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"Bridges"

Blog Post #15

bridge1
brij/
noun
noun: bridge; plural noun: bridges

1.    a structure carrying a road, path, railroad, or canal across a river, ravine, road, railroad, or other obstacle.
“a bridge across the river”
·       something that is intended to reconcile or form a connection between two things.


The other day, I passed a house that had a cute little footbridge spanning a faux rock creek bed in the front yard. After stopping to admire the scene for several seconds, I continued my errand, all the while wondering why the addition of the little wooden bridge made the scene so engaging, and if I would have even noticed that yard without it.


I think quaint, old, weathered bridges of wood or stone are charming and picturesque. Beginning in childhood, if I came upon a bridge—even if it was merely a flat slab of stone laid across a muddy flow mixed with rain-gutter run-off—I felt almost compelled to cross it, (provided it was wide enough for a generally klutzy person such as I to maneuver across without losing my balance and tumble into the mire). Let me note that a narrow, fallen log traversing a coursing river five or six feet above the waterflow does not have the same effect on my psyche. I am more inclined to take a picture of my wildly coordinated husband and children in such a scene than race to cross it myself.)
 

Narrow, & slippery with moss: Unsafe.

Wide, with railing: Safe.
Still, any footbridge that looks relatively safe calls to me, and I will go out of my way to cross it. If not to cross it, then to stand on it, leaning delicately on the railing, daydreaming and feeling picturesque myself—like a willowy fairytale figure who had lightly skipped to the rail, lingering there before flitting off, butterfly-like. (Then, someone really does snap a picture. When I see it, there is immediate shock and dismay. The picture my imagination took was, by far, more enchanting and attractive than the real thing. Instead of a graceful nymph bathed in soft, glowing light sprinkled with magical pixie dust, there—in the harsh reality of day—is the image of a frizzy-haired, T-shirted housewife leaning ponderously on the railing, as if every ounce of energy spent plodding along to the bridge had been exhausted, and its sole purpose was to bear her up.)

Bridge scene from “The Lord of the Rings”: Arwen and Aragorn

Nevertheless, being on a bridge transforms me inside. There’s something mesmerizing about standing on a bridge watching the water gently pass beneath, with its floating cargo of leaf boats and twig sprites frolicking blithely along.  

There’s something emotionally stirring about bridges. Moviemakers apparently think so. How many scenes of a romantic, tense, or threatening nature culminate on a bridge? (The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Anna and the King, The Music Man, It’s a Wonderful Life, Sabrina, Gone with the Wind, The Lord of the Rings, and The Bridge to Terabithia are just a few with moving scenes that occur on a bridge.)
 

Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”


Bridges have also inspired many songs. What child hasn’t heard the 17th century nursery rhyme about the ill-fated London Bridge? Everyone who lived in the late 1960s knew the fictional Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge (Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry), while Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water moved listeners with the power of friendship.
Ancient London Bridge


A bridge, in very name, is more than a physical structure. It is a symbolic manifestation of its purpose. Maybe that’s the reason for my connection with bridges. Because they connect. They bridge gaps, overcome obstacles, link together, span chasms, and simplify journeys. Life is replete with obstacles—both physical and emotional. We step to the edge, and hope for a bridge to help us across. Sometimes, we wade in the muck before a large flat stone appears that provides a means of stepping up, and out.

I find it interesting that an arch bridge has no structural integrity until the stones meet in the middle at the keystone. It’s in the meeting of the two sides that gives the bridge its strength. Because placing the keystone can be a tricky business, scaffolding or other means of support are required to aid in construction. Once in place, an arched bridge needs no mortar to hold it together, and may stand for millennia.
 

Arkadiko Bridge, Greece – oldest standing arch bridge

Ca. 1300-1190 BC

So true of people, too.  Once the keystone of a relationship is in place, it can stand the test of time. Obstacles of differing viewpoints, backgrounds, and habits flow like water under the bridge when people have struggled through building the abutments of a relationship and recognize the inherent keystone of worth in each other. In forming a bridge with someone, we bear one another’s burdens, we meet eye-to-eye, we understand through experience, we withstand tension, we create an equally firm and binding yoke that provides safe passage. Those relationships take on the substantial, but charming quality of a quaint old bridge: pleasing, aged, tried, solid, and true. Clinging, trailing vines of laughter, endurance, thoughtfulness, and kindness adorn and beautify life’s bridges, adding a cheering, optimistic aspect.


