Friday, August 9, 2019

The Personal IS Political, or "Another Face of the Argument Against Guns" (*trigger warning-- discussion of suicide*)

When Australia bought back the privately-held guns in their country, and the general population no longer had access to guns, the total suicide rate dropped by 74%.  Let that sink in a moment. 

If you want to read the whole article on Australia's gun ban, click here

It's been  a little more than 7 years since mental illness, assisted by rage, despair, a couple of drinks, and easy access to guns, violently ended the life of a 46 year old father of four.  When he stormed into the bedroom that July night in 2012, unlocked the gun safe and put that 20-round magazine on his high-powered semi-automatic rifle, it's pretty clear that Andre's original plan was not just self-destruction.  I will never know for sure what, besides having to step past me, stopped Andre from carrying out his original plan.   But something did, and he changed his mind and his aim, and only one round left the barrel of that rifle, and it ended Andre's life by his own hand. 

Andre was an NRA member, a gun-safety advocate, and arguably, until that rage-filled, disconnected-from-rational-thought moment, a VERY responsible gun owner.  His guns were locked in a safe.  The ammo was stored separately.  No one had access to that locked safe except Andre, who kept the only key to himself.  

Let that sink in.  Andre was a responsible gun owner, maybe even the "good guy with a gun" who would have taken down the "bad guy with a gun", in the tale that the gun lobby likes to spin.   It is unlikely that any of the proposed "red flag" laws or background checks would have stopped him from going by the sporting goods store the afternoon before his death and buying a box of bullets to put into that 20-round magazine.  He didn't have a criminal record.  He had not ever been psychiatrically hospitalized.  There were no restraining orders against him.   And so, he had a safe full of guns, including the semi-automatic rifle and the 20-round magazine.  He also had a longstanding mental health problem, undiagnosed, untreated, but growing more and more obvious to anyone who spent any extended time with him in his later years.  Ironically, he would never have consented to getting treatment, for fear that somehow his "label" would cause him trouble, like maybe prevent him from buying more guns.  No "gun safety" policies would have saved him and prevented him from initially planning to kill his whole family.

What would life have looked like, if that night that Andre hit his breaking point, he had not had access to a semi-automatic rifle and dreams of going out in a blaze of glory?  Who knows.  Would he have sought help?  Would he have taken his life by some other means? Perhaps.  But possibly not.  Read this excerpt from the article I cited, about how and why Australia's over all suicide rate (not just suicide by gun) dropped after they got rid of guns. 

"Buying back 3,500 guns correlated with a 74 percent drop in firearm suicides. Non-gun suicides didn't increase to make up the decline.
There is good reason why gun restrictions would prevent suicides. As Matthews explains in great depth, suicide is often an impulsive choice, one often not repeated after a first attempt. Guns are specifically designed for killing, which makes suicide attempts with guns likelier to succeed than (for example) attempts with razors or pills. Limiting access to guns makes each attempt more likely to fail, thus making it more likely that people will survive and not attempt to harm themselves again."   from :

 Is a 74% reduction in the number of people who take their own lives (by all kinds of means, not just guns) worth an experiment in political boldness?

It's time.  Let's push our political leaders HARD to get guns out of the hands of the general population in this country.    I'm sharing here part of a Facebook post by Carol Coe Pugh, whose husband, Brian was shot and killed, along with 3 co-workers, at his workplace several years ago.  She's using the occasion of this most recent rash of mass shootings to put a human face on gun violence and urge people to get involved with stopping this madness.  Her words and her links are below:   "Just as good things create ripples in everyone who knows the person, so do bad things. Today I want to take advantage of the ripples. Many of you have asked "What can I do? This must stop!" I don't have any easy solutions, but here is the link where you can let your elected officials know exactly how you feel about their continued reluctance to address the issues of gun control, lack of mental health services, a national registry to purchase guns, whatever you feel strongly about. Call them, email them, write a letter and mail it. Use Resistbot to quickly and easily send your thoughts to our legislators. They need to know that we as a country are no longer willing to tolerate their inaction.
Join a group and donate money to an organization that supports reasonable gun legislation. Things like universal background checks,limits on ammunition sales, and bans on automatic assault weapons will really make a difference. I’ve linked 3 reputable organizations below. Educate yourself so that you have a position and ideas on how to make changes.
And then teach your children that using a gun never solves a problem. Thank you.

And then teach your children that using a gun never solves a problem.  Thank you.  Amen. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Always on the sunny side: Linda Creamer Kidd 1/8/1954(?) - 8/5/2015

As we passed the jewelry kiosk in the mall that day, we just had to stop to look at the earrings. Linda was a fiend for accessories, the sillier and sparklier, the better.

