Friday, December 31, 2004
I still will tap my brakes on and off if I am slowed down or stopped and see someone in my rearview mirror who seems to be coming up to me a little too quickly, or if someone is following too closely on the interstate. I can't help that. I don't want to be rear-ended again.
That's the nature of what I have been through this year with my son. The problem will never go away entirely. I will look nervously for some time into the rearview mirror to see what is coming from behind that might catch me (and him) off guard.
I have wondered why I keep looking back, why I need to write these things out in here, why these dreadful memories of how it was last year at this time keep flashing back in my mind. The worst of the problem seems to be behind us now, and he seems to be on steadier ground these days. I should be celebrating, and for the most part, I am. But I have come to see that it is a sort of post-traumatic stress I suffer from.
Looking back, I am amazed at how far he and I both have come. Looking back, I am surprised at the difference a year can bring. Looking back, I am grateful and appreciative for the hands that have reached out to me and steadied me in countless small ways through the year, in spite of my tendency to be very reserved in acknowledging pain or need of any kind.
There have been those who have listened without the need to try and fix any of our problems, those who have reminded me that I have done the best things I knew how to do at the time. There have been the hands who have surprised me, the ones I thought would surely judge me for my predicament, and have reached out to me, and to my son in practical and concrete ways that spoke volumes to him about the caring nature of other people who knew me and not him. There is the mentor who was praying for such an opportunity as this, a man who has so much in common with my son, and who has been another pair of hands for my him.
There have been those people who comforted me even though they lost their own sons to the battle my son has been fighting. My heart breaks at the irony of that one. I don't know why that would be anymore than I know why a tsunami would flow onto a crowded beach half way round the world from me. There is no logic, certainly no reason my son would live and theirs would die. I never really ask why a bad thing would happen to me, I often ask why a good thing would happen, for I am no better, no more deserving than the next person.
But now I have taken my look back. I have seen the depth of the gorge we nearly slipped into. And now I want to look forward and outward. I want to be the kind of hands that have touched me this past year: quiet, unassuming, gentle, non-judgmental, present.
And yes, my image is corny, but God, I am grateful for each hand that has touched me through this year.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Monday, December 27, 2004
“A better phrase than “know who you are” is the phrase, “be in conversation with your identity.” This way you are always becoming, always evaluating, rather than searching for an absolute and irrevocable identity.” -- Temp Sparkman, Leadership Roles for Youth
That quote is as apt for me today at ** as it was for me at fifteen. I hope to continue conversing with my identity, always becoming, always evaluating. I do not want to be choked by the chains of an “absolute and irrevocable identity”, for that is the state where all growth stops, where you find yourself swimming in water as stagnant and stinky as the water in a neglected goldfish bowl.
I don’t know why growth happens, or why, when faced with a challenge, some of us will clean our goldfish bowls, while others continue to swim in darkened circles. I know I did not consciously choose to grow. I know I swam aimlessly for a long while. I don’t know exactly when the water started getting clearer, don’t know when I started waving to the other little fishies I saw out there in the big world, don’t know when I got dumped into the big tank that is slowly becoming a new life.
One thing I am pleased to discover is that although I spent much time immersed in stinky waters, I myself am not stinky. This is an important thing to remember when surrounded by the refuse of our own bad habits.
Another, more unseemly reminder for me would be not to constipate myself in order to keep my water clean. I have a habit of keeping quiet and denying my own instincts, thinking that is what good little fishies, I mean, girls, do. I am learning that there is a balance to the system that surrounds me. Into each fish bowl, a little poo must fall. It’s up to us how we handle the stinky stuff, hold it in and be constipated, or let it out, and clean it up.
I apologize for my own rough edges on writing about it here. Blogs have to change and grow too, and there is no other way than to just get in here and write, and hope something will resonate with someone, if no one other than my own self. Blogs, like life, aren’t always neat and clean. All I know to do is to let the thing grow and evolve. As in life, I can’t sprout full-grown into blogland, it just ain’t natural!
One of my favorite blogsters, Lorianne, at HoardedOrdinaries, wrote that “A blog doesn't have to be good to be engaging; it simply has to be true”. I do not think I have arrived yet at being true, I am still too aware of the constraints of that old absolute and irrevocable identity. It’s hard work, being true, and sometimes, downright embarrassing. It can also be uncomfortable, but it brings its own rewards, and is well worth the effort, I believe.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
"Balance is a fleeting state we are always trying to maintain", that's what those words in the middle say." It's been a tough year, but I think my child is getting his groove back, and he's walking with a graceful equilibrium. And I, for one, am grateful.
