Saturday, December 31, 2005

One Sparkling Moment

Yesterday, at my uncle’s funeral, when the preacher looked down at the casket and assured the family that this (death) was not the end, and asserted that if it were the end, life would be terrible, I experienced a sparkling moment of clarity in the blur of grief.

I realized that in spite of all my recent complaining about the pain and disappointments and heartaches in my life lately (and all the while accusing myself of lacking gratitude), indeed, I am grateful for life itself. I have been loved and I have loved. If this was it and if it all ended today—right here, with no heaven and no hell, I’d still be very grateful for the life I have been given. I can’t negate what I have been given by saying it would be terrible if life and then death were all there is.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I am not grateful for the promise of eternal life and the glories of heaven. I think I am saying that if I never received another blessing from God, I have enough. I have been blessed beyond measure. Life is a gift.

(And God, help me to keep sight of my gratitude and to move (again) toward the realization that I have “enough” – no matter what my circumstances might be. Help me to remember that in You, I really am complete. And I am loved, warts and all. Because You know I will forget, and I will start to complain, and I will…well, You know me, You know how I am. And yet, You still love me.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It Was a Quiet Christmas

I watched my parents with a greater fondness this year, mindful of how quickly our loved ones can be taken from us.

I'm still a little preoccupied, but I want to thank you all for your prayers and kind comments. The funeral will be Friday. My cousin is still in ICU. Hopefully he will be moved to a regular room tomorrow. He will not be able to go to the funeral. His wife and baby have been resting at home. The hospital is about two hours away from where they live so they have been separated from him while recuperating at home. Please pray for continued healing, both physical and emotional, for his two children and three grandchildren.

It is still all so hard to believe.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Unopened Gifts

The girl in the photo department at Walgreen’s was very helpful when I came to print my photo, but still, the edges were clipped and I had to go home and redo the sizing in Photoshop. She liked the photo and so I told her I would give her one when I got them to print correctly. I have been trying to catch her at work for several days now, having gotten her name from her coworkers when I described her as the bubbly girl with kind of short hair.

Tonight, I saw her on duty and went home to get the photo for her. She laughed at hearing I had described her as the bubbly one when I asked where she was. She was thrilled that I had remembered my promise and told me she was going to frame it and where she was going to put it in her house. We hugged and told each other Merry Christmas. And I told her to keep bubbling, and she smiled and bubbled a giggle or two. It felt good to share a brief moment of Christmas joy with a stranger.

My two uncles came today to visit my mother. One of them had his son and daughter-in-law and their three-week-old baby with them. I saw them for a few minutes before I headed out to finish up a few more things. They took pictures of the baby and pictures of my mom and her brothers together. Pictures, they took pictures.

The pictures become important because there was a wreck on their way home. They were hit broadside. My uncle died instantly. My cousin had surgery to remove a ruptured spleen and will require surgery on a broken hip and wrist at a later date. He does not even know yet about his father. His wife suffered head injuries but seems to be coming around. Her eyes are swollen shut and her mouth is pretty busted up. The baby was all right, safely ensconced in his car seat.

A stop sign had been vandalized and pushed down. A man who was not familiar with the area ran the stop sign, not even knowing there was one there. How horrible he must feel.

Already this Christmas had felt to me like a Christmas of contrast, a Christmas of loss, a
Christmas where the blessings would be small and simple—the sharing of a hurricane photo with a stranger at Walgreens, a wonderful last visit with this brother, this uncle, this father, this grandfather who is now gone from us.

I am reminded of a quote by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on
earth which can make them come back again.”

There comes a time when the question begs to be asked -- Why? Why?

And yet, in the darkness, when those things have vanished that we can not bring back, the light that I speak so fondly of, it does still shine. Even so, prayers for all would be appreciated, prayers for my mother, for my uncle's grown children, for the two grandkids who are old enough to know PawPaw is not coming back, for the little one who will never get to know his grandfather and for the man who was driving the other vehicle. We all will have to wake up in the morning and know that this is reality and not just a terrible dream.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Light

The view through our fallen cedar tree limbs
(the tree still needs to be cut down and hauled away),

past the open gap to where the gate from our privacy fence blew away,
I wonder how other people are dealing with the vulnerability
of being so visible because the downing of their trees
and fences have left them exposed

and beyond,

to the neighbor's Christmas lights
and there are fewer this year,
for many, a dull edge hangs over the season

So many people are without light in this season, both literally and metaphorically. Do what you can to spread whatever light you can wherever you can. And remember to spread that light all year long, not just in this season of caroling to nursing homes, or serving meals at the local homeless shelter, or sending toys to the youngest of the hurricane's victims.


