make the best of “the new normal.”

Each year the lead-up to Christmas (many of us celebrate Advent) plods along, and then Christmas is quite suddenly over. Or is it? In some churches Christmas continues until Epiphany (the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus) on January 6. I like this for many reasons and I admit that one of them is that I leave all the decorations up.

Some of my friends do not celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanza, and some do no seasonal celebrations. Some are quite alone and for them I pray the hardest. Some friends are experiencing the first December without their loved one. It can be a sad time. We cannot serve all of the needs of others, but we can serve some. We can try.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer was a high school teacher to some of my children. Meg heard God’s call to leave her job and set out in her clunker vehicle across the United States to spread the Word of Christ. She has since traveled the world. She began blogging at the beginning of her travels and I recommend checking it out. She is published and has recently written her first children’s book. One of her latest posts on social media was about Christmas and perhaps what is the true message and joy of it.

Happy Holidays to you! Here is to the coming New Year 2022, full of hope.

Autumn and Life

Yesterday was the Autumnal Equinox and wow, did it deliver the perfect weather here. My favorite cool, sunny weather continues into today. A woman I passed this morning said that she would always wish to live in a place with all four seasons. While I love the fresh colors of Spring and the lush green of Summer, the deciduous trees are in their glory in the early Fall.

I have always lived in this latitude of North America. The cyclical four seasons truly become a part of you. Perhaps being acclimated to these cycles prepares one to navigate the changing seasons of life. When I was young I would hear the “old people” talk about how fast life has gone. At that time I looked so forward to being an adult. I could not imagine that it would arrive so swiftly, and along with it so many responsibilities. Parenthood or career consumes us and in a moment decades have passed. Retirement looms, maybe even disability and great losses. Our children grow up and move on independently with their own busy lives. The “young” co-workers become in-charge of the business. Even some of our physicians look as young as teenagers.

The biggest difference with these seasons of life, however, is that they are not cyclical but linear. We do age and, God-willing, we grow old. As Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer hold their negative bits like wind, ice, days inside when it is either too frigid or too hot, aging has its challenges and losses.

Like these first crisp days of Autumn, focusing on the beautiful things in our lives, the laughter, and the blessings will keep us more positive, more productive, generative, and most healthy. Like it or not we affect others. While working on ourselves, honoring grief and healing from our challenges and losses, our example speaks to others. Our thoughts and prayers become mighty.

Some of life’s seasons are more pleasant than others, but each day holds the potential of grace, of gift.

Pig

Movie reviews laud Nicholas Cage’s performance as his finest, in the newly released movie “Pig.” Heavy-handed treatments of deep, emotional events caused me to feel that the movie fell short of what it could have accomplished. I am, however, glad that I saw it. Without spoiling the story, Nicholas Cage’s character has found a peaceful existence in the ultimately depressing and hopeless world where “nothing matters.”

And yet, his journey shows us that perhaps some things really do.

Embedded in his existential angst and hopelessness there exists a truth indicating just the opposite. Think of the “Titanic” scene in which the lower class mother trapped below decks, peacefully tucks her children into bed and continues their precious and loving routine. Consider inspirational, historic persons, some of whom I have written about previously, slaves and prisoners who strove to make life sweeter for others in the face of hopelessness and tragic inhumanity.

Even in the face of an unknown future, loving intent, service and selflessness matter.