Wednesday, June 27, 2007
"To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
This is to have succeeded. "
We live in a world that gives such awful distorted messages about what it means to win, to get it right, to succeed. I think there is tremendous value in standing apart from all the emphasis on shiny things or popularity or a specific body fat ratio to simply allow ourselves to be present to all that is good, all that is possible, all that is worthy in this world.
There is so much badness, coarseness, depravity and danger. But there is also tremendous beauty and loveliness of spirit. Emerson's words remind me that I can turn my face and my focus to that goodness and embrace it with a vengeance.
Another one that I particularly like is:
"Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant with the weak, and forgiving with the wrong, for sometime in your life you will have been all of these." (This one has been attributed to various sources, included Lloyd Shearer and Robert Goddard. I honestly don't know who said it first, but I LIKE it just the same!)
There's certainly no guarentees for old age, as is emphasized by the fact that far too many of my pals never made it that far. But still, the words ring true.
We're all just doing the best we can to get through this crazy old life with a degree of grace and smiles, even when we fumble. Shearer's words remind me to take a deep breath and cut some slack to those who may frustrate or annoy me.
There are so many other good quotes - I could go on and on with tales of how they have comforted me, lifted me, challenged my thinking. From scripture verses to song lyrics to ancient Chinese probverbs, a well turned phrase that is powerful enough to last through the ages is a sacred gift to us all.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Thanantology is the study of death and dying. About a dozen years ago I taught a course in Death and Dying for a couple terms at a community college in Michigan. Then I taught it again as a special topics seminar at my old Alma mater, Western Michigan University. I did quite a bit of research in preparation for the course. I volunteered with hospice. I got to know a homicide detective pretty well. I went out with a coroner's assistant to the scene of a deceased man to investigate cause and legally declare the person dead. I hung out in funeral homes a lot. I researched cross-cultural traditions related to death. I attended workshops and read A LOT of books.
In my class we talked about all sorts of things - from violent death to pet death to SIDS. We discussed the businesses that profit from death. We had speaker panels - a man who had lost his partner to HIV/AIDS, a woman whose teen aged daughter had been killed by a drunk driver, a guy whose dad had committed suicide.
My students all had to write their own obituaries and plan whatever form of body disposal & service they wanted. We had field trips to cemeteries and funeral homes. We talked a lot about how death adds meaning to life.
But no matter how much research I may have done, no matter how many books on the subject I read - nothing really prepares your heart for letting go of those we love.
When I was in my early 20's my parents both died. Although divorced for over five years and completely out of contact with each other they died the very same week. My mother was 53. My father was 55. Both deaths were sudden and completely unexpected.
In 2000 my stepdaughter, Stacy, died of cancer. She was 25. That wound still stings my soul in ways I can scarcely name.
Some years before that my beloved sister-in-law, Donna, also died of cancer. That loss was savage business that robbed every one who ever knew her of a very special spirit.
I worked for a while doing HIV/AIDS intervention work, and through that job got to know several people who were in their final stages of life.
Then a couple years ago I lost four different people dear to me over a six month span. With that cluster of grief I learned something that all the study in the world could never teach.
Dealing with death is different from just about every other experience in that it doesn't get better or easier with practice. If I throw a ball or play a flute or cut stained glass long enough, over time I get better at it. I build skill sets that create a level of proficiency in place of early bumbling attempts or mediocrity. Do a deed over and over and over again long enough and you WILL get better. But it doesn't work that way with letting go of those we love.
My experience has been that grief piggy backs. When I have a new loss, it triggers many of the old emotions from former letting go episodes to come tumbling out again, so that I end up confronting stacks of sorrow, piles of pain. Each new repose serves as a reminder of what I've not entirely resolved in the earlier losses. Also, knowing lots about the dynamics of grief, even being called a "trained expert" by some, in no way gets me off the hook from my own breaking heart.