Sunday, December 11, 2005


Well, that was kind of scary, Ayekah reminding me in her comments to my last post of the need to move toward the new normal in the aftermath of the hurricane and other storms, in light of the fact that I had a draft written that was not quite where I wanted it to be and so I had not posted it...

All I wanted the boy to do was learn to write his name. He was at the age where he was supposed to be interested in that kind of stuff and we played around at writing his name here and there, but he never really gave much indication that he was ready to write his name. And then one day, I came to dust my expensive drop leaf desk and discovered the childish scrawl of letters carved into the wood with a pencil. "New normal" -- a carved up desk.

Like living in the aftermath of a hurricane, living with (and loving) someone who has problems with substance abuse forces one to find a way to craft a "new normal". WalMart closing at eight o'clock during the busiest time of the year, blue tarps on housetops, sunshine where there used to be shade, Burger King closing at five o'clock, these things all equal "new normal" after a storm. And there are bigger losses. But my point is, when we have not experienced the storm ourselves, we are often blissfully unaware of the things that remain lost long after the storm has passed. And we forget that anyone who suffers through a storm has to deal with and grieve these losses as part of their stumbling procession towards "new normal". That is, if they want to progress.

Many times, good things will come from the experience and we find we are grateful for the new normal, for the changes in our lives that were precipitated by the storm and we would never want to return to the way things were, or might have been. I really do believe that the sooner we can arrive to a place of gratitude (maybe not necessarily gratitude for the "storm" but gratitude for provision and progress through the storm), the better off we will be. I have believed this for years, and probably "preached" it to others-- preached it from a place of calm in my life, before the storm, with no clue as to how difficult it actually is to practice what I preach. It takes time and deliberate effort to move towards gratitude when things just aren't going your way.

I have been working for several years on a new normal and I am nowhere near finished (nor will I ever be, I suppose, that is life, isn't it?). Frankly, I am a little weary of the struggle because I thought surely, by now, I would have something really bright and shiny to show for my efforts. True gratitude requires letting go of expectations. It's been difficult lately for me to arrive at true gratitude because of my misguided expectations. As a result, I have been dealing with the problem of bitterness. I do not want to be bitter. Although it may be a natural part of the progression, it is not a place I want to be intimately acquainted with. It's tough work, moving through a storm, moving from bitterness (and grief over what might have been) toward gratitude to embrace the new normal. Who among us really likes to have our little worlds shook up?

I can write about hurricanes and wayward sons, but we all have our storms. I have watched people after this storm and I have watched teens and their parents weather the storm of substance abuse. There are those who work themselves to death trying to get things back to the way it was as quickly as possible. They want to get everything fixed and forget anything ever happened. There are those who are numbed and not sure what to do, so they do nothing. They want to sit and grieve that something has happened (at least, until "the fit hits the shan", and they are forced to do something, unless they like sitting around in the muck and mire). Then there are those who know things will never be the same and they adjust and move on to their new normal.

The simple fact is, no matter what we do, or how we react, there are some things that will never be the same. There are trees that will not grow back, not in my lifetime. The landscape has been forever altered. And our brightest hope is to accept that and move on to the new normal.

"Look not mournfully into the past.

It comes not back again.

Wisely improve the present.

It is thine.

Go forth to meet the shadowy future,without fear."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake" Victor Hugo

Saturday, December 10, 2005

This and That

*%#@&#!! (Roughly translated, that means "golly woolie-boogers, dang it.") I had another post almost completely written, and I decided to tweak my words a bit, and Blogger decided to take the whole bottom half of what I had written. A quiet little voice told me I ought to save what I had written in Word, but did I listen to that quiet little voice? No! When will I ever learn?! I will try to reconstruct the moment sometime later.

