Pain and Beauty

Another morning where several layers of clothes are needed.  We are noticing that we are colder in the house these days. It’s that natural time of year when we want it to be warmer than it is and have come to the end of our tolerance level for being even “slightly chilly.” 

Ridiculous, to be sure.  When the world is collapsing with coronavirus, I am complaining about being cold.

And yet the birds sing, the lawn sprinklers whirl, the trees bud, and the world continues to spin. It spins with both pain and beauty. We cannot possibly have one without the other. The important thing is to notice that both exist in our world. Side-by-side.

While I notice that the house is still chilly, I also notice that the doors are open and the windows are cracked letting light and fresh air inside.

While I notice that the groceries are dwindling and we are in need of basic items, I also notice that the pantry still has cans of food that can realistically last us for weeks.

While I notice that the stores, restaurants, and fitness clubs are still closed, I also notice that nature and the world outdoors are coming to life and beckoning us outside.

While I notice that I am wearing the same thing day after day after day, I also notice that I need far less clothing than is hanging in my closet.

While I notice that my haircut is unkempt and raggy, I also notice that the opportunity for change and embracing a new style is possible.

While I notice that our daily life is more silent than ever before, I also notice that the need for constant outside entertainment is unnecessary.

Yes . . . . . and.   Yes, pain . . . . . . and beauty. We must experience one in order to transform into the other. 

From out of the furnace

This is hard. Not the physical part of it, not the daily living. That part is extremely easy. Embarrassingly easy, truth be told. We are part of the privileged white-collar population in this country. Steve has a pension that is sustaining us. We have savings. Day to day we are able to have food available to us. We have all the appropriate kinds of clothing that we need. We have family nearby. We live in an interactive neighborhood that knows about each other and cares about each other.  We have a lovely small home that is both manageable and comfortable. We love each other deeply and our preference is always to be with each other rather than to be apart.

However, the rest of the world, the rest of this nation is not in that kind of position. Although we are able to find the good and the opportunities in this pandemic, not everyone is able to glean even a slice of that goodness. Their days are filled with worry and pain and trying to overcome the most difficult of issues – how to feed their family, stay safe from domestic violence, pay their rent or mortgage, care for their sick, bury their dead.

The medical community is in the largest catastrophe of their lifetime. Most of them have most likely never experienced anything of this nature. They were totally unprepared. And yet, from the small pieces of news I hear from the medical people in my sphere, their superheros are coming forward again and again. Those at the head of the systems are implementing plans and preparations to prepare for the onslaught of illness that could soon take over our community. Other parts of the country are already deep into that onslaught, allowing the rest of the country a week or so to observe and assess and quickly implement changes that will hopefully keep them even just one step ahead of the monster threatening to devour those in its path. 

I try to stay uplifted, positive, and for the most part, I am able to do that. Oddly, there is a sense of guilt that comes from being positive and upbeat. Hell’s fires are actually burning all around the world and to remain calm and uplifted almost feels like denial. But it is the way I must be, it is the way I am made to be. I do realize the somatic symptoms that my body is showing me that says I am carrying grief and worry with me. My neck is tight, heartburn threatens at every moment.

My work is very easy. Stay out of the way. Stay home. Support who I can via the phone or the internet. Watch my words. Clean my house. Knit slippers. Learn new things. Stay connected to my peeps in the SFU. Watch and respond to the work Pastor Chris is doing with our church. Make food. Stay in touch with Mom. Call the grandchildren. Pray. Go for walks. Greet neighbors from afar. Read books I might otherwise not read. Stay on top of my writing. Bake comfort food. Cuddle with my husband. Write even more. And most importantly, understand the things that are in my control and the things that are not. Pray. Pray for our nation, pray for our leaders, pray for those who follow, pray for the world. Pray for the love that abides in every person to come forward and lift each other up and through this time. Pray for a great depth of learning to be accomplished through this crisis.

From out of the furnace comes a finer frame.

Where is my place?