I suppose the bridge, the brook, and the flora and fauna might have been viewed from the riverbank. They make a pretty scene from any angle. However, I prefer to step on the bridge, to linger there, and to, eventually, cross over. Crossing to the other side to see from all angles makes the experience complete. 


© Copyright July 31, 2014

 


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"A Slice of Summer"

Blog Post #14

 


Watermelon is the epitome of summer flavor, (with corn on the cob and fresh garden tomatoes running a close second and third). As a watermelon was in process of being cut to serve at a family gathering, I heard exclamations of delight centered on the quality of the melon. I turned to see a large, and very fine, deep red melon being expertly carved into chunks. My son and his father-in-law (who was doing the carving) had just tasted the melon and were exclaiming at its amazing sweetness, as well as at my son’s expert choice. I couldn’t wait to taste that melon, and it did indeed live up to its reputation. When I asked our son how he had picked it, he said he had thumped it and heard that hollow sound (which I find particularly illusive). 

Personally, I need someone to publish a book titled “Selecting Watermelons for Dummies.” I’m no good at it. I’ve tried many methods for picking a nice sweet, ripe, juicy, red watermelon, but when it comes right down to it, my chances of choosing well using these methods are just as great as if I play eenie-meenie-miney-moe. Sometimes, I get lucky when I just close my eyes and grab. 

Apparently, my ineptitude at picking melons is emblazoned on my face like a brand. One time, while visiting our daughter in another state, I made a quick trip to the grocery store for a melon. Feeling anxious to make a selection and leave, I stood staring at the display laden with what might as well have been green, striped dinosaur eggs. I began the task of rapping on several melons wearing the quizzical expression that is a staple of my facial wardrobe whenever  I’m baffled: a surefire giveaway to any alert observer that I didn’t know what in the world I was doing.


A happy, friendly, produce man clearly saw an opportunity to display his expertise in the melon department. The eager expression on his face revealed what he must have been thinking: “She looks like a watermelon dunce.”  He was, of course, correct. Kindly, but with an air of superiority, the produce man approached and offered his services in the art of choosing a melon. At first, I was grateful for his help. I knew that if I chose myself, the chances were I would return home with pink, pithy, fruit that tasted as much like watermelon as watered-down cardboard. If someone else chose the fruit, I reasoned, I would not be responsible for picking a blah melon.   


It wasn’t long before I realized my quick trip in and out of the market was going to take longer than planned, for as soon as the produce guy saw that he had the attention of a real novice, he launched into detailed instruction on the art of melon thumping. Holding the melon on his shoulder for the sake of resonance, he thumped it once or twice, his eyes lighting up when he heard the “ping” he was listening for. A consummate teacher, he suggested I try holding a melon while thumping away. I’m not a very big person. He might just as well have asked me to balance an elephant in the same way. But to balance, thump and hear the right “ping” all at the same time was akin to tuning a piano while balancing it on my shoulder. It just wasn’t happening.


Another time, at the check-out counter, the checker took one look at my melon on the conveyor belt and asked if I’d like help picking a better one. Before I had time to respond, she noted the blank look on my face and picked up the melon I had just spent ten minutes carefully selecting via the conga drum method, and disappeared from the register, arriving back seconds later with a different melon. “Look for one with *bee stings in it,” she said. “They’re guaranteed to be sweet. The bees go for the sweet ones.” I inspected the melon and noted the small black specks and scratch marks she pointed out. It was a tasty melon, so I’ve looked for melons with bee stings, but have been hard-pressed to find any since then.

 

Fortunately, I discovered a method with merit that I actually can use with some measure of success. Of all methods, this has, at last, become the most reliable for me, and easy enough for a three-year-old since the only requirement is knowing your colors. You just roll the melon over as you would a baby, (OK, so a three year-old would need some well-developed biceps), and look for a yellow spot where it sat on the ground. (Not a yellow spot where the baby sat, but a yellow spot on the watermelon where it sat on the ground before harvest.) White means it was picked from the vine while still green , and yellow means it was picked ripe. Easy peasy. Right? Well, maybe. If you’re color blind, you might have a problem.
Yellow spot means the melon was picked when ripe

So, why write about picking watermelons? I don’t know. They’re yummy. I love them. Such a refreshing, summery treat. Obviously, I’m not an expert at choosing them, even though I’ve been instructed by people who claim to have well-practiced methods. Let’s face it—a “ping” to one person may be a “thud” to another. This post isn’t intended to be a guide on how to pick watermelons. But here is one that I found helpful:  


Wishing you a summer of watermelon smiles!



* I’ve also heard the “bee stings” described as sugar spots–where the sugar in a sweet, ripe melon oozes out and creates  beads of hardened sugar.