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we both had what we needed all along to find our way through, though neither one of us would have believed that at the beginning of last year. It feels good to start the new year with renewed faith, and hope.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
And today, I spent most of the day trying to get connected to one of my Yahoo groups. I don’t often go into a bug-eyed, red rage where I can spit nails, crap fire, and lose my religion, but not being able to get to where I want to go on the Internet has been known to bring out the devil in me. Add to that the indignity of having a twenty-something tech-support nephew who treats you like a dumb little woman who can’t possibly understand the intricacies of these damn machines, and bam, you’ve got an explosion waiting to happen.
I had to get out of the house, had to go to that soothing mecca called WalMart, just to settle my nerves. After waiting patiently in line for fifteen minutes to make my small purchase, I was sufficiently calmed enough to come home and try again to hookup with cyberspace.
My Ad-aware program had been telling me for about a month that no new updates had been found. Lies, all lies. I figured I needed to check that little story out. I ended up downloading a newer version, running the scan, and eliminating over a thousand different little bugs by the time I had finished running the scan several times, on each family members’ screen name (with no help from aforementioned nephew, who will now be unceremoniously scratched from my Christmas list!). No wonder my poor computer could not move, it was nearly choking to death. I am proud to report my machine is now running faster than I ever need to go.
I have a teacher who makes these kinds of remarks about our computers at school, as though they are recalcitrant students: “oh, it won’t let me do that”, or “it’s thinking about it”. What drives me bonkers is that this is a machine, incapable of thinking, or keeping me from doing something, a machine, people, which means I should be able to be the boss, and not the machine.
Today at least, I have won.
And I will gloat.
Brave little woman conquers machine.
Monday, December 20, 2004
"Can’t you do anything about the tree roots? One of our girls tripped and skinned her knee on the way to the pool."Being the fine upstanding Christian women that we are, we wanted to fix the problem, but we did not quite know what to do or say, so we said,
We decided to table the matter until next summer. Maybe we need to invest in a few signs, like the Christmas tree farm has done. You'll have to click on the image to read the warning.
Saturday, December 18, 2004
Friday, December 17, 2004
What is something that never fails to grab your attention?
The smell of pink hyacinths when they are blooming. On people, their hands. Typos and mis-spelled words also always grab my attention. They bug me. That's not to say I won't ever let one get by me, my own typing skills are negligible.
Who was the last person who gave you money, and what was it for?
Money? What’s that?
If you were a Smurf, what would your name be?
Do you believe in astrology? Why or why not?
No, not in the sense that I put any stock in it.
Have you seen any snow this year yet? What's the weather like today in your area?
Snow? What’s that? It’s been sixteen years since I have seen snow. The weather is cool enough for a light jacket, but it is supposed to be dipping down near freezing in the next day or so. We got all excited and bought a little wood for the fireplace, which will probably serve to jinx any chances of us having a cold Christmas.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
I am learning to enjoy the accomplishments of the day, or semester, as the case may be, while simultaneously acknowledging that there are other choices I can make. I can take the harder math. I can go on to the university and pursue a bachelor's degree. Those choices do not have to diminish the sense of satisfaction that I derive from having passed the "baby" Algebra.
The photographer Eugene Smith said it well, "Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold."
Though he was referring to photography, I think his words apply aptly to life itself. There is always another horizon beckoning in the distance. We may not choose to reach for all of them. We can't have them all. We may struggle to reach one horizon and find ourselves in a place that is entirely different from what we thought we were reaching for. That is the nature of horizons, they change. The trick is to be satisfied with the process of reaching for the horizon, and upon reaching it, being willing to let go and reach for another. I believe that's called growth.
Last night, I went with a group of young girls to the nursing home to sing Christmas carols. As I looked around the room where we were singing I observed many different states of existence. One youngish man sang Rudolph with us, with childish enthusiasm. One woman quietly mouthed the words to Silent Night. Another more tactile woman kept rolling her wheel chair up closer and closer. She wanted hugs. Of course, there were those who slept through the whole performance, those who would rather not have been bothered. My favorite was the homely woman in a wheel chair who grinned and told us all in her Cajun accent "Merry Christmas, cher ami." It is no different in the old folks home than it is out here. Horizons change, and we must adjust, and grow, or face stagnation.
My own growth has been, at times, sporadic and slow, sometimes embarrassingly so. But thank God, we were designed with the capability to grow until we die, if we choose to. (We were designed to live until we die. Hmm, could that be sort of a Yogi Berra "yogism"?)
Having mentioned Yogi, and having googled him to make sure I spelled his name right, I'll leave you with these words of his:
First, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
Second, "The future ain't what it used to be."