I picked up an oval-shaped, flat pair of earrings that looked just like tiny door-knockers and quipped,

"Here, Linda, don't you need a new pair of knockers?

"Well, of course", she chortled, "seeing as how God didn't give me much of a pair in the first place !"

She bought the earrings amid gales of laughter and a slightly confused look from the kiosk clerk. 

Shortly afterward, she greeted one of our friends with "So, how do you like my knockers?" 

Our conservative, polite, soft-spoken Southern Baptist gentleman friend gave her a puzzled and slightly panicked look that defies description.

Linda and I howled. 

Linda was like that -- always ready for some harmless mischief.  She was not a drinker, so I can't blame any of our rowdiness on alcohol or any other mind-altering substance.  Nevertheless we DID get rowdy.  In fact, we had a habit of going places and getting silly enough to draw dirty looks from shopkeepers.  My memory might be a little fuzzy on this, but it's possible that we might have gotten thrown out of Neiman-Marcus Last Call in Austin, and at least one fussy little handicraft boutique in Bellbuckle, Tennessee, for laughing too hard at the merchandise.  And that was AFTER she bought (at a deep discount) the pillow that we dubbed, "Pee-Pee Kitty" because of the combination of decoration and desecration that it had already suffered before she bought it.  A couple weeks ago, in one of our last conversations, Linda admitted that Pee-Pee Kitty still graces her livingroom decor.  I neglected to ask about the knockers, darn it. 

I met Linda more than 20 years ago at a graduate student fellowship event at University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.  I was a 22-year-old, newly-transplanted New Englander, a stranger in a very strange land.  I knew no one, but I'd stumbled into attending the church, and found my way to the grad student fellowship.  Linda was 30-ish, and not a graduate student, but that did not seem to matter. She'd found friends and the group was home to her.  Linda had the ability to make friends everywhere, and she had the most amazing knack for making sure that every friend she met, met every other friend she met.  She was an expert at adopting "strays" and turning them into family.  As I've been reading her Facebook page in the past couple weeks, I've noticed a number of people who referred to her as "Auntie Linda", as well as the names and photos of a number of people whom Linda frequently mentioned in conversation, as if I'd know them.  After all, in Linda's world, all her friends were connected to all her other friends, right?

And in Linda's world, all those who lacked family were invited to participate in the holiday gatherings of her own family.  When Linda adopted me, I actually gained an entire family.  Her mother, father, siblings, and assorted pets (many of them also strays who somehow found themselves adopted) became my home base in this strange country of Texas, so far from where I'd grown up.  "Daddy Bill" even taught me how to make biscuits from scratch, a recipe known as "Angel Biscuits" that are still my own kids' favorite.  On the day, several years later, when I packed up my U-haul to leave Austin for my first real job, Daddy Bill's "TWABBs"(The World's Absolute Best Brownies" )  were in a brown paper bag in the front seat -- a little loving sustenance for the long drive to Nashville. 

Also in my car on that long, hot drive from Austin to Nashville was Linda herself.  You see, as soon as I announced that I'd landed a job and was moving out of state, Linda cleared her calendar, and announced that she would use her precious accrued vacation time to drive with me to Nashville and spend a week helping me get moved-in and set up. For anybody else, that trip would have been mostly work, but Linda was determined to find the fun.  She took pictures of us at truck stops, where we stopped to pour water over our heads to beat the sweltering August heat in Memphis, after my air-conditioner quit.  She hooted as she pointed out a truck for the South East Express fruit-shipping company, a truck painted with "SEX -- Eat More Bananas", and when we found that truck in the next gas-station stop, she had me pose for a photo in front of it.  She navigated, and sang along to the radio, and scheduled stops for refilling the ever-present mug of ice and Diet Pepsi, and kept up a steady stream of funny stories about everybody she'd ever met. And she arranged our necessary overnight stop to be at the home of a cousin in Texarkana, saving me the cost of motel room overnight.

Another remarkable thing about Linda was her ability to manage a crisis when she needed to, and to turn it into a hilarious story for re-telling at parties years afterwards.  Shortly after we arrived in Nashville and began unpacking my stuff, I suffered a bloody accident involving a frameless mirror that somehow dissolved into shards into the side of my hand.  I looked at the blood, started to feel dizzy and sat down on the lid of the toilet in my tiny bathroom, calling out for Linda that we might need to find the local Emergency room.  Linda called 911 for directions to the ER and was told that the operator could not give directions; she could only dispatch medical help or not.  Within minutes, there were 2 large, muscle-bound firemen squeezing themselves into my bathroom which was no larger than the back seat of an average car, trying to figure out what damage I'd done to my hand and whether or not they'd need to perform life-saving maneuvers.  It turned out to be a nasty cut to the side of my hand, needing stitches, but not life-threatening. Linda's friendly chatting-up of the firemen led to them offering to LEAD us to the emergency room, rather than transport me in the ambulance, saving me at least $500 in medical costs.  There was a six-hour wait in the emergency room, due to the busy holiday weekend, and I ended up having my stitches done while sitting on a gurney in a corridor, with a policeman holding my uninjured hand as the doctor stitched my injured hand and I whimpered at the pain. 

