Think On These Things

A resurgence in Covid-19 cases has convinced our governor to mandate face masks in public places. We will find out all of the details over the next few days. Many people are feeling stress over the prolonged restrictions. I don’t have to go into detail about the peripheral fallout and negative effects of the virus on our society and economy. There are tragic aspects and yet I must believe that we are also learning so many things that will prove beneficial. Medical practices are honing telehealth procedures–something we have been saying we needed to do for years. And academia is finally being convinced of the value of distance education, creating lesson plans, curricula and programs to keep students on track, and to keep their schools viable.

I wonder if we will ever go back to what was normal just a few months ago. Will my five-year-old granddaughter sporting a colorful mask in a photo text ever know what life was like before…kids playing happily in the neighborhood, in and out of houses freely, visiting museums or going out to movies without masks? Well, a day at a time, I tell myself. They will grow up with their normal, as each of us did.

In the meantime, I think happy thoughts and relive memories of my own childhood. I wouldn’t say that it was without challenge or suffering, but all-in-all, I know that I was fortunate.

As a little girl I dreamed of horses. I was not quite as horse-crazy as Velvet Brown in National Velvet–but I was close. I had magazine clippings of Secretariat and Northern Dancer and all of the greats taped to the carnation pink walls of my bedroom. My Malibu Barbies rode “Dancer,” their brown plastic horse. Truly, my dreams were so vivid, climbing often onto the back of a silver horse and picking up speed to a gallop. I awoke one morning after dreaming that my Dad had told me in the middle of the night that he won a pony at the church raffle. It couldn’t be true, could it? I walked into the kitchen that morning and Dad was up, smiling–it certainly was true! We drove later in the afternoon to see the pony with my friend Amy and her Mom, who would board the pony for me. I would work on her farm in order to pay for that board.

Alas, the poor creature was very ill. Amy’s Mom, an assertive horsewoman convinced the owner to make good for this little twelve-year-old redhead. He substituted a finer, healthy pony, a two-year-old Welsh-Thoroughbred filly. I thought she was beautiful. She was a shiny Blue Roan which is essentially a black horse peppered with lots of silver-white hairs. She had a bright white star in the center of her forehead. I named her Seamist at first then changed it to Mystic Trinity, as I’d recently received the Children’s Living Bible and was learning about God. I called her Misty for short, and over the next year with Amy’s help I trained her, eventually showing, eventing and Pony-Clubbing.

I have wonderful memories of trekking to Pony Club, of playing chase in the field with friends on horseback, of jumping practice and trail rides, and most of all of the love that only a sweet pony can give.

When I outgrew Misty in high school I sold her to another little girl who showed her successfully. Years later, after many ribbons she was retired, and Misty aged into a silver-grey mare, her star no longer visible in her overall brightness.

I look back over decades of owning and riding horses since then, and though I cannot ride anymore because of my degenerative back condition, I am so thankful for the many memories that bring a smile to my face. I don’t have to dream about horses like a little girl, as I remember with clarity each one.

Amidst the strife of the present day, a verse I learned long ago in that little chunky Bible rings true:

…Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. Keep putting into practice all you learned…and the God of peace will be with you.

Phillipians 4: 8,9

Caroline Leaf in Switch On Your Brain discusses the research and scientific support of the healing effects on brain neurochemistry when we think positively. Social media is rife with arguments and name-calling depending on one’s view of how the Covid-19 crisis and other social problems are handled. I have my own informed opinions, and will be socially active as well as I can. In order to avoid feeling down, I will take short breaks and close my eyes. I’ll think positive thoughts. I’ll see Misty once again, and climb onto her back for a ride through the sunny green countryside.

Caretaker Fatigue

In England they are called “carers.” Here in the USA they are called “caretakers.” Studies have shown that those who are responsible for an ill family member are subject to “caretaker fatigue.” Caring for another without replenishing oneself adequately can lead to exhaustion and illness.

Ask most mothers and they can list what they’ve gone without for their children. The same can be said of empathetic folk without children. Sacrifice for others is necessary and honorable, but it can get out of hand.

I think of Jesus when he was here on the earth. He did not heal the whole world in a completed sense, and yet he could have. It was a temptation to do so, implied by the devil after Jesus had fasted for forty days in the desert. Yet he did not…it was not God’s plan yet, perhaps because there were millions of more people yet to be born. The lesson I learn from this is that, much as I would like, I cannot nor am I expected to save everyone. Unless I sleep through some storms, as Jesus did, unless I cry sometimes with grief, as he did, unless I meet with friends and be cared for at times like he did, then I cannot function optimally.