Now, about those boody shots....I don't go looking for them! They just seem to come to me. I can't explain it any better than that. Actually, now that I think about it, the compulsion probably runs in my genes. There is a steady procession of booty shots in our Christmas photos from my childhood. You know, someone bends over to get a present from under the tree to hand to someone and someone else thinks it would be so cute to get a picture of Aunt Gertie's hind end up in the air -- a posterior photo for posterity, so to speak.

Thank you all for your encouraging comments lately. I have been shouldering a lot of burdens for some time now, and I have tried to do it in a healthy manner, but it does get tiring at times. On a personal level, the aftermath of the hurricane has been difficult for me because the outer, physical turmoil and uncertainty and disarray mirror (and magnify) my inner turmoil and uncertainty and disarray.

On a brighter note, I had no idea so many of you would appreciate seeing a parade without getting out from in front of your computer monitors! I suppose next year I will have to go wired for sound so that you can hear the Cajun music coming from this float....

or hear the chug-chug of this John Deere tractor (We used to have one, ya know)....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Skewed Observations of Your Normal Christmas Parade

I don't normally care for parades and such. It is too much trouble getting a place to park and staking out a spot to stand where you can see (I am a fuddy-duddy at heart). But my daughter was marching yesterday and I went to see her march. It was not a big parade and the crowd was thin where we were so I enjoyed myself in spite of myself.

This guy has it made. He is in his front yard, relaxed and ready for the festivities to begin.

Parades (and the National Anthem being sung at a sports event) sometimes make me teary. I don't know why. For the parade, I believe it was the combination of the military guys (knowing so many young lives have been lost and so many families have been touched by the grief that war brings) and the first marching group was a young group of ROTC kids, which reminded me of where my son was last year about this time (in a military type program and slowly adapting, until after Christmas break when he decided not to return), and a "Relay for Life" float (my brother died several years ago this month from cancer), all within the first ten minutes of the parade. I felt like sobbing, but I didn't. How does one explain the presence of such grief in the light of an event that is supposed to be cheerful and festive?

This is why I came to the parade in the first place, to see my daughter march. After they passed, my mood began to lighten and I started taking pictures. I tend to feel self-conscious with a camera hanging from my neck, but I am getting better at tuning out the outside world and just taking photos without thinking about what other people might think (There is an old post from December 13th of last year ("My Camera is a Jack-Ass") that sort of explains my problem with cameras).

I seem to have a preponderance of accidental boody shots in this round of photos.

We had the standard reportoire of dance teams. I think this one came over from Houston, TX to march in our parade.

These guys were talking and laughing and never missed a beat.

Here we have a serious fashion faux paus. Boys and girls, never ever wear this type panty hose with a shimmy-tail dance costume. Also, make sure there are no runs or tears in your hosiery. I would have gotten a picture of that too but my digital camera was a little slow on the uptake, so I missed the shot.

Here we have the cheesy football helmet on a Bronco vehicle. The guy driving this vehicle actually wants me to vote for him for District Attorney.

Hmm, I wonder if she is a Marine?

When I was taking this photo, I was wondering, "what in Sam Hill is that green pile of mess suposed to be?" After I saw the photo, I realized it was a Christmas tree, complete with MRI packages. I was more intereted in the Marine Corp and Navy (?) Gators. I'm not sure where they reside when they are not riding on the back of a flat bed trailor in a Christmas parade. Notice the Marine Corps gator has his snout full of beads for the girl to toss. (Which reminds me of a question -- Do other parts of the country toss these cheap beads in their parades, or is that a Louisiana thing? I've seen it done mostly in the Mardi Gras parades.)

Serious booty shaking.

Do you think the girl in dead center knew I was taking this picture and posed for it? That is the problem with taking pictures of people, you know. They see a camera and they get all stiff and start posing. I had to fuss at my father on Thanksgiving for stiffening up just because I was taking a picture of him. I do the same thing, I put on my picture face and then I hate photographs of me because I look like a stiff old battle axe (my daughter says, "well mom, that's what you are", which reminds me that I need to loosen up a little).