Linda's re-telling of the story starts with "Do you remember when you ended up with two hunky firemen all to yourself in the bathroom, and then got to hold hands with a cute cop? " 
Armed with maps and yellow pages (in those pre-internet days when information came from paper), Linda helped me find all the vital stuff in Nashville.

A few hours later...
A couple years later, Linda used her vacation time to fly to Nashville with another of our mutual friends to spend an entire week before my wedding, finishing the last-minute shopping and preparations, and finding ways to get into memorable silliness during a week that could have been nerve-wracking.  It is because of Linda's gift for recording and memorializing fun times, that I have photos of us horsing around at Uncle Budel's Biblical Mini-Golf, and mugging for photos in silly hats in the hand-craft stores in Bellbuckle and War Trace, Tennessee.  Linda had a gift for finding the special moment, and making sure that people felt included.  She made sure that she introduced herself to and spent time with my fiance, my family members, my bridesmaids from out of state, my friends and work colleagues.  All these people were strangers to her at the beginning of that week, but not for long.  Linda recorded the week of fun in photos.   This was in the days before digital cameras-- each click of the shutter cost you something.  From that, she crafted an album that captures that week leading up to the big day itself, along with shots of the wedding reception from her own fun-filled perspective.  I am eternally grateful that others occasionally grabbed the camera and made Linda pose in some of the shots as well.
Linda spotted the odd moments with a smile

More oddness that day, with a smile.

Who else would capture normally dignified New Englanders getting down with their bad selfs?  :-)

My students and colleagues not exactly posing for the camera

Only in Nashville: playing mini-golf amid wooden cut-outs of Biblical figures

Linda either created the silliness or just captured it. 

Note that there are only 2 beers on that table, and neither are Linda's.  Her brand of fun didn't need any accelerants :-) 
These two shared a bond of an eye for beauty.  Little flower-girl Nikki left this earth far too young a couple of years ago, but at least she's there to offer Linda a flower on her first day in Heaven. 

Linda made her own bridesmaid's dress for the wedding, but saved the fun of hemming it until she had help. 

These two who had never met before the wedding, serenaded me on the way to church with "Goin' to the Chapel..."

This hole was "The Fruit of the Spirit"... love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness and self-control... Well, we got most of them, right? 
Losing Linda yesterday made me glad that we'd had a few conversations lately in which I got to tell her how important she is to me, and how much I loved her.  No one had any idea, even after her cancer diagnosis in May, that she'd be gone so soon, but in true Linda style, she'd wasted no time in making sure that her friends and family knew how much she loved them, too. 

Linda was one of those important "structural" friends for me -- I was a late-bloomer to life, and she taught me so much about navigating those young adult years, building networks of friends, reaching out to people on the edges, making sure that fun times were recorded.  In my second chapter of life, finding myself again as a single adult, but this time with kids to raise, Linda's lessons of looking on the bright side even in dark moments, recording the fun, and being intentional about networking people together are priceless gifts that I try to use every day. 

See you 'round the 18th hole of the Biblical Mini-Golf on the other side, Linda. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Practicing Joy

It's Wednesday of Holy Week, and I've been feeling like there's something seriously missing this week -- actually all of this Lenten season.  For my non-churchy readers, the 40 days before Easter are known as "Lent".  It's a time of preparing, of spiritual practices, of getting ready to mark the final week in the life of Jesus, the occasion of his death, and the celebration of the resurrection.  It's a time of reflection for many Christians.  Some people give something up (chocolate, TV, Facebook...) and other take something up (waking up early to pray, paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line at Starbucks,  working at a soup kitchen,  writing in a prayer journal,  etc. ... I even have a friend who decided to trudge through the 108 inches of snow this winter to feed the birds in his yard, as part of his Lenten practice this year.. sort of St. Francis of Assisi, Boston-style).