Caring is stressful. We need help and sometimes we need help to think things through with a therapist, to help discern our feelings, vent our frustrations. We need support in order to take breaks and to care for our own health.

If you are a carer or a caretaker, I pray that you will not forget to fortify yourself. If not for yourself then for those for whom you take care of, who need you to be healthy for them.

Through the Garden Gate

His eyes were closed, peaceful. Pale and gaunt with a few days’ stubble on his chin, he lay in his living room of forty years, on a bed contracted by the hospital equipment company.

“Is he gone?” asked his wife, standing just behind me, her voice quiet.

My left hand on his, my right pulled the stethoscope from his chest. I nodded, “He is.”

A deep sigh caught briefly in her throat and then escaped raggedly, “And what do I do now?”

I straightened and offered her a hug. I had never met her before this early morning and though I never assume that a hospice patient or family is comfortable with displays of affection, it was clear by her eyes that she was in need, and desired some human contact. I considered her question rhetorical as she weekly hugged back, leaning into me.

I was there to address the here and now, and she told me that she had called the funeral home. Though five in the morning they would be there within an hour. We both straightened up the room and made her husband look more comfortable. No morbid pulling up the cover over him; no, that seemed disrespectful and dismissive. He was still in his home and his wife would need to wait an hour before the painful event of seeing him taken away.

She told me all about their home and how they had done all of the work to it. They married later in life and were very happy. It was a comfortable and sweetly decorated cottage. I could not find it when I first arrived. It was down the hill from the parking area at the end of a lane. I had been told to go through the gate and follow the path down to the house and so that is what I did. Through the wooden, rough-hewn gate there was indeed a path, very quaint and winding. It led to a fairy-like world of honeysuckle, red cockscombs, purple-blue allium, petunias and hostas, to a small stone porch and dutch door.

Hospice nurses help patients in their final days of life, and their families through some of the most difficult times they will ever face. Had I been their regular nurse I would have known more about them, but I was on-call this particular weekend.

She made coffee. It was the only cup I had ever said yes to, as normally there are questions and documentation and duties to perform at a death. But all was done and her suffering required some sort of routine, personal caring and connection, and thus the comfort of a hot cup of coffee. We sat and she told me that her friends would be over after the funeral director left. She told me about how she dealt with and viewed death as a Jehovah’s Witness. In that hour which could have seemed uncomfortably long, we bonded. I have not seen her since then, as my family moved soon after and I stopped working for that hospice. But I will always remember her.

Her religion, views and life were different than my own, and yet humans will each experience the death of a loved one at some time, and we shared that. I could comfort her and help her to explore both the immediate and rhetorical inferences of her question, “What do I do now?”

Though we all have small and great differences, I am not sure I would use the word “tolerate” in how we are supposed to deal with them. I would use words and phrases like: listen, seek to understand, make some common connection, find a point of agreement, and compassion. That morning a woman experienced one of the very hardest things in life. I learned about that life, her love, and her faith over a cup of coffee. Soon the gate built by her loving man would open to those who would soothe her at his leaving.

Her husband’s soul would rise up the garden hillside through that earthly, wooden gate and on to a celestial one, opened because of the way he lived his life.

The paths of two women with different lives converged for a moment in time, and I am fairly sure that I was the one helped more.

Jigs and Ashes

Who is disciplined enough to read one book at a time? Rarely have I ever, but then I normally have a dozen partially finished projects going on at any one time in my house. Perhaps it is just me.

I am currently reading O Ye Jigs and Juleps by Virginia Cary Hudson, Call The Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary J. MacLeod, and re-reading Middlemarch by George Elliot (pen name for Mary Ann Evans) and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. I enjoy working through Julia Cameron‘s books during my morning journaling/quiet times, and right now have her book, co-authored with Emma Lively, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning of Middle Life and Beyond. I’ve written about Cameron before and highly recommend her works.

Though O Ye Jigs and Juleps and Angela’s Ashes are both historical narratives, they were each published with clearly different intent. O Ye Jigs was was taken to press by Hudson’s daughter who saw innocence, beauty, humor and even genius in her mother’s writing and was compelled to share it. As a little girl in the early 1900s, Hudson stuttered and was too embarrassed to speak in front of the class. Her schoolteacher encouraged her to write essays. Angela’s Ashes is a biography written by McCourt about his mother and his family’s life during the Depression. Hudson’s parents were wealthy and lived in Kentucky, while McCourt’s parents were poor, on the dole, in Limerick.

