Of Love, Loss and Storage

Like most folks, I have my guilty pleasures when it comes to TV. You know, those shows you don’t readily admit to watching and that you try to justify by likening them to car crashes from which you simply can’t look away. I’m sure you have yours and I’m sorry if I’m holding  up an uncomfortable light in the darkened room where you indulge in your decadent viewing. In fairness, I’ll tell you that mine are (cough, cough) “Bring It” or as I like to call it, “Why Are We Teaching Our Girls To Be Strippers” and Married At First Sight (how old am I again?) Much as I’d like to say otherwise, you can find me sprawled out on my bed, chip bag in hand (if I’m going to be bad, I believe in going all the way) eyes glued to the TV when those two shows are on. I also read the live tweets while they’re on although I don’t tweet myself out of the fear one of my 10 followers will find out that I’m a trash TV watcher.

 

Funny I should call it trash TV because the kind of “reality” shows I can’t watch are the ones about the buying and selling of storage units. I think the philosophy behind these programs is supposed to be “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” but that’s not how it feels to me. When I see the ads the tag line I come up with is “pricing peoples’ memories” and it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because I took a trip to Boston last January (just ahead of the hundreds of blizzards) specifically to empty out my storage unit and it made me sad. I’d been paying to store my stuff from other life for over five years. I no longer live in Boston, my kids are grown and it was time to move on. Plus I was anxious that I be the one to determine what happens to my things, not the storage company or mother nature. The junk people stood by as I opened each box and decided which of my memories to keep and which to throw into the dumpster. I had to touch each one of my children’s old toys and my late husband’s golf trophies then let them go. I kept the tears at bay for the sake of the junk folks and for my granddaughter who happily ran up and down the long corridor of doors, making a new memory of her own.

The snake lamp I couldn't throw away.
The snake lamp I couldn’t throw away.

 

That’s why those shows seem cruel to me. I can’t believe none of those buyers feel empathy for the people whose belongings are in those units. If they do, they don’t display it for the cameras. They paw through the discarded, abandoned, forgotten items making callous remarks like “Chump change,” and “This is nothing but a dump.” Surely they have keepsakes of important times of their own. Surely they have experienced the loss of a possession that was special to them. Perhaps they lost a loved one and hang on to a material object as a way of hanging on to the person. I think if I were in their position, the first time I saw something that even remotely reminded me of a time in my life, evoked a memory from my own experience, I’d have to pull down the heavy steel door and walk away. I feel the least they could do is talk about it on camera. They could allow the viewer the real emotion in wondering out loud about the circumstances around each unit owner losing their belongings.

 

But they don’t. At least, not that I’ve seen in the half minutes I’ve been able to stomach watching a couple of episodes. Instead they greedily assess the contents, then scurry to the nearest dealer or retailer with anything deemed valuable to sell the goods for the best price. Big red plus or minus numbers appear in the corner of the screen to let the viewer know whether the buyer was a “winner” or “loser” on any given unit. But isn’t the underlying understanding that the unit owner is the ultimate loser? Then again, maybe not. After all, those buyers also get the karma attached to disposing of other’s possesions without knowing the provenance and good luck with that. Anyway, I threw my junk in a dumpster. Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to throw in my TV.

Winter Meditation: A Challenge for a Grumpy Old Lady

So, I decided to challenge myself in the time between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. I don’t usually go in for personal challenges because they feel so pop culture-ish to me, like I’m channeling Oprah or something.  But I got a loud wakeup call at Thanksgiving. I was told my attitude had become a bit negative. Actually, my offspring very pointedly said to me, “Mom, you’re so negative!

