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Back Door Blessings

Blog Post #31

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Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden, by John W Waterhouse

There are things we all dread: different things for different people, but dreaded things nonetheless. Many of us take preventative measures in an attempt to avoid some of these dreaded things, such as parking the car in a remote part of the shopping center parking lot, installing locks and security devices, making sure there’s plenty of food, water and emergency supplies on hand, and going to great lengths to teach children safety practices. But what about those things we can’t plan for and don’t anticipate? What about those things that sneak in through the back door?Key in Lock

When we were young, my mother left the back door to our house unlocked for our use before and after school. My sister, brother and I were to enter and exit through the back door for everything. For all we knew, the house had a faux front door—just painted on for looks—because we rarely, if ever used it. Neighbor friends were instructed to use the back door for their comings and goings, as well. It was a given: the back door was THE door, the ONLY door we should use.

The kids were not the only ones relegated to the back door—others, also, had the good sense to use it. The milkman always came to the back door. (During the late 50s and early 60s, we had one of those fabled milkmen—wearing a white shirt, cap and slacks, and carrying a wire tote holding glass bottles—who delivered milk once or twice a week.) He always made his deliveries at the back door. I know people, now, who get milk delivered to their doors, but the milkmen of today have the audacity to drop their deliveries in wooden boxes on the front porches of their customers. Bold by yesterday’s standards.

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I don’t want to mislead you about the front door. We did have one— right there in plain sight, smack dab in the middle of our house where you couldn’t miss it. People were known to use it, but ideally, it was reserved for “company.”  Fortunately, we had a large window in the living room to the west of the front door, and two bedroom windows facing the front yard to the east. These were necessary lookout posts, in case some of that “company” made a sneaky appearance at our front door. On more than one occasion, we scrambled about the house like pinballs bouncing off furnishings and each other as we hurriedly picked up and swept the house before an unexpected guest arrived. If “company” entered the “faux” front door, they had to be greeted by the “faux” tidy house. It would have been shocking if they had encountered the mass of creative energy splayed everywhere in true open-air-market/swap-meet fashion. My mother kept a very clean house—right into the obscure corners—but she was hard-pressed to keep up with the three Tasmanian Devils that whirled through every room in expressive, chaotic disorder. Imagine the havoc we might have caused had we been allowed to use the front door on a regular basis? Instead, we tracked our dirt, milk carton moth cages, lizard pets, roller skates (complete with keys), skateboards, skip tapes, jump ropes, club paraphernalia, flies, and an abundance of “stuff” in and out the back door where all was welcome. (Our mother was not just a good sport, she encouraged our creative energy—often winking at the untidiness we left in our wake).

taz-the-tazmanian-devil-spinning-tattooBusinesses and restaurants continue to adhere to the old philosophy of back door users, and they’re wise to do so. They tend to reserve back doors for deliveries, employees and discarding garbage. A restaurant’s clientele would drop-off considerably if patrons had to squeeze by bussers sporting stained and splattered aprons, carrying stinky garbage cans in and out the front door.

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You mustn’t be fooled by the front door paradox! Just because special people—indeed, company—were received at, or entered through the front door, doesn’t mean that all were among those who most benefitted, or blessed, our family, or that they were always those who were most welcome. Salesmen, such as the legendary Fuller Brush Man, solicitors, and other such persons, tracked the neighborhoods of my youth to peddle their wares. They always came to the front door.

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Special “back door people”—whom we never referred to as “company”—had a better title: “friend.” In reality, being a “back door user” means you have earned the reputation of “comfortable”—it means we’re comfortable enough with you to let our guard down, to let you see us as we are in our untidiness, to trust you with our true lives. It means real, not faux. Those who came through the back door in my youth were friends and neighbors who shared our toys, our time, and our lives. They were often my mother’s friends, women who sat and chatted at the kitchen table while my mother folded clothes. These people were back door blessings, and remain so today.

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My mother may not have welcomed everything that came through her back door, however. Certainly, we brought in more than our fair share of dirt, let in a multitude of flies, and sometimes wore her out with our endless door-slamming and clamoring in and out, the messes we made, and the arsenal of creative material we carried back and forth through the back door that we needed to pretend with. Perhaps she dreaded what might come through that door, or the persistent knocking, doorbell ringing and petitions of neighbor kids wanting us to come out and play. I don’t remember her finding fault with any of these things (except the flies and door slamming), but sometimes I wonder about the other things….

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We all have things we dread—things that sneak in, like annoying flies, through the back door of opportunity or circumstance. I have experienced some of these kinds of things in my life—things I didn’t want, didn’t anticipate, and, in fact, dreaded. Things that snuck in the back door of my life while I had my hands and attention focused on dishwater. Things like a house fire, a hole in the roof, and a broken neck. They sound horrible, and in many ways are! They can be frightening, can turn one’s life upside down, and may wreak havoc all over the place!

Oddly enough, each may turn out to be a back door blessing. Yes! It’s true! I know, because I have experienced these very back door blessings in my life.

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Back Door Blessing – Example #1: Kitchen Fire

One night, I returned from an evening choir rehearsal to find the inside of our house charred. Structurally, the house was still sound, but the fire had singed much of the kitchen, and the smoke had painted the house with blackened fingers, leaving its smoldering scent behind as a souvenir. After finding family members to be safe and well, I sat on a dining room chair in stupefied amazement. How would we ever clean-up the mess that brief, but effective, fire left in its wake? At that moment, all I could envision was working from morning until night for months on end in an attempt at futility. It was daunting and I was overwhelmed. To my utter surprise, a man appeared through the back door that very night, carrying blessings in his capable hands. Before I arrived home, my husband had already made some phone calls, bringing an army of recruits to arms! Here was a man, sent by our insurance company, specializing in restoring homes after fire damage. Before long, ALL of our belongings—from cans of tomato sauce to mismatched socks—had been packed up, lock, stock and barrel, shipped off to be cleaned, and returned to us after the entire house—save the basement—had been revamped, repainted, re-carpeted, re-floored, reinstalled with new appliances and cabinetry, and essentially, re-everything-ed! I’ll never forget opening the first box of clothing returned to us: sweaters, jeans, and underwear had been cleaned, pressed, neatly folded, wrapped in fresh, white paper, and bound with a golden seal. I nearly cried. It was a beautiful thing.

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“A kitchen fire—a back door blessing?” you ask. You bet!  In fact, so many blessings resulted, I can barely count them! I came home one day to discover kind neighbors had come in through the back door and left a Crock Pot of simmering stew for us. Firemen came with special donations. Our church family offered loving assistance. Our insurance adjuster was of the most generous sort. But greatest of all was the assurance that God was mindful of us, waiting to pour out tender mercies to us in our extremity, and to remind us of what matters most. We were all alive and well, we had our home, we were safe from harm, and gratitude was the only suitable response to this would-be misfortune.

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Back Door Blessing – Example #2: Broken Neck

For much of his life, my husband Brad’s worst fear was breaking his neck, and yet, one sunny morning almost thirty years ago, it happened. Next door. On a trampoline. Witnessed by three of our, then, four children. It was surreal in so many ways. I will spare you the details of that whole ordeal. Summing up, after three months in a halo brace, having a piece of his rib fused to his neck, and adequate healing time, no one would ever know, now, that for a moment, Brad wavered between normal bodily activity and paralysis. The accident barged into the back door of our lives like an unwelcome, loud-mouthed, rudely mannered form of company. It disrupted everything that was normal, and caused untold physical suffering and pain. It caused temporary anxiety, and a looming question mark as to what the future would hold. You may be asking yourself if any back door blessings could possibly come from a broken neck. The miraculous answer? An innumerable amount.