That's what good healthy growth will do for you, it will change your future.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
I was going to take a picture of three identical stone crocks lined up on a shelf, and I was busily trying to figure out what you did about the rule of thirds when you had three items of prominence lined up in your intended shot. The guy with the disposable camera was also trying to get a picture taken and I told him not to mind me, I was working on a project for school and I did not know what I was doing. That’s when he told me he had left his good camera at home, thus, he was stuck using a throw-away camera.
I am like my mother in that I can strike up a conversation with almost any complete stranger if they slow down long enough and so we talked a little about photography (he has an enlarger at home, “just sitting around”, dang, I should have gotten his number) and watched the old man stirring the syrup. It was the stranger who suggested I try to get a picture of the fire in the syrup cooker. He said it would make a nice picture, with the clay around the oven, and the stainless steel smoke pipe and the fire. I told him I only had one shot left, and when I pressed him for details as to how he thought I ought to set the aperture and shutter speed, he suddenly did not have much to offer in the way of opinions, except to tell me to just try it.
It would have been a good picture, according to the stranger, if it would have come out. But it didn’t. And that being the last of the film, the photo of the three stone crocks also got away. Too bad, I just know it would have been a good one.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
But three days before he died, he had a good day, with very little discomfort. He recognized his friends from work, and laughed with them about Christmas gifts. It was a pleasant visit, the kind that belies the ugly truth. I had not yet heard what the doctor had said and was filled with hope that my brother was coming back around.
The next morning, I was there when the nurses brought in the mushed up gunk they feed to patients who can’t eat real food. I spooned it into his reluctant mouth. He did not want it, but I fed it to him, because I was his big sister, and I knew he needed to eat. He was getting better, wasn’t he? I loved my brother. And feeding him, or trying to, at the time, seemed like the most hopeful thing I could do.
It was a year or two after his death before I realized I had behaved in the pragmatic way of the biblical Martha, in feeding my brother, in trying to prepare him for a return to health. That morning, I missed the opportunity to be like the intuitive Mary, to sit quietly with my brother, to gently touch him. By the evening, he was gone. I miss him still.
Trilogy: The Empty Chair
My brother’s passing
left an empty chair
at family gatherings.
He was boisterous
the baby, who could not whisper,
and had no sense of discretion,
a big teddy bear of a man.
One day at Animal Control,
surrounded by the smell of death,
while I listened as his buddy
told me what a good friend
my brother was,
his memory slipped up
like a playful toddler,
and tapped me on the shoulder.
wishing he were there,
knowing he was not.
I cried all the way home.
It’s Thanksgiving now
and I think of all the people
who face empty chairs
at their dinner tables.
After the dead are gone,
there are so many firsts:
Birthday. Easter. Christmas.
First time you reach
for the phone, only to realize
the lines don’t stretch
all the way to eternity.
There were these cookies
we used to make.
My brother loved them dearly.
For a long while after his passing,
it seemed a sacrilege
to make those cookies.
How could we enjoy the cookies
and ignore his empty chair?
But now I savor the cookies
and celebrate his life,
grateful for pleasant memories.
And the chair
no longer seems
grief is a strange emotion:
it slips up unannounced
and swells inside,
catching you off-guard
it has been nearly four years
since the departure
of my baby brother
(at the ripe young age
yet, at times
there is something that brings
him back to me.
the hunger to touch him,
to hug and be hugged by him,
it consumes me for awhile.
i miss him terribly,
the grief is fresh and raw,
like a new wound.
these are the times
when i long to hear him laugh again
and to tell him i love him,
that he was the best baby brother
we could have,
that he was a good-hearted man.
and i wonder,
if i had known that year
was the last we would have with him in this life,
what would i have done differently?
i would have said
i love you
Monday, December 13, 2004
When I hang a camera around my neck, something magical happens. The camera speaks to me. Unfortunately, the camera’s voice is highly critical. It says things like, who do you think you are? And look, all those people are looking at you, they know you don’t know what you are doing, you idiot.
But this weekend, when I went out with the camera around my neck, I decided I was going to ignore all the accusing chatter of the camera and just take pictures. I was going to follow the instructions I had been given, to go out and take some pictures and just have fun with it. I relaxed.
And now I have a picture of this mule, who was grinding sugarcane to be used in making cane syrup, and the mule has reminded me of a piece of homespun wisdom from my father. I have a new way of seeing the camera. I will no longer entertain any nagging noise from a camera. I will remember the mule, and my father’s advice, and I will take charge of the camera and its critical voice.