Right now both of my older brothers' wives are facing the approaching deaths of their mothers. While I don't know those women well I DO know and care deeply for my sisters-in-law whose lives are reeling from the events that are unfolding. Also a co-worker of mine just lost her son, and is at this time feeling utterly desolate over that. In my church family there are people who are seriously ill whose lives may be short. Compound that with the fact that nearly every week we hear of losses of soldiers in far away lands...it all piles up to taunt me with how pervasive death is in this fallen mortal world.
Because of my religious faith I truly do believe in a life after death and I am confidant that the next phase of our eternal progression will be an amazing, wonderful thing. Still, I kick against death - recoil from its approach among those I know and love.
Yet I recognize that LIFE is terminal. Ain't none of us gettin' out of here alive. We are all dying from the moment we first take breath. It's just that some people get some warning in the form of a diabolical diagnosis and a message from doctors to put affairs in order while others, like my parents, meet death like a thief in the night.
Life is precious to us primarily BECAUSE we know it is a limited commodity. If I've learned anything from the precious time I've spent among those who were terminally ill it is to respect life every moment that we have of it, drink it in deep, appreciate it and say what we really mean. Life is too short for posing, hypocrisy, unkindness or lies.
Also I've learned that there never was a hearse with a U-haul trailer full of stuff attached. In the end, the shiny things just get passed on or sold in a tag sale.
Death is one of the great mysteries. No matter how strong my faith in the here after, there is no way to really KNOW what death will bring until it's actually my turn. As I get closer with each passing year to the age my parents were when they crossed over, I've thought quite a bit about what life and death mean to me.
Mostly I want to live my life with as much passion, compassion, and humor as I can muster, hoping to build some integrity along the way. Whenever my time does come, I want to leave behind lots of people who knew they were very well loved, and hopefully be remembered with more laughter than tears.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Along with all our fancy flowers, we did finally get our vegetable garden planted. We don't have a very big area to work with--just a 20 x 20 patch between the garage and the storage shed that gets more shade than we'd like. Still, it's nice to be able to have some fresh veggies come harvest time, so we grow some tomatoes, peppers and squash along with a raised bed strawberry patch. This year I decided to try some Upside down Tomatoes. So far they seem to be doing quite well. We've got six different varieties going in buckets hung from a metal frame and the whole contraption is hooked up to a drip watering system set on timers so there is essentially no maintenance. Besides, since the plants aren't on the ground the fruit will be less subject to end-rot and I won't have to bend over to pick them - just walk up to the plants and fill my baskets. Works for me!
Of course my dear husband had to plant HIS tomatoes the old fashioned traditional way just to see whose would do better. He says that plants are "geotropic" meaning roots naturally follow gravity and want to grow down rather than up. I say the roots will go where ever the dirt and water is and if that happens to be up, so be it. We'll see how it turns out as they get going...so far he's finding he has to fight with all kinds of grass and weeds and I don't at all. That all by itself would make it worth growing in buckets if you ask me. I'm wondering what else I might be able to grow upside down next year. Cucumbers maybe?
Some of you may recall a while back I wrote about the major landscaping project my beloved and I were undertaking. It turned out really nicely, and we've had lots of comments from folks in the neighborhood about how beautiful it looks. Well, now we've received a new honor. We've just been designated as "Yard of the Month"... a fun little tradition our town has. There are a couple long time residents who drive all over town looking at the yards who pick whichever one they think looks the prettiest. Whoever gets picked gets the sign you see here placed in the yard, pictures in the local paper, etc. I don't know whether to be honored or embarrassed.
However, it DOES look quite pretty...as these pics will attest:
The mother was quoted as having said: "It's fantastic. We're so proud as a family."
I'm troubled by this. In the first place, why be so proud? It's not like this was an achievement that either the girl or the parents pulled off through any special effort. It was the luck of the genetic dice. Beyond that, why is it that having the child score so far off the intellectual charts is automatically perceived as a positive thing?