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Again, the love and support of friends, family, church family, and virtual strangers was mind-boggling. People are good, and want to help others. I still remember with gratitude the ambulance crew that treated Brad with kit glove delicacy, insuring he suffered no further damage, delivering him to the hospital with extreme care and caution. The neurosurgeon, whose skill and expertise we trusted so implicitly, was a great back door blessing. The act of taking stock of our lives, of reevaluation: what is necessary, what is precious, and what we were blessed to have, but perhaps had not fully appreciated, and of the immense gift of health, all tiptoed in through the back door, unfolding their priceless value to our souls.  In the beauty of a clear, blue-sky morning, God opened the back door of my heart and mind, and intimately visited with me in His still and quiet way. He gave me complete and absolute assurance that He lives, that He knows us as individuals, that He loves us, and that He answers prayers—my prayers. (To be sure, He answers yours, as well.)

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Would I want to revisit Brad’s broken neck, or see it happen to anyone else? I answer an emphatic, “NO!” But each of us has a choice. In such situations, we can either slam the door of opportunity and growth, or we can leave it cracked open enough to let light, faith, hope and knowledge flow in.

One last story—a story as recent as these past few weeks….evidence that these kinds of things can happen anytime, anywhere.

Back Door Blessings – Example #3: A Hole in the Roof

gina halferty/staff, herald news, 7/11/06 A mother raccoon ( far left) and four of her youngsters take a peek out of their storm drain home in Tracy this afternoon.

Brad loves to feed the critters that frequent our yard. He has made the opossums, squirrels, lizards, hummingbirds and other neighborhood “folk” feel so welcome they just clamor to move in with us. (See Blog Post #9 “The Lizard Whisperer: A True Tale) Just a couple of weeks ago, we discovered one of these friendly critters—a member of a family of raccoons living in the drain under the sidewalk nearby—had been busily engaged in clawing away at the aging shingles on our roof in order to set-up housekeeping in our attic. He had succeeded in making a fist-sized hole through the plywood. It was just a matter of time before he would have made his own back door into our home.

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Since we live in my childhood home as caregivers for my 92-year-old father, Brad called my father’s insurance company to inform them of the meticulous work our “neighbor” had been doing for who knows how long. Amazingly enough, the insurance man looked up his records, and with surprised admiration, informed my husband that Daddy had been a member of their company for 54 years and had never made a claim! They waived his insurance deductible during that initial phone call, and set about assessing the damage. Turns out, the raccoon had torn up the entire ridge pole from one end of the house to the other, and had clawed away multiple areas of the roof, including the hole, trying to gain access to our inviting attic. Because of Daddy’s loyalty (and premiums), the insurance company decided to pay for the replacement of the entire roof! (The new roof was completed yesterday, but not without additional back door blessings, such as an errant nail mischievously seeking out a copper pipe flush with the plywood, thereby piercing the copper and causing a waterfall down the siding outside the house, and brownish-red water to leak through the ceiling light fixture in my work room. The back door blessing in this case was that I had not gone on planned errands, and was able to stop the deluge before more serious issues arose.)

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It seems to me, that raccoon deserves a gold medal for a job well done! Had it not been for his noisy antics on the roof late one night, we would not have been alerted to his activity. We might have discovered the fruits of his labors later on, after he’d begun redecorating the attic to suit the needs of his family. Because our uninvited “company” announced himself through the back door, so to speak, when the rains, at last, come to our drought-ridden state, we will sleep in dry comfort beneath a brand new, solid roof. I consider it Providential in every way. Truly a back door blessing.

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Sometimes, when you leave the back door unlocked, comfortable, friendly blessings tiptoe—or bulldoze—in and cozy up at the kitchen table with you. Do you always appreciate these back door blessings, at first? Perhaps not, but if you look a little deeper, and close your eyes to the annoying flies that slip in simultaneously, you’ll find these to be the best sorts of neighbors to keep company with. You’ll come to love and cherish the companionship of back door blessings long after they’ve gone.

I know I do.

© August 21, 2015

© July 15, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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Drawing a Blank

Blog Post #30

A blank mind. A blank page. Both suggest one has nothing to say. While appearing to be intrinsically the same, I’m convinced that they are positively different.

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A BLANK MIND.

I’m especially dumb (as in the dictionary definition: unable to speak) when relying solely on my mouth to communicate. A monumental disconnect forms a gaping canyon along the neural route between the plethora of thoughts in my brain and my bumbling mouth. As articulate words attempt to cross the synaptic bridge of neurons spanning the chasm, they topple into oblivion, leaving me speechless—drawing a total blank. A blank mind. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t speak. Oh-ho-ho! No, indeed! I speak because it’s expected, and to fill the void, but a lot of nonsense often ensues. I must make a conscious and focused effort to say something of value. On one such rare occasion, a rather profound sentence–which has become my byword–emerged victorious: “I can say nothing in a million words.” And there you have it. My First Blog Post EVER! A blank mind isn’t always unwelcome. Frequent are the times I think without realizing I am thinking. It requires difficult and deliberate effort to focus my thoughts, but in general, thinking is an involuntary function. I’m grateful I don’t have to think to make my heart beat, or to breathe, that my brain is at work 24/7, whether I’m aware of it or not. The fact is I can’t seem to shut my thoughts off, even when I most want to. ill_pg_044_lg Two-thirty in the morning is the worst time for cognitive awareness—what I call the “twilight hours” of the brain. I am beyond counting the number of nights I have lain awake thinking. Sometimes, twilight thoughts merely annoy, distract, and burden with reminders of what I did or didn’t do that day, or what I need to remember to do the next. Other times, they plague me with an itchy pox of unanswered questions, or magnified views of my faults and failings in a relentless and irritating way. Thoughts often torment once I move from the vertical to the horizontal position, morphing innocuous, productive ideas into destructive, unsettling—sometimes frightening—nightmares. We all experience nightmares during sleep from time to time, but “awake-mares” can be even worse. There is a greater sense of credibility to these tormenting thoughts, as I lie wide awake when I should be fast asleep. When I’m startled awake by a nightmare, I can shake it off, saying it was only a bad dream, but when I’m awake in the dark of night and my thoughts shift from annoyance to torment, it’s difficult to separate what is true from what isn’t. I’m not sure why this happens, except, perhaps, that I am so tired, my mind can’t think rationally anymore.

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“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by Goya

Twilight thinking occurs during a state of limbo between waking and sleeping, fluctuating between reality and fiction. It is at these times, I long to flip a switch in my brain and shut off thought altogether!  A blank mind would be a welcome relief. I have found prayer the only means of deliverance from this state—crawling out of bed during the wee hours to kneel by my bedside and ask for help turning off the incessant drone of faithless thoughts. Fear is nearly always tangled-up in twisted twilight thoughts, which is why faith in God is the necessary antidote. “Faith and fear cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen. I’ve found this to be true. Once faith conquers fear, my mind is eased and I am able to drift into a sleep of blank-minded sweetness (only to discover I finally fell asleep a half-hour before my alarm was set to go off).

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A System of Elocution, with Special Reference to Gesture, to the Treatment of Stammering, and Defective Articulation (1846) by Andrew Comstock

A blank mind may occur at other times, too—times less welcome than in the middle of the night—namely, any other hour of the day. It is helpful to have intelligent, worthwhile thoughts when one is awake. These can lead to intelligent, worthwhile conversation and discourse. Having the thoughts is one thing, expressing them verbally is another. When it comes to speaking, I am a slow processor. It does not necessarily follow to believe that a person who is skilled in, and enjoys writing, is also adept as a spontaneous speaker. In most cases, impromptu speech comes clumsily to me. If I am expected to answer a question, make intelligent remarks, or add to a conversation with any degree of clarity, I often have to contend with a blankness equal, or exceeding, that of a king-sized, white bed sheet. My hands, almost by necessity, must be involved if I have anything at all to say. They fly about in direct proportion to the intensity and strength of my motivation, but they do not (I repeat: DO NOT) in any way, assist my mouth in fluency of speech. It is only when my hands themselves are directly related to the creation of the words that they wax eloquent. I suppose if my fingers shriveled up and fell off, I would essentially, be left speechless. This leads me to the other “blank,” that of the blank page. 433099854_39c0d130c9_o

A BLANK PAGE.