Yesterday there was a shooting in San Antonio in a Walmart. A shooter walked in the door and promptly killed 20 people. Just like that. This morning another shooting occurred, in Dayton, Ohio. It’s so hard to understand completely all the reasons for this increase in violence. I must admit that I look toward the current administration for so much of this. The violence and unrest that has been bubbling under the surface in many people have been unleashed by an administration that has given permission for this kind of expression through its own example. Not just with harmless sophomoric behavior, but rather through the releasing of vile, disrespectful and unconscionable spoken language. Name-calling is just one of the smaller examples of egregious behaviors.

Do I look to these examples of unacceptable behavior when trying to find an explanation of the violence taking place in our country? Absolutely. For example, our president is the leader of our nation, the person who we look to for protection, the example of how we might react in any given situation, the compass in our moral discussions. Isn’t that really what a good leader is all about? Otherwise, why are they leaders at all?

I read an article in Time yesterday that brought me to tears. It was about the stench that engulfs the immigrants and refugees who are trying to get into our country in order to escape either climate catastrophes or violence in their own countries. The writer spoke of the smell that follows these people due to the loss of access to appropriate hygiene. The inability to stay clean. By the end of the article, I again was hit with the knowledge that there is something I should do, something I need to know, someplace I need to go in order to make a difference. It is such a huge problem and demands a huge intervention. It demands a continual conversation carried on among those of us who are not in the center of the disaster. We have the ability to think clearly, the resources to put toward the start of an answer. We have that ability – until we don’t. I believe that the use of inflammatory speech is an attempt to take away our ability to reason our way through this. By becoming angry, our energies are deflected as are our good-thinking minds and we’re sent in another direction of response. If we argue among ourselves that only serves the purpose better as we disengage from the work that is really needed and turn in argumentative anger on each other instead.

Where is my place?
What do I do?
How do I respond?
How will I know what is right?
And good?
And appropriate?
And above all respectful and kind and compassionate?

It is in times like this that I feel we all, each and every one of us, may lose our compassion and instead embrace our anger.

To the point that we become helpless and/or hopeless to effect a change at all.

Love transferred

July 1st. 41 years ago. I learned just how much love a heart can hold as our first baby girl was born into this world. Kathleen Barbara Jones. I remember calling her Grandma Jones a couple weeks before she was born.

“What should we use as her middle name?” I had asked her.

“Barbara, of course” she replied.

And so it was. After four boys of her own it was time to name this new baby girl after her. At that time in history we never had any idea if the baby was going to be a boy or a girl. Kathleen Barbara Jones had a equal chance to be Christopher Drennan Jones.

She came into the world on a hot, humid day, very similar to the day we are warming up to have here this morning in Indiana. She was slow in coming into the world. She and I worked together all through the night. At 8:30AM she finally gave a grand entrance and peeked into her new world full of lights and voices. Her cry was hoarse from the start which we thought was really quite endearing. I could tell her cry in the nursery from down the hall. A baby’s voice begins to develop from the moment they use their vocal chords, and Katie was ready to use her’s. She cried for six months with what we called colic. Now, I’m sure it would be something else, but my poor little babe was a hurting girl for a few months. Once it stopped, it stopped for good and she was a delight.

How I miss that delight. I learned just how much love I could hold when she was born. When she died 17 years later I learned that love didn’t die with her. Love never went away, it just needed to be redirected. It needed to flow in another direction. More than one direction. Once blossomed, love continued to grow, to expand. It was too wonderful to let die.

Maybe that’s what grief is all about. Maybe it’s about learning to love, and then learning how to give it away, to share its abundance, to teach its meaning to people who have not yet found it. Once found, love’s expression can be encouraged, shared, transferred, maintained. I believe that it’s a choice to let it die. I found no earthly reason to do that.

When expressing grief I become the carrier of love that needs to find new meaning. Like the brilliance of a diamond held in the light, I carry that love and show it to people who may have never known my Katie. I am the carrier of the spirit and love of the person she was. Once filled with love I have the choice to either let that love whither and die or expand it, show it to others, filling my life with the knowledge that it still exists.