At that point I wanted to line them up for a group slap. But instead, I took a walk among the falling leaves in my favorite nature preserve and thought about it. Damn it, they were right! I had become a glass half empty person! I’m not sure when it happened, I would suspect gradually over the period of the last couple of years. I know I’ve had periods of darkness before, usually brought on by depression, sometimes situational but my kids meant that I’d developed a general negative disposition that wasn’t part of my character before.  I thought about why it happened and I couldn’t help but notice that it seems to happen to a lot of women my age, especially women like me who don’t have partners. The kids are gone, there are no career goals left to reach and let’s face it, this culture emphasizes youth so every time I look in the mirror I’m reminded that I’m no longer the cultural ideal or the desired demographic. I think all that weighted me down and I think it weighs on my friends too. I realized that when talking with them it was about our health issues, who had died and who the most annoying people in our lives were at any given moment. And when I was out talking to strangers; clerks in stores, people in lines, etc. my remarks, although sometimes very witty, many times referred to things I wasn’t happy about.  That’s why I decided to challenge myself by taking the six weeks until the end of 2014 to make an effort to stay as positive as possible.

Now, I don’t believe in the adage “fake it til you make it” so the challenge for me is genuinely being positive. Don’t get me wrong, gratitude has never been my problem. I’m grateful all day long, but I’m also the kind of person who will say “I’m so grateful I’m not dead because I should be.” Yeah, I’m grateful, but not positive. So I reframed my gratitude. I believed and decided to find things in my life every day that could lead me to say “You know what, life is good. I looked for things I could hang on to and pass on to others as benefits of our time in this life.

I have to tell you that in the weeks since I made the conscious choice circumstances have changed along with my outlook and I’m surprised. (I guess skepticism was part of my negativity.) Some very nice things have happened to me since Thanksgiving. I have to believe that opening myself to positive energy has made a good difference. For one thing, it’s made a difference in the way I treat other people and therefore the way they treat me in return. I was in a package delivery store just before Christmas. I told the obviously stressed clerk to take his time and I joked with him that I wouldn’t watch how my box was being handled. He smiled and I noticed his body visibly relax. Then he wished me  happy holidays. I experienced the effect of being positive in that moment and at other times as well, so much so that I’ve decided to continue the challenge into 2015. I guess I’d forgotten again that we always have access to the absolute, big L Love from which all positivity comes. This challenge reminded me and I’m grateful!

Happy New Year!!!

What Do You Do When a Person You Know Isn’t the Person You Knew?

The question concerns a woman I’ve known since college. (So it’s been longer than either of us would admit.) We were roommates in a dorm that was problematic for us as it was single gender and not very diverse. We became very close in the two years we lived there together. We shared similar backgrounds and a number of interests, especially literature. We felt safe enough with one another to reveal our ambitions concerning men and careers. We would lay in our twin beds at night describing our fantasies, born from youth and hope, about what our husbands would look like, where we’d live and which jobs on which magazines we’d get. And we both always assumed we’d remain friends. Back then, she was incredibly smart, strong, popular and a very talented writer. I admired her and I always felt enriched by being in her company.

Then bad stuff started happening to her. Really bad stuff. Tragic stuff. She suffered unimaginable losses that caused her to develop mental health issues. Among other problems, she became a hoarder. And her losses continued. Over the period of a few years, she lost a job, a house and her parents. She couldn’t tolerant the pain. I witnessed as her attitude changed so much she seemed to become a completely different person. A hard, not nice person. I understood why and how the transformation happened but she was no longer the person I had known and loved.

© Hallmark Cards
© Hallmark Cards

I wasn’t sure how to handle what was happening to her. In all honesty, I have put more than a little distance between us. I have discussed before on this blog that feeling compassion toward others is sometimes hard for me. I’ve learned from studying Buddhism and mystical Christianity that in order to be genuinely compassionate, one must put aside the sense of self, beyond empathy and beyond sympathy. That’s the hard part for me because I am seriously self-centered.

Unfortunately, this friend’s behavior was hurtful during a very difficult period in my life. I knew it was part of the change in her personality but truthfully, it broke my heart and I didn’t know if I could forgive her. I understood her but I needed space to re-evaluate the relationship because it was proving to be too difficult for me to get past the hurt she’d caused.  My rational mind conveniently told me I didn’t need to feel bad if I decided to let the friendship go because I didn’t know her anymore. I asked myself how I could really be a friend to a stranger.  Apparently, there were others who felt the same way because a couple of people who at one time orbited around her chose to leave her sphere.