And my Lenten practice, for more than the last 15 years, has been literally "practice", choir practice that is.  For me, the Lenten season has always involved spending at least one night a week in my seat in the soprano section of the choir, with the words and notes of a major work of sacred music working itself into my every pore.  By the time Holy Week rolls around, the texts of the Latin mass (set by Mozart, Haydn, or Beethoven), the English texts of John Rutter's Requiem, or Brahm's German Requiem, Handel's "Messiah", or Haydn's "Creation", to name a few, have become part of my breathing, my falling asleep, my waking up.  I live in the music and the text, sometimes using my drive time (I'm a minivan-driving mom in the Bay Area  I have a LOT of drive-time), to listen to the work that I'm studying; working those elements even deeper into my soul.  

Here's a sample of what I end up meditating on:

 "Out of the deep, have I cried unto you, O God.  Lord, hear my prayer.  O let thine ear consider well, the voice of my complaint"  (to listen to this as it's set by John Rutter, click here.)

"You now are sorrowful.  Weep not.   I shall again behold you and then your hearts shall be joyful, and my joy shall no one take from you. "  (This is my wonderful community of choir folk in 2010, singing the Brahms setting of this text)

"Sanctus, sanctus, santus.  Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tuam... (Holy, holy, holy.  Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.)  (Here's how Beethoven set this text in his Mass in C major)

"I heard a voice from Heaven, saying unto me, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors... "  (Here's a totally fearless, fabulous soprano, with my beloved choir folks, singing a setting of this text by John Rutter, from his Requiem)  

But it's not just the music and the words that go deep, refreshing and often challenging me in my spiritual walk, but it's the experience of spending that time, drinking-in that music in the presence of about 75-100 of my closest friends -- my fellow choir members.  There is a presence of the Holy Spirit that shows up in the community that is a church choir, particularly the one that I have called "home" for the past 16 years.

We've been led, for longer than I've been there, by a man who has turned a choir director's job into a Minister of Music vocation.  He's been our teacher, our coach, our pastoral leader, our Court Jester, and the father-figure for the lovingly imperfect, sometimes dysfunctional family that is a choir. 

Throughout its existence, our choir has aimed for musical excellence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of what that excellence points to -- an endlessly creative and creating God, a loving and redeeming being who touches hearts and minds and souls through many different routes.  One route, for some of us, is music.  The music has drawn people who might not otherwise darken the door of a church, to start spending time there, either as audience members to our concerts, or as participants in our music-making.  And it's not just singers who are drawn in.  There are a number of professional instrumentalists who showed up for what they thought would be "just another church gig" and ended up having their spirits fed and watered by their experience with us.  I particularly love the story of one such musician who pulled the choir director aside after a concert and handed back his union-scale paycheck, saying that we wanted to donate his time to our concerts from here on out, because he'd experienced something that he could not quite name, something powerful, that made him want to keep coming back.  He has donated his time to our concerts ever since.

But what makes our choir special is not just the music, or even the musical excellence:  it's the love and fellowship that we've experienced in our time together.  We held a post-wedding reception for a choir couple who sneaked off and married eachother after 20 years of being best friends.  We've sung wearing silly hats, tacky sweaters, and jewelry that blinks.  We've sung the Rice Krispies jingle and the Star Spangled Banner.  We've gathered to make a personalized chemo quilt when a choir member had cancer.  We have held baby showers, bridal showers, and a dinner to share remembrances of a member who died suddenly and unexpectedly.  We've celebrated birthdays and sung at memorial services.  We've walked together to raise money for AIDS treatment in Africa, and we've sung a concert to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Two days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, we ended our rehearsal standing in a circle, singing this lovely piece by Mack Wilberg as our benediction, unsure of what our nation would be facing in the days that lay ahead, but counting on the presence and provision of God in whatever would come next.

And during each Advent and Lent, both seasons of preparation, in the church calendar, we've engaged in the Practice of Practice, which for me, has been the practice of Joy. There's an excitement to that final pre-concert Saturday, the rehearsal with orchestra, that for me has always been the highlight of the season.  In that rehearsal, we put it all together.  We singers surf the glorious waves of orchestral sound and experience that coming-together of precision and passion that turns into the practice of joy.  The words become real in a new way, the presence of the Spirit is palpable... and three hours later, we're exhausted but energized.  The following night, we share it with a congregation of church folk and non-church folk who walk away changed in some way, if we've done our jobs right.

But this Lent, there was no preparation for a concert.  It is quite possible that my choir as it exists now, will not exist in the future.  Things change.  I could say more about this, but maybe in these last few days of Lent, I'll practice the discipline of  not saying too much.

I have heard people say that "Life is not a dress rehearsal",  but I LOVE the dress rehearsals.  It's where the performers get to practice joy, in preparation for sharing that joy with others.  Tonight was a regular rehearsal for the choir's Easter morning music, and just before the choir rehearsed, I shot a couple seconds of our director, working with the brass... They're rehearsing, "Joyful, joyful, we adore thee".   Practicing joy, if ever I heard it.