Parades are always a guarantee that there will be sweet little children perched in the back of pick-up trucks

or plopped down on the hood of a car, waiting for candy to be tossed their way. This little guy is actually looking the wrong direction. (Wonder how many times we ourselves miss the good stuff in life because we are looking in the wrong direction?)

My daughter dubbed this little guy "Mullet Boy". He knew which direction to look, and with the help of his mom, he gathered a sack full of candy.

But when the last float passed by and Mama gathered him up to go home, he had himself a little hissy fit. (Wonder how many hissy fits I have thrown when I realized I had to let go of something and I was not ready to do so?)

And how many times have I complained when the gig was over, and it was time to start the clean-up duties?

Imagine my surprise when I pulled my eye away from the lens of the camera and I noticed this float was sponsored by the local community college I attended last year. I was searching for familiar faces when I saw my speech teacher tossing what turned out to be a DumDum sucker with a tag on it that read "We're back. Better than before.", which is a bald-faced lie. They got hit pretty hard by Rita. The fall semester had to be cancelled. They are back, but they are limping.

Anyway, the speech teacher was quite entertaining and full of extra information that is usually not appreciated by younger students. He used to travel around the country giving motivational speeches. I have often wondered if hearing one of his speeches would motivate me to action. I always thought he'd be an interesting person to converse with. He also has a list of things he wanted to do before he dies, things like visiting the grave of Marilyn Monroe. I have wasted so much of my life flying by the seat of my pants. People who live with specific goals and timetables in mind tend to fascinate me.

Anomalies also fascinate me, and he is one. He makes these speeches all the time and makes it look so easy. You would think he was a social and outgoing person, be he confessed one time that he is actually shy and quiet when in a group of people he does not know well.

I asked him once if he thought there was any chance for a person to get their act together if they had not done so by a certain age and he said he thought it was unlikely. Again, I have wasted so much of my life flying by the seat of my pants. "Unlikely" was not the answer I wanted to hear.

Now, a word about photography. Apparently, sometimes you get caught up in the moment and you are concentrating so intensely on what you were trying to catch with the camera (the float) that you completely miss the elephant in the frame until you have uploaded the photo. (I wonder how long I have been walking around the elephants in my life?).

Honestly, another boody shot was not my intention. But then again, if you check the archives in February 15th ("Ice Carving, Louisiana Style"), you will find evidence that I seem to enjoy boody shots. As I said back then, what can I say, I mean, other than...

the end.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Not Your Normal Blogaversary Post

Or: It's My Blogavesary and I'll Cry If I Want To...

WARNING: This is not my usual "look on the bright side" post.

I saw this on the back cover of a notebook my son brought home from rehab (I added the Bible verse). I was clearing things out and I threw the notebook away, but I decided to keep this example of marking time.

When I first took my son in to see a substance abuse counselor, the man painted a very dim picture of my son's future. And I listened politely (stubbornly), thinking "no, our story will be different". After a few more years had passed, I was forced to admit the guy's assessment was fairly accurate. I spent a little time being angry at the messenger, and wondering why he did not insist right then that I pack my son up and get him into a rehabilitation program that very day. But the messenger knew what I did not yet know. It has been one of the most bitter realizations I have come to in this past year, that I cannot force change on anyone, no matter how much I love them, no matter how badly I wish things were different.

(What I truly resent is the fact that the treatment center will never mention how important the client's willingness to participate is to the process. They will take your money that you have sold your soul to the devil to get to pay for their sevices while they are talking their smooth talk of strengthening families and turning lives around. But that is a whole "nother subject.)

And I'm not bashing my son. No one can force change on me either. I am in my own little tangle, and there are things I need to do, can do, to help myself. Some of them are simple things. I don't sit and make hash (no pun intended) marks on a notebook marking the days till I can get out. I sit around counting the days till I can be rescued from my tangle. It all comes down to the same thing, doesn't it? An unwillingness to expend the energy that is necessary to change the things that could be changed to help ourselves.

It hurts to run into the mother of one of my son's friends and hear how well that young man is doing, that he has completed the very same program my son began last year and then quit. It hurts to know that several of my young friends from school are all set to graduate this semester, and I quit two semesters away from finishing. It hurts to know that last year looked like it was going to be the year of healing for my family and it wasn't.
I hurt.