Many people consider a blank page daunting—the blankness prompting questions such as, “Where do I start?” or “What do I say?” Writer’s block, artist’s block, and other forms of blankness may cause anxiety, and delay progress. For many, a blank page is as unwelcome as a blank mind. A blank page may even trigger a blank mind, or vice versa. 2bcfc60e72daf7116600c0b6ee6aebad To me, a blank page stands in direct contrast to a blank mind. A blank page flashes with opportunity, freedom, articulation, and countless other possibilities. A blank page shouts, “Just start, and see where it takes you!” My First Blog Post EVER! A physically blank page usually requires some type of physical contact by a hand-held medium—the use of paints, or a ballpoint pen. (A virtual blank page, such as a computer screen, may allow for voice activated commands, but that places me right back at square one with blank-mindedness.) When my hands become involved with the blank page—touching a keyboard, or holding a pencil—my neural network kicks into gear, bypassing my dysfunctional mouth, getting right to work. Suddenly, I am able to make coherent statements, and clear analogies. My hands, instinctively, know how to transmit and translate a madcap assortment of thoughts into a form that makes sense, sorting the superfluous from the necessary, the ridiculous from the practical, and the idiotic from the profound. download Sometimes, my hands begin typing and I’m surprised to see what they will say! I’m not kidding. As each sentence unfolds, I discover things I didn’t know I knew, or find new insights I had not consciously thought about before. Somehow, the connection flowing between mind and hands engages my spirit, causing a discernible ink of language to appear on what was, moments before, the blank, white bed sheet of my mind. I learn when I write. Words I didn’t know that I knew appear on the page. After checking with the dictionary, I am surprised and delighted to find I had used them correctly and in context. Sometimes, I discover what I really think about things, I find reaffirmations of my beliefs, and resurrected knowledge appearing before my eyes.  I find joy in the written word. Language is a gift and is beautiful—I’m speaking of virtuous, uplifting, worthy language. Sure, a commonplace, counterfeit, vulgar variety of language is always out there, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about elevated intelligence flowing into one’s spirit, enlightening and filling with joy. notebook-paper-pencil-drawing-sketch-bird-draw Language isn’t the only way to fill a blank page. My heart takes wing when drawing, sketching and creating beautiful images with pencil and paint. Swirling hues and tints in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of color add to the joy, and heighten expression. Sometimes, black and white and subtle shades of gray are required to express truth. Equally worthy to spreading joy and hope, is the expression of truth, virtue, and beauty. These form the epitome of worthy expression. Filling a blank page with things that drag down and depress may express truth, but do little to fill someone’s cup, and elevate their soul. images The same is true of a blank sheet of music manuscript paper, a silent musical instrument, an empty stage, or other worthy possibilities of expression. 2d434d834dc0b979b8c5546482e18757vk7gF Blankness is paradoxical. On the one hand, a blank page, or a blank mind, signifies muteness, while on the other hand, the same signifies an opportunity for expression. Blankness signifies an impediment, as well as a doorway to possibility. Blankness also signifies a source of anxiety, and a path to peace. This morning, I sat down to a blank page with my mind blank as to what would fill it. I let my fingers touch the keys, and watched what unfolded. It’s always exciting to see what the blank page will teach me. muscari-114577_640

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, and from thy slender store Two loaves alone to thee are left, Sell one, and with the dole Buy Hyacinths to feed thy Soul.

– Muslihuddin Sadi,  13th Century Persian Poet

© July 15, 2015

© July 15, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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Painting the Roses Red

Blog Post #29

As Alice explored Wonderland, she happened upon three gardeners in the form of playing cards busily painting the queen’s white roses red. When she asked them why they did this, they explained that they had planted white roses by mistake, and were frantically attempting to conceal the error with red paint before the queen found out, lest they lose their heads.

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The image of the playing cards painting the white roses red sprang into my mind a few days ago, as I took stock of my 60-year-old image in the mirror. After conflicting emotions, and months of deliberation, I had decided to stop painting the white roses red. (More accurately, I decided to stop painting the white roots brown.) I couldn’t help but see the comparison. I applied paint hoping to camouflage the white “roses” lest someone noticed they were white instead of red. I’m not sure who would care that the roses weren’t red, or who I thought I was fooling…the only person I can think of is—well, me. I am short at only five-feet, one-inch tall. Anyone even a hair (no pun intended) taller than I could easily detect shimmering silver peeping through unnaturally dark locks atop my head. Most people are too polite to say anything—most, that is, but not all. Twenty years ago, when I was barely forty, a young fellow who stood two heads taller than I detected the shimmer, and with stunned candor, announced to the world (at least, the world inside our house) “you have gray hair!” At that point, I may not have lost my head, but I remember that I lost my composure. I didn’t know how to respond to that, and shrank into silent embarrassment. I had been “found out!” I would have found it no less disconcerting if he had yelled, “Off with her head!”

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For many women, aging means a buffet of life-changes in multiple courses, many of which are sometimes difficult to swallow. Oddly enough, the Smorgasbord of life begins with a feast of desserts! Sweet and palatable, Youth is oblivious to the effects of age, coming with a devil-may-care attitude, a sense of indestructibility, and of time standing still. As one grows into young adulthood, one eases into appetizer trays rich with deep-fried flavor, unhampered by worries of clogged arteries, or muffin tops. Following earlier, carefree times are meat and potato entrées that may consist of choosing a companion, furthering one’s education, pursuing a career, and the responsibilities of family life. A jog around the block pushing a stroller keeps one fit and one’s thoughts far from the vultures of time and gravity waiting patiently to pounce on the carrion of one’s future. One’s thoughts may wander to advanced age, but possibly only in reference to asking grandparents to babysit. Middle age is the time for salads and smoothies—watching what one eats, and guarding one’s health. Finally, during advanced years, one dines on entrails (innards). Awareness of the aging process becomes more difficult to ignore during the entrails course since as one gets older, one’s bodily counterparts to innards tend to become more outspoken. In addition, evidence of other aging issues may be hard to swallow—even when “painted red” by tucking, squeezing, dying, exercising, studying, meditating, or moisturizing. Body shape and size, hair, skin, attitude, behavior, mental acuity, physical capacity, and other sundry changes are inevitabilities of life, leaving bare chicken bones and crumbs from the feast on the plate for one to shiver at with dismay.

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The truth of what I once was, outwardly—a lithe, fair-skinned brunette—is not quite the truth of what, outwardly, I am now. Traces of the past remain, even though, from a distance, one may not see significant alterations. Up close, the telltale signs are flashing in neon. It is hard to avoid the persistent work of time and gravity over the years—evidenced in wrinkles, lines, discolorations, sags, and so on. The mirror reveals the truth bluntly and without the least bit of sensitivity, especially in broad daylight. By evening, the mirror is kinder, but only because the sun in its time of setting paints the light into a soft and rosy hue. (Ah! It appears that as each day ages, the setting sun has sympathy on other aging things, and paints the roses red!)

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During a discussion with my oral hygienist one morning, she declared that of all the changes that come with aging, the loss of pigment is the saddest for her. (She was referring, of course, to her hair.) My reply to this was, “I haven’t lost my pigment. It has relocated: from my head to spots on my face.” We laughed about it, but it is one of the unsettling facts of life that aging has a way of shifting things around, such as pigment, muscle tone, and the “F” word: FAT.  Although my weight is the same as what it was in my youth, how it is distributed is startling and a bit discomfiting. Even dendrites—the neural networks of the brain—are sometimes rearranged or reduced in number and efficiency, wreaking all sorts of havoc for some poor aging souls.

We talk about ‘growing old gracefully,’ but what does that really mean? Is it referring to one’s appearance, one’s mental or emotional state, or one’s behavior? I suspect, all.

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It is, precisely, the question of how one grows old gracefully that prompted my thoughts about painting the roses red. As I stared at my image in the unforgiving mirror, I asked, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, where is the girl who, once, I saw?”

