Sunday, January 29, 2006

Past, Future, Present

Back in August, I got this brilliant idea. I started gathering buttons, beads, marbles and store-bought polished stones for a project. What I wanted to do was have one button, bead, marble or store-bought stone to represent each of the months I have lived so far. I wanted a visual picture of how much of my life I have already spent. And so I reduced my life to this: a collection of buttons, beads, marbles, store-bought stones, and two glass pebbles, one with the word peace on it and one with the word trust on it.

In September, while waiting for Hurricane Rita to do her thing, I was in front of my grandparent’s house picking up small pebbles and putting them in a old enamel pot I’d found on my grandfather’s abandoned work shelf. This was the second phase of the project, to gather enough rocks to represent whatever balance of life I might hope for. Did I mention that I am turning fifty in February? Honestly, my problem is not that I am aging. It is that I don't feel my foundation is as strong as it should be at this stage in my life, for a variety of reasons. I am not yet ripe enough to be fifty!

I thought I might reasonably aspire to make it to eighty-three years of age. That would mean another thirty-three years of living, if the good Lord was willing and the creek didn’t rise. Thirty-three years, the same number of years that Christ had here on earth. Time enough to do something. I figured if I got more time, it would be lagniappe. As it turned out, I did not count my rocks as I gathered them and only ended up with enough to make it to eighty-two years and eight months. And in typical fashion, I am not the least bit concerned about that right now. (Thirty-two years is a long time! But fifty years flies by. How can that be?)

I thought the rocks would be a fitting representative for the remaining months of my life. There is that story on someone’s blog of rocks with the verse from Samuel that says “the Lord has been good to us thus far” written on them as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. There is the story of “Much-Afraid” in the book Hind’s Feet on High Places, who gathered rocks to remind her of the Shepherd’s tender care for her. There were the rocks that were gathered in the Old Testament to mark the Holy places where God met man. I have always been somewhat of a rock gatherer.

My plan was that on the eighth day of the month I would toss another rock into the vase and I would take some time to evaluate my previous month of life and see what I did well, and where I needed to improve how I spent the rest of my days. I would make whatever adjustments I needed to make. So far, I have been faithful to toss the rock into the vase, but I have all kinds of excuses for not looking at how I have spent my days.

And I reduced my future to an old enamel pot filled with rocks.

Later on, at home, I found an old and blackened fifty-cent piece that I thought would be appropriate to toss into the vase on my actual fiftieth birthday in February. And then I realized, as I held it in my hand, all I really have is this, the present moment, an epiphany that was further hammered home by the unexpected death of my uncle in December.

This, the present moment, is all I have. If I waste it, I can’t get it back.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Thought for the Day

I am struggling through this book, The Meaning of Persons, by Paul Tournier. So far, lots of interesting thoughts that feel way above my head. I am often guilty of devouring books. I have to remind myself to slow down and give myself time to absorb what is being said before rushing on to the next chapter.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

About Poor Old Mr. Smith...

I blurred his given name away out of respect. I figured the name Smith was common enough that it would not be a giveaway to this person's identity. I would just die if one of his relatives wrote to me saying they were offended that I was discussing the ramifications of his epitaph on the world wide web.

Anyway, the bird, the one on his marker, I don't know the significance of it. Further visual confusion is rendered by the fact that the little side marker on the tombstone has what looks to be a dogwood flower on it, not exactly images of masculinity (not that there is anything wrong with men being in touch with their feminine sides on occasion). These are the reasons I assume Mrs. Smith totally picked out this marker for her husband with no regard for his tastes.

Perhaps there is some sort of passive-aggresive behavior involved. Maybe Mrs. Smith is the one who will not move when the trumpet sounds if'n Mr. Smith will be arising--you know, due to the old "if heaven is going to be full of those kind of people, maybe I don't want to go" syndrome. Maybe Mrs. Smith has an equally thought-provoking epitaph waiting to be inscribed on her own separate monument.

But still, with all the poking fun aside, these words give us much to consider in our own lives. I know in my own life there have been more than a few times when if I had been a little more unawed by opinion, a little less concerned with what someone else thought, I would have made different choices. On the other hand, we all know people who are so rigid and stubborn that they will not be swayed by anyone's opinion because they already know all the answers. Perhaps that is one of the saddest traits a person can possess, a closed and immoveable spirit.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

At The Swimetery

When my daughter was younger she had trouble with her ears, which resulted in some interesting mutations of the English language, because she was not hearing correctly. Some of the mutations have taken permanent residence in the vocabulary of our family. For instance, “Happy Birthday” will always be “Happy Buttday” around here.

My brother died when she was three, and on the way to the cemetery, she was fretting about the fact that we had not brought our “babin suits” (bathing suits) with us. It worried her that she was unprepared for this trip. It worried me, trying to figure out what in the world she was talking about. Finally, I wised up and realized that the most direct way to understand something is to ask a question, and I asked her why she thought we needed our bathing suits. Her answer? “Because we’re going to the swimetery.”

Here are a few photos from last Saturday's visits to several swimeteries.

There were several of these metal monuments. I am amazed that the names and dates can still be read. There is a sheet of glass protecting whatever the words are printed on. I thought it was paper, but logic tells me that paper would have deteriorated by now.

This one is hand carved. Can you imagine the work that went into carving this? I wonder how long it took and whether the carver knew the dead person.

Though I admire his qualities, I can't decide whether all those things would make for a likable person or not. One thing is for sure, I could use some of that antique courage. The lack of punctuation bothers me, and the poetical part of me would have taken slightly different line breaks.

I include this one for Spooky Rach's inspection. I am curious to see if she has ever seen in all of her Texas cemetery travels a cowboy hat tombstone complete with cowboy boot vases.