Now she is seriously ill with cancer. This is not territory for my rational mind; this is the land of my heart. This is the time for me to reflect on the love I gave to this woman who was my friend but even more so on the love I received. I feel that although I don’t know this person anymore I’m required out of compassion to stay and give the appearance of a friend. But in my heart I know that isn’t real compassion. She is the same person with whom, for years, I thought I shared the unbreakable love bond of an authentic friendship. In her world and in her mind we are still connected, if in a way that only makes sense to her. I’m not sure I feel connected to her at all anymore so maybe I’ve changed more than she has. And I have to acknowledge that she still loves me in her own way. Yet the truth is I’ve let resentment of her fear and bitter neediness taint and diminish my love.

.Can I be a friend to this person I no longer know? She’s changed and maybe I’ve changed too. Maybe we need to have a different, changed kind of friendship. Maybe if I re-acquaint myself with her I’ll discover something new about love and compassion that will help us both. I’ll keep you posted.   

Winter Meditation: Tribes-Trying to Feel Connected

IMG_2285I wrote in my last post about how we cling to the tendency to divide into tribes and what I image a world wide tribe would look like. It was an optimistic post bordering on naive.  It’s a subject that’s important to me because I was brought up without a sense of being part of a specific population so I think a lot about who and how people form social groups.

I want to begin by talking about the positive aspects of the way I grew up. I never felt I was forced to have an alliance to any group, clan, or other homogeneous body and there’s a certain freedom in that. I always felt removed from the bubble of ethnocentricity. That can be beneficial. As Fr. Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation explains in the discussion of his  Second Stage of Spiritual Development,

“At Stage Two, your concern is to look good outside. Your concern with pleasing the neighborhood, the village, your religion, or your kind of folks becomes such a way of life that you get very practiced at hiding or disguising any contrary evidence. That’s why it is so dangerous… Your whole identity becomes defending your external behavior as more moral than other people, and defending your family, your community, your race, your church or temple or mosque, your nation as superior to others.”

So I was spared that kind of “tribal thinking” and that’s a good thing. I’m more apt to interpret the clan affiliation of individuals in a global context. It also allowed me to be more objective about human behavior. I could observe it without feeling too invested to be objective. I think the reason I studied journalism was to learn how to write social commentary that was as unbiased as possible. I’m glad and grateful for that.

The downside was that kind of “otherness” made for a sometimes lonely, always complicated  upbringing and personhood. It’s taken me up to this, the third trimester of my life, to internalize that humans are social beings and I’ve come to truly believe that we’re all connected in The One. But I was brought up divorced from the cultural group that I would naturally have been a part of, the African American community, so my socialization within it was cut off. I was disconnected and because of the way American society was when I was growing up, I couldn’t feel part of any white social group. Those groups saw me as part of the separate black world. On the other hand, I had a parent who told me that I wasn’t part of that community so it was hard for me to know where my place actually was. Eventually, I came to feel that my place was totally “outside”. My saving grace was that I’m naturally an introvert and need a lot of solitude anyway so isolation wasn’t completely intolerable to me. But still we all have an intrinsic need to feel connected to others. My feeling of being an outsider is also why its been hard for me to practice compassion (I posted about this in Back To The Bow) and conversely seeking connection is what’s made it so important to me.

My mother, may her soul rest in peace, I understand her rationale, I absolutely do. She grew up in a time when institutional racism wasn’t even questioned and she had the desire and the intelligence to do so much. She wanted to break out of the confines that were dictated by racism but felt as if she couldn’t in the life she was born to, so she ran. She ran from the south, from the memory of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction and the Great Migration. She had to reinvent herself down to the cellular level to excise all those memories. She was wasn’t unique. In his book How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston chronicled the phenomenon in other African Americans and even said at one point,  “..lots of black people have had the desire to escape their blackness.” But my mother went so much further than that. She was an African American Jake Gatsby. She reinvented where she was born. She reinvented her spirituality. She changed whatever she felt she needed to in order to mitigate the consequences of being black. I’ve written here before about the distance that put between my nuclear family and my traditional culture. (Conflict In Commemoration) There was an absence of things like a black church and trips down south for me to see ancestral homes or visit gravesites. My mother was trying to live up to her potential and by the sixties when things started to change she had hope that her children would not have to be afflicted with the limitations that she felt had hemmed her in. That’s why she didn’t want us to be defined by African American culture, which to her reflected those limitations.

