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Hot Rod (or How we Roll)

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Blog Post # 48

Yesterday evening, my husband, Brad, and I were waiting at a streetlight, next to a low-riding, black hot rod – one that epitomizes the standard for such a car. It was long, sleek, and low, with a flattened square-ish cab-like roof and chartreuse hubcaps. Scrawled on the upper back portion of the roof were the words, “This is how I roll.” A man of immense proportions had squeezed into the driver’s seat, bulging out the windows like leavened dough, appearing to be cramped beyond comfort. He revved his engine like a NASCAR driver, clearly impatient to go.artflow_201701181402.png

We were astonished when, after waiting only a few seconds, the hot rod streaked into the intersection, and rocketed through the red light at lightning speed, leaving a blast of engine noise in its wake. A car in opposing traffic had already begun to make a left turn, and (fortunately) moved slowly enough to prevent a collision—completing its turn just after the hot rod exited the intersection. We looked at each other in stunned silence, then wondered aloud what madness had possessed the man behind the wheel of the hot rod! (Maybe all sense squeezed out of the driver by the snug quarters he was wedged into, or maybe he was experiencing some kind of brain-cramp.)

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Do you see how big the driver of this hot rod is? The one we saw looked just like that (but this isn’t him).

Soon, the light changed, and we lumbered up the street at a crawl compared to what we had just witnessed. When we approached the next light, and were about to turn into our destination, we noticed the hot rod stuck behind a car at the intersection just ahead of us. As we entered a restaurant, we heard the unmistakable roar of the hot rod’s engine as it zoomed around the corner and up the adjacent street.

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I wonder…what motivates someone to do something so insane? He might have caused serious injury or death to himself or others—and for what? 50 yards of street? To be first? A lack of patience or self-control? Showing-off? … I have no idea! (To be fair – to give him the benefit of the doubt – there is the possibility that in anticipation of the light changing, he thought it already had.) However, whether or not it was intentional, he took that intersection blindly and at tremendous speed.

Here’s the truth. For all his speed-demon antics, he was still forced to wait at that next light, and had gained no advantage over all the other drivers who had waited for the previous light—those who had obeyed the laws, and exercised patience and self-control.

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I wonder if, after his apparent mistake, or, in any case, his recklessness, that guy gloated over his supposed machismo, or conversely, if he felt even the least bit small, sheepish or sorry? If his recklessness shrank to fit into the size of the cab, at least that would be something. Whatever the case, he proved “how he rolled,” and let those in the world around him determine for themselves exactly what that meant.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was not impressed by his brazen show of bravado. Instead, I was stunned by his ostentatious demonstration of thoughtlessness, irresponsibility, and foolishness.

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Each of us is a walking, talking – yes, even driving – example of “how we roll.” Whatever persona we hope to exude, others will see what is inherently and obviously part of our character through our words and actions. If we don’t want to send mixed signals, we must be absolutely true to ourselves. And if we want our persona to match any ideals of good character, we must also be true to the truth and light that burns deep within our hearts – the light of truth given to all human beings, reigning in an unsullied conscience.

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Flawed as I am, I hope that “how I roll” may be consistent with my most valued knowledge and precious beliefs—that I might “walk my talk” with purity of purpose, with real intent, with generosity, tolerance, patience, optimism, gentleness, kindness, and love. A tall order, I know, but that is how I would like “to roll.”

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Ha! Perhaps a whole different scenario would have occurred at the streetlight if the man in the hot rod was of a mind to write this expression on the back of his cab: “Merrily We Roll Along!” 

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End Piece

©January 17, 2017

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

 


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Planned Serendipity?

 

This post is dedicated to the memory of my wonderful father, Joseph Culotta, who passed away on August 1, 2016.

Blog Post #43

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ser·en·dip·i·ty

ˌserənˈdipədē/

noun

 1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

 My First Blog Post EVER!

There are certain serendipitous scenarios that you just can’t set up in advance, no matter how much scheming you do, nor how badly you want things to turn out exactly as you imagine them. In fact, to “set up,” scheme, or plan anything is the antithesis of serendipity, because serendipity, by definition, involves chance.

 

Album 02-009 Joe Culotta

My father, Joseph Culotta, Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class, United States Naval Air,           1942-1946

My father, the late Joseph Culotta, served as a naval photographer in World War II. He attended the Naval Training School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida where he labored to memorize all that was required for his area of expertise.  He developed a strong habit of memorization starting at an early age. (See blog post #2 “The True Measure of a Man.”) While stationed at the Naval Air Station in Bermuda, he spent much of his free time in the library memorizing poetry.

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After the war ended, my father (“Daddy”) went on a road trip with friends. Evening approached, and one of the other passengers—looking for an opportunity to show-off—pointed out the setting sun off in the western sky and asked if any of the other fellows in the car (including my father) knew what “refraction” was. At first, Daddy acted as if he didn’t know anything about it (his photography training eagerly churning in the back of his mind). Just as the other guy opened his mouth to enlighten everyone about refraction as it related to the setting sun, word-for-word Daddy interjected the following. “Oh.…you mean ‘the deflection of a ray of light upon entering a transparent medium at an oblique angle, or bending of light when passing from one medium to another of different density?’” He recited this (as he later did countless times throughout his lifetime) with the same uninterrupted, rote speed and tonal quality characteristic of something entirely ingrained in one’s memory.

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Daddy’s notes on Refraction from his photo school journal .