A few weeks after Andre's death, I sang a duet in church with my buddy Laurel (the fearless, fabulous soprano in the video I shared earlier in this entry).... The lyrics feel as true now as they did then: 

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth's lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it's music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since Christ is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble in their fear
And hear their death knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

How, indeed?                  Sing on, friends. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Did you get my Christmas letter?

" For, lo, the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years, comes round the age of gold...":

"Come on, donkey, you can come in. Hi, King, you have a big vase.."

"...three types of muscle cells are smooth, Connecticut, and apple cereal..."

"...reunification of upper and lower Egypt by feral mayonnaise..."

Back in the day, back in my "before" time, I did a Christmas letter every year.  I really enjoyed the process of crafting a series of word-pictures of life around here: a reflection on some obscure verse of a Christmas carol, some funny things the kids said, a line or two about my latest misadventures and a determinedly cheerful report about Andre's activities.  There was a year when my description of the kids' latest homeschooling recitation included the term "feral mayonnaise" (um... Pharoah Menes, anyone?) --homeschooled kids say the darndest things, don't they?  And there was always a photo --often just the kids, but sometimes all six of us, in the Andre days.

And then everything changed in July, 2012, and I gave myself permission to pretty much skip anything Christmasy that felt like too much: hence, no letter, only the decorations that the kids wanted put up, including a real tree for the first time in many years, only the things that could be accomplished in short spurts of energy as I found it.  It was a decidedly odd Christmas, full of strange, poignant moments, but also some moments of genuine light.  I was still, in some ways, mostly numb, mostly still in shock.  But there weren't many demands placed on me that year.  We had tons of support -- one dear couple played Secret Santa to my kids and granted them wonderful wishes, our adopted clan of friends made sure we had someplace to be for Christmas day dinner.  We got through Christmas and bounced into the New Year with help from more of our adopted family, and I congratulated myself that we'd done it.  We'd survived our first Christmas post-loss and it would all get easier from here.

Christmas of 2013 had its moments of "this is just too much" as well as moments of genuine joy.  I'd been in school for more than 6 months, the kids appeared to be doing ok, as far as I could tell.  (It turns out I was missing a few clues, and things weren't quite so rosy.) I managed at one point in December to get all the kids into a photograph, print out those photo cards at Costco, and begin writing a Christmas letter... but I never got it done.  I promised myself, "next year, for sure".

And here we are at Christmas 2014, three Christmases after Andre's death, and I still haven't found the energy to come up with a Christmas letter.  It feels a little like the first two Christmases were perhaps a bit anesthetized by the lingering shock, and then this year, I got hit with the "blah', as in "shock and blah" (apologies to those Bush-era survivors who know what phrase I'm butchering).  I made a sincere effort this year -- I bought a tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend on which I made a visit to a dying friend, to be part of what was her very last party here on earth  (I'm sure she's now hosting some sparkling gatherings in Heaven, though.) And once I got the tree home that first Sunday in Advent, I asked the now-6-feet-tall teenager to hang the outdoor Christmas lights on the front of the house.  The tree eventually made it inside the house a few days later, and decorations happened, in bits and pieces over the next few days: ornaments, manger scenes, Santa Claus figures, a wreath on the door.  I made up a couple batches of my mom's Hermit recipe, and some Spritz cookies... and none of it felt in the slightest bit meaningful or real, but I did it and hoped that I would eventually warm to the season that I've always loved.  As in the past, there were moments of joy and light --mostly in the music that I sing with my beloved choir folks, but also in re-introducing my youngest child to "Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree"--my childhood favorite book.  But still no "magic" for me... just a quiet acknowledgment that there is good to be found, and sometimes it's just "good", but not wonderful.  Maybe my super-enthusiastic self is growing up a bit. 

Somehow, we got to Christmas Day, and it was truly much, much lovelier than I could have hoped for, with a few simple gifts, kids who woke up in much better moods than the ones they'd shown the night before, and capped off by an evening Christmas dinner with the gathering of friends who have adopted us as family for the past few years.  My kids and I are truly blessed.  I have nothing to complain about.  We celebrated Christmas surrounded by good people who have become our family.  We made it through another Christmas with some help and the tincture of time. 