I say this because of my experiences in my own family. I have two biological sons and three step sons. One of my step sons was brain damaged at birth. He is a sweet young man with a heart of gold. But Troy will never be able to understand abstract concepts or to live fully independently. He is limited in his ability to relate to others in some fairly significant ways. On the other hand, one of my biological sons was born with extraordinary intelligence. I don't recall what his actual test scores were - but they put him way above all of his peers. He was reading quite well before ever starting school and can memorize, calculate and just plain think in some very amazing ways. By my reckoning, BOTH of these sons have had special needs.
When my brilliant boy was in 6th grade his math teacher came to me and said he was "the purest thinker" he had ever met, including adults as well as other kids. Half way through the year most of my son's teachers were throwing their hands up in defeat because they could no longer really teach him much, so they just tried to give him things to do to stay busy. Other kids didn't "get" his wildly divergent interests. Sometimes being so smart was a lonely place to be.
Now just because he is extra brainy does not mean it always showed in the choices my son made. Sometimes when he was growing up the dear lad appeared to have the common sense God gave field cabbage. Sometimes wanting to be liked & accepted led him to do some truly dumb stuff. Other times he had his head in the clouds pondering theoretical equations or reciting the bones of the inner ear so he just didn't give much thought to where he was going. Also he was often terribly frustrated by having to wait on others around him to grasp concepts that to him were just plain obvious.
I would say being smarter than just about everyone he will meet has had just as many challenges with it (although of a different nature) as those faced by our other son who is developmentally delayed. Given the choice, I doubt very seriously my scholar kid would willingly ask to have been born just a bit dimmer. In most respects, he likes being smart. But I know as his mom that it has brought struggles as well as blessings.
More of a good thing is only nice up to a point before it starts to bring diminishing return.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
I've been giving some thought over the last few days about jealousy - asking myself a series of questions:
1) What is jealousy?
2) What situations are most likely to trigger me feeling jealous?
3) Do I ever knowingly say or do things to deliberately create jealousy from others?
4) Are there ever situations in which I would consider jealousy to be positive?
5) What am I willing to do, or willing to no longer do, in order to eliminate jealousy from my emotional roadmap?
There are a variety of definitions for jealousy.
When I think of jealousy, I classify it into two basic categories: First is ENVY - Envy is when I feel any degree of bitterness or resentment toward another person or to life in general in response to recognizing someone else has a trait, possession or opportunity that I do not. I'm generally not upset that THEY have whatever it is...I just hate that I don't have it too.
Now, this is the half of jealousy that MAY be a positive thing, at times. When women did not have the right to vote but men did, I think it was appropriate for women to resent the inequity of that arrangement. I think it was a healthy recognition of lopsided power that pushed early suffragettes to march in protest rather than just accept things as they were. To a large extent the whole civil rights movement was pushed forward by the recognition that it was unfair for one group to hold the keys of power and opportunity to the exclusion of another group. It made the left out group feel angry and resentful, enough so that they were willing to take action to change the status quo.
In most cases, however, when I notice myself reacting with conflict, hurt, anger, resentment when I become aware that someone else has something or is able to do something I can't, it has more to do with selfishness than social justice.
It's one thing to admire someone else for their achievement or characteristics and as a result of that admiration to want to emulate them. I think looking to others to get ideas for what I might want to acquire or become in my own life is just fine - so long as I keep it in the category of role modeling. I think it is normal and healthy to rely on our experience with other people to see the range of what might be possible and then to want to do or be or have some of what we see in the lives of those we know.
Where that gets us into trouble, I think, is when we start feeling a general sense of entitlement... that we are owed all the same opportunities, talents, material goods or qualities of some other individual, group or class. The other area of danger is when I feel compelled to "keep up with the Joneses"... defining my worth or level of success with how I measure up next to the guy next door.
While I do believe in fighting for social justice, and believe there should be broad opportunities for all, I have no illusion that equal opportunity will translate to equal outcome. Some people really are smarter or more talented, stronger or more attractive than others. That's just the way it is. So while I am abitious enough to want to strive for various things, I'm also a firm believer in blooming where I am planted, recognizing that my flower box may not get the same sunshine or fertilizer as the next guys. Granted, sometimes it feels unfair when I don't get the same breaks as someone else. But I'd rather spend my energy making the very best I can of MY situation rather than burning up with steam about not having been dealt a different set of cards.