© Copyright July 28, 2014


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"Waiting"

Blog Post #13

“Waiting on the Shore” Norman Rockwell


1wait
 verb \ˈwāt\
gerund or present participle: waiting
: to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.
: to not do something until something else happens
: to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

Waiting is difficult. 

I confess: I’m not very good at it, even though I’ve practiced my whole life.
Some years back we moved into a new subdivision. While planting strawberries on the slope between our house and the house next door, our neighbor, Chirin (originally from India), saw me and came over to chat. After talking about the strawberries, she shared an observation: “Americans seem to like instant things. In India, we plant seeds and wait for them to grow. Here, people buy mature plants and have instant gardens!” She talked about the pleasure she found in the process of planting, nurturing, and waiting for the seed to bring forth fruit.



We moved from that neighborhood many years ago, but her observation, like a tiny seed planted in my mind, germinated and grew over time. Chirin was right. We often do look for shortcuts, and we lose something when we don’t wait. Something important.


When I was a child, my parents bought a home in a new subdivision—the very home I’m now living in fifty years later. My parents loved the quaint little collegiate village they were settling in. It had a small town feel away from the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles. The streets, lined with lofty trees touching leaf and branch across neighborhood streets like old friends shaking hands, remain picturesque and inviting today. The founders of the town planted these trees in the 1890s and early 1900s with the anticipation that they would one day beautify the town they loved so well.  Their efforts are realized in the lush greenery that now canopies the town with shade during hot summer months and that adds character and dignity to the college atmosphere during leafless winters.

A tree-lined street in my home town


We made weekly visits to our developing property located in a newer section of town. Orange and lemon groves were removed to make way for housing. At first, the tract was nothing but a stepped sea of grey dirt, level and barren, except for posts and flags marking lots, and an occasional tumble weed bouncing by. Next, cement slabs appeared, followed by a framework of timber. Week by week, we watched as the lot transformed into a skeleton of wood and stone, and then, into a home. There was value in this watching and waiting and anticipating. As our home was developing, so was an important aspect of character: patience.


 pa·tience
noun   [pey-shuhhttp://static.sfdict.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pnghttp://static.sfdict.com/dictstatic/dictionary/graphics/luna/thinsp.pngns]  
1.     the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
2.     an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner.
3.     quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.

When we were young, and wanted something, we were encouraged to save for it. We did chores, babysat and saved our allowance in order to, eventually, buy what we wanted. We were planting seeds of patience each time we went through this process. Sometimes, this meant working and saving, and sometimes it meant planning and creating. But we learned that dreams were attainable with work, perseverance and patience.


The art of “waiting” is perfectly illustrated in a favorite line from the musical The Music Man. Professor Harold Hill smooth-talks Widow Paroo into buying a cornet and band uniform for her son Winthrop. When clinching the deal, he tells her:

“…there won’t be a penny due till delivery, which gives him four weeks
to enjoy, to anticipate, to imagine, at no cost whatever….”

Widow Paroo & Professor Hill


Professor Hill giving Winthrop
his long-anticipated cornet

4 weeks of waiting rewarded!


When things come instantly, there isn’t time to “enjoy, to anticipate and to imagine”—all invaluable aspects of waiting. Joy in arriving at a destination, or achieving a goal, consists of 80% anticipation. 

Imagine not having to wait nine months for a baby to arrive. Those nine months are not only a necessary chunk of time for development on the baby’s part, but also for the would-be parents. Planning and preparing take time. But the dreaming about and anticipation while waiting add a measure of joy and excitement that culminates only when the precious package arrives! There is wisdom in God-given waiting.



Waiting is thrust upon us throughout life: we wait for an infant to learn to walk, to grow a tooth, or to say ‘mama’ or ‘papa’; we wait for a child to ride a bike, to drive a car, and to graduate from high school. We wait for a first date, for a job, and for a paycheck to arrive. We wait for good health when ill, for a dentist appointment to be over, for a letter to arrive in the mail. And as we age, we wait for children and grandchildren to visit, and ultimately, for death to send us home to God and loved ones beyond the veil of life. Life is about waiting. How we wait determines if we are happy or grumpy, prudent or foolish, faithful or inconstant. 



As with the rest of our town, our street was planted with parkway trees. Unlike the large oaks, elms and eucalyptus trees found in the older section of town, ours were scrawny pepper trees. Returning from the village on many occasions, my sister and I expressed our desire for our pepper trees to arch across the street like they did in the older part of town. We waited and waited. In the meantime, one or two of the trees on our street became diseased and were replaced by silk trees. Sometimes large branches were torn off by the wind. Our children climbed in the pepper trees, hanging from the branches like monkeys in the rainforest. In summertime, they covered our cars with cooling shade, and shielded us from the burning sun as we walked to the park.