There are unexpected similarities in the writing styles of McCourt and Hudson. Both write in an energetic, run-on style heaped with detail, conversation and deeper meaning. The stories are simple in delivery, and the humor raw. McCourt delves into the more tragic aspects of life, and so alternating between the two provides me with a respite from the harsh reality of poverty, racism, and prejudice–these clearly know no boundary of country or time period. Hudson’s work is a glimpse into history through child-sized, rose-colored glasses, yet it does not try to hide inequities.

Hudson rides her pony and plays for hours on end. Her friends organize a game of “Baptizing” one day and accidentally drop their volunteer two-year-old convert into a rain barrel–he is unharmed, thankfully. Hudson is mentored by an older woman who appears in a few of her stories. She throws a garden party for the little girl and her friends who include young boys who work near the railroad. To an adult, the injustice in the boys’ lives is clear, yet the innocence of their friendship without care of class or money is sweet. The children dance and eat cake and enjoy the adults whom they pull in to join the fun.

I remembered that my mother owned copies of Hudson’s works in the mid-60s. They were best-sellers at the time and Hudson’s family was from Louisville, where we lived. I am sure that is why my mother read them. I had not thought of them until recently, when in the book by Cameron I was encouraged to write about different time periods in my life. Hudson’s book resonates deeply to the generation raised before Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, streaming, and even DVDs, BluRays, VCRs and Cable TV. We had seemingly endless hours which made school breaks not boring but adventurous. Only rain would force us indoors, and sometimes not even that. We created our fun, and that is probably why the storytelling of Hudson and McCourt are so entertaining and even familiar.

Hudson is an Episcopalian and McCourt a Roman Catholic, and both poke fun at their churches. Having been a member of each of these churches at some point in my life, neither strike me as offensive. Hudson muses about the differences in the next-door Baptist church, while McCourt’s relatives from Northern Ireland during tumultuous times, heave insults about Protestants. Hudson remained Episcopalian and spoke at churches as an adult, while McCourt clearly lost his faith in later life. His family lived on the dole, some tragically unable to survive hunger and illness. The unfairness in life and the hypocritical nature of society wore his family down. McCourt wrote more about this in his sequel ‘Tis.

Both authors offer glimpses into history and lives unlike our own. As with any historical narrative they are best understood in context. This was their lived experience. By understanding diverse perspectives, even those imperfect or in error, even those which marginalized and allowed for human suffering, we can learn and understand and strive to improve the world by working together. We can be more forgiving and less reactive; more creative in solutions and therefore effective in reformation.

From Jigs to Ashes, and on to a truly better world.

Old Friends

Each person interacts with others in their own unique way. Social scientists and theologians will agree that humans are social beings, with their best performance “in community” with others. We’re all different when it comes to friends. Some are outgoing and seem always to be surrounded by peers–the life of the party, the center of a group or a key part of it. Others prefer to watch from the sidelines, or to interact with a smaller group, or one-on-one. Most of us make a few good friends throughout life. Have you spoken with yours recently?

My Dad Arnold with a friend and a cute pup in the 1930s

Life gets so busy and we may realize that days have gone by, perhaps years, since we spoke with an old friend. Two of my oldest friends and I got together a few years ago for a “girls’ weekend” and had such a great time that we vowed to do it every year. One is a busy college professor, the other a specialty dental hygienist. We each have children and one nursed an aging parent; we are still trying to plan our next get together. We are, happily, in touch more regularly since that weekend.

My Dad was more extroverted than I. He had some great friends and he was loyal to them throughout his life. I blogged about him, his life, and mentioned his best friend Jimmy from the Korean War. Dad was a gifted athlete and was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. His career was tragically cut short by an accident early in his first season but he remained in touch with some of the greats of that time.

I remember one sunny day in the early 1970s at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Dad took our family to an Orioles game. Our seats were not too far up from the visitor’s dugout. We arrived early and the Milwaukee Brewers were warming up. Dad walked us kids down to the dugout and leaned over the side, waving. A man jumped up with a hoot, arm outstretched, “Arnie!” he called to my Dad, “How the heck are you?” So many questions overlapped each other as the two reached over railing to hug and pat each others’ backs.