The other half of jealousy is unbridled possessiveness. I feel this form of jealousy any time I take the position that "This is MINE and you cannot have it!" I experience this jealousy any time I feel at all threatened if I perceive that you get too close to something I've named to be exclusively for me. Top of this list for many people is sexual jealousy. But we may also become jealous about other things... such as the pride we take in being considered the "best" at something or jealous of our property or our time, or any number of things.
This form of jealosy is built of both selfishness and insecurity.
(I'm still working on this post...will be revising as I have time.)
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Today was Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It is officially the first day of summer, but also the day that begins the slow march to early darkness and cold winter nights.
The college where I work only offers a few classes for summer session. Also, right now we are on the break between Spring and Summer terms, so most of the faculty are gone and few students have any reason to be there this week. The place is pretty much shut down. It has been so quiet I recently joked with a colleague that we could get out some roller blades and go cruising up and down the hallways without anyone noticing, let alone being bothered by it. Some of the staff are enjoying the peace and quiet, saying they are able to get twice as much done without all the noise and interruptions. Not me. I miss the action and the energy of having a lot of people around. The empty echo of the halls made me wish for an old Druid celebration of the solstice to shake things up a bit.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I am NOT an artistic person by nature. I've had a lifetime of defining myself as being the most un-creative person I knew. But I think I am going to enjoy working with glass. I had a blast tonight learning about the different types of glass, then practicing cutting, then tracing patterns and choosing colors for my pieces. I'm doing a sunburst design with mirror borders. I go back Thursday evening for the next lesson and then get 7 hours of studio time to complete my project. I'm excited to see how it will turn out.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The pictures shown here are of "sculptures" made entirely out of tape. Yep, plain old Scotch brand sticky tape. I don't know which amazes me more, that someone was capable of creating these things or that they would even think of it in the first place.
The artist is Mark Jenkins. You can see more of his work (tape and other mediums) HERE
Oliver lives in the Kimara area of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. She makes beautiful batik cloth, having received training from Small Industries Development Organization. She started her business over ten years ago.
This past December she was seeking a loan of $550 in order to buy raw materials to make extra product to sell over the Christmas season. As a widow, she is supporting a family of five on her own.
I chose to loan Oliver $25. Other lenders came from Santa Barbara, Ca New York, Portland, Seattle, Boston and a few other spots around the US. Together we took a chance on this dear lady, lending our prayers and confidence along with a little bit of pocket change.
Today that loan is paid in full. I could withdraw the dollars and go on my merry way. NOT A CHANCE. My task now is to sort through the new loan requests Kiva has waiting and find a new person whose dreams I can help make come true.
It is such a LITTLE amount of money. It requires almost no sacrifice on my part at all. Yet, when multiplied with that offered by others it really is enough to make a big difference for a small business in the developing world.
I believe in microfinance whole heartedly. If you haven't explored Kiva before, I encourage you do give it a chance. You'll be glad you did!
When my first son was born we were living in abject poverty. Having anything beyond the basics was never even a consideration. By the time kid number two came along there was a little more wiggle in the budget, but my heart was still far too pragmatic to care for most of the bells and whistle accoutrements of babydom. But now I am a grandma. I have considerably more disposable income than I did when raising my own brood. So I have, on occasion, taken great pleasure in acquiring fancy or fun things for my progeny’s kids. Yet I will admit to being more than baffled at some of the MUST HAVES that many new mothers insist they surround their infants with.
I never had a baby monitor or a bottle sterilizer or a Baby Einstein video and somehow my sons turned out just fine. That’s not to say those things are evil, or even entirely frivolous – I just don’t see them as anywhere close to being essential. When it came to toys, my kids would usually rather play with the box than whatever came in it. If I put them on a blanket with a few wooden spoons and a pan to bang on they were happy.