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The glaring feature prompting this chant was my hair. Truthfully, I was never proud of this feature. My hair had always been dark brown and wildly curly—in a frizzy, windblown sort of way. When I was a teen, straight hair was in, and mine was not. I never ironed it, (though it was faddish to do so), nor did I do anything drastic like that, but I did go through time-consuming gyrations to smooth and straighten it out. Inheriting genes for prematurely gray hair, at age fifteen, I held a single strand between my fingers, announcing to my peers, “Look! A blonde hair!” That’s when the mindset that led to ‘painting the roses red’ began. I was in denial, even as a teen. In my early thirties, I was appalled to see myself in a photograph wearing whitish earmuffs on either side of my face around the area of my temples. I wasn’t ready to be gray by thirty-five, so I began the unhappy task of painting the roses red. I didn’t want to be a blonde, or a redhead. I was happy just being what I had always been: a brunette.

After thirty years of applying layer over layer of my “natural” color to mask the gray, (no salon for me—I did it myself), I found I was finally sick and tired of being a slave to white roots. They are persistent and devious—making paparazzi appearances at the least opportune times. Standing in front of the mirror, I wondered if I had strayed from the graceful path of aging. Is covering gray, or accepting it for what it is, considered graceful? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question; one must answer that question for oneself. I do believe growing old gracefully encompasses physical, mental, emotional and behavioral aspects of oneself. I have always envisioned it as meaning one gratefully accepts the inevitable, and makes the most of each blessed day of life—living optimistically, fully, joyfully, and trusting in the eternal plan of a loving Heavenly Father.

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In response to my idea of gracefully aging, I believe it really doesn’t matter if one paints the roses red or not–especially if one finds joy in the process and outcome. Some might argue the “truth thing”—that one is hiding the truth, or deceiving others into believing one is what one is not. Really, now? Is it any different from wearing a little mascara, or blush, or from tanning creams, high-heeled shoes, or control-top pantyhose? A favorite author from my past said that ‘even a barn looked better painted,’ and that one should care enough about one’s appearance to repair broken fences, and add a coat of paint now and then. Who likes an eyesore? Part of taking care of one, and contributing to one’s self-respect is presenting oneself as clean, tidy, and well-groomed. For some, a spot of blush just might brighten one’s appearance and one’s outlook.

At any rate, and thankfully, hiding one’s silvery roots won’t cause one to lose one’s head! It causes me to wonder why it seems such a big deal in the first place—at least to some (including myself). Just as one gradually ages, I have decided to ease my way into my ‘natural’ hair color—or lack thereof. The beautician who cuts my hair, told me I am one of the “lucky ones”—that my roots are silvery white (thanks to my mother), not salt and pepper gray. This “easing into whiteness” will be a gradual process, so as not to shock anyone (most especially so as not to shock me). I will strip the roses of their red paint, and enjoy the beauty of the white roses. White roses have a beauty all their own, do they not? And a white rose, by any other color, will still smell as sweet.

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I will still be me. The me inside—my eternal spirit—still looks out of this aging shell of a body through sixteen year-old eyes. Perhaps therein we find the answer to the question of growing old gracefully. Perhaps growing old gracefully means living the truth of who and what you are within, no matter what alterations occur without. If this is the case, then growing old gracefully should begin in our youth, for shouldn’t we all live a life true to the values and attributes we cherish? Living true to one’s values means not allowing someone else to paint you red if you are truly white.

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I have begun the process of stripping the red paint from my white roses.  Just as one liberates and refinishes an old piece of furniture as one strips layers of chipping paint and faded stain gradually revealing a naturally beautiful wood grain quietly enduring underneath, there is, likewise, a liberating and refinishing quality in tossing out the ‘red’ paint, and relaxing into the ‘white’ reality shining through. Like Alice, one might ask why paint over the white roses in the first place. I might ask myself the same question. I’m not sure the answer is as clear to me as it was to the playing card gardeners. I hope I don’t react like the Queen of Hearts and shout, “Off with her [my] head!”  Perhaps a better question might be, will I come to appreciate and enjoy the white roses for their truth and beauty?

I like to think the answer will be ‘yes.’

© June 12, 2015

© June 12, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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“The Art of Transformation”

Blog Post #28

*Dear Friends, I am pleased to share this article written for a recent issue of The Mogul Muse Magazine, of which I am currently Writer-in-Residence.

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“You can fly, but that cocoon has to go!” – Mary Ellen Edmunds

There is a word feared and avoided more than most in the English language. It threatens, it cajoles, it looms, it surprises. It induces stress and heightens anxiety. It is both menacing and nurturing. Innocent in its intentions, it is the standard-bearer of growth. In most cases, innocuous, it can brighten one’s perspective, act as a harbinger of hope, and create anticipation and excitement, yet in the same breath, it may grip one with fear. What is this simple word? It is change.

Why does change create so many diverse and emotionally charged reactions? I believe, by its very nature, it suggests the unknown. Let’s face it—the unknown can be unnerving. Especially when change creates unknowns in things close to one’s heart—one’s being, one’s thinking, one’s relationships, or one’s way of life.

Change is like that. In a moment, the Unknown may rear its precipitous head, and normal life goes topsy-turvy—a layoff, an accident, a death. But in all fairness, change doesn’t necessarily denote something bad. It can also bring happy surprises. A new baby, for example—one moment, in mother’s womb, the next, cuddled and adored by the whole family. (The household still turned upside down, but the repercussions are, for the most part, positive.)

Here are a few possible examples of positive change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.

Now, consider if you will, a few possible examples of negative change: a new job, a wedding, a new home, or a move.

The power of change as a force for good or ill depends largely on how we choose to view it.

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Interestingly, it is the nature of change to be unsettling, even in the best of times. Clinging to the apron strings of any kind of major change are tinier seeds of change that potentially produce positive or negative results, or both. A new job may bring better pay, but longer hours and more stress. A wedding brings blissful joys at the same time generating expenses, difficult decisions, and perhaps stirring up familial issues. A new home may mean a fresh start, more room, or better location, but it may also mean leaving an old home, changing schools, and leaving friends behind. A move is, at best, stressful, but may open up a variety of new opportunities.

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Like foxtails that work their way into the fabric of life, tiny seeds of change riding on the backs of greater changes poke and prickle until one takes notice. For example, an injury may carry with it foxtails of fear and uncertainty about one’s future, as well as cockleburs of faith and determination. The injured may choose complete debilitation by cultivating the seeds of fear, or he or she may choose nurturing faith over despair, engendering newfound strengths and the ability to inspire others. In choosing to nurture the good or the bad seed, a transformation will occur. Plucking out the annoyance, while planting and nourishing the good seeds of change, will over time, transform those seedlings as they grow into good fruit. Neglecting potentially good seed, while allowing bad seeds to fester, will eventually cause bitterness and further tribulation.

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‘Change” may, at first, appear to be the ‘bad guy.’

Changing oneself is the most disconcerting transformation of all. Purposely seeking to change aspects of oneself may mean recognizing an inherent quality that is unhealthy, destructive, or unworthy. On the other hand, it may mean cultivating positive attributes that are underdeveloped. In purposeful transformation, change may itself appear to be “the bad guy” (it’s difficult, it nags, it’s demanding). But after effecting change, “the good guy” emerges (it got easier, I no longer need reminders, I triumphed). The fruit of change then appears and validates with improved health, healthier relationships, increased gifts and talents, peace, hope, and shared joy.

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The fruit of ‘change’ has the power to convert ‘bad’ into ‘good’

Some seek change for the wrong reasons, such as to fit someone else’s standard or ideal of beauty, or to feel a part of a group, cult, or clique. While it may be advantages to conform to higher standards of morality and appearance related to a worthy institution or belief system, to seek to lower one’s true nature for the sake of popularity or acceptance is self-deceptive and may very well be self-destructive.

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A classic example of transformation is represented by the life cycle of a butterfly. At first, a caterpillar eats and eats and eats, preparing for the pending change of circumstance. Once it builds its chrysalis, it fearlessly faces the unknown—it doesn’t know exactly what it will become, or what the process of “becoming” will be like, but it is committed to fulfilling its mission. Consequently, it is bound-up in a tight spot of its own making for a while. I suspect it is cramped and uncomfortable, and endures growing pains during the process of transformation. At last, it emerges, a new being, with a new demeanor and wardrobe, and a new means of transportation. No longer will the caterpillar be forced to creep and crawl, but will now have wings to flit and flutter about the garden.