Dad introduced us proudly. “Kids, this is Roy McMillan, first base coach for the Brewers.” Roy shook our hands then asked Dad as he looked up in the stands, “Where’s Lizzy?” Dad pointed up to our Mom a dozen rows up, juggling cotton candy and hot dogs. She immediately waved the food in the air with a great big smile and Roy shouted up unabashed to onlookers, “Hey, Liz!” Then Dad and Roy filled in decades those few minutes before the game. Who won? No idea. But that’s like me to simply remember the joy of it.

Years later we kids put on a surprise 40th Anniversary party for Mom and Dad. We invited as many of their friends as we could get in touch with. It was a blast seeing them reunite, some they had not seen for years. It is fun to see your parents in a different light. Old friends can do that to us, bring out the kid in us. The stories were really fun to hear.

These old friends stayed a week in their RV to have time to fill in the decades…
Arnie and Liz, 1993
Arnie and Liz, 1953

In this past year, I learned from my Mom’s two living brothers, 83 and 91 years old, how they both looked on my Dad as their best friend in life. Dad passed away twenty five years ago. Each man shed tears reminiscing about him. I cannot describe the feeling. Something inside me was so moved, so proud. This is the stuff that life is made of. Enduring bonds and old friends.

Pearls Beyond

Last night I learned about the Isenheim Altarpiece, a depiction of Christ on the cross painted by Matthias Grunewald not long after the Black Plagues. Painted in a hospital chapel, Christ is covered by pox-like, communicable disease sores inflicting many at the time. The artist thought that our suffering could possibly make more sense united with Christ’s. Perhaps those suffering would feel that He took these wounds on also, and suffered. If Christians are called to imitate Christ, then self-sacrifice and suffering, offered to him and for others, might bring more sense to what seems so very senseless.

If given a choice…would it help us to endure suffering? I often think allegorically, in visualized concepts, and through story. This came to me yesterday:

As though awakening from a dream, she gained consciousness. Something was different–novel, unique. All around her was bright yet she felt no need to squint. There was music in the air, something like birds or wind chimes. All was filled with a great yellow-gold shimmering light. A pastoral field lay before her and it seemed that every blade of grass, every flower shone of it’s own source. Beautiful. Puzzling.

“Come with me,” a kind voice resonated from a familiar face beside her, like a lifelong companion. Each moment in time was no longer strung together but compounded, melded, and each brought clarity as well as more question. “Am I dreaming?”

The comforting companion led her forward, gesturing toward a greater light. “You will choose…though most are not offered to do so.”

A choice? The realization was dawning…something very great, or grave, had happened.

Flooding into her consciousness came a rush of memory. As though an instant, an enormous download, her entire life was seen distinctly and simultaneously–young, old, joys, sorrows, playing as a little girl in the grass, marrying her husband, receiving her first soft kitten and the scent of it(!), the babies, the surgeries, losing her father, crying over the struggles of her teen, the wedding of her oldest daughter. Happy memories as well as sad, the latter of which were acknowledged as such, yet the pit-of-stomach pain was absent. All simply was. And the realization of “was” in past tense brought the dawn of understanding of her death. She felt–joy.

This great download of her life, even the sorrowful times could be seen not in all their complexity and meaning; no, they were seen as gift.

Far ahead she saw the others. They were blissfully perfect and in communion with one another. They were illuminated with light and though unrecognizable she knew that her Mom and Dad, her grandparents, and friends were among the souls. She felt pulled to them with a magnetism that held no fear.

The companion halted her at the entrance to this place, this bright tunnel that led to paradise. It was in her very soul that that she knew this to be where we are all drawn, when all becomes complete, makes sense, and returns us full circle to what we were intended all along. The circle itself was the gift–and no perfectly drawn circle, anyone’s. Twists, faults, pain, suffering intermingled with happy events. Her circle could now be completed. It felt so perfect, and yet…

“Choose.” Her companion looked on her lovingly, patiently, and expectantly.

She thought for a fraction of a second, “Why?’ Why go back for more pain, more suffering? To disability and the grief which would surely come from continued loss. To all that she saw and remembered clearly, there would be more. Why go back?

In the same moment of the question came answers: “More gift,” “for others,” “for your children and grandchildren,” “for more work that only you can accomplish, though you will not see it nor understand it at the time.”

“Can you trust in Me?” The companion was now recognizable. “Either way, I love you dearly. There are things I can accomplish through you.”