And then yesterday, December 27th, well before the unofficial "end" of the Christmas season--New Year's Day, I was suddenly just DONE with the tree, the clutter, and the feeling that I should be doing more to make it festive around here.  So, after checking-in with two of the four kids and getting their permission, I gave up waiting for the magical feelings to arrive.   I took the tree down and began putting away the holiday clutter, including the various shapes and sizes of nativity scenes that I have collected over the years.  I just longed to be able to re-arrange the furniture, to clean up the pine needles, to put away the kitschy stuff and think about how I'd like to enter 2015.  

Just before I cleaned up my favorite manger scene, it looked roughly like this:
 As I picked up the kings and the shepherds and began wrapping them in their tissue-paper padding,  I began to think about the words of a poem by Howard Thurman, that I sang with my choir folks this season: 

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart

-The Work of Christmas, by Howard Thurman

So, as my shepherds and kings, sheep, camels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and all the others go back into their tissue-filled home boxes for another 11 months, maybe it's time for me to quit wishing I'd feel the magic of Christmas, and to start thinking about the ways I could be doing The Work of Christmas.  

All packed up and ready to go in the plastic tote for another year. Let the work of Christmas begin ! 
I've always been way better with an assignment that is practical and concrete, anyway.  

 Merry Christmas, dear ones who read this.  And all my best wishes for a 2015 that is filled with love, with life and with the ability to appreciate what is all around us in each shining moment we have.

And please forgive me that, once again, there's no Christmas letter from me in your mailboxes.  Maybe next year. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Roses DO come back after pruning (or "3 Weddings and No Funerals yet")

I was out in the garden late one afternoon recently, taking a break from my usual flurry of "drive the minivan, drive the minivan, drive the minivan... study... go to the minivan"... because I needed to prune the roses yet again.  I gave those bushes a really serious cut-down in late August, when everything looked shriveled, and then another cut-down in early October, and yet, their optimistic beauty keeps coming back.  They bloom, they shrivel, they get cut back. And then, while I'm busy going about the rest of life... they come back.

 It got me thinking about some really drought-resistant, late-blooming people in my life lately. 

It was an interesting summer in terms of the social scene. I've been to THREE weddings, and I've got in-hand an invitation to a bridal shower for a bride who will tie the knot in December.

Most of the people in my friend-set had their kids in their late 20's and into their 30's, and so our kids are not yet at the getting married stage.  And you wouldn't expect there to be many weddings of people my age. But still, there is it is -- three weddings this summer.

The folks in my age group have all been married for decades...

Except for the ones who aren't.

At that includes several people who had thought they'd never be married, for various reasons,

one who had no idea she'd find love in her 70's,

and two more who'd thought they'd never marry again.

With each wedding announcement, there's been laughter and broad smiles, and a different kind of delight from the the kind that accompanies those breathless 20-somethings, with their blissful ignorance of what lies ahead.  The feeling I've had as I've gotten the wedding invitations this summer has been a mixture of joy and admiration: joy that at last, these relationships have come to the place of celebrating their love publicly, and an admiration for the way these remarkable people have lived life to this point. 

One of these couples consists of two 50-ish women who, in their 20's probably never dreamed that they'd one day stand in the living room of a lovely wine-country house and make their vows to each other, in the company of family and friends.

Another couple consisted of a man and a woman who'd each been in two previous marriages, and had endured painful, life-altering divorces, and had spent a number of years together quietly "testing" to see if what they had would last.  It has.

The story of She and He is even more surprising.  She is a brilliant scientist and educator. She's got a Ph.D. and blonde, blue-eyed, California-girl good looks.  When her biological clock was ticking really loudly, and Mr.Right just hadn't appeared yet, she decided to pursue her dream of being a parent, even though it meant single parenthood.  Some people around her warned her that adopting kids meant that she was cutting down on her chances to find that special man.  But she felt God prompting her to make a home for two terrific boys who needed a Mom. She and those boys found each other, bonded, and marched ahead through life as a family of three who faced the challenges of special health needs, life in a single parent home, and thrived.  And then one day, She reconnected via Facebook with He, a quick-witted, kind, handy guy she'd known decades before as a marching-band friend in college... throw in lots of late-night online chatting, several very inconveniently situated dates involving road trips between Northern and Southern California, a Valentine's Day proposal on the Golden Gate Bridge and...

Fast forward to August of 2014:
Yup.  They are now Mr. and Mrs. Hyphenated Last Names, with two boys to raise and the rest of their lives to revel in how God's timing is not constrained by conventional wisdom.

So, these days as I watch Winter move closer, the daylight getting shorter, the rain (halleluja!!) finally start, and the last of my 1964 cohort reach the half-century club with me, I am holding onto the idea that the prunings of the past couple years will lead to some blossoming in my own life.  I just have to let go of the idea that I have any control over that timing.  