The man was so surprised by Daddy’s impromptu recitation he begged to know how my father did that! When Daddy explained he had memorized that definition while in Naval Photography School, the man decided he wanted to choose the definition of a word to memorize so he could pull that on someone else. The man chose “viscosity” as his word. My father told us later that he thought the circumstances were too unusual for a similar opportunity to arise like that again. He felt that his traveling companion would be disappointed in his scheme, because you couldn’t hope to plan for that kind of serendipitous stunt. Happily, for my father the stars had aligned and he had taken advantage of that unique set of circumstances.

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Daddy in his convertible after the war

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It is this unique set of circumstances to which I refer when I said that you cannot set-up in advance certain scenarios—no matter how much scheming you do. I believe there’s truth in the phrase, “The best laid plans … often go awry!” (Robert Burns)

Many years ago, my family of seven (my husband, Brad, our five children, and I) were on a road trip together with my sister, Karen, and her six children.  We drove two vehicles, one of which was a truck pulling a fifth wheel trailer, and the other, a large van with three rows of benches and two front seats. The eleven children took turns riding in the cab of the truck with Brad, but mostly the two eldest children (my daughter, Thalia, and my sister’s daughter, Bridey) claimed that privilege. The rest of us were crammed in Karen’s big blue van, appropriately named “Big Uggs.”

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A small portion of the family piling into “Big Uggs”

One of the stops on our trip was the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. My sister had been there before, and had a vivid memory of rounding a bend and seeing those magnificent mountains suddenly appear before her eyes. Completely moved by that experience, she wanted to recreate the same inspirational effect for the children (and for me). To add to the effect, we chose to play music that would build and climax at the precise moment when the mountains appeared like a vision before our eyes. (Just the way it always happens in the movies.) The main theme in the soundtrack to the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was our music of choice. (I should probably add that this was during the days prior to compact discs, MP3 players, or Bluetooth connections. Cassette tapes had to be re-wound or fast-forwarded—like a video tape—to find the desired location. Unless you had a counter on your machine, you had no idea where to stop the tape to find the song you wanted.)

 

There we were, driving along, following a map, (no GPS in those days, either), and as we approached a bend in the road at the approximate location we thought the mountain range would appear, we’d call out to the children to “Look!” Quickly we rewound the tape,—the  violins building in crescendo to a fever pitch, the French horns ready to signal,—and as we rounded the bend…..nothing. No mountains. Just more road and more of the same scenery on both sides of the road. “Quick! Stop the tape!” one of us would call out. We rewound again, preparing for the next bend in the road —the correct bend.

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This is what we expected to see around the bend: The Snake River with the Grand Tetons in the background.

And another bend soon came! Again, we called to the children, the tape went on—violins building toward the magnificent view. And….nothing. We repeated this scenario perhaps a half-dozen times or more. We heard those violins brace themselves for the climax over and over again (we became quite intuitive as to when to stop rewinding the tape at the perfect place).

Finally, after rounding every bend, the Tetons appeared way off in the distance, like piles of small, jagged rocks, gradually growing larger as we bridged the miles that spanned the distance between us. It was as opposite an experience from that imagined as possible. We let the rest of the tape play out. After the second or third “Look!” the children had tuned us out anyway.

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Although I can’t remember now, this is probably more like what we saw (which, granted, is still absolutely MAGNIFICENT!)

At last, Karen concluded that her initial introduction to the Tetons must have come from a different direction or perhaps from a different road (possibly because she had flown into the area and had arrived in a shuttle). We had to resign ourselves to having made a valiant attempt on behalf of our children—all of whom sat obliviously happy in the back seats (drawing, laughing, talking, singing, and playing together) totally unaware of our desire for them  to regard, with breathless anticipation, the experience we had attempted to orchestrate…that never happened.

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What we envisioned seeing (even though it was long before sunset).

 

Countless are the times I’ve tried to rehearse exactly the right thing to say or do only to have it completely backfire on me. I might lay the blame on my inability to predict the reactions of others, my ignorance of human nature, or my failure to be poised for action at the moment when the stars align.  As I ponder this enigma, I think it all boils down to the idea that you simply can’t plan for unique events that appear like bursts of serendipity sent down from above.

However, I do believe it is completely possible for one to plan and create moments that are special—that are beautiful, touching, emotionally charged (in a good way), and that may be remembered for a lifetime. It takes thought, planning, effort, presence, and a smattering of joy to create an enchanting moment, be it a dinner with friends, a wedding or birthday celebration, a community event, or even more beautiful–a special moment with a child.

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Still, I think you cannot re-create, or manufacture, unique moments that first occur as serendipitous, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. When the stars align, when the heavens open, and when your life preparation unites with the moment, that’s the time to be grateful you were at the right place at the right time.

One more thought….which may shoot down the entire premise of this post.  As I think about that little scheme we set-up during our trip to the Tetons, it was, in its own way, a serendipitous event. We didn’t achieve the desired result, but our bumbling attempt to create a stirring, unforgettable moment was, in many respects, achieved.  The outcome was, in its own right, something we’ve remembered and laughed about for years on end. And isn’t that, in itself a unique little bit of serendipity?

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This photo shows a few members of our family rafting on the Snake River together. The others are in the part of the raft you can’t see.  (That’s me in the back on the left.) You can see the Tetons in the background. 

I’ll leave you to sort this all out. Obviously, I haven’t succeeded.

I sincerely hope you are able to find serendipitous joy when your schemes to create or recreate some wonderful event turn out differently than you had, at first, hoped. If you were chasing rainbows, and found one that was upside down …. well, what could be more serendipitous than discovering a giant smile in the sky?

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An upside-down rainbow (circumzenithal arc)

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© September 6, 2016

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


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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

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Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

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A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

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The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

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It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

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This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

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The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

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Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

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Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

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My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

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

 


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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