In this place, this absence of time as we know it, she saw the glory of the heavens when Mary responded “Yes” to Gabriel’s question, and she realized that Mary understood that her choice might entail difficulty and suffering she could not fully comprehend. But Mary responded affirmatively, wanting what her creator asked of her more than what she wanted of her own life. Her future was unseen, her God unseen, but He asked and she responded, “Yes.”

The Lord spoke again, “Will you go back for a little while longer, for My glory? For others?”

The last few years of her life had been filled with increasing pain. She had cried out many times to Him to save her from it, and here He was asking if she would go back. There was no wrong in going forward. No sense of guilt in it. The sensation of being pulled forward to the light had not lessened.

“Will you accept more gift before you are here with us always?”

She felt the love of her children, of her husband. She knew that they must be grieving. It was not with anxiety that she felt it, as she knew fully that the Lord would comfort them. But she could hear their prayers. They were calling her back. If this was a choice offered not to every soul, then God had reasons. The companion spoke once more, “I will always be with you, even in the confusion, and in the grief and difficulties ahead. But there will be joy such as you have never fully known. Trust in Me.”

“I do trust you. Yes, Lord.”

In that moment came a joyous sound from ahead of her, almost deafening; in the same instant a weight returned in her chest, and all of the sensations of physical reality. There was pain again. Noise. But there was also calm–a peace which truly passed all understanding.

She would endure. Farther ahead would be that miraculous place; she knew this with all certainty. Yet for a little while longer, there was this earthly life, this gift. More to the circle, to the necklace of life which held jagged edges yet also shining pearls. She would continue adding to that necklace, her circle of life. She would continue not for herself, but for God’s work. To finish stringing all of the pearls. To love.

Painful Hope

The masked 71-year-old checker at Walmart smiled. I could tell by her eyes, sparkling and attractive with years of happy lines. “Two hours to go!” she announced to me. I told her with a smile in-kind that I hoped it would go quickly. She chuckled and said, “Oh, no matter. I’m happy. I could stand here all day!” I gave her a look of awe and encouraged her to count her blessings. If I stand for more than 5 minutes my back hurts and my left leg and both feet go numb. “You’re too young for that!” she said with compassion. That’s how I found that she was more than a decade older than I.

Such is life with a chronic pain condition. It is genetic; my paternal grandmother’s hands rivaled the old witch handing Snow White the poison apple. Heberden nodes deform finger and toe joints in osteoarthritis. Grandma waddled and grunted when getting up from a chair, and I walk hunched over when it’s bad. Growing up as a pretty good athlete, hitting 500 in softball, taking on the toughest horses no one else wanted to ride, and running tough hills in races came easily for me. But now I’ve sold the horses, given up even the golf clubs and I’m relegated to feeling accomplished with a 0.5 to 1 mile walk in the mornings. Life throws some tough curve-balls.

People with chronic pain can relate. I write this not to whine or complain; rather, to offer support to those who suffer. There are many who have worse pain than I have. A few years ago I joined a Facebook group for people with arthritis. I was pretty blown away at the community and little sub-communities that existed for folk who typically become very isolated and who develop anxiety and other comorbidities (other concurrent medical problems). I saw a beautiful example of the good that can come from social media!

If you suffer from chronic pain or from any medical condition, do consider searching social media or your local community for support groups. When I worked on my master’s degree I researched chronic pain management centers. I found that studies showed decreased pain in those patients who felt connected to others. Some had good friends who maintained contact, some had a daily coffee at McDonalds, and some participated in book clubs, whether in person or online. I also learned that those who moved, even just a little each day, even just stretches in bed if bedridden, or the little walks I manage, reported decreases in pain, depression and anxiety. My octogenarian friend listens to her favorite music, meditates, or phones her friends when she needs distraction. She is still practicing as a therapist and continues to see clients. She advocates grief work with someone who understands pain.

There is hope. You are not alone, and I pray for you as I write this.

Everything’s Coming Up…

It was blazing hot a couple of days ago. I am fair and red-haired and I sometimes quip that my blood is “Nordic” to emphasize the degree to which I burn to a crisp in the sun.

My reaction when it goes over 75 degrees outside…

Genetically I have no choice, even with sunscreen. I do better in cold. I get a great dose of Vitamin D in one shimmering ray through a window, and have never been affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. My husband and children tan darkly, and they can tolerate the sun and heat well. They enjoy the beach while I sit covered by an umbrella, book in hand.