Trees in the older part of our town


 Recently, I was driving home from the older part of town when I noticed the trees in front of our house were touching leafy fingers with those across the street! It took fifty-two years, but it had finally happened! And it happened when I wasn’t expecting it, and when I wasn’t looking. It happened while all kinds of wonderful life events danced beneath them. The trees needed time to grow and develop, and so did I. All the years of enjoying, imagining and anticipating were fulfilled.
 

Trees in front of our house


My lessons in waiting and patience have grown with the trees in our neighborhood. There’s no rushing the growth of a tree, and the same is true for me. It takes time to grow and develop into a mature plant, and into a mature adult. But life’s lessons were being learned through every stage of life–youth, adolescence and adulthood. Through joy and sorrow, broken limbs, and broken hearts, wind and storm, sun and rain, through celebrations and pain of death. Like the trees, I am learning what it means to reach across barriers and touch others with friendship, to recognize and share those gifts that are uniquely mine, and to wait patiently and anticipate tomorrow’s joys while living fully today. 


“The key to everything is patience.
You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”
 – Arnold H. Glasgow


 


“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles

and in the right way.”



© Copyright July 17, 2014




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"Ode to Morning"

Blog Post #12

‘The Sleeping Beauty’ by Maxfield Parrish

*”Ode to Morning”


Husband wakes before the dawn,
While there I lie,
My will less strong.
He’s up and at ‘em—on his way!
While in my jammies,
There I stay.
I wish I had his vim and verve,
Then I might find, within,
The nerve
To up! and tackle each new morn,
Instead, my body’s
Tired; worn.
While I snooze thru’ passing time,
My mind awakes with
Words of rhyme.
I reach for paper and a pen;
I scribble down each
Line, and then,
Body catching up to head,
I turn and hop
Right out of bed!
I never was averse to waking,
But prose and verse
Help in forsaking
Pillow, covers, bed and yawn;
I’m up and ready
For the dawn!

“Ecstasy” by Maxfield Parrish
*I realize this little verse is a departure from former posts, but this is, after all, 
A Random Harvest of offerings. Thanks for reading!

© Copyright July 9, 2014


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“Through A Glass Darkly….”

Blog Post #11: 


It took over a half century for me to understand an obvious truth: other people don’t see me the way I see myself.

When my granddaughter was nursing laryngitis, she commented on how strange her voice sounded. I replied that she hears her own voice differently from others because she hears it resonating from within her head, whereas others hear her voice from without. How similar that is to the way we see ourselves. Others see us differently and from without, while we see ourselves from a very personal place within. 

Not long after the conversation with my granddaughter, I was visiting with an elderly gentleman at church. In the course of conversation, he used words to describe me that I would never think of using to describe myself. His generous appraisal was humbling. I smiled inwardly at the thought, but found it difficult to believe his view of me was correct, and mine was not.

This brings me to another interesting observation: not only do I not see myself the way others see me, but I also don’t see myself the way I really am.



When I walk by a mirror, I am always surprised by the image I see of myself. I never look the way I think I look. Why is that? I’ve seen myself in the mirror at least every morning and every night for over half a century, so why don’t I know what I look like? I think it has to do with my perception of myself from within. 


I create mental models (often subconsciously) of who I think I am that contribute to my impression of myself. For example, I see myself as a happy person. At a very young age, I decided a smile should be my “normal” expression. (Of course, there was the time I was making jam, and burnt the bottom out of a 2-quart plastic pitcher full of granulated sugar when I inadvertently turned on the wrong stove burner. No, I was not smiling when eight cups of sugar poured out the burnt bottom like a glittering white Niagara Falls all over the stove and floor, but this is beside the point.)



There was a reason for the smile decision. I had noticed people who, unprovoked, looked as if they had a thorn in their shoe. Others wore a perpetual scowl, while a few looked as if they’d like to bite someone’s head off. (I am not referring to friends or family–just people I’d sometimes meet.) I wanted to see happy faces, and I wanted others to see happiness in me. I knew that when people greeted me with a smile, it set me at ease and lifted my spirits without speaking a word. (I’m not talking about pasted-on TV smiles—insincere and shallow,—but kind and reassuring smiles.) 