There were of course, a lot of flaws in her thinking. One was that she assumed we would want the life she wanted.  I’ve come to understand as a parent that you can’t assume that about your kids.  The biggest flaw however was that she didn’t realize we might feel alienated in the larger society by not being able to relate to a specific culture. She grew up in an all African American community so I don’t think she ever understood what it was like not have that relationship. She could always relate because try as she might, she was never fully unyoked  from the culture. But she needed to see it as an intellectual exercise and not feel it as an emotional condition.

My mother did the best she could and she thought she was doing right by us. Unfortunately, it was a life fraught with challenges to our identities that the three of us found hard to get through to varying degrees. So that’s another one of the reason I had to come south.  I’ve been fortunate enough to form a strong sense of self that includes but is not exclusive to my African American heritage. Yet I still want to embrace the missing and difficult parts of our past that my mother felt she had to escape. Every time I walk around in Old Town Alexandria on ground where “contraband” slaves once lived during the Civil war, my history is finally personal. I can plot the place at Arlington National Cemetery that was once the Freeman’s Village. I drive around the VA countryside contemplating what my ancestors thought of the weather, the soil and the work. In those ways I create a link to people, place and time; a sense of sharing in a legacy. I didn’t experience the kind of intimacy with my familial history in New England the way I do here. I have a richer perception of my identity now that includes pain and sorrow. It leads me to feel sympathy for other people who are facing similar struggles and compassion for those of us, not just black folks, who live with the challenging aspects of our shared American story.  It allows me to feel part of something larger than myself.

String Theory

Wikimedia Commons

What music are you listening to today?

I was listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions during my walk this morning. I really love that CD and I’ve written about it here before. A quartet of players make magic by strumming, plucking and stringing us along. The ringleader is Yo-Yo Ma.

Wikimedia Commons

Wu Man was one of Yo-Yo Ma’s ensemble members on the incredible Silk Road Project. She is a virtuoso pipa player who wrote and recorded a solo piece called Dancing that I listen to frequently. When I close my eyes and listen I can see people from many different cultures…dancing together. I see Polynesian warrior dancers, S. African Zulu dancers and Australian aboriginal dancers. I see American western barn dancers in addition to Chinese folk and Japanese dancers. And in the middle of the them is Ms. Wu playing the pipa, the beautiful Chinese string instrument. I thought about the images that Dancing evokes when I read this quote from Yo Yo Ma:

“. . .Nothing great was ever produced in isolation.” Ma says his study of history at Harvard University led him to realize that Eastern and Western cultures are not self-contained, but have mixed since at least the time of Alexander the Great. “Even something as basic as our Western major and minor keys may have originally come from the amazingly complex modes of classical Persian music…”And there’s a continual tradition in the West of incorporating music from other parts of the world.” The pattern continues with instruments, too, he said. “The guitar and the sitar are obviously related — even linguistically. The oud moves west from Persia to become the lute; it moves east to become the pipa. And a European hears an erhu and says it’s purely Chinese, a Chinese violin, but in Chinese the word ‘erhu’ means ‘two-stringed foreign instrument,’ ” Ma said.”  (AP 4/9/07)

Isn’t that a wonderful observation? Culture is fluid, so why do we remain committed to the confines of the concept of “tribes”? We can draw lines in the sand and make claims in the name of “our people” but all it takes is losing ourselves in something as universal as music to see the truth of human connectedness. I can ponder that truth as quantum physics or I can think about it in philosophical terms but what I really like to do is close my eyes and listen to the strings. 

Wrap It Up

webclipart.about.com

NEW YEARS.  It’s the time we use to mark the passing of the old and the beginning of the new. I don’t go in much for traditional rituals so I do my year-end assessment a little differently. First, I don’t think of a year as being “gone”. I like to think I bring every precious, previous minute into the one I’m living right now. In that way time is never “lost”. Secondly, I don’t make resolutions. I feel that’s a sucker’s game and I try not to set myself up for failure. What I like to do instead is reflect on the best lessons I’ve learned in the past year. I have no doubt that the best lesson I learned in 2013 was disciplined anger.