What was the advice, you say? Well, only this:
Just because a jack-ass brays, it doesn’t mean you have to answer.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Sometimes I get into situations that are as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. And I somehow don’t realize until I actually look down how worn-out and tired my shoes are. Sometimes I don’t realize, until the odor wafts its way up to my nose, that things stink. I am reluctant to discard my smelly worn-out shoes. They were pretty once, these old shoes. But no amount of polish will bring back the shine they once had. They have served me well, these old shoes, but they no longer fit. And they stink. So why do I hold onto old shoes? Why not say “thank you”, and let them go? Their time has gone.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
I took the picture, moved it from Photoshop to Illustrator where I added the text, then saved it for the web, and downloaded it to my blog. I am shocked that I have managed to do it. Maybe I am learning something in school, after all. (and proving once again, that you can too teach an old dog new tricks!) Go ahead, click on the picture for the larger view.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
I spent yesterday afternoon in the dark room, developing mediocre pictures, which of course, I will post, when I can get them to the computer. Developing pictures is a lot like Algebra. There are so many ways to get it just slightly wrong, and slightly wrong is still wrong, dang it.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Some might accuse me of projecting my thoughts and feelings onto a poor little turtle, since obviously, turtles can’t think. Turtles just do, they stick their necks out and they come out of their shell. There is no measuring of the risk involved, or checking in to see if they are in the mood to come out of their shell on any particular day.
One thing’s for sure: If the turtle wants to get anywhere in life, she has to come out of her shell. So do I.
(v. pro·ject (pr -j kt ) pro·ject·ed, pro·ject·ing, pro·jects v. tr.
- To thrust outward or forward: project one's jaw in defiance.
- To throw forward; hurl: project an arrow.
- To send out into space; cast: project a light beam.
- To cause (an image) to appear on a surface: projected the slide onto a screen.
- Mathematics. To produce (a projection).
- To direct (one's voice) so as to be heard clearly at a distance.
- Psychology. To externalize and attribute (an emotion or motive, for example) unconsciously to someone or something else in order to avoid anxiety.
- To convey an impression of to an audience or to others: a posture that projects defeat.
- To form a plan or intention for: project a new business enterprise.
- To calculate, estimate, or predict (something in the future), based on present data or trends: projecting next year's expenses.
Monday, December 06, 2004
For some reason, I noted this list in my journal and promptly labeled it depressing. Depressing, because, what can we do?
And last week I heard Dr. Richard Swenson discussing his book Margin, talking about how it is the nature of progress to bring more problems and to consume more of our time. He recommends that we build margin into our lives to avoid the stresses of living a life that is just too full.
When I started working in the mid seventies at a local sporting goods store, the shoe department was a simple place. If one played football, they wore Vikings, for tennis, they wore Tretorns (can’t remember what they wore for baseball). If you played basketball, there were two choices. Did you want your canvas Converse shoes to be high tops, or low quarters? And what color would you like? We have so many choices today, so many options to complicate our lives, not only in shoes, but in every aspect of our lives as consumers.
We go through personal growth spurts, and we learn new things about ourselves, or about our world, and we are faced with choices that may upset the balance of our comfort zone.
No doubt about it, change, progress, growth, whatever you want to call it, whether it is in the big picture of the world or in the microscopic view of our selves, always extracts a price. What I am wondering today is whether change, progress, or growth ever costs more than it is worth. Do these things ever become “economically” unfeasible?
Saturday, December 04, 2004
I am in the awkward stage right now, the “wallowing around trying to get my nest made stage”. It’s a bit messy, the process of trying to find one’s voice, especially when one has been around the block as often as I have.
The truth is, most people do tend to evolve in their blogging, if they stay with it long enough, but silly me, I think most people just dive in with both feet when starting to blog, and that they do it gracefully from the very first time they take the plunge. And I make the mistake of believing that I am the only one who comes up to the board and does a belly flop the first time out. Belly flops are a part of being human, aren’t they?
In the end, the best answer probably is to be myself, whoever my self is. Myself is very timid, and as always, I’ll have to tell myself to “lighten up” and “don’t take yourself so seriously”. Otherwise, I’ll come off sounding very stiff and rigid, wooden, like these gals in the woods.
Friday, December 03, 2004
My grandparent's porch
paying scant attention
to the precious stories
falling like jewels
around their feet.
Tales now only remembered
in tiny portions,
vague and pleasant,
not complete, leaving me
yearning to go back,
to be a child again,
to hear their voices
one more time,
this time more carefully.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
This statue is in one of our local cemeteries. It disturbs me. He looks to me as though he is recoiling, trying to keep from going somewhere he does not want to go. You can't see his face, but it has a haunting grimace on it, a terrified expression, as though he is recoiling from death. I don't feel any comfort whatsoever from his presence.