I think most baby things are like pet products. They are created and marketed to be attractive to the person spending the money to buy it rather than the actual end user.
I recently spent an obscene amount of money on a couple Polo outfits for my youngest grandson’s second birthday. Part of me felt guilty at the time that I was getting hooked in to that whole fashion madness that I am generally dismissive of. But they were pretty darned cute. Will the young one care? Not a bit. But his daddy, who grew up in yard sale finds and hand-me-downs, does.
I had a conversations with a couple other women recently about the whole issue of blatant consumption of unneeded products – whether it be too many shoes or excessive toys for kids or owning all the latest electronic gizmos or having a garage so full of STUFF you end up parking your car on the street. I see no sin in abundance. I believe it is ok to have and enjoy nice things. However I think we all can benefit by taking a good hard look at our patterns of consumption and the impact our buying/owning/using has not only on our planet, but on our own hearts.
Too often we turn to STUFF to comfort, to distract or to make us feel worthy. Too often we give people we love THINGS to demonstrate our caring rather than doing the harder work that takes more time of truly connecting.
I see nothing wrong with having toys or more cute outfits than are absolutely essential for survival – whether it be for my baby or myself. I DO see something wrong with getting so caught up in the “have to have” syndrome that I become less willing to share with others, or more driven to work outside the home to provide a cushy lifestyle.
I believe that families, societies and the world benefit tremendously from having a parent put HOME as their primary responsibility. So often I hear people say “well, it would be great to stay home with the kids, but we just can’t make it on one income.” That may be true if “making it” requires large homes, cable tv, meals in restaurants, and new toys and clothes throughout the year. I acknowledge that there are many moms of young kids that truly do need to work to help support their families. But I grieve for the many parents – both moms and dads – who sell their lives to employers to give their family STUFF rather than being present in the home.
I read an article in Ensign magazine some time ago that spoke about the Mormon pioneers crossing the plains. They said that when the wagon trains and handcarts came to the rocky mountains many of those folks found they were carrying too much load to make it, so they regretfully left large heavy items all along the path. There were clocks and furniture, fine china, and musical instruments scattered along the path from Colorado to Utah. People sacrificed their beloved heirlooms to get themselves and their families to Zion. But no matter how much they weighed, no parent EVER left a kid by the side of the road to lighten up a wagon or hand cart.
Today, however, we seem to have our priorities backwards. Too many people are metaphorically leaving precious babies by the side of the road as they chase after worldly acknowledgment or STUFF instead. Working long hours at high power jobs does provide lots of fine and comfortable things. But at what cost?
I don’t say this as a rebuke. I am far from being the perfect parent and I have plenty of areas where my own values and behavior could stand some polishing up. I say this as an observer of families and society. I think we need more loving hearts in homes doing the unglamorous work of wiping noses and butts, helping young ones grow up feeling secure and loved than we do shiny things with name brand tags. I think if we can provide some blocks and good books and keep the kid covered up from the elements, that is sufficient. If you have the resources to do more - great, enjoy it. But the whole idea of having to have NEW everything is troubling to me. I think it sets a dangerous pattern. I think we are ALL better off when we share, loan, pass on our stuff - not just because it saves money, but also because it builds community when we collaborate with our material goods rather than compete.
A recent Time Magazine had a great photo gallery comparing what people from different countries eat - showing families from around the world with a week's worth of food set before them. It would be interesting to do the same sort of thing showing what we each own, wouldn't it?
I recognize that on more than one occasion I've been a bit condescending with judgment toward those who I thought were overly materialistic. Who am I to say what tools or toys can be or should be of value to someone else? Lately I am trying harder to curb that tendency within me, to be more respectful of our differences, to give my sisters some grace. So enjoy that exersaucer and Baby Einstein video. So long as we all remember what is really important - the BABY - not the stuff, it's all good.
To read what others have said on this same topic, go HERE.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I am totally jazzed to discover this and was amazed to see there are nine different books that have been released in my tiny little town in Oregon!
I am very much looking forward to both catching and releasing some books this summer and seeing where they go.