Last August I wrote about a conversation we had in my church group about anger. We were considering whether as Christians we can ever accept anger as justified. It took place a few days before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and I admit, I had righteous anger on my mind. I was loud and adamant in my opinion. I blogged about it and even made a video to bring home my point. In the post I said, “I think anger and a thirst for justice are at the forefront of movements for equality and non-violence is not so much a belief system as it is a political strategy.” Well, I was wrong. I made a mistake by framing the question in foot-stamping emotional terms. I was childish and churlish. I didn’t take the opportunity to reflect maturely in a deeper spiritual way. Then a wise friend of mine sent me a link (http://www.inc.com/hitendra-wadhwa/great-leadership-how-martin-luther-king-jr-wrestled-with-anger.html) to an article about Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. (Thanks Janie!) Here’s the quote from it that was the eye opener I needed, 

“…the words of another great leader, the one who taught Martin Luther King, Jr. his signature technique of peaceful struggle, Mahatma Gandhi. “I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world.”

Wow, “heat conserved, “peaceful struggle”. I guess that’s why Martin Luther King could admit he was angry that his home had been bombed and still move forward; he learned the lesson. How spiritually well grounded does a person have to be to transform anger into a positive power, including the power to understand “the other” and practice courtesy? And how mature does a person have to be to then use that energetic power as a tool for positive action? I had to sit with that and be honest enough to say I was lacking. And I’m still working on it because I realize the lesson doesn’t just apply to social justice. I had to look at the behavior in my personal life and admit I have a pattern of seeing my anger as justified. As we all know, it’s easy to be an ass when you feel righteous. I’m very good at rationalizing my opinion as fact in order to feel superior or feel I have “won”. Even knowing that, I have to remind myself of the power of disciplined anger constantly because I forget so often. (Sorry to the apartment management and the daughter who gave me the gift certificate for Christmas.)

There are other lessons I learned in 2013 but that’s the best one. I’ll take it and the others, along with the cumulative moments of my life gratefully into the time to come. I hope you look at the days past, realize the good and go forward wishing for the best.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

NaNoWriMo….Nope.

There is only one week left of NaNoWriMo. Are you one of the brave writers taking on the challenge? I don’t do well under pressure so although I’ve known about the annual writing  contest held each November for a while, I haven’t thought to participate… until this year.

I started my first novel last June. I ‘d actually been kicking around the idea for a few years. Membership in my writer’s group helped immeasurably in giving me the confidence to tackle it. I was energized and organized but proceeding slowly so in October I brilliantly decided that I would take advantage of National Novel Writing Month to move the novel along. One of my biggest problems when writing is fine editing too early in the process. I’ll go back and rewrite the first paragraph three times before I complete a page. The result of this habit has been many unfinished pieces. I told myself that I wouldn’t hold strictly to the rules, that I just wanted to get as close to 50,000 words as possible without stress outside of my own standards of discipline. I figured if I concentrated on the word count I’d get down all the fabulous story ideas that have been sitting in my head (and outlined in my notes) without the impulse to perfect every word already on the page.

Do you want to know what happened? I hit a wall at 20,000 words, that’s what. All of a sudden I didn’t know what I was doing or what the story was about, no matter what my notes said. My characters stepped off the pages and said to me, “C’mon now, this is long but it isn’t good. We don’t believe what we’re saying because you’re not being real about what all of this means. Slow down, dig deep and tell the truth.” That really made me mad! I spent a whole week pouting (not writing) because my goal had been thwarted.  But I also spent the time thinking. And I started examining two very important truths about myself. First, that my novel isn’t really fiction. Like many other authors, by telling this tale I’m trying to exorcise a pain born from my own life experience. Second, that I have a unique voice that doesn’t sound like Proust or Morrison but its distinctive tone makes me a good writer anyway. Then I had to review basics like character development and plot lines. It was an unhurried process that was both a relief and a revelation.