I love physical work and have always been happy doing farm chores, especially cleaning out and organizing barns. Without a barn now, and feeling the restlessness of being inside, I uncharacteristically braved the 90+ degree heat and dug a new flower bed. Not necessarily the wisest thing to do with a bad back, but I am stubborn at times. One of my teen sons did help when I asked.

The bed is to be home for the rose bushes I ordered online. I found Heirloom Roses when googling “Julia Child” after watching the movie Julie & Julia. Not expecting to see a rose in the images, I found a huge yellow bloom named after the iconic chef. So I ordered one Julia Child and one Queen Anisette. The latter is a beautiful cream and peach colored blossom. I held a bouquet of similar roses when I walked up the aisle to wed my late husband. They are my favorite. I also ordered a beautiful red rosebush called “Because She Served.” It will come with a memorial stake in the name of my friend Barb who served in the Army, and who passed away from cancer after an heroic battle. When I plant it, the red blooms will face the residence that she and her family once lived in. I will think of her often.

Because She Served

I turned the soil against the 1901-built house and unearthed a few antique bricks. I’ll use them to line the bed. The soil was soft and obviously augmented in the past with peat. It was easy to turn. After about 20 minutes the sun on my back was hot and I began to perspire. I started the job thinking I’d just mark the border, but then I dug out a corner, then another…then evened up the line–okay, one more spadeful, just to level it. My approach was similar to sneaking slices of cake as a child, firming up the line, then taking just another bit and evening it up again.

In less than one steamy hour, with water breaks, the garden was dug and I was looking forward to cooling off. I rounded the front of the house, however, and there was the first shipment roses sitting on the porch. What timing! They could not wait to be planted. In another hour they were in and watered. I skipped the “well-aged manure” step in the directions and felt the irony that up until that very morning I owned tons of the stuff. I could have driven to the farm to get some if it were yesterday. I drew the line at pulling up the lane to ask the new owner if I could please have some manure from behind the barn. So…

“Sorry Julia,…Sorry Your Majesty, I do hope you will nourish your roots amidst a century of brick shards and composted other plants.”

This bed was created on the day of the closing of our family farm. It was on the market for a very long time due to how uncommon a property; how many other 30 acre former Benedictine Monasteries are there in the states? We had hoped that it’s uniqueness would cause a faster sale, and in order to be prepared we moved when we listed, and enrolled the children in a fantastic school system. We understood the possibility that we would have to move back if it did not sell. Well, we do not have to move back, and we are happy in knowing that it will be cared for by whom it was intended all along. The sale of a home is high on the list of life-stressors. We can relax now, and like these beautiful new roses, put down our own roots.

If not everything at least some aspects of our lives, like this garden, will surely be coming up roses! Keep an eye out for your “roses,” and pause from the worry and the frenetic pace of life to breathe in their fragrance.

Grief Personified, Hope Enduring

The Abbey Farm, my earlier blog, was about the wonderful experience of living in a former Benedictine Monastery and raising our children. “Busy” was an understatement, and of course there were challenges, but it was a lived dream. Our sale closes today and we are excited that the new owners are yet another large family who will live out their dreams there. The wife and mother is a gracious and generous soul who intuitively asked if I was dealing well with the emotional aspect of selling. Yes, I am. What I have realized is that it is a process. For myself more than my husband, it involves grief.

I was the Mom who managed the place, paid the bills and raised the kids. I was home more of the time because he spent hours at work each day. He is more a renaissance man than any other I know and he gave more than his fair share. I’m just “feeling it” more, and try as he might to understand me, how could he if I have trouble understanding myself?

Looking back now, I see how friends have lived their lives expecting too much of their spouse or partner. In this age of equality we forget that there are not just differences in gender (we have biological differences unique to each of us), but differences in personality and ability. Perhaps some relationships can’t be 50-50 in certain areas. I was always told to strive for 100-100! Yet, think about it; one person’s 100% may not be enough to perform 50% of the work. In illness, they may offer far less. Those who have nursed a partner through cancer realize that their loved one can only lend a fraction of a percentage to the “50-50.” Life does not conform to neat equations.

