Wednesday, November 28, 2012

with thanks, through tears

two years ago today my dear mother died. this morning, very early, i awoke briefly, almost two years to the minute that she died. perhaps she whispered to me on this, one of the last days of autumn, her favorite time of year. perhaps her sweet spirit reached out to touch me on a day that i have always connected with her - thanksgiving day.

it is a blue sky, sunshine, cool breeze day here. the resolute leaves that still cling to their branches are golden, and shimmer in the breeze. yet another memory of mom, who taught us the poem written by christina rosetti in 1947 - "who has seen the wind? neither i nor you, but when the leaves hang trembling, the wind is passing through. who has seen the wind? neither you nor i, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by."

on my walk this morning several flocks of geese flew overhead, soaring and even rolling playfully as they exchanged places in their formation. i stopped and watched them, and as they passed directly overhead the sound of their wings as they propelled themselves forward reminded me of the sound the freshly-laundered sheets made when mom snapped them off the clothesline. i could picture her standing in the backyard in her well-worn yellow/blue/white plaid summer dress, her navy blue keds on her feet. she would walk from one piece of laundry to the next, unclipping the clothespins and dropping them into the cloth bag hanging on the clothesline by a metal frame. she'd snap the  sheet and fold it carefully, laying it in the basket at her feet. when the basket was full, the clothespin bag hanging heavy on the line, full of weathered wooden pins awaiting the next load, she would bring the clothes smelling of fresh air inside and put it on the big oak pedestal table in the center of the kitchen.

this is the first year since mom's death that i have been able to allow myself to think about her this much. i am still overwhelmed by the realization that i will never see her again, never hold her hand or lean into one of her wonderful hugs, never hear her say my name again. it simply can't be true, i think. how can someone with that much goodness and love and kindness be gone forever? how can i keep going from day to day without being able to tell her how dear she was to me, how much i loved her?

today, as i stood at the kitchen counter chopping vegetables and beginning to prepare our thanksgiving dinner, i felt a whisper (but only a whisper) of peace as i sensed her spirit with me. i thought about her slim, beautiful hand holding the knife with me, removing the pan from the oven with me, calculating what time we should put the turkey in to insure that it would be done by dinner time. there was always such a wonderful energy in the kitchen on thanksgiving day. we would get the turkey out of the fridge and rinse him in the sink, and then one of us would sit him up on the edge of the sink and cross his turkey legs, engaging in playful puppetry until one of us remarked on the poor fellow having to get trussed and baked. 

the leaves for the table in the light blue, sun-filled dining room were retrieved from the closet and we'd tug and pull the table apart, place the leaves like puzzle pieces and push the table ends back together, our feelings of excitement and appreciation expanding like the table as we looked forward to the family coming later in the day. the table would be laid with the light blue tablecloth and mom's everyday china, white with delicate blue and yellow and pinkish-purple flowers along the edge, with just the slightest bit of gold, not too showy. upon opening the box in which she kept the good silver the smell brought back memories of thanksgivings with grandparents and cousins when i was a child in connecticut, and in minnesota. it was a comforting smell, a smell that connected me to my past, that reminded me of the child i was. i laid the silver at each place, two forks at each place in honor of the special day and the special menu. special water goblets were set out, though mom always took the smaller one that didn't match the others. it was as though she wanted to be sure that we all felt special and included, but it was a subconscious action, not a contrived one. 

i would taste the gravy and mash the potatoes and sprinkle the french-fried onions on the green bean casserole, put the rolls in a small paper bag and sprinkle it with water so it wouldn't catch fire in the oven as they warmed up. how funny that we never thought to use tin foil, but we never did. the bag worked just fine, although sometimes there'd be a roll or two that had an especially browned spot if we forgot about the rolls in all the excitement.

we all sat around the long table then, mom at one end, dad at the other, their children and eventually spouses and grandchildren between them, the bountiful feast in the center of the table. though we didn't say a traditional grace before eating, it was obvious in the light in all of our eyes and the smiles on all of our faces that we knew we were blessed and loved and we all gave thanks for the gift of family in our own individual ways.

now mom is gone, our father suffers from alzheimer's, and we are all miles apart from each other. we haven't shared thanksgiving dinner together for a long time, but the invisible connections forged in the past remain strong and the memories of years gone by comfort me.  there is still much to be thankful for. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


i am elated with the results of the election, having supported president obama for the past 4 years. he is a man of the people, all of the people, in this country. he was elected by men and women of america who know the importance of working in their own back yards to effect change, who know that just sitting back and complaining about the state of the world means denying themselves the right and privilege of involvement we are all entitled to. we have the opportunity here to speak our truths without fear of punishment and to work for the greater good. 

