No Dog Collar Necessary

Grandmother

She hated school, stoically endured the music at church, and loved Chevy Chase.  She climbed on a chair to retrieve items from the upper cabinet long after her arthritic knees were up to such activity.  She drove a car well past the time when it was safe for the rest of humanity to encounter her on the road.  She loved potato chips and chocolate-covered marshmallows and drank only whole milk.

She was a nurse by training, a biblical scholar by choice, and the matriarch of a large brood of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  She claimed to despise the sun, sand, and water, but was always game for a trip to the beach.  She drank so much coffee I don’t know how she ever slept.  She never understood sports, which she always referred to as “playing ball” with more than a small amount of disdain.

She never owned a pair of jeans or tennis shoes and reluctantly capitulated to wearing wool slacks on the coldest of winter days.  She maintained a wardrobe of vibrant blues, greens, and roses that matched her youthful demeanor well into her eighties and beyond.  She refused to lock the door of her home and rarely took advantage of the intercom system allowing her to screen visitors.  She fussed and scolded as we all acquired cell phones, adding to the long list of numbers, written in pencil, that she kept by her old rotary dial phone.

My grandmother had beautiful hair that turned from reddish-blonde to white as she aged.  Heavy and thick, it was forever in need of being cut and thinned.  The lady who fixed her hair for years graciously made house calls after grandma couldn’t manage a trip to the salon.  Shortly before she died, her hair grown out and a little wild, she responded to my mother’s polite inquiry as to whether she was getting her hair done that week.  Without missing a beat, grandma replied, “It’s either that, or I’m going to need a dog collar.”

Two months later, having suffered a series of small strokes, Grandma moved peacefully into eternal life, neatly coiffed, the dog collar never having been acquired.

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It’s Only a Modem

Let there be light(s)!
Let there be light(s)!

I reached for my iPad to check the latest Facebook updates, an innocuous gesture surely repeated millions of times daily across the world.  Staring back at me was the dreaded red bar with “no internet connection” stated in big letters. Annoyed, I walked into the den where my modem is connected, only to be met with a terrifying sight.  The bright red power light glared at me like cyclops, and not a single other button was lit. Frantically, I unplugged the power source, waited the recommended two minutes, and then reconnected the cord, certain that all would be well.  Immediately every light on the front of the modem turned a lovely green color, until, one by one, like candles being extinguished, they went out.  Once again, only the power button was lighted, and what an ugly shade of red it was.

My troubleshooting skills having been exhausted, I phoned my internet service provider, described the problem, and was promptly advised to repeat the above scenario. Obligingly, I did as asked, with the same dissatisfactory result.  The technician diagnosed a faulty modem, checked my account to determine that mine was under warranty, and placed an order for a new one.  “It will arrive in four days.”  “Four days?!? Is your company unfamiliar with overnight shipping?  I need internet service in order to conduct my business from home!”   My protests were received with indifference as the employee mechanically went about summarizing my concern and her effort to help me.

Although it’s true that I sometimes work from home, the real panic of being without an internet connection for several days was about my incessant need to keep up with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, e-mail, CNN, and ESPN.  Now I would be forced to exist without constant online updates for several hours each day, and the feelings of loss and confusion were overwhelming.  Embarrassed by my reaction, I sat down and thought about the situation until reason took hold.  It was sobering to realize that the thought of cyberspace moving right along without me could be so upsetting.

I have calmed down now, am reading a great novel, and have even hammered out a few texts on my sad little cell phone so my nephew knows I haven’t forgotten him.  The enforced break isn’t doing me any harm; maybe it’s even a blessing in disguise.  And if the delivery company brings my new modem ahead of schedule, I promise not to utter a word of complaint . . . .

Badminton Summer

Badminton

It leans against the wall in the corner of my backyard shed, musty and a bit dilapidated. Sometimes the Christmas tree stand or the broom or the rake becomes entangled with it, as the detritus of a storage shed is wont to do.  Always, I patiently remove the latest object to invade the badminton net, not wanting it to suffer even a slight tear.  The fact that the net was retired over eight years ago and relegated to a dank corner is irrelevant.  I’m determined to preserve it for the powerful memories it evokes.