It took a while for me to understand this transfer of love. Grief taught me that when you love much, you grieve much. In time, that grief can transfer and transform into an abundant love that knows no bounds.

Love. It’s really what we’re all here to do. Sometimes we learn that the hard way.

This day

Today is a day for love and reflection. This day, 21 years ago my daughter died, leaving this earth and moving into a place where I could no longer feel her touch or hear her voice. Yet, after all of these years her love remains. The essence of who she was lingers in the rooms as if she were just here. That is such a fascinating thing to me. A person can be gone for so long, and yet remain in our minds. That’s the power of love.

I dreamt of her last night. In my dream she was a tiny baby. I knew that she needed to be fed, but she never cried or gave any indication that she was hungry. I had gone away for a while and when I came back I could see that she was struggling, and yet not crying. I fumbled as I attempted to get a nipple on a small bottle of milk. Not the right size. . . close the refrigerator. . . why is that nipple so long and skinny. . . baby I’m here. I’m here. I’m here. But I don’t seem to be able to help you. Then thankfully, I woke and that particular nightmare was over.

There was a time when waking was more horrific than sleeping in the nightmare. She was gone and that reality came and hit me full in the chest every morning. I couldn’t save her, her dad couldn’t save her, the doctors couldn’t save her. She died peacefully, never complaining much at all, always accepting and calm. During those times she kept me calm. The angst and anxiety came afterward when the reality couldn’t be escaped.

Now, these 21 years later I have come to a place that is peaceful. The dreams still return and in them I can’t help her because I didn’t know she was sick – she never cried out her pain to me. But the waking is better, the reality of my life as it is now is comforting rather than intensely painful. I have come to accept that I will go on without her presence, but she remains with me always. Such a wonderful thing. During this time of darkness so many years ago my world changed as did her father’s and her sister’s and her brother’s. We were flipped into a place where none of us wanted to be and yet we were helpless to change it.

Maybe now part of the difference, part of the getting through it, part of the change is that we learned to accept that helplessness. We accepted the fact that there are some things that we just cannot change no matter how badly we want to or how hard we try.

I believe that all of us must come to a place of acceptance. You stop the struggle and just let the pain and sadness rule your world for a bit until it’s done having its way with you. When it’s gone, that pain and sadness have a way of honing you, of making you able to stand taller.

This day, this time of year is rife with emotions. I have realized over the years that anxiety, uneasiness and small aches and pains return every year,  yet always continue to surprise me. I have put the connection together and understand the body holds on to the emotions and the body remembers all of the things that line up at this time of year and fill my mind.

What I have come to know through all of this is the sweetness and the importance of  family and friends that continue to walk this earth. Of all things that I have learned to embrace, relationships are at the top of the list because I realize so fully their fragility.

While the houses, the stuff in them, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear will all end in a pile of rubble some day, our relationships will always be carried with us in our hearts and our minds.  We reflect on them and hang on to them. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

My darling daughter, I miss you. I miss your sweet presence and your firm no-nonsense attitude. I miss your laughter and even your tears. I miss your very footstep and the way you said “Mom.”

I love you Katie Jones.

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Really?

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. . . to here.

From here . . .

She asked me if I thought that I felt older than I really was. I thought it was an odd question at the time and took me by surprise.

“Why would you ask that?” I responded.

“Because what you’re doing is usually what people do when they get old.” she said with confidence.

“Really?” I questioned.

Because I don’t feel old at all. In fact I feel younger than I am, more fit, more able to do this thing that we had been planning. No. To make the kind of move we made takes courage, stamina, a sense of adventure, a bit of carelessness, much planning, a certain amount of physical strength and a great belief in the beauty of the present moment and a wonder of the future.

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We’re going to do WHAT?

Decisions! Decisions!