And what is the outcome of all of this? A MUCH better draft of the novel, that’s what. Yeah, I had to throw out thousands of words and allot extra time to sit and really listen to that voice in my head but it was worth it. It turns out that trying to get as much of the story down as possible prompted me up to the next level of writing. Now the words that flow aren’t forced or stilted. The lives of my characters will be as layered as they need to be and the themes that are so important to me will be natural and honest. I’m sure there are writers who will end this month with cohesive works made up of the requisite number of well-crafted words. I won’t be one of them. I should reach 50,000 words by next June and that’s fine by me.

The Conflict in Commemoration

Slave and Free States before the Civil War. Wikimedia

This coming November 19th marks the anniversary of the Gettysburg address and last July was the anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg. Here in the southern U.S. it’s kind of a big deal. There were battle re-enactments in the summer and there will be a whole “Dedication Day” at the Gettysburg National Military Park on Tuesday.  Actually, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of several significant Civil War events. I mentioned this to a couple of friends of mine in Boston. Both had basically the same reaction, “And you still want to live in the south?” These friends are northeast liberals for whom the Civil War is a symbol of other people’s misguided ideas, other people’s shame and other people’s loss. (Sometimes it feels to me like every person I know who lives in Cambridge, Mass claims to have a house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.) They seem to feel as though the facts of the Civil War don’t have anything to do with them. Here in the south I’ve seen people gaze on Confederate graves with sincere reverence for those who lost their lives. I think some of my friends up north would say there is no honor to recognize or commemorate. It’s interesting to me that both points of view can exist at the same time without a synthesis.

I freely (irony intended) admit that I’m as liberal as they come but I see the Civil War not as either/or but rather a both/and situation. And I think the difference in perspectives about the Civil War epitomizes the sad, oversimplified divisions played out in our national politics now. Instead of the gray and the blue it’s the red and blue. Why can’t we face both the repugnance and the importance of the War together? Maybe what we should do as a nation on this 150th anniversary is reflect on the both/and of the war:

-the US split apart and then was knitted back together through the leadership of one of the most effective presidents elected by its people.
-it was the most deadly conflict in US history and resulted in the constitutional end to the institution of slavery.

In an interview for CNN, “Mike Litterst of the National Park Service said interpretations at federal Civil War battlefields have evolved in the past 25 years. Besides telling the story of the battles and the homefront, exhibits increasingly stress the importance of the conflict to civil rights and the role of African-Americans, thousands of whom served in the Union Army.” (Thousands at Gettysburg for 150th… )

Personally, the Civil war represents the missing and mysterious parts of my family history.  I come from an African American family that chose to forget the fact of slavery, the Civil War and the legacy of both. It was too painful for them to think about because it didn’t allow them to believe that they could live equally in the U.S. They swept any knowledge of ancestors and relatives with connections to the south and slavery under the rug and began our family story with their lives in the north. Maybe by living here in the South and being present at events that commemorate the Civil War I can exorcise the ghosts of my family’s shame. I can reframe, as the National Park Service seeks to do, the way in which we look at our history into a both/and. We were enslaved in the south under a horrible institution and endured. We fully participated in the struggle of divergent interests and with slavery behind us we decided our fate by looking forward to a different place and time. Yes, I feel much more comfortable with the totality of both/and.

 Dedication Day at the Gettysburg National Military Park is November 19th. The ceremony “will observe the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The event takes place in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery,”. There will also be a graveside salute to the U.S. Colored Troops.  For more information visit the website, Gettysburg Dedication Day

Prodigal

My very dear friend’s mother passed away. Her funeral is today. Rest in Peace, Elsie. 

Prodigal

“Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons”
My mother gave birth to five children, of those two girls lived and stayed with her into our adulthood. My mother passed on two years ago.

“The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of the property that will belong to me.”
I was always aware that my younger sister asked for and received money from my mother even after she was grown and had a job. I resented her for it and complained about it to my mother.

“Not long after, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant land and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
My sister got married, moved away and lead an extravagant, upper middle class lifestyle she couldn’t afford so she still needed money from the family. My mother and I discussed, more than once, the character flaws that led my sister to be in constant financial trouble.