During the summer of 2005, my nephew, who was then ten years old, spent four days with me. They were magical days of  movies, computer games, pizza, and badminton.  We played for hours on end until we were drenched with sweat, gasping for breath, and gulping Gatorade by the quart.  Every afternoon and evening we rushed to the backyard to commence our games, joking and laughing throughout, which is our way. By the end of our all-too-brief time together, the yard had two enormous bald spots, and I think we were a little worn down as well.  (Looking back, it’s kind of hard to believe that we destroyed that much grass in so short a period of time.)

At the end of his visit, I drove him back to Virginia and returned to my now quiet house, empty of giggling, pleas for one more game of Backyard Basketball on the computer, and enthusiasm for the latest  Harry Potter book.  Looming large was the badminton net that I knew had to be dismantled.  It was several days before I was up to the task, knowing that it was the final acknowledgement that our special time was truly over.

Our idyllic summer days live on in sweet memories, which I relive with particular joy every time I open the door  and see our old badminton net.  In the back of the shed, in the front of my heart, it symbolizes my love for a small boy who brightened my world in a special way that summer long ago.

Feeding the Pigs

Disrupt Change Direction New Ideas Technology Signs

Did you ever start in one direction, confident that it was the right path, only to find yourself descending into chaos, confusion, and doubt? Was it college, career, a relationship, or even a new hobby that seemed capable of  transforming your life but ultimately collapsed around you? Anyone who has ever taken a risk in any facet of life has experienced the messiness of hopes and dreams gone awry.

We find what seems to be  the perfect profession, only to become disillusioned when the reality of our work life bumps up against the idealism with which we approach it. That college that everyone said was “the best”?  We can’t wait to view it in the rearview mirror, driving away for the final time, heading toward an unknown future.  All of us have been hurt, intentionally or accidentally, by someone we considered the perfect friend, colleague, spouse, or teammate, such that wallowing in pain becomes a habit difficult to break.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that all will be well if we simply are disciplined enough to earn that black belt in karate, sell our artwork, become proficient in Spanish, or learn to play the harp, but neither the process nor the outcome satisfies.

When our enthusiasm and certainty crumble, when everyone and everything has disappointed us, what then?  How do we evolve and change so that our lives can begin to move forward with purpose and meaning?  The prodigal son had a solution.  His situation improved radically when he faced himself and what he had become and was willing to take action, albeit at the cost of humbling himself before his father.

Can we emulate the prodigal son in the 21st century?  Do we have the courage to try? Or do we prefer to remain mired in disillusionment and thus content to feed pigs* for the rest of our days?

*Luke 15:15

Love at the Red Cross

Red Cross

His hands were calloused and leathery, probably from years of manual labor.  They reached confidently for the cookies and juice offered to blood donors in the post-donation “canteen”.  He was obviously relishing the unlimited supply of sugary snacks. Sitting nearby, his wife gently scolded that he was perhaps a little too fond of the treats and should cease partaking at once.  He glanced up and winked at me, letting me know that all was well, and promptly complied with his wife’s request.

Her face was weary, yet peaceful, a juxtaposition that struck me as odd at the time. She gazed at her husband with the familiarity of one long known and long loved, and even her chiding was overlaid with warmth.   He even seemed to enjoy her fussing, perhaps as the deepest evidence of her devotion.  There were no other words between them; they merely sat companionably and radiated love between them throughout the remainder of their required time in the canteen,

I observed this couple at the Red Cross in my hometown nearly thirty years ago and have never forgotten the aura of love permeating the room because of them.  Part of me desperately wanted to know their story.  I imagined them farming together, enduring the vagaries of the seasons of the earth along with the twists and turns of life. I wondered if some unspeakable sadness drove them closer, rather than apart as it does many couples.  Did they have children and grandchildren or hobbies they enjoyed? Were they planning to retire and travel around the country?

Of course, my questions remain unanswered, and perhaps that is best.  Maybe it is enough to recall the love they shared and to know that it was real.