Instead of being totally immersed in what things we have, what success we have achieved or how stable we are we have thrown caution to the wind and moved from a comfortable 2700 square foot home to an equally comfortable two bedroom rented apartment half the size. We have stored some of our things, given away a greater portion of our things and taken with us only those things that we truly love or that we really use. Even “need” is a negotiable word these days. Needs fluctuate daily.

As Steve and I have settled in to this new world of ours we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, for us, this has been the right thing to do. As I reflect on this “rightness” for us, other people flow through my thinking and I imagine them doing this same thing. I realize that this would not be right for everyone. We all have different needs and different ways to express ourselves and the way we live our lives. But for us, at this time in our life, and because who Steve and I are together, this made perfect sense.

The piece that really makes it home.

With this move we have been given the gift of time. He has gained 10 full hours a week of home time. Off the road, he is now home within 5 minutes of leaving the office. The gains in that change alone are monumental. The strain and stress of constantly leaving and driving and leaving and driving have disappeared. Although this was something that I realized would change, I didn’t fully understand the depth of relief that change would make. It’s as though we have completely eliminated one entire geographical setting in our life. One less place that we must drive to, get to, leave from.

With this move we have been given the gift of simplicity. The rooms we occupy are now all on one level and all within a few short steps from each other. By bringing with us those things that we love, use or have a sentimental attachment to, we have narrowed our stash of “stuff.” Life is so much simpler without so much stuff.

Oh, the small stuff to deal with!

With this move we have been given the gift of choices. Without the suburban home and all it’s attached responsibilities, we no longer must be a slave to its care. The constant upkeep and maintenance of a house is a curious thing. We work hard at keeping it clean, painted, updated. The lawn is manicured, fertilized, and kept up within the guidelines of all the other suburban houses surrounding it. In essence, we keep it up to keep up. Now, with all of that gone, we have choices instead of demands. We can choose to spend our time building relationships instead of cleaning 30 windows. We can take a bike ride to the neighborhood grocery store instead of a car ride to Costco to fill our oversized pantry. We can walk through the neighborhoods surrounding us instead of walking through our large lawn to mow it.

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The new favorite corner.

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The new favorite pastime. Watching the storms roll in.

In the end, I can’t see that any of these things are really attached to idea that I am getting old. Wiser? Or yes! I am getting wiser and yes, that does come with aging. This is a positive thing, this is an engaging thing, this is the way that living in the second half of life looks. No more acquiring, building up, getting ahead. Just living. Plain and simple. Together.

Simplicity – it’s complicated

forsaleI am on a complicated path to simplicity. Like many other people I know, we are talking about, and making a move toward living with less stuff, less house, less baggage to take care of. This process includes putting the house on the market and paring down our possessions to a level that is much easier to manage in a move.

As we get older, it seems to be more and more difficult to move smoothly and simply. Think back to the days of young adulthood – possibly college apartment days or newly wed days. To move it was a simple matter of getting a few boxes from the grocery store (or the liquor store where they were much more subsIMG_5290tantial!) and throw your stuff inside, call your friend with a truck and get the deed done. Presto chango. A new place to live.

I used to think that the ease in those younger days came because we were all young and strong and had boundless energy. Not necessarily so. I now believe the bigger issue here is the amount of stuff that we have now as opposed to then. The most prized possession then may have been a collection of albums instead of a dining room set. Or a guitar or two instead of a small recording studio and a piano. Maybe one sewing mIMG_5363achine as opposed to a room full of yarn and machines and various craft equipment. It’s hundreds of books instead of a few dog-eared and tattered paperbacks. China place settings for ten instead of a few mismatched dishes from the reward program at the grocery store. An extra vacuum for “just in case.” Clothes in a couple of sizes for the same reason. Treasures in boxes from dear people now long gone.

So where to start? Closet by closet. The pantry. The boxes in the basement. Who really needs boxes filled with stuff and stored in the basement?

In the end.
Is it beautiful?
Is it functional?
Is it sentimental? (be VERY careful here)

To be sure, it is complicated.

My answer to the children question.