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Does the butterfly fret and stew over the chrysalis? Does it drag it along wherever it goes? Does it cling to its old ways of doing things, crawling instead of flying? The answer is an emphatic NO!

Indeed, the butterfly embraces the change in its entirety. It moves forward with a sense of mission and purpose. It is fulfilling the measure of its creation, and by so doing has and gives joy.

Transformation may be rooted in our thinking and belief systems. If we believe change is good, or that we can or should change for the better, then we stand a better chance of effecting positive results. If we believe there’s no point to change, and that we can’t change, we will essentially remain stagnant.

Consider the following two versions of a wonderful fable of transformation, each having a different result.

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1 – The Eagle Who Thought He Was a Chicken:

A baby eagle became orphaned. He glided down to the ground from his nest but was not yet able to fly. A man picked him up. The man took him to a farmer and said, “This is a special kind of barnyard chicken that will grow up big.” The farmer said, “Don’t look like no barnyard chicken to me.” “Oh yes, it is. You will be glad to own it.” The farmer took the baby eagle and placed it with his chickens.

The baby eagle learned to imitate the chickens. He could scratch the ground for grubs and worms too. He grew up thinking he was a chicken.

Then one day an eagle flew over the barnyard. The eagle looked up and wondered, “What kind of animal is that? How graceful, powerful, and free it is.” Then he asked another chicken, “What is that?” The chicken replied, “Oh, that is an eagle. But don’t worry yourself about that. You will never be able to fly like that.”

And the eagle went back to scratching the ground. He continued to behave like the chicken he thought he was. Finally he died, never knowing the grand life that could have been his.     

My First Blog Post EVER! 2 – Fable of the Eagle and the Chicken:

When an eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to the farm, and raised him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The eagle grew up doing what chickens do, living like a chicken, and believing he was a chicken.

A naturalist came to the chicken farm to see if what he had heard about an eagle acting like a chicken was really true. He knew that an eagle is king of the sky. He was surprised to see the eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting very much like a chicken. The farmer explained to the naturalist that this bird was no longer an eagle. He was now a chicken because he had been trained to be a chicken and he believed that he was a chicken.

The naturalist knew there was more to this great bird than his actions showed as he “pretended” to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle moved slightly, only to look at the man; then he glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable. He jumped off the fence and continued doing what chickens do. The farmer was satisfied. “I told you it was a chicken,” he said.

The naturalist returned the next day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that the eagle was born for something greater. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and spoke to him: “Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The large bird looked at the man, then again down into the chicken coop. He jumped from the man’s arm onto the roof of the farmhouse.

Knowing what eagles are really about, the naturalist asked the farmer to let him try one more time. He would return the next day and prove that this bird was an eagle. The farmer, convinced otherwise, said, “It is a chicken.”

The naturalist returned the next morning to the chicken farm and took the eagle and the farmer some distance away to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new setting. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning above. He spoke: “Eagle, thou art an eagle! Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly.” This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.

Both stories are from Walk Tall, You’re A Daughter Of God, by Jamie Glenn

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Truly, you are not caterpillars. You are not chickens. Figuratively speaking, you are butterflies and eagles. Embrace worthy transformation….

Fly!