“After he had spent everything there was a severe famine…. and he began to be in need…He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”
My sister’s husband died and then she had a stroke. That chain of events led to her final and total financial ruin. She couldn’t keep her corporate executive job. Her home went into foreclosure and she had to apply for food stamps. She was embarrassed in more than one way. To make matters worse, she didn’t have any friends in her adopted city to help her.

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
By that time my mother had suffered a heart attack so she was in a weakened state herself. Still, my sister came back to our home state and told my mother that she had bad luck but she had also made bad choices.

“And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.”
My sister moved into my mother’s apartment. My sister wasn’t working because of her disability. She did my mother’s grocery shopping and they cooked together. They enjoyed meals together most evenings.

I asked my mother how she could be with my sister so easily after all that was said and done. She said she was glad my sister had survived the stroke; glad she had known enough to come back home. She said she was glad she could “lay eyes” my sister every day.

When my mother died my younger sister got a lot of her furniture, including her beloved Grandfather clock and many of her books. I didn’t care about any of it except for the books. My mother had a lot of theology books. It was a subject she and I shared a love of. Many times I drove her to her bible study class and listened to her discuss the lesson on the car ride back to her home. I was angry and wondered why she didn’t leave the books to me.

 I remembered something my mother said to me a few days before she died. First she said, “I really love you, you know. Then she said, “Take care of your sister because everything took a lot out of her and she needs you.” To this day I am left wondering, was my mother leaving me a lesson about forgiveness? Or was it a lesson about acceptance? Or did she just want my sister to have the books?

(I wrote this piece as an experimental exercise for my writers group. It’s a work of fiction. The news of Elsie’s death is what prompted me to post it.)

Cool Change

IMG_1805Well, fall is officially here. The autumnal equinox occurred just 2 weeks ago and I already miss summer. It could be my imagination but I feel cold. One of the many reasons I moved south is because I like it hot and humid. In the summer, I enjoyed going out for my 8AM morning walks when the temperature was already a steamy 80 degrees. I’d rather sweat than turn on the A/C. Ok, that might have more to do being cheap but when it’s below 70 and the air is dry, my lips get chapped and my hands get ashy. My friends and family in Boston feel differently. They wilt in the heat and perk up on the first crisp morning with a nip in the air. Fellow blogger The Modern Philosopher  lives in Maine and recently described summer and fall the way a typical New Englander does.

There is a lot to like about the fall, though. I do love the autumn foliage, exposed as I was to its glory growing up in New England. The trees here in Virginia turn later than they do in the Boston area. It feels to me as though in New England the change is dramatic but too fast. The trees have started to color here and I’ll grudgingly admit that it is beautiful. It feels as though the slower southern way of life extends to the foliage and I can take it in over a longer period of time. I saw a tree today that was green except for the tippy top, which was bright red. (It reminded me so much of a Dr. Seuss character.) And of course there was the stunning Harvest Moon last month.

Still, I’m slower to wake in the mornings now that the sunrise is later and I experience some anxiety since the sun sets sooner. Did you know Daylight Savings Time ends on November 3rd , darn it? There are days when I ask the migrating birds stopping by my feeder on their way farther south to take me with them. They give me looks of pity with black birdie eyes then fly off without me.  On the other hand, I watch the squirrels pull the acorns from small oak branches and throw the defoliated sticks to the ground. They dash across the streets of my community with stuffed cheeks to hidden homes. Obviously their internal season sensors are telling them there is limited time left to store their supplies for the winter. I’m taking heed and doing the same by making soup and canning vegetables. I appreciate the heads up.img_0344.jpg

So while I feel the pangs of a loss of summer’s delights like long days, dips in blue water and inhaling warm, moist air instead of using my neti pot, I also appreciate the wonder of the change of seasons. I don’t take for granted the blessing of awareness; intellectual, sensory and spiritual, of nature’s cycles being played out miraculously and in living color.

My gratitude goes to Little River Band for the title of this post. I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound banal.

Reblogged for:  The Daily Prompt: Mid-Season Replacement, October 11, 2013.