And in the meantime, it's time to fire-up the Mom-taxi, right after I chuck a load of laundry in the machine, turn the soup down to "simmer", and finish a couple of response papers for class... 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Do you want to build a sandcastle?

The other question that I've often answered the wrong way is, "Are you coming in with us, Mom?"

 My usual answer is, "No thanks.  Not today.  You guys go ahead, though.  I'll be right here."

 And you can see why, right?  I've got the chair (slightly in the shade, as my Irish-pale skin just doesn't do full sun very well), plus the picnic cooler, the extra sunscreen, the towels, the big blanket for all the drippy, sand-caked, shell-sorting, seaweed-fighting post-swim creatures to sprawl on, once it's lunchtime: the perfect place to hold down the fort.

 And then there's my thighs, and other things that jiggle...  and what my hair will look like once it's wet, and the part about getting all sandy all over after swimming...

Yup.  I have all the right reasons for opting out, right? I mean, I even brought a book.  And there's always my phone to check, and knitting and... well, you get the idea.

But the other day, listening to someone talk about their childhood,  I heard this, as tears ran down the person's face,

"I never built a sandcastle with my mom. And she never came in swimming with us.  She pretty much missed my whole childhood."  

Yes, it's a leap from "no sandcastles" and "no swimming" to "she missed my whole childhood", but to that person, at that moment, that's how it FELT.  Someone's mom just couldn't or wouldn't allow herself to get all covered in mud and sand, to march that imperfect figure right down to the water's edge and plunge in, turning her 'do into a wet mop. 

And I totally get it.  How many times since I entered motherhood have I sat by the side of the pool, or in the beach chair, never once getting in the water?   I mean, it's cold, and it's gritty, and it gets everywhere, and everybody can see me... and what if I got all ugly, and then we had to go somewhere on the way home, like the grocery store?

When my kids were tiny, I somehow managed to get wet and sandy even on days when we *weren't* at the beach... But then the kids all got potty trained, and learned to walk steadily, and talk, and swim, and dig holes in the sand, and they seemed really ok with just my supervision from a short distance away.  And it was so nice to just sit there and watch, or knit, or gab on the phone.  It's nice.  It's relaxing, like a vacation.

But I almost missed someone's whole childhood.  Maybe.  So, today, on the 8th birthday of my youngest child, I arrived at the beach with my kids;  me wearing my comfy swimsuit (yes, I have a comfy swimsuit... they exist--that's a whole 'nother blog post)  slathered with sunscreen, equipped with a rash-guard shirt that would keep my chest, arms, and shoulders from getting all lobster-y.  And I got in that chilly water, dodged the bits of seaweed, laughed at the kids' homemade floating toy: a t-shirt wrapped around a beachball and dubbed, "Bob" (middle school humor), and I acted like a watery goofball until I got cold enough to need a dry-land break.

What a great day.  What was I afraid of?  I got all ugly and sticky and sandy, and there was no place to shower, blow-dry and re-coif... but who cares?  On the way home, in total disregard of my unsuitable appearance, we even stopped off to visit some elder friends of ours who live not far from the beach. These wonderful, wise folks are facing a pile of serious challenges right now.  The one tiny thing we could do for them was to walk their dog, as neither of them currently has the energy to do it.   My perspective got yet another dose of "get real, please".  When I am that age, and facing the kinds of things they're facing, I hope I won't also be regretting that I missed some of life's delights, like playing in my kids' world, for fear of getting messy and looking ugly.

Oh, and today, after my first swim of the day, and then lunch, and before my last swim of the day, my youngest kiddo and I did some great sand-digging, and built "Castle R" entirely of Silly Sand.
( I wonder if Silly Sand Construction Techniques could be worked into the Common Core for the elementary school years... This kid had never heard of it before. )
We model for our kids what happy adults look like.  It's clearly time I got more interested in being that kind of "model", rather than beating myself over the head that I'll never be the *other* kind of model, the one that involves airbrushed, suntanned, lipo-suctioned perfection in public places.  My kids don't give a flip about my fat rolls and squirrel's nest hair, but they sure get enthusiastic about my getting down in the sand and the surf, getting messy, and sharing in their fun.

Should there maybe be a chapter in "What to Expect... " entitled, "Get Dirty, Get Wet; Wash, Rinse, Repeat UNTIL THE CHILD LEAVES HOME"  ?

Life's messy... Last one in the water's a rotten egg.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A journey of 32 years, and 12 days

It's been a number of months since I last posted anything here, and I'm doing some looking back as well as some looking around at the present.