My sister-in-law is one of the most self-actualized persons I know. When dealing with grief she learned a technique to anthropomorphize grief–to think of it as a person. First, identify the feeling that the grief evokes, and where it is felt in your body. Then imagine that you are the friend to that grief “person.” You do not need to reason away the feelings or say the right thing, as many well-meaning friends want to do, but just to “be” with them. I tried this and found myself able to separate from confused feelings and “be” with my grief. I saw more clearly that time would help this “friend.” I sat with “her” and when I needed to tend to a task in the house, instead of feeling overwhelmed, I let her know that I would be back. The day went on, life went on, and I was able to be productive. My mood lifted.

I realized that it was not so important to get my husband to understand exactly how I felt. In fact, it was better for me to do this work on my own. This morning I had an image of that work and it became a parable of sorts:

When we are young adults we may have less experience, but we usually have more strength and perhaps more raw material to work with. We lack wisdom and experience, but we construct a life quickly. With good intent, these are built swiftly to meet our immediate needs. I pictured this life as an abode. We are the builder-tenants. Winds blow, pieces fall off, and repairs must be made regularly. After a few years, what was once a simple, lithe dwelling becomes tacked-on, patched and perhaps less attractive. But it is home and it is livable. Over time, it reacts to elements like wind and water, to attacks both natural and man-made.

In moments of calm the builder-tenant has a choice to grow, and may say, “This is what I have, it’s the best I can do at this point.” Any faults are easily hidden with paint and flowers which look more attractive but inside, the walls and floors may be on the verge of collapse at life’s inevitable, next assault. Another choice which could be made during the calm is to perform the difficult maintenance and repair work.

Decades of life bring on a havoc of their own, the inexorable wear-and-tear, and forces not anticipated. A tornado, a flood, or a sinkhole may threaten even a well-built structure. Heavy, relentless, back-breaking, seemingly thankless and unrewarded labor may require digging down to expose the weak foundation and to repair sections–or to completely rebuild. Labor may result in no outward change, yet that which is essential to the core strength of the abode.

Friends and family will ideally come to aid. If the builder has a partner who soothes with physical love and distraction, it is restorative. There is rest, and rest is important. Still, over time, it is the tenant who must accomplish the structural work needed by the building. Exhausted as he is, he rolls up his sleeves, reads manuals, contemplates, plans and executes. Little-by-little, the intensely hard work of fortification is done. A replaced beam, a sistered joist, waterproofing, rewiring, tuck-pointing, task by task he keeps on. He falls into bed at night spent, and awakens early to continue the process. He does not need an elegant edifice, and realizes that it is the process which is more important than the end result.

The “parable” is reflective of the work necessary in our own lives. Wonderful as all the external support we may be blessed with, and as hard as we strive to portray the person whom we wish others to see, the hardest work we have in our lives is our own to accomplish. It requires regular maintenance as well as repair. You may think, well, of course! But there are many who lean heavily on others, or who expect too much of them. I learned this when my late husband passed suddenly. Without his support, I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work learning the things that needed to be done both physically and mentally. Even now with my amazing husband, I realize that this grief-work is mine to perform. It doesn’t mean he can’t be supportive–it is just that the grief is unique to me, and I must learn how to work it out.

I am not implying that we go things alone–there are times we need to visit the doctor or establish a relationship with a therapist. Certainly if dealing with protracted depression, or trauma or addictions one needs that expert help and support. I was, long ago, a nurse on an addictions unit and saw the grueling work it took on the part my patients. This same fortitude I later saw in my hospice patients and families. This work is accomplished step by step, inch by inch, sometimes seemingly futile and without end. It is in reality the furthest thing from futile.

When dealing with grief, think “Everything is permeable”.  Grief is permeable.  Moments will come that shift you away from the pain and turmoil.  Look for these moments of relief and notice them, live into them.

Sylvia Boorstein

There will be gains made and relief in which to rest. More important than the destination is the journey. At the same time, we try to offer support to our loved ones, as they perform their unique life’s work.

Excellent guest that He is, the Spirit finds you empty and fills you; he finds you hungry and thirsty and satisfies you abundantly. God the Holy Spirit, Who comes from God, when He enters into people, draws them to the love of God and neighbor. Indeed, He is love itself.

Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 225, 4

Wisdom, work ethic, faith, hope, trust and love: these are the things that last, that go with us. They live on in the memories of those who remain after us. There is hope in the next phase of life. Strive to look back in gratitude, and forward in grace.

Entanglement

Moms know about knots. We are usually the go-to person to untangle shoelaces, necklaces, and little girls’ hair. Knots are worked out with patience and care.