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As we walk out of the yoga class she asks me how many children I have. It was at the end of the standard questions back and forth. “How do you know. . .?” “Where do you live . . . ?” “Is that the house that . . .?” and finally “Do you have children?”

I tell her yes, that my husband has two daughters and that I have a daughter and a son and that they are all adults. The conversation winds down and we go our separate ways.

There was a time that that was a difficult question for me. My oldest daughter’s death was fresh and painful and the thought of ever leaving her out of that answer was unthinkable.

“I have three children.” I would coach myself to say right after Katie died. This was followed by an explanation about Miranda and Isaac and ended with a short sentence or two about Katie and the fact that she had died “X” months or years ago.

Slowly, the explanation morphed into something a bit different. Following the children question I would say that I have three children. I would describe Miranda and Isaac and then would stop. If they were paying attention – which wasn’t always the case – they would ask “And your third child?” Or they would say, “So Miranda is your oldest child?” Then I would tell my short, now well-honed story about Katie. Sometimes they would never even ask about the third child that I had mentioned at first and I would leave it like that. It had apparently been a question that was asked not out of curiosity or for a need to know, but a question posed for the sake of politely asking a conversational question.

In these past couple of years I have found myself answering simply. My husband has two daughters and I have a daughter and a son. And we go on from there. This sits well with me now. Not because I have forgotten Katie. That’s an impossibility. Not that I don’t want to share that part of my life with people. My life is an open book and Katie is an integral part of my life and who I have evolved to be. One of the promises I made to Katie before she died was that I would always introduce her to the people I met. They would know her name and she would not be forgotten.

Not forgotten, but instead, Katie has a very special place of her own in my memories, my motherhood and in my conversations. Yes, I have three children and always will. Here or not. Katie has her own identity as the child that was here with us for 17 years and now is not. I have learned to understand the times and places for that particular conversation.

A child is not supposed to die before their parent. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes they do. I needed to find a way to make Katie’s death be a conversation in my life that was an honoring conversation of who she was, both as an individual and as my daughter. I want to carry her spirit with me in a way that is different from my children who are still here on this earth with me. Each one of them is an important part of my life and so demands a different expression of who they are. I also have to honor the fact that I want to continue on with my life and embrace everything that is given to me – the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Katie lived. Katie died. I rejoice in being her mother, both then and now.

I now am able to casually answer the question, “How many children do you have?” It can lead to all sorts of very interesting and meaningful conversations. Or not. I’m comfortable with either direction.

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Paring down

Just why is it that I have found myself immersed in a ridiculous collection? immersion? gathering? making? enjoying? of fairy garden do-dads? Me, the person who has stated again and again that I am done buying anything other than that kind of thing that I need to sustain life. That would include food, shelter, medicine and clothing. Other than that, everything is negotiable. I am in the process of paring down my life, not adding more stuff to it. My motto is “It’s just another thing that I’ll have to get rid of in two years.”

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My neighbor, Kay keeps trying to convince me to go down to the seasonal garden seller to buy his plants now, at the end of the season. “Because they’re on sale, of course!” is her reasoning. Kay has continued to buy pots and flowers and more flowers and yet again more flowers all spring and summer long. It is her passion, it is what gets her up in the morning and out of the house. She often comments that she doesn’t know what she would do if she didn’t have flowers to care for. And, indeed, their yard is a certain power house of flowers. Color everywhere. Birds and bees and dragon flies and butterflies abound. She and her husband Ben have a green thumb like no other that I have ever seen.

But one day, while over a friend’s house, I suddenly felt a surge of interest, a rising of a passion in something that would demand I look for and collect stuff I will eventually have to get rid of. Deb had a fairy garden in her back yard. Right there at the edge of the lawn just a short bit away from where we sat. And it was adorable. I loved it! This was the first fairy garden that I had seen in someone’s yard. The past couple of years they have been sprouting up in garden centers. Most of them are put together in a table that is about waist-high. Some are in wagons, or large pots. But this was the first one I saw that was actually on the ground, in the yard, just like you might imagine a fairy would do. I still can’t believe I am talking about this, much less that I went on a hunt for “fairy stuff.”