(He's doing all right, BTW, my son. He is in town, but not living with us. I believe he is progressing, but it is painstakingly slow. I miss him, but at the same time, we have to have a little distance, for the sake of both of us. Otherwise, I will give him far too much and that is not what he needs from me. I feel a great sadness about that, but I also have come to accept that I am part of the problem.)

I don’t know “how many days I been in this place” but I made my first post about a year ago. Last year things looked so hopeful. This year, the whole idea of naming this blog “New Life Rising” seems a bit of a stretch. Things looked so ripe with promise then. Things look so bleak now. Seems like I should have named the place "Observations From the Dung Heap".

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since last year. Some of it I have written about. Some of it I have kept to myself. I can’t point to any one thing that has me whipped down. I think it is just the accumulation of a bunch of things, and the constant, ongoing stress in my life.

Speaking metaphorically, I think one of the things that hurts the worst is the realization that my pretty yellow dress does not hide any of my flaws. For so long, I have secretly wanted to qualify for “Saint of the Year” (and I thought I had a chance) but I know now that I will never even make the runner-up list. Sure, it looks bright from a distance. If you do not get too close, things look great. I have a husband and three children who are physically healthy. I have a home to live in. I have a job that is okay. I am able to work. But if you dig much deeper, there are major cracks and flaws in my life. Something has to be done. Something has needed to be done for some time now. And I have been in a fog.

I have given up on a lot of the ideals I used to long for (can't reach them anyway). I'm not sure what to put in place of the idealistic visions I once held. Right now, I’m just enduring life. And I guess the honest truth (even when it is ugly, even when it is painful) is just as good a thing as any to put in the place of idealism.

I know that I sound bleak today. I know that I will see brighter days. Sometimes I struggle with how honest I want to be in this place. I don't really like being this honest, but on some days, I just can't continue churning out the cheese.

It's been a tough year, a disappointing year. I don't expect the next one to be any easier.

But, on the bright side, I really like being in this place, and it's good to air out bad feelings every once in a while. My mood has lifted somewhat, thanks to a Christmas parade, a haircut and a visit to church Sunday morning. I am posting the Christmas parade photos and commentary right after this in hopes that my darkness will not dominate this place.

Monday, November 28, 2005

One Good Word

I like this poem. For one thing, it reminds me of how powerful something like a simple "thank you" can be, say, to an overworked waitress on any given Sunday after church. Many of our restaurants and businesses are still not up to speed on their services because they do not have enough people to work, and the ones who are working are often stretched pretty thin. My daughter has worked as a waitress, and we have often discussed how rude and arrogant "church people" can be when they do not get served as quickly as they think they ought to be.

This past Sunday's sermon title was "Jehovah-Fema?". The preacher reminded us that our support, our sustenance does not really come from the government and can't always be depended on to save us from our various troubles. In his own preacherly way, he reminded us that we as believers have something to share with those around us who are hurting. He challenged us to share our "one good word" with those around us who might be despairing from the mistaken belief that the only god they can depend on is "Jehovah-Fema".

We have so many people around us who are hurting, people who have strong faces that hide their pain. I bet you come across people like that every day as well. They are everywhere, and they are starving for one good word. In all the hustle and bustle of the season, and the joy, it is easy to forget that one good word can be so very powerful.

One good word can mean so much. Who could you offer one good word to?

(For more of David Whyte's poetry, click here. I am not real sure what the exact rules are for posting someone else's work on a blog like I have done. I think I am okay using it as a one-time post. I think for anything other than that, I'd have to have permission to use this poem.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Uncommon Images of a Common Thanksgiving Gathering

Thanksgiving at my sister's house, near Houston.
The dog, meditating in the pond.
My parents, snuggling on the couch, even after fifty-something years.
A good time was had by all, both man and beast.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving Blessings

I am grateful
for beauty that is found in broken places.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cameron Parish

This past Saturday, we met my father-in-law and his "significant other" for the first time after the hurricane. Her house was flooded in the storm and she has decided to sell the property. She will buy a trailer and put it on her daughter's land a mile away from where she previously lived. The house was her family home. I questioned her about making the decision so soon to walk away from it all. Her mind is made up. The job of restoring the house to liveable condition would be too much for her to take on at this stage in her life in her opinion. So she is moving on, getting land elevation reports, preparing to raise the land to the new required level, to have electricity and sewerage connected, to have a well dug-- starting over at the ripe old age of seventy something.