Morning Sounds

Early Morning Beauty
Early Morning Beauty

The car comes racing down the street, screeches to a halt, and I hear plunk, plunk, plunk.  It’s a familiar, welcome refrain, the newspaper being dropped into my driveway and those of my neighbors as well.  Music briefly blasts from the radio, but quickly the driver guns the engine and speeds off to his next delivery.

Soon thereafter comes the school bus with its incessant beeping as it warns the still-drowsy neighborhood that it’s moving in reverse.  As I glance out at the dimly lit sky, I envision the potential consequences of having caught a bus at 6:30 a.m. during my childhood  I picture a life of perpetually mismatched socks, forgotten lunch, backpack in disarray, and constant neck pain from my head falling forward as I doze on the way to school.  It is not a pretty picture, and as the bus pulls away, quietly moving forward, I am thankful for my days as a car-rider and for blessed middle age.

Stillness returns briefly before a mournful whistle announces a train loaded with cargo passing through town.  Some people describe the train’s whistle as a lonesome, aching call to something unknown, a destination unseen, a journey not taken.  Nevertheless, I am soothed by the sound.  Having grown up in a railroad town, and having always lived near railroad tracks in the three cities I have called home, I find comfort, familiarity, and security in the whistle’s blast.

These are the sounds that greet me each day.  What are your morning sounds?

Let’s Keep November

As I was wandering through the dollar store recently, I noticed the aisle cluttered with everything Halloween—candy, costumes, and myriad decorations.  One aisle over, stretching from the front of the store to the back, were Christmas items running the gamut from wrapping paper to doormats.  Although I’m used to “Christmas in October” in every retail establishment, it struck me for the first time that maybe as a society we feel welcome to ignore November, to skip over all that it has to offer in favor of jumping into the next frenzied shopping experience.  The token Thanksgiving Day retail offerings would hardly be missed.

So, if we simply excised November, what would happen?  We would lose the joy, and for some, the agony, of celebrating Veteran’s Day and gratefully acknowledging all that members of our armed services have sacrificed to protect the freedoms we enjoy daily.  Thanksgiving would be a distant memory of family and friends gathering for food, football, fun, and chaos.  Again, we would bypass the opportunity to express overt gratitude for all that we have and our blessings too numerous to count.   In 2013, we would also be without the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, a sad omission of the start of an important religious season for many.

Without November, we would miss the slow exodus of fall, the gradual lessening of daylight hours, the first smell of wood-burning fireplaces, the excitement of pulling sweaters out of the cedar chest one by one,   We would lose the opportunity to slide gracefully into winter from a season of gentleness and beauty all around.   I think we need November after all.

Lost and Found in Nevada

I sit here this evening contemplating the horror of yet another school shooting, more senseless deaths, innocent students scarred by violence, and wonder why.  The losses are so numerous—-the lives of a dedicated teacher and a misguided student; trust that school is a safe place; feelings of security among students, faculty, and staff; assurance for parents that school is where their children won’t be harmed; a sense of well-being within the larger community, and on and on.  My heart aches for all of those caught in the midst of the shooting and its aftermath simply as a result of following their normal daily routine.

It’s tempting to focus solely on all the things lost on a day like today, but it then seems as though I, too, have been defeated by the violence and tragedy.  So it is right and worthwhile to consider what was found as well.  According to news accounts, several students fled the school grounds after hearing shots fired and were welcomed into a nearby home.  They found shelter and refuge from potential harm.  The teacher who died was attempting to defuse the situation while simultaneously protecting his students.  In him, we find courage, strength, and self-sacrifice.  Public safety officers, who must dread the possibility of serving in circumstances like today’s, responded swiftly and purposefully, and in them we find noble professionalism.

The headlines might ever highlight the trauma and death of school shootings, and we must not discount them individually or as a society.  Our ability to recognize kindness, sacrifice, and duty, while dreadfully difficult, is nevertheless essential in helping us see what we retain in spite of all that was lost.  May it offer comfort and peace, especially to everyone at Sparks Middle School