What if I fly

~~~~~~~~~~~

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© May 22, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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Duet

Blog Post # 27 

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I just returned from practicing a piano duet with a wonderful friend who loves the sweet cadences and depth of feeling that pour from heart to fingers to keys to ears as much as I do. What an absolute joy to share one piano keyboard to make beautiful music together!

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Hands: my mother’s and my       niece’s.      Duet.

When my sister, Karen, and I were young, we often “jammed” at the piano, later adding other instruments to the mix. It was at the piano that we learned to sync our hands and hearts. From Chopsticks, and Heart and Soul, we graduated to our own rendition of a tune from the now defunct Disney attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, banging out the song with knee-slapping, joyful abandon. We felt the other’s timing and touch so well, we could duplicate the unison parts with perfect accuracy. This translated to other parts of life: finishing each other’s sentences, and reading each other’s thoughts from across the room.

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My mother during her college days

It was my mother’s love of music, combined with her proclivity toward the piano in particular, that bred a long line of piano players among her posterity. Duets were a natural outcropping from the bedrock of piano-loving family members, and remind me of a time when my mother was still alive. She was a fine pianist and loved to play hours at a time. I recall falling asleep to piano sonatas and waking on a Sunday morning to sacred hymns. I would come home from school to find my mother and one or the other of her two piano-playing friends at my mother’s baby grand, their hands executing complicated dance moves as they flew across the ivories revealing a classical masterpiece arranged for four hands. I knew the expectation—I was to wait until they stopped before interrupting them for anything, with the exception of an emergency. Some of those pieces lasted ten or fifteen minutes—a long time to wait for an anxious young mind. After waiting what seemed an eternity, I finally interrupted—Sheryl had been hanging on the phone wondering if I could come over to play! If that wasn’t an emergency, I don’t know what was!

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My beautiful mother, perhaps playing Liebestraum or the Harp Etude so many years ago…

When I grew older, my mother invited me to join her playing piano duets. She had high standards of excellence, and insisted I fix any technical errors at the very moment they were discovered—repeatedly playing a bar or two until I had mastered the phrase. I was never technically adept, but I made up for it with unsurpassed expressivo (feeling), for I certainly felt the beauty and emotion of the music, even if I couldn’t always play the notes correctly. Still, she wanted me by her side, and over time, I improved.

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After I had a family of my own, my mother and I performed at a church function an involved arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever (the famous, easily recognizable march by John Phillip Sousa). It was a marvelous experience! I think the rehearsing was as much or more fun than the performance. A unique kind of bond forms when playing piano duets. There’s something about triumphing over difficult passages, hearing rough sight-reading sessions resolve into a harmonious whole, and feeling the emotional drama unfold with dynamic expression. I think the most satisfying part is when you feel an emotional connection to the music, and you know that an entirely different person sitting next to you is also feeling the music in exactly the same way you are, because you can anticipate and respond to what they’re feeling with perfect harmonious unity. (This doesn’t necessarily mean every note is perfectly executed, or that there is flawless technique. It means that two individuals are, for the moment, one in spirit.)

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Amanda playing duets with her grandmother.                                               So special.

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Amanda with my mother.

When grandchildren came along, besides building puzzles together, and intensely competitive games of Scrabble, my mother invited them to play duets with her. While several enjoyed this privilege, one grandchild in particular latched onto this opportunity. Amanda excelled in playing the classical cadences and disciplined execution of the pieces my mother most enjoyed, which was satisfying to my mother. They made a good team, sometimes performing at church, and frequently for the family. I will venture to guess that Amanda formed a uniquely intimate bond with her grandmother through these duets.

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My son and his wife playing piano together.

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They really get into it!

When my own children were comfortable enough with the piano, I did my best to wrangle them into playing duets with me, however most preferred going solo. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter Caity grew adept enough to participate that I found a duet partner among my children. Even during trying and difficult teenage times, we found common ground and a laughing place sitting at the piano together. Our repertoire ranged from Mozart to Joplin—all played with equally blatant disregard for correct technique and execution. What we lost in technical expertise we made up for in expression. We loved the dynamics of the theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Burgmüller’s Arabesque. They were our wide-awake pieces. We blew threw them at Nascar speed, and with a roar to equal the revving engines! Who can resist every piano student’s favorite, Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? We couldn’t. We dashed through it with unparalleled velocity and vigor, laughing all the way. We didn’t limit ourselves to lively pieces, however. Once, when playing an arrangement of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopèdie (which is serenity itself) we became so sleepy, we literally dozed on the bench. A much as we liked the piece, we haven’t played it since.

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Two of my grandchildren. When they visit, one or the other, or both are always at the piano. I LOVE IT!

I found a much simpler arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that usually brought up the rear flank of our duets each time we played. Racing to beat each other to the end of the unison octaves forming the introduction, we immediately stalled into a belly-scraping crawl—plodding through the bars forming the first strain. The oom-pah-pahs in the secondo part (the bottom hands) were just too much for Caity to play full-speed, yet she insisted upon playing the lower part. I can attest to the fact that it really is difficult to play anything while laughing uncontrollably. We created more guffaws than music. Stars and Stripes became the backbone of hilarity for our duet sessions, and bridged difficult moments with laughter. How grateful I am for the time we spent at the piano together—we made more than music. We engraved musical notes into a stone monument of love. From time to time, when she is in town, we pull out the duet books and laugh it up all over again.

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My mother with my sister, brother and me singing Christmas carols. Another great tradition at the                     piano.

There are many forms of the duet other than those played on the piano. Singing together creates a similar experience and bond, as well as playing other instruments together. But duets don’t have to be limited to music. Four hands, or two souls, when combined in a mutually appreciated and unified effort have the same effect. Duets can build structures, repair cars, prepare meals, dance, climb mountains, and serve others, to name a few.

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Caity and Brad

I’ve watched as my husband Brad with one of our sons or daughters repaired a car, or saddled the horses for a ride. There’s something special in that. There’s a shared feeling of accomplishment and triumph when they both roll out from under the car with greasy hands, unitedly having solved a problem. Other kinds of problems may be solved, or circumvented in the process, as hands and minds repair, restore, or tune-up a thing of greater value—a relationship. There’s a connection when two set off alone on a moonlight ride. They return with a bit of moon inside of them—a bit of that light that warms and unites two hearts against the darkness.

The same may be true when four hands cook or bake side-by-side together, creating a culinary masterpiece or a simple peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in the doing together that the bond is created.

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My father with our granddaughter–his great-         granddaughter–where else, but at the piano.

There are other valuable duets: mentor and apprentice, hero and sidekick, teacher and student, peer and peer, friend and friend, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild, husband and wife.

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 One of the most rewarding duets outside of family relationships is when two work together to serve another. Four hands lifting and assisting someone in need, or lifting and serving each other. I have witnessed the power of this duet. It is strong, powerful, and life changing. When two combine their personal gifts and strengths to help another, they develop an unspoken bond. It’s difficult to pinpoint or explain, but I have experienced this, and can tell you that you feel one in purpose and one in heart when you lay aside other plans, and together with another like-minded person, give your time and energy to serve someone in need. You don’t even have to know the person with whom you serve prior to the moment of service. When you are finished, you see them through a familiar lens of understanding and compassion. You are like them and they like you—linked together in a uniquely special way. Four hands, two hearts, one mind.

It is not my purpose to lessen the value of trios, quartets, or other numerical combinations of people gathered for a unified experience. Not at all. Having participated in trios, quartets, double-quartets, and choirs composed of hundreds of souls, I can attest to the fact that there is a shared and harmonious unity in those experiences—even an unparalleled thrill to be part of such a group effort.

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Me at the piano as a teenager–many eons ago.

Playing solo also has its place and benefits. It can provide lessons of courage and accomplishment, and boost self-confidence. Spending hours alone at the piano, alone with one’s thoughts, and the beautiful and inspiring music created is therapeutic.  Pounding out frustration and thinking things through are endeavors worked out on piano keys or through music throughout the ages. All of these are productive, purposeful, and enjoyable.

Amanda and Grandma playing the piano together, 1997?

Some of the family enjoying a duet.

But when there’s only one, there’s no one else to share the thrill and joy of the experience. When alone, one’s focus tends to center on self—one’s vision narrows. One—a single entity—benefits from another who can provide balance and communion. With two, the focus shifts to the other. What is the other feeling? Will I be able to tune myself to his or her mind and heart? Will we be able to connect and create a thing harmonious and beautiful?

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When we du-et, (do it) it’s magical!

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From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

© May 6, 2015


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It’s About Time

Blog Post #26 

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(*Originally written March 29, 2015)

Last night, I discovered I had allowed my domain account to expire. This means that my blog disappeared. I called my excellent blog savvy daughter for help (she helped me set it up in the beginning) and through her instruction got the domain reinstated. However, this morning, when I checked my blog, it was still gone. Feeling a little panicked, I called my daughter again. She began the task of trying to get my blog platform back on track.