So, I try to maintain a cheerful attitude, and a positive outlook. I believe that I’m a cheerful person, most of the time. Or am I? Do I really appear cheerful to others, or am I fooling myself?

One day, many years ago, my brother said to me, “Cynthia, you are such a complainer.” I was taken aback….completely shaken. A complainer?! Is that how you see me? I began the arduous and painful task of self-analysis.  I noticed that I did complain from time to time. Indeed, was a complainer! That began a struggle to end the complaining that, unfortunately, continues today. Like a prizefighter, I have bouts of success suppressing individual urges to grumble as they bob and weave in and out of everyday situations.


Every now and then, a family member will act as referee when I go down for the count, and every single time it comes as a surprise! Was I complaining again? How can I repeatedly be so blind to my own behavior? I must conclude that to family members I am (sometimes, at least) seen as a whiny-fuss, which doesn’t fit my self-image at all, for I am a cheerful, happy person—truly content.



Another example of this conundrum is the question of introversion versus extroversion.  Surprising to me are friends who are surprised to hear that I am an introvert. The minute I walk into a large gathering, I become a worker bee, busying myself to avoid having to stop and find a place in the hive. If there’s no frantic buzzing to be done, I may find a flower or two whose nectar I already know to be sweet, and comfort myself in their presence. I prefer quiet family gatherings to social calls, I dread and procrastinate making phone calls, and I flee large gatherings in which mingling is expected.



The contradiction: I love being with people. I want to know all about them. I love hearing about their fascinating lives, about what they think, and how they feel. I love to connect with people. However, I prefer being with, knowing about, hearing from, and connecting with people one-on-one. I even prefer to skip the introductory appetizers and salads—the small talk—and cut right into the main dish, where the meaty juiciness and flavor is.

These kinds of incongruities raise disconcerting questions: Is what people see a true representation of what is at my core? And worse: Am I a fake and a fraud?

Fake or Fraud?

Am I a fraud if I profess love for others while preferring the quiet security of being the proverbial fly on the wall, or feeling uncomfortable in the wake of large social events? Am I a fake if my mental model is happiness and good cheer, but sometimes exhibit whiney-fuss tendencies?  
  
I believe I am cheerful, but there are those who perceive me as a complainer. I consider myself an introvert and somewhat clumsy at social interaction, and there are those who see me as extroverted. Examples of these kinds of paradoxes are many and varied. I would venture to guess that if I made an illustration of how I see myself and a group of family and friends collectively made an illustration of how I am seen, the results would be two entirely different pictures!*



“For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) I have pondered this scriptural passage, and have discussed its layers of meaning and application with family members and friends. It appears in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians at the end of a description of charity—that quality of character, that pure love—that Christ embodied and exemplified, and that is at the pinnacle of His teachings, for without it, He tells us, we are nothing.  

Christ by Karen C. Kindrick Cox

Perhaps I am a fake and a fraud, but I don’t think so. I think it is a matter of perception, which is often flawed. I think there is some kind of middle ground on which I’m standing—the middle ground of Intent and Faith. If I stand there, then I must allow that others stand there, as well, even if I can’t see them with my limited vision.


We are such harsh judges of ourselves. I believe it is best to look for the good in others, and to recognize the good in oneself, to allow for imperfections, and to choose to believe that goodness will prevail. Seeing goodness breeds happiness and contentment. It is not blindness or falsehood. It is a choice about how to see.


Now we see through a glass, darkly.” I cannot now clearly see what I am, or how others perceive me. I cannot clearly see the results of my efforts, or my influence for good or bad. I cannot clearly see my true relationship with others.

But “then, we will see face to face.” “Then,” to me, refers to when I return Home to God who gave me life. Then, shadows of misunderstanding will disperse. I will see without clouded glass, without blurry, dark and tainted perceptions. I will see clearly, distinctly and thoroughly. I will see and understand all the thinking and feelings (my own, and those of others) that have influenced my choices and judgments—both good and bad. All the facades, fears and foibles that have prevented me from understanding the truth as it really is will dissipate. I will see truth in its glory, and will understand and know without falseness that blinds, sharpness that mars, or vague shadows and doubts. Now, I only know tiny particles of all the truth around me because of the limitations imposed by my experiences, biases and environment, by traditions and narrow histories, by physicality and mortality.

But “then, I shall know even as I am also known.” Then, I will understand.

Then, what I am is what you will see, and what I see is what is true in you.



I look forward to that perfect day.


© Copyright July 1, 2014

*After I wrote the first draft of this post, I discovered a wonderful little video (only 3 minutes long) about this very thing. Please click this link to watch the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video.