London, July 2014 - getting ready to time-travel

The grey mid-day light of the Gare du Nord wasn't anything unusual.  Sunday, July 13, 2014 was a bit of a grey day when we left St.Pancras / King's Cross earlier that day, and there had been summer drizzle as we'd crossed the French countryside after emerging from the Chunnel.  I was a little sleepy from our very early departure, and a bit queasy from motion sickness and coffee on a nearly-empty tummy.  And in the midst of the thoroughly routine and explicable, I was puzzled by my sudden rainstorm of tears as I stepped off the TGV Eurostar and began dragging my new rolling luggage down the platform to begin an adventure in Paris.

I was back.  How was this possible? 

And I was overwhelmed.  Why did this feel so hugely significant?

Thirty-two years before, my 18-year-old self  had entered the Gare du Nord with my ticket and luggage, and stepped onto the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse--the first French high-speed train at the time); at the beginning of a life-changing first trip to France right after high school graduation.

All these years, and all these life-changes later, I was back, on the 2-year-anniversary of a day that had changed my life forever. 

I guess it makes sense that the eclipsing light and dark in my heart at that moment would overheat my emotional circuitry and result in a tearful overflow.

How was it possible that it had only been two years ago that my life looked like an unsalvageable mess; facing the prospect of what I thought would be years of empty loneliness and abandoned dreams?  How was it possible that I was here in Paris, travelling for free as a working chaperone, in the company of 19 terrific teenagers, two new adult friends, and a man who makes me laugh and learn every time I'm with him?

As it turned out, it was not my first moment of gratitude that went beyond words and into joyful tears, and it would not be my last on this 12-day trip. 

July, 1982 - happily bringing back les baguettes

In mid-July of 1982, I was an optimistic high school graduate who had studied French since junior high school and had fallen in love with all things French, spending a summer with a warm and gracious French family on a farm property outside Lyon.  I was eagerly soaking up all they had to teach me about life in this lovely country: the language, the food, the people-first pace of life that was full of long, leisurely visits with family and neighbors, sitting at tables under the courtyard trees, sharing jokes, stories, and amazing food, and imagining what life held for me in my truly bright future. 

In mid-July of 1992, I was a 28 year old single woman, working as an ESL teacher in Nashville, TN, and wondering what had become of my original plan to travel the world while teaching, wondering if I'd ever find my soulmate, wondering if I'd already asked too much of life, hoping that the best was yet to come, while worrying that perhaps I'd already missed it.

In mid-July of 2002, I was a sleep-deprived, homeschooling, California housewife, in late pregnancy with my third child, having witnessed my husband survive his first suicide gesture, and wondering what kind of family this yet unborn child would be grow-up in, as his father struggled with his inner demons while trying to survive the Silicon Valley ethos of throwaway humanity and 22-hour workdays. I had no more dreams or plans for the future, other than getting through the next day, keeping all my babies safe and healthy, and maybe catching 40 winks from time to time.

Somewhere in early July of 2012, I came to a moment when I could finally accept the truth:  I could no longer let my four children live under the reign of terror of an increasingly paranoid and abusive man who was my husband and their father.  And on the night of July 13, I made a stupidly risky last-chance move and broke the news of my decision to Andre: that he needed to get help, immediately, or I would have to take the children and leave. Several hours of arguing and thirty minutes of silence led to the awful moment when what was left of Andre Hedrick left us, with a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle in his hand, a rifle that held, that night, 20 rounds in the clip that he'd loaded, secretly, in the garage earlier that afternoon.  My mis-assessment of the risk I took by telling him of my decision almost cost us all our lives.  Some guardian angels somewhere were working the late shift, I guess.

Thirty years.  Plus two. 

And in those past two years, I have seen my four children emerge from trauma and loss and start rebuilding their lives, complete with successes and failures, false starts and unexpected opportunities.  I am in my second year of a two-year graduate program in counseling psychology, a field that has interested me since my high school days.  I'm working as a trainee two days a week in a community counseling center and looking forward to a second field placement as a school counselor in the Fall. Since last November, I've been spending time with a fascinating, hilarious, multi-talented, man with an insatiable curiosity, a big heart and a great big, hearty laugh. 

And it's because of that life-enhancing friendship with that wonderful man, that I found myself on the train platform in the Gare du Nord, keeping that 32-year-old promise to myself, to return to this lovely city and REALLY see it and experience it. 

If time allows in the next couple weeks, I might even get back to writing a bit of a travelogue, coming full circle to the place where this blog began a few years ago:  a chronicle of travel and what I learn along the way.  I certainly have the photos to share.   

July, 1982 - on my one-day whirlwind tour of Paris, I promised myself I would return.

July 14, 2014 - I promise myself that the next time I'm photographed in Paris, I will take off my glasses, check my hair and use good posture (!)