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My daughter has a busy life, and already spends a great deal of time dealing with internet/computer issues. I felt terrible taking up so much of her time trying to fix my problem. I might have sidestepped this puddle of problems if I had had more foresight. It bothers me to think of the time she has been wasting on my account.

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In contemplating this, I began to think about Time, and why I hate to see Time wasted. What is time, anyway? It is something elusive and intangible, and yet can be such a taskmaster. It drives us out of bed in the morning, dictates meals, events, chores, and other activities, commands punctuality, but begs for relaxation, and may even wake us from a sound sleep in the middle of the night worrying about meeting its demands later on.

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We willingly submit to Time’s regimentation, too. By choice, we invite Time to control our very existence in offensive ways. For example, we set clocks—sometimes, right next to our heads—to blast annoyingly loud and obnoxious sounds at ridiculous hours to startle us out of bed. We wear Time as jewelry, or as part of our clothing ensemble, to carry its nagging influence with us every waking hour. We even place large timepieces in conspicuous places in every venue we visit to remind us who, or more aptly, what is in charge. For it is Time that people rush to meet, check on to stay within obscure but rigid bounds, and that tells us when we can take a break. We are literal slaves to Time.

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So what is Time? It’s one of the most difficult things to define and capture. It has no substance, no shape, no mass, nor profile. It cannot be visualized except by how it relates to things that happen during its reign. A timeline depicts key events occurring during Time’s tenure, but it does little to help us understand the true nature of Time itself, except to point out that it exists—you guessed it!—throughout the span of TIME! Yes, for millennia, mankind has bowed to its strict dictatorship, without ever catching hold of what it is.

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Interestingly enough, for all the things Time isn’t, there is one thing Time is: Time is measureable. We can calculate how much we need, how much we’ve used, how much is left, and how long till we press the “reset” button to have another chunk of Time to use or waste as we see fit.

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For me, it is a rare and precious commodity. I have been known to hoard it. I have often wished for more of it, but it is extremely stingy and precise. It gives the same to everyone—be they king, peasant, homemaker, or businessman. It matters not where on the globe you live, or how rich or poor you are. It treats all people—young and old—with the same tacit economy. Either you adhere to its dictates, or you live the life of a vegetable. Ha! Even a vegetable bows to Time—for vegetables grow and change and decay, and growth and change of any kind need Time in order to occur.

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What of wasting Time? I detest the thought of it. What do you consider wasted time? I have a long list of things that fit into that category. Some of the things I might consider a waste of Time, you might find valuable and high on your list of worthy uses of Time. It is a personal thing. It can be hard to define. On any given day, something you once considered a total waste of Time may become of great value, and on another day, it may be the opposite. Through the lens of Time, things can become distorted, or possibly, more distinct and accurate. Priorities shift, bow, and adjust to Time’s influence.

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An ever-changing spectrum of activities spins round us on a daily basis—one eternal round of things to be done that take up a tidbit of Time here, a boatload of Time there—taking more Time or less Time than is adequate or desired. Even things done routinely may be categorized as requiring more of our precious Time than is truly needed. Take, for example, dishes, meal preparation, and laundry. They make their appearances in a routine fashion—day after day—to the point of becoming a burden or a nuisance to many. They hover there in the vacuum of Time while we try to wish them away. Thinking about them may take more Time than actually doing them, making Time deceitfully cunning at stealing away Time from the unwary, or more especially, from the Procrastinator. (A Procrastinator is Time’s evil twin incarnate.) If we “time” how long it really takes to clean a meal’s worth of dishes, we may find it only takes a matter of minutes, whereas the Time spent dreading and thinking about the chore may eat up hours.  

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Wasting Time can be a stress inducer. It can cause an otherwise sane person to have bouts of temporary insanity. An example of this it when one wakes up with a list of  pertinent “to dos,” but fills the early morning hours sitting at the computer dillydallying with social media, instead of effectively knocking off things on the list. Another example might be when one gets sidetracked by a box of old school memorabilia when one intended to clean the closet in which said memorabilia was found. By chance, one looks up at the (ever nagging, blatantly scolding) clock, and notices hours have passed, and that in thirteen short minutes one is supposed to be showered, dressed, and out the door for an important engagement! One suddenly moves from a state of relaxed euphoria to a panic-stricken maniac! Suddenly, everyone and everything in one’s way is at fault, and an obstacle to one’s top priority—being On Time!

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This is not one of my time wasting issues. I learned my lesson about wasting time in that manner a long, long time ago.  I trifle more with Time at a different level. I try to outsmart it. I lie in bed of a morning, after watching the clock every hour on the hour to make sure I don’t oversleep, and bargain with Time: “If you will give me fifteen minutes more to sleep, I will make it up later on by going to bed fifteen minutes earlier.”    Or “If you will make this hour that I need to get ready for company go by at a slower pace, I won’t complain about the slow hour spent in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.” (Only sometimes, I still complain.)

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Ah, such are the lengths some of us go to try to manipulate Time, all the while knowing, deep down, that Time is staunchly unwavering. It is as constant and consistent as the rising of the sun. And aren’t we grateful for that? For how would it be if we couldn’t depend on the very seconds, minutes and hours of life to mark out their space exactly as they do? We would be like a child at the beach, ever chasing the waves lapping the shore—in and out, back and forth—never exactly knowing which wave will overlap another, pulling and tugging and catching our toes unaware, ever knocking down the sandcastle plans of our lives.

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For Time, all are “created equal,” and this is a blessing. No one can gain the advantage over another by having less or more of it, or of moving within it more quickly, or more slowly. No one can travel back in time, or into the future. It is fortunate, indeed, that no one can tamper with time, wreaking havoc on the lives of innocent people and creating immeasurable chaos. Time is an “equal opportunity employer,”—how we choose to use the Time given us is what matters. Those who squander it will never be able to make up for that which they lose.  Those who respect it, using it carefully, prayerfully, and wisely will be able to look back on their Time without regret.

How I wish I had taken the time to keep my blog domain up to date. I currently wouldn’t be suspended in time—waiting to post this to my blog. It is a lesson well learned. I grew up with the saying:  A stitch in time saves nine. I have supposed this meant that if one made the required stitch when a hole first appears in a garment, one would save nine extra back-pedaling stitches to repair a larger hole. (Sadly, I have experience with this.) I would like to translate this saying as meaning: taking appropriate action at the appropriate Time will save nine minutes, nine hours, nine days, or maybe nine years.

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This has long been a favorite poem of mine. It is taken from a Time marker—a sundial—at Wells College, and was penned by Henry Van Dyke.  I share it with you as a last, profoundly accurate statement on Time:

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The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour
In darkness, and beyond thy power:
Behind its unreturning line,
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,–
The NOW on which the shadow stands. ”

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*I am happy to report that all issues with my blog are now resolved, thanks to my very capable daughter, Thalia.

You may have noticed the new platform for, and format of my blog. A little change now and then can be a good thing.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

End Piece

© April 9, 2015


4 Comments

Middles

Blog Post # 25

All stories have a beginning, middle and end, including each of our personal stories. Most of us spend most of our lives in the middle of our stories. Few remember the beginning, and the end is a mysterious, ambiguous question mark quivering, mirage-like, somewhere in the future. 
 
 
I believe there’s a lot to be said for “the middle”—and, generally, I think we take middles for granted.
 
 
 The famous Tolkien understood the importance of the middle, creating the setting for his epic tale of Hobbits, elves and men in Middle Earth


Map of Middle Earth as it appeared in earliest editions of Tolkien’s books

An entire period in history is named for the middleThe Middle Ages
 
Middle Ages (Image: Public Domain)
 
Even historical time is marked from the middle—when Jesus Christ was born—and is counted forward or backward from that point. 
Jesus Christ–born in the Meridian of Time
So you see, middles are significant.
Other prominent middles you may be familiar with are:
Middle of the road
Middle ground
Being in the middle of things
Caught in the middle
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of something
Middle Aged
Middle Life (shortened to Mid-Life)
Middle Class
Meeting in the middle
Middle man
Middle of the night
Middle finger
Around the middle (referring to the tummy area)
Middle school
Middle roll or slice of bread (This is probably not important to anyone, but me. Everyone in our family knows how much I love the middle roll for its softness and lack of crusty edges. They have been very respectful of this preference, and always save at least one middle roll for me as they come out of the oven.)
 
You may agree that some of these middles have more positive connotations than others, but where would we be if there weren’t some kind of middle to things? We’d always be on the dangling “ends.” I submit that there is an aspect of safety and comfort to be had in the middle.
Take, for example, one of the most prominent middles: The Middle of the Road. When our children, grandchildren, and even a couple of our nieces were learning to drive, my husband, Brad, like Frodo Baggins, fearlessly stepped forward, volunteering to assist the hopeful, naïve drivers in their treacherous journey down backroads and freeways to destroy their “ring” of immobility. I was sometimes a passenger/companion in that fellowship down the road, and I can honestly tell you: the middle of the road is best! We came precariously close to trolls, dragons and orcs poised along the broken white lines separating lanes, and the solid lines on the edges of the roads—knocking an orc off the road here, and a troll off there. Several hair-raising (and hair-graying) incidents stand out in my mind, but I’ll only mention one. Our son was driving our old yellow Suburban along the freeway when a dragon of enormous proportions came up beside us in the form of a semi. 
 
I couldn’t believe there is really a truck painted to look like a dragon!
I had to include this picture I found on Pinterest!
 