when we react to disappointment that our "team" didn't win by mud-slinging and denegrating another's character, what do we accomplish? what are we teaching our children and our grandchildren? do we want them to learn respect for others, or do we want them to learn to label and define people based on their street address or their bank accounts? one of the tenets of a free society is that each and every individual has the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. don't we want to be a society of integrity, understanding and compassion for one another? to what purpose blaming and impugning those with different ideas? aren't we all in this together? 

i'm not a person who spouts scripture, but i've spent enough time in churches to remember some that may apply here. jesus is purported to have said "...i tell you the truth; when you refused to help the least brothers and sisters you were refusing to help me." is helping the least of these something you only have to do sometimes? was he suggesting that we can decide to choose only some of the least of these? or is it the expectation that we remain open and aware of all of the least of these around us and help each other to the best of our abilities? it is within the realm of possibilities that any one of us could find ourselves in that category at some time in our lives. the golden rule applies to everyone, doesn't it?

and how about "bear one another's burdens" or "as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another? (thanks to google for laying out these passages for me. ) one of my favorites is the beatitude "blessed are the peacemakers". how can we not live that one out? 

it is time to walk the talk and put those words into action to work together to make the world a better place, starting in our own backyards, one interaction at a time. toss the pebble and watch how far the rings extend outward. ditch the division. increase the inclusion. reach across the street, the aisle, extend yourself to another in the spirit of connectedness, because we are connected. each of us has a story worth listening to and each of us has the ability to make a positive change. 

be the change you wish to see in the world.  gandhi

Friday, November 2, 2012

fishing, not catching

late october in kitty hawk, on the outer banks of north carolina. sun, insanely blue skies and a cool breeze off the ocean, rejuvenative after the 12-hour drive from ohio. 

i thought that i would do a lot of writing at the beach. no work schedule to worry about, no laundry to do or meals to plan, no errands to run. nothing but time to write, right?  what I didn’t consider is how positively mind-numbing it is to be on the beach. the mesmerizing sights and sounds lulled me into a trance as i sat and gazed out at the ocean. i was hypnotized by the sight of the tiny shore birds that scurried like overly wound up toys, away from the water as it lapped the shore, pecking at the sand in a frenzy as it receded. i zoned out to the music of the waves rolling in, then crashing, then fizzling. i was calmed and soothed by the sight of dolphins swimming, surfacing and chuffing, exhaling and inhaling, then diving into the surf together, like synchronized swimmers. so efficient and natural and effortless.

so, rather than try to force words onto the page, i immersed myself in my surroundings. i walked on the beach and inhaled the salty air, remembering childhood trips to the ocean, turning my face to the sun with reckless abandon, relishing the healthy dose of vitamin d, something in short supply from now through april in northeast ohio. i imagined chuffing my mind clear of everything but what was around me: the birds, the packed sand beneath my bare feet that shifted and softened as the waves carried some back out to sea, the breeze coming off the ocean. 

i passed several people fishing, including one fellow who was lying down on his back in the sand with his fishing pole perpendicular to his body, as though he'd been impaled, the end of the line bobbing in the ocean 25 feet out. i told him he had the best fishing form on the beach and he replied, "there's nothin' better than this." indeed.

another fellow, with calves and feet like tanned leather, wearing sloppy shorts, a plaid cotton shirt and a faded, beat-up denim hat to shade his grizzled face, stood motionless, gazing out to sea as though conjuring the fish to his hook. when i asked him whether he was catching breakfast or dinner, he replied "it's called fishing, not catching." no rancor, no disappointment, just simple acceptance. experiencing the vast and eternal quality of the ocean forces a change in perspective. not catching? no worries.

so i spent the rest of the week aligning myself with the idea of "fishing, not catching", not angsting over the issues of the world (which have been particularly troubling of late), or worrying about my grown sons (who i missed more for the miles and miles between us) or counting calories. i made a conscious decision to allow the days to wash over me like the gentle waves, allow them to carry me to wherever i needed to be, providing me with whatever lessons i needed. there is comfort in giving over to the rhythms of mother nature, the original crone. take the time to notice the constancy of the natural world, which has always been and will always be, long after we are gone, and draw strength from it.