The first few things I bought were two small chairs, an arbor, a table with a tiny bird perched on it and a lamp-post with a detachable swinging lamp. I got two more ground cover plants and replanted two that I had bought earlier to cover the ground of my garden. Yes, my fairy garden. Today, we made a special trip to Michael’s because I was on the hunt for a picket fence. I also picked up two tiny clay pots. I’m going to break up an old blue painted clay pot to make a walkway into the seating area for the garden. I am on the prowl for anything small and unique to add to this little space.

This is absolutely the last thing that I will allow myself to collect. At least it isn’t expensive. I could have discovered that I had a great penchant for diamonds and needed to go out to look for bracelets and necklaces and earrings. Or I could have decided that I needed to have an entire closet or two filled with designer clothes because nothing else was worth the wear. I may have all of a sudden had a need to own expensive one-of-a-kind books, rare and hard to find and worth lots of money. Or maybe even the desire for fine cars could have grabbed me and I would have gone out for high-end transportation that gets rotten gas mileage. But instead, I turned to this tiny little collection of miniatures. This little collection will take up a small spot along the front sidewalk into the house. A small piece where I can stretch out my imagination and play for a bit. Yet I will still remain true to my goal to pare down.

There is a certain awkwardness in taking a picture of the garden. It’s too small and looks un-naturally big when the shot is close and too far away when the shot is taken from a standing perspective. I’m thinking I”ll probably have to buy a new camera to take pictures of my fairy garden. A not too expensive one, but one that will get the job done. Yep. That will be it, and then I’ll work on getting a fairy workbench set up in the garage. To collect and work on my fairy stuff. To get rid of in two years. Because I’m paring down.

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Passing the 2nd Bedroom door

I used to pass the 2nd bedroom door each day as I walked down the hall, ready for the world of work beyond the confines of my home. But the confines of my home called out to me each day from that doorway of the 2nd bedroom. The violet colored walls and expansive, clean white desk called out to me to “Stay! Stay!” each morning as I passed by. The sun, so fleeting in that northeast facing home, slid into the window for just a brief moment on those high summer days. It gave light to a room that was otherwise dark and called out to me to come inside and wait and ponder all things important in life. But instead I felt I had to pass by that room and go out into the life that I lead that gave me the money and sustenance to live the life that I thought that I wanted.

violet bedroomBut what I wanted was to NOT pass by the 2nd bedroom door. I wanted to stay. I once read about the idea that if you are working in a job that you do not want, like or are not the least bit interested in, you are wasting your time in a monumental type of way. You are making money in order to sustain this life that you don’t like to begin with. It’s a circular type of trap.

So how about starting from scratch?

Consider just what it is that you are invested in, that you want to spend your time doing, some place where you want to make a difference. Something beyond yourself and beyond just keeping your life percolating along. Something besides pushing papers, or answering telephones, or setting up appointments for other people.

Because if that 2nd bedroom door keeps calling to you each morning as you pass it by, there is something there that you are probably needing to attend to. That 2nd bedroom door has called me for a long, long, time. And it is really just beginning to dawn on me that I am inside that room now and its really okay to settle in and figure it out.

Each morning these past few days as he leaves for work Steve has called out to me in a sing-song voice that we all have used in play “See ya! See ya! Wouldn’t wanna be ya!” There would have been a time when he would have not even come close to teasing me in that way. He would not have dared to risk boiling up the emotional distress I was in as I found myself in a career backslide just at the point in my life when I thought I had found my direction.

But I think he knows very well now, just as I do that I have just answered the call to not walk by the 2nd bedroom door anymore and to allow myself (thanks in GREAT part to his love and dedication to his career) that time to make sense of it all. To just be and not pursue. To feel the blessings around me instead of walking right past them on to the next great thing. This is the great thing, right here, right now. And I don’t have to walk by that door anymore.