Sitting on the passenger’s side of the front seat, (my husband Brad in the middle), I gripped the car door as if brandishing a shield in my defense. At the point when I knew if I stretched my arm out the window I could polish the scales on the dragon’s skin, Brad, meaning to encourage our son to drive ahead of the semi, said, “Move closer.” Of course, our son understood his meaning as “move closer to the truck,” and began sidling across the line towards the dragon in the lane to my right. I was scrunching down into the car floor with fear, at this point, certain if I ventured to stick my fingers a hand’s length out the window, the dragon would have bitten them off at the nub. Brad, as calmly as if he were ordering a cheeseburger and fries, told our son to move forward, not to the side, and our son corrected our route before sheering off my side of the Suburban. Afterwards, our son admitted that he couldn’t understand why his dad would want him to nudge up next to a fire-breathing dragon spanning the dotted line on the perimeter of his lair, but being the obedient son, he followed directions and nearly got us all killed or maimed. It would have been far safer for said “fellowship” to brave the middle of the lane leading to Mordor rather than flirt with danger lurking on the periphery.
 
 
The middle of the road is reliable and trusted for other reasons, as well. Any time you get precariously near the fringe edges of things there are risks lurking in the shadows. It is along the edge that one finds cliffs, soft shoulders, bridge railings, ditches, bodies of water, trees, and granite walls. Guardrails are called “guard” rails for a very good reason. It is their specific mission to prevent the risk of danger or accidents. Reflectors imbedded into some guardrails flash a warning at you that you’re veering off the path of safety into dangerous territory. If you opt not to heed the warning, you may find yourself careening down a cliff, or plunging into a swiftly moving river.
 
See the guy beyond the guardrail?


The middle of the road can apply to smaller, less aggressive thoroughfares, as well. If you’ve ever wandered a path through the woods or meandered down a country lane, you may have noticed the fringes of the path lined with stinging nettle, poison ivy, rocks, branches, downed or standing trees, stumps, or weeds full of foxtails and cockleburs. The well-trampled pathway has fewer hindrances due to excessive use, in most cases making it less hazardous–or perhaps to some, less interesting. (I, personally, have never been one to find interest or entertainment in trifling with risk, but I know some who do.)  
 
There are always exceptions to this rule, as I recall many times finding a less maintained pathway blocked by a fallen log. But stranger than nature causing obstructions are those man creates for himself! Here are two crazy examples:

Ahem….there’s a telephone pole in the middle of the road! 
It would be best not to drive this street on a moonless night.
Either the road should have been rerouted,
or the tree planted elsewhere, whichever came first.
When I speak of The Middle of the Road, I am not talking about haphazardly trekking over an imagined path across the middle of a perilous and fragile frozen lake, either. Shortcuts over thin ice are what the Foolish or Lazy consider a time-saver, and indeed, that route may insure never having to worry about going the long way around on solid ground again!
 
When I speak of The Middle of the Road, I am referring to a road built on bedrock: solid, steadfast, and immovable.
 
Wagon ruts in rock — Oregon Trail. (From Wyoming Heritage.org)
 
Other middles that have proven useful are Meeting in the Middle, Finding Middle Ground, and Being in the Middle of Things. I am lumping together these middles because, to my mind, they seem to hold hands and bridge gaps when put together. When I was a child in grade school, I often felt myself on the periphery. If you had asked me where I stood among my peers, I would have probably described myself as part of a circle (the type of circle employed for a game of dodge ball, or Duck, Duck, Goose), or perhaps more fitting, on the outskirts of the circle looking in, not the child in the middle (the chosen one). I was usually one of the last chosen for schoolyard teams, and rarely chosen by the teacher to lead up a team. I wasn’t very athletic, nor was I particularly popular. I was on the shy side, and completely average. I stood in the wings, awkward, and relieved not to be the center of attention. Sometimes I was observant. I learned to see and have compassion for others who were also standing in the wings—who were “different” in the sense of not quite fitting-in.
Duck, Duck, Goose, of course.
 
Over time, I learned a very useful lesson: how to find Middle Ground where people who were “different” (or at least felt they were different) might meet and feel safe as part of a unified whole (something I seldom felt during my elementary and junior high school years). It wasn’t until High School that I began to feel a sense of being a part of a united whole, as I found and honed some of my personal strengths and offered them to my school community in the form of choir and drill team. I didn’t need, or want, to be In the Middle—the center of attention. I was content not to be a drill team captain or co-captain, and not to have the lead in the school musical. I was content as a member of the team, or of the chorus—having the fun without the worry or discomfort of having all eyes on me.

Drill Team back in the day
(That’s me: 
right center front. I’m almost always in the front row
–what can I say? I’m short.)
There were times, however, when I enjoyed being In the Middle of Things, meaning, being a part of the greater good, or the greater whole to achieve something of worth. If you have ever enjoyed the uplifting experience of singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a member of a choir, you may understand the essence of what I’m saying. As a choir member, a drill team member, a member of an orchestra, soccer team, basketball team, dance ensemble, or any such group effort where every individual contributes to enhance the whole, one may experience a sense of synergy—creating something greater than the sum of the individual parts. One needn’t be the center of attention to feel one’s value in creating something beautiful and inspiring. One need only be a participant—a contributing part of the whole. In this way, one is indeed In the Middle of Things while being uniquely individual; a voice unique to oneself, yet blending with the whole—a true sense of unity.  
 
I’m in the front row again, far right of this picture. One voice in the choir–a part of the whole.
(This is from college. I couldn’t find a picture from high school.)
One of my favorite “middles” is not just being In the Middle of Things, but being In the Middle of Something. This is the story of my life. I am always in the middle of something, or truer still, I am always in the middle of several somethings at once! I laid aside some long-anticipated sewing that I was right in the middle of to sit down and write this post. I am not a slave to writing because, for me, it is simply a thing I do for fun. But writing was calling to me. The thing is—the sewing was also calling to me. Which do I answer first? Whichever calls loudest? No…. I think I answer more to whichever calls to the innermost longings of my heart, provided it doesn’t encroach on other, more important things—necessities, responsibilities, family, or service. One day, it may be sewing. Another day it may be time with my family—this desire accounts for most days. Yet another day, it is writing. Tomorrow, it may be sewing again. Or baking. Or going for a walk with Brad. Or building a puzzle while sitting with my father. Or playing the piano. Or tending to the roses. Or providing service. Or cleaning the house (yes, even cleaning the house calls to me from time to time.)  I could list a dozen or more things that, most of the time, I long to do all of the time. One may find oneself Caught in the Middle of Being in the Middle of (more) Things at once than one can handle at one time. It’s at these times, that I most long to run off to a place alone—In the Middle of Nowhere—where my mind can untangle itself, and quiet the noise, rest, and rejuvenate (this is rarely possible).
 
Two more middles and I’m done. First, being The Middle Child. Certainly, being the middle child has been given a bad rap. When you are the middle child, you are neither the oldest, nor the youngest, both of which are problematic. My own experience as the middle child was instructive, providing plenty of evidence that there are both advantages and disadvantages to this position in the family. The adulation that goes to the oldest, and the privileges that attend the youngest are somehow lost on the middle child. This is not all bad. I had the direct advantage of observing and avoiding the “guinea pigged-ness” of the oldest, while inadvertently also avoiding the privileges of the youngest. My older sister tested the waters, so to speak, and I saw what worked and what didn’t. I understood at a young age what was required to maintain peace and avoid contention through thoughtful observance of her experiences. On the other hand, my little brother was born just close enough on the heels of my third birthday, (the day after, to be exact), to give my parents virtually no time at all to consider spoiling me, and plenty of time for my brother to benefit from being “the only child” once my sister and I left home.  
 
Me, my sister, and my brother. For as long as I can remember,
the heads of my wonderful parents have been missing from this picture. Not sure why.
 
I must add that the home in which I was raised was a completely loving and nurturing environment. I had a virtually ideal childhood. In fact, it was a blessing for me to be in the middle. Among other things, being middle child taught me to save and budget my money, to be self-reliant and self-analytical, and to observe and learn how to have good relations with my parents and with others. (This is not to say that my siblings did not also learn these things. It is only to say that I attribute the speed of learning such lessons to the tutelage of being middle.) 
 
Lastly, I would like to speak from experience about Middle Age—a middle through which I believe I am gradually approaching the exit—or through which I have, in ignorance, already passed. Having turned sixty last year, I recognize that I have been very solidly engaged in Middle Age for many years, and that, although it doesn’t feel like it, I am entering the period know as Old Age. Strange as it may seem, my spirit gazing from the inside of this body out through ever-youthful, sixteen-year-old eyes, has never sensed the aging process. No, not for an instant! Having experienced Middle Age, I think I can safely say it has been, for me, a place of security and comfort.
 
Some of the benefits I’ve experienced during Middle Age are:
  • Being rooted solidly in family and all the accoutrements of a full and fulfilling life with husband, parents, children and grandchildren.
  • Having an understanding of ways I have been, and continue to be a contributing member of society.
  • Enjoying the many gifts of Time.
  • Having intact, faithful connections with friends, near and far, old and new.
  • Feeling at peace and empowered by my beliefs and the strength of my faith in God and Jesus Christ.
  • Continuing in the delightful process of discovering things that bring joy every day.
  • Recognition of all for which I am grateful.
 
The edges of life feel insecure compared to being cemented in the middle: there are questions; there is anticipation; there is the strange, empty sadness of impending or experienced loss; and the ecstatic joy of new beginnings. I look at my ninety-two year-old father, and think that if I have inherited his genes for longevity, I may still have another thirty years—half again the life I have already lived—left in me, and I wonder about that. When viewed from that perspective, I may at this moment, remain fixed in the middle of my Middle Aged years. And yet, I do not know the answer to that any more than my father knows at which moment he will pass into the rest of the eternal realm where he’ll enjoy the companionship of his beloved wife and other family members once again.  I’m okay with this unanswered enigma. Whatever the ending of my story will be, it was the middle that prepared me for what is to come.
 
The Middle of life has given me a sense of Eternity. Of Joy that knows no limits. Of Hope for what lies in the future. Of Faith in a Loving Eternal Father who is mindful of me and wants me to return home to Him. Of Love and Family ties that last forever.  
 
The Middle has strengthened me for the boundless Ends. 

“And thus it was, a Fourth Age of Middle-earth began. And the Fellowship of the Ring, 
though eternally bound by friendship and love, was ended.” – J.R.R. Tolkein


From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.
 
© March 16, 2015
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