And finally, I conclude with a photo ripe with symbolism. There are several of these monuments in two of the cemeteries we visited. I think they have something to do with Woodmen of the World, which I know today is an insurance company.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Notes From a Piece of Furniture

(Inspired by something I read where C.S. Lewis said that sometimes trying to do all the right things in an attempt to make ourselves spiritually better persons was somewhat akin to being covered on the surface with a coat of paint, when what we really need is to be "stained" and a recent conversation where I said I did not care much for allegorical stories (I don't!) and the realization that I did enjoy seeing Chronicles of Narnia, and then the remembrance of how much I loved little Miss Much Afraid, from the book Hind's Feet on High Places. My apologies for using the giant rocker image again. I had written this goofy little thing before we took our Saturday outing, and now it just seems to fit.)

I am a rocking chair designed for comfort. Or maybe I am an old wardrobe with plain and simple lines. I could be a bureau with large drawers, useful for storing all manner of unsightly things. Or perhaps I am a banister-- marking the boundary between solid ground and thin air. I am, most decidedly, not a delicately gilded French Provincial piece of furniture. I am solid. And heavy.

I was stained many years ago by the one who created me. The color seeped into my pores and there was depth beyond my surface. But that was many years ago.

I was also painted through the years with garish colors that gradually covered the stain. Oh, there were nicks here and there where the staining still shone through. But for the most part, I now wear mixed and sloppily applied coats of paint intended to improve my beauty. But here’s the thing: The colors have all run together. Now I am a motley-looking piece whose original beauty has been marred.

There are colors from the “Don’t” family: (you might think of them as being from the human years of avocado and harvest gold)—Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke, Don’t Chew, Don’t Cuss, Don’t Dance, and one particularly gruesome color—Don’t Go With Those Who Do.

More recently: colors from the “Should” family of color (I can’t think of the human equivalent for these colors. I have been out of circulation lately.) have been applied—Should Go To Church Every Time the Doors Are Open, Should Read the Bible Daily, Should Be Good, Should Serve Others At All Costs, Should Always Put Yourself Last, and so on. I have heard the “Should” colors are very popular with the human ladies.

As a piece of furniture, you get used to being shoved around here and there, or stored in a hot attic, or (the very worst) being relegated to the angry teenager’s room where they will slam your drawers and stick darts in your surface.

But lately this craftsman has been looking at me and he has started a sanding process which has irritated me. I have griped and complained. It hurts to be sanded, and sometimes he uses this little tool to remove thick blobs of paint and it leaves a bare gouged place that is sensitive and vulnerable, even to a sturdy piece of furniture like me. And there is that clamp tool he has used to tighten up my joints. It doesn’t feel so good either. He just keeps on working in spite of my discomfort, and it may all be in my imagination, but I think I am actually starting to look a little different.

He’s not finished with me yet, but the places where he has been working are starting to shine again and I feel so much lighter without all those heavy coats of paint marring my beauty. Sometimes humans tend to all look alike to us, but this is a real craftsman who is working on me now. I think he’s the one who first stained me. I thought he had forgotten all about me and yet, here he is, cleaning me up and polishing all the dull places.

Did you know a dull piece of furniture could be grateful?

I am.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Where Have I Been?

I guess I have been quiet because I have not been getting out much. But my youngest daughter and I had quite the spontaneous adventure yesterday. It was a day of strong emotion for me, a day of quick tears. It was unusual for me in that I did not hold back the tears. I enjoyed them, if such a thing is possible.

The quick recap is that we drove by the place where my uncle was killed. It is a shortcut road we have used a lot of times in the past, picturesque and full of curves. I had gotten out of the habit of going that way myself. The last time I had been on that road was when we evacuated for Rita.

We were on our way to visit with a few women I know from working with them every year at a missions based camp for girls from first to sixth grade. I doubt I will be able to work this year, due to my job. I was not able to last year and I missed being there so much. I loved working with those girls.

The camp is doing a major renovation of the tabernacle, and when I went in to see how the inside work was going, I cried. I started coming to that camp the summer after my fifth grade. I worked there as a summer staffer my junior and senior year in high school. As an adult, I have worked the last seven or eight summers in some capacity with the girl's camp. It is a place that is dear to my heart. I liked things the way they were.

But change is a good thing, a necessary thing, a sign of growth. I know all that. Still, I had such a feeling of loss when I first walked into that old familiar place that was stripped bare in preparation for major changes. I'll probably write more about that later.

We left from there and went on to three cemeteries where many of my relatives are buried (and the creek, and a sawmill). We were only planning to hit one of cemetery about thirty miles away from the camp, but my daughter was in the mood to move, so I followed her lead and we drove on up to the other two. We took gobs of pictures, I will post some eventually. While we at the last cemetery, we noticed a tour bus, and then we saw on the church marquis that they were going to have a gospel concert that night at seven. This was around four in the afternoon. I jokingly said we ought to hang around and go, thinking my daughter would surely not be game enough to do that. That is what I get for thinking! She wanted to stay! So, to pass some time, we drove another twenty miles to eat at this really good hole-in-the-wall catfish place. By the time we got done there and back to the little town where the concert was to be held, it was nearly six. We ran into my uncle at the gas station/restaurant/store in town and he was planning on going to the concert too. His wife had worked all day and was going home. We sat and visited with them while they ate and passed the time till time to get back to the church for the concert.

And it was all good.

As the saying goes, no one had to rock me to sleep last night. (And yes, that is me in both pictures, and I deliberately blurred me out a little bit. I don't like pictures of me. My daughter took both of these. Isn't that giant rocking chair cool? It is at the camp, on the porch of the taberacle--last year the taberancle did not have a porch...sigh, change is good, yes. They said the girls last year had a ball climbing on the chair and taking pictures. )