My father-in-law lost his boat and his truck was damaged by the water. He has since bought another boat and will soon get his repaired truck back. He is crabbing again and says the crabbing is better than he has ever seen before. The down side to that is that the price he can get for crabs has gone down because the market is flooded.

On Sunday afternoon my youngest daughter and I drove to the camp where my son was staying before the hurricane. We thought we would see if we could get some of his clothes that he had left behind. He had come home for what was planned to be a two day visit before the storm and then Rita decided to drop by and so he never got to go back to the camp to bring all his clothing home.

The camp was nothing like it was before. The salt water from the storm surge left the pond full of stagnant water and mud. The camp itself had gotten water in it from the storm surge and when the surge flowed back to the marsh it left behind a stiff coating of dark marsh mud. We were able to go in and retrieve most of his clothing and I think the smell will come out with the wash (or perhaps two or three washes).

When we got to the small community where my son had been staying there were people milling about and working to clean things up. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes as we passed on the highway was a family sitting together watching a fire burn away the remants of what had been their home.

Driving in Cameron parish is still limited to daytime hours. The man at the checkpoint going in told me the speed limit was 45 miles per hour and warned me "about a cop named Butch who will give you a ticket for going 46 miles an hour". I set my cruise control and took no chances.

We took a few pictures where we could, mostly stopping in the road and snapping photos from the car since there was hardly any traffic on the road. I did not want to get off the main road for fear of "catching a flat" (as the Cajuns would say) from a loose nail and I did not want to linger anywhere and take a chance on looking like I might be looting. I also wanted to be respectful of the tremendous losses of these people so if there were people around I took no pictures.

Anyway, here they are, if you can stand more hurricane devastation images. I keep saying I am going to quit writing about this, it's all old news, but for many of these people, these hurricanes will forever be a dividing line in their lives -- life before the storm and a completely different life after the storm. It isn't over for them. It takes a while to rebuild a life.

Here are a couple of the before and after photos. I posted this one of the old house with a new roof not long ago. Now the roof is swaying, the windows are all out and the green shutters were blown off. Also note in the after photo the water in the background. I am not sure if it is water that is still standing from the storm surge or if their is a body of water back there that has surpassed its banks. Whatever it is, the water is not supposed to be there.

There were graves that were lifted up in at least one of the cemeteries. You can see the brown rubble the surge left behind. The salt water burned the vegetation. In a few other spots I could see the grass growing back already. I don't know how this statue withstoood the force of the water.
I have no idea what this is nor do I have any idea how it managed to get so neatly dropped over this tree.

There was a house here before the storm. Now all that is left are the beautiful old oak trees. The chimney remains and a bird sings from its perch, oblivious to the pain.
Steps leading nowhere.The Catholic Church and the Baptist Church.
These were the two things I looked for and did not find: This quaint little post office building and the cows that were in this pasture. We could not get our bearings straight to even see where the building had originally been located, could not even find the slab the it stood on.

You can see the cracked and dried up marsh mud in the foreground of the pasture picture. The salt water has killed all the vegetation. They may have been able to evacuate their cattle to higher ground but many of the cattle farmers lost all their cattle.

Word has it that the hunters are marveling over the number of ducks and gearing up for a good duck hunting season. I don't know how true it is, but someone said that the salt water has blinded the snakes and the turtles. Blind turtles may not cause too many problems, but the snakes are plentiful and unable to see. They will be a hazard to hunters who are out in the marsh preparing their duck blinds for hunting season.

Ya know, Dorothy, I just don't think we are in Kansas anymore. Obviously this house does not belong this close to the highway. I did not stop to examine whether the wicked witch's shoes were sticking out from underneath the house.

And here is the shadow of our car on the marsh grass as we are leaving Cameron parish. Such destruction. Such strong and determined people. So much work to do.