Entanglement theories in Quantum Physics describe relationships between subatomic photons acting in concert with or reaction to each other, defying space and time. There are proposed entanglements between root systems of forests, a communication of sorts, possibly via a fungal network.

Is there entanglement within humanity? Are we somehow deeply, invisibly connected? Ira Progoff, a 20th Century social scientist described human connectedness like deep underground water. Invisible, a life force, a Living Water that grounds us as individuals, and in essence connects every person. It is ironic that in this modern world our electronic connectedness and multi-tasking create negative entanglements, and though these connections are instantaneous and exponential in number of contacts, we can still feel desperately alone.

A psychologist friend told me that the number of calls in regard to completed suicides have increased dramatically, family members and friends searching for help in order to cope. The political and social state of our country is fragile and fractious: Covid 19, brutal killings, fomenting anger. Crime and violence begin with a small ripple that gains momentum. If only we could remember the innocence with which we were born. If only we could remember that each of us holds a dignity in being human. If only it were as easy as Rapunzel singing “I’ve Got a Dream” in the Disney movie Tangled. The state of the world is arguably depressing–unless we remember that goodness also begins with one small act.

What is the human default-mode? Is it essentially bad or is it good? Recent scientific research on the brain suggests levels of complexity and adaption thought impossible in years past. Neuroscientists contend that unhealthy thoughts, fears and uncontrolled anger literally form toxic entanglements in our brains. As best as I can explain, thoughts are faster-than-lightning electrical impulses which form the building blocks of stored memory out of proteins. A part of the brain called the amygdala stores many of these memories. How we think about what we think (metacognition) determines our world view, which in turn lends interpretation to future thought.

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. Whether Eastern Meditation in which one empties the mind of conscious thought, or Lectio Divino where one reads and then listens for what God says, or meditative prayer where one quietly listens for inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our blood pressure is reduced, anxiety calmed and thinking re-ordered. Rational thinking is less likely to result in what has been coined an “Amygdala Hijack,” an uncontrolled outburst usually followed with great regret. The fight or flight response of the adrenal glands readies us to protect ourselves, but it can be mistakenly triggered even when there is in reality no actual danger. A wrongly perceived threat (from an event interpreted with negative-bias) floods the body with hormones to ready one to fight or to flee. Triggered too often, this causes ill effects in the body and the mind.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, an audiologist and neuroscientist, discusses something called optimism bias, believing it to be the default human state. Focusing on gratitude for what is good in the world helps one to see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels. The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. We can strive to replace fear with wisdom from meditation, and with love.

In the classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is a southern lawyer defending Tom Robinson, a grievously wronged man who is good and innocent. The accuser is an uneducated, prejudiced racist who spreads evil lies. It is clear that Atticus is right in his defense of Tom. Atticus faces the man who has done so much harm. That man is symbolic of Satan, “The Accuser.” He speaks vilely to Atticus and spits in his face. Many would have been tempted to strike out as John Wayne did in McClintock, yet chaos is more likely to erupt after any violence. Atticus coolly wipes his face, returns to his car and leaves. He knows that nothing he could say or do would change that man, and violence would solve nothing. His response was not to lower himself to that level, making things worse. Reasoning and wise action at times involve sacrifice. It could be said that Atticus’ peaceful response was weak. I believe it was sacrificial. It showed greater strength than any act of retribution or revenge.

Augustine of Hippo lived in the Fourth Century. In a commentary on Psalm 17 he wrote:

“Lord, You perfected my love, that I might surmount the troublesome entanglements of the world. Direct my desire toward the heavenly home so that I may be enriched with every good thing.”

A millennium and a half after Augustine, the children’s television host Fred Rogers said in an interview that his mother taught him he should not be afraid when the world was chaotic; rather, he should “always look for the helpers,” the ones who act for good. Their work holds greater effect because it is accomplished in spite of evil. These helpers prove that there is hope in the world.

We are connected, whether we see it or not. We are not alone. In difficult moments, pause. Meditate or pray whenever possible and if you can only breathe, then breathe in the spirit that gave you your first breath–consciously breathe in God who is Love. If you cannot call on God then start with love. The next moment holds possibility and hope. Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray for others. Like the molecules and energy of Quantum Entanglement, perhaps prayer moves quietly beyond time and space. United with the source of all love, prayer is powerful.

Fred Rogers’ Mom knew best. I’ll bet she untangled his shoestrings deftly, and peacefully tied them into neat bows when he was young. Look for good and you will find it.

There is always hope.