Monday’s Meander: Home/Yesterday, Today

Hello readers and fellow bloggers,

I’m having some trouble preparing mind and home for Thanksgiving, although my husband, the cook, is busy with his food lists and plans–he gets absolutely gleeful about the fuss, mess and tastiness! But it is the first year for all holidays in our new place. Our dining and living rooms are smaller, the surrounds outdoors entirely different if , yes, beautiful, as well. Everyone lives farther away than before, except for one daughter and her family (including beloved 7 mos. old twins). And it will be the first year I do not have my only remaining sister much closer; she has dementia, and holes up more and more in her retirement complex. I do miss many in my family, especially those passed on as we all likely do this time of year. I think of them dearly, keep them close to heart as I recall the best times amid our family’s’ years of ups and downs.

The picture above is from 2017 around Thanksgiving– at the old place, our home of 23 years. It provided a flush of pleasant memories while looking through old photos– and I wanted to share its quiet simplicity.

Tomorrow I will have lunch with my sister. That is good. Also, I know the babies will have a blast smearing and tasting potatoes and and all for the first time! And fortunately, my oldest daughter from S. Carolina is visiting this week. She has kept me moving at a fast pace visiting people, seeing sights, shopping…it has been fun and, as usual, we will be sad to see her go at end of week. It clarifies once more that it’s people–not decor, not material treats– during holidays that matter most.

If I don’t find time to write my usual post Wednesday this week, have an embraceable sort of Thanksgiving Day. Well, just love one another if you can even if it is taxing, share moments of kindness and fun, name every thing that positively powers your life. I will be doing the same.

Blessings,

Cynthia

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Hands and Handwritten

Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

Human, beautiful hands. I’ve been thinking–as I tend to do–of how they serve us, how we appreciate yet can take them for granted. How they speak for us, and all day and into night accomplish diverse tasks, with our barest cognizance.

After a few days attending art exhibits with my sculptor daughter, I have once more been in awe of a variety of beautiful, challenging works that artists create with hands, mind, heart. To draw, paint, cast in bronze, mold in clay, piece together fabrics, weave wool and naturally dye it, make a print of color and carefully determined pattern: an abundance of creativity that is accomplished by our hands. It seems honorable as well as miraculous to me. I am a woman who once painted big canvasses in college but now just draws for meditative exercise. A person who once wrote every story and poem in longhand before heading to a typewriter. A youthful cellist and harpist, a dabbler with the violin and piano. In other words, I know a bit about the essential hand, how our fingers rooted in the sturdy base of each palm inspire such possibility. A memory rises up of being a youth who broke a thumb; I gained instant insight into how requisite it is for success in simplest activities. It was hard waiting to heal.

There is a complex set of minute actions that enable writing by hand, a topic of interest for a lifetime. I love to set down ideas, feelings, lists on a clean sheet of paper–or a torn open envelope, a shred of napkin, a handy receipt. Pencils or pens, though they offer very differing experiences, are all worthy tools in my fingers and complete the goal of making seen the thought. Only a few years ago it remained imperative we master the skill of cursive as well as block printing, at least enough to communicate effectively. Increasingly it has become waylaid by use of computers even in elementary schools and certainly at home, and ubquitous cell phones.

When I returned home from our recent trip, we spent several hours with the twins. I wish I had a video of 7 month old granddaughter Alera’s hands in action. They tell such quiet, eloquent stories. I’ve been watching not only hers but Morgan’s (twin sister’s) since birth. How they first appeared in the world as curled up buds, then gradually unfurled, then bobbed about like mini-balloons given flight but nowhere to land. Then they reached erratically, mostly for bottles and faces, snagged strands of hair or fabric of shirt or blanket. They behaved as if yearning to nestle things in their fingers and palms, to hold closely. Such a marvel of mechanics and expressive potential: each finger tender, tiny but much stronger than they appeared. Before long they began to indicate a wider interest in environment and insistently grasped more objects, from a flower’s sweet petals to the calico cat’s fuzzy fur to a terry cloth bib; to Grandpa’s wiry beard, a chilled teething toy or dangling earrings. And all, of course, enters the mouth, so we have been vigilant about safety.

Although their voices are gaining range and skill and they are on the cusp of crawling, their hands so intrigue me. The first time Alera lay her hand flat against my face and briefly stroked it moved me. She has hands unlike her sister’s, whose broader palms and shorter fingers seem happy being utilitarian and so strong and bold, emphatic like the rest of her body and personality, with a musculature that is more reactive or hearty than her twin’s. Morgan is an action gal, and if she can get cranky she also has a sense of humor that swells into lots of baby gab, too. Alera is perhaps gentler, more relaxed in one’s arms, and as the world turns. Her clear eyes gaze long at her surrounds, the light and shadow; her head turns to listen intently to sounds. She seems engaged in puzzling it out, noting details. And her hands follow suit, patting and feeling her way into life.

Beginning about 2-3 months ago she began to examine and pick at a blanket tuft or manipulate a rattle, rotating it between those slender fingers, touching and turning over the shiny Celtic cross on my chain with delicacy. Morgan may be more apt to give something a yank and a toss and giggles ensue. One can’t help but guffaw with her. Alera wants to learn its surfaces, its ways. And when music plays, Alera turns her hands about and mimics mine: twist, turn, rise and fall. Each of us enjoy a bit of conducting. I think: her hands are heart-full, make graceful pictures. Morgan’s jump up and command, hold tightly. I wait to see more as each month brings changes.

How do we ever get to that point where we can tie shoes, draw a house, remove pistachios from shells, wield effectively a paring knife, play a stringed instrument, hand stitch a raw rip? What a privilege to be born with appendages that learn so fast and well to do our bidding.

The little ones are being given more “grown up” food as they take fewer bottles, and what a happy spectacle as they gingerly finger oatmeal clumps or grasp a cooked sweet potato stick or try to pinch tiniest portions of applesauce, a baby portion of dragon fruit. With two minuscule bottom teeth Alera is learning to use them to bite the goodies. Their steadying hands find their way to source of sustenance to chin and cheeks to mouth. Alera is happy to snatch bits with fingertips or open her hand to hold and squish but manages to get much of it in her mouth, trying until she does. Morgan seems a little suspicious of the odd clumps on her high chair tray so mashes more than eats for now. But they are learning as all babies do, what it takes to satisfy a growing hunger. Finger food is great, though, we all eventually agree.

My own hands have done good service thus far. Despite having Raynaud’s which leaves them chilled through under 60 degrees and fingertips that crack painfully in winter–despite this irritation, I enjoy their dexterity. I am not a fine seamstress or a miniature watercolor artist and I no longer play my cello, but I manage to get plenty done–as we all do. I appreciate hands’ skills more than some people may.

A few years ago I experienced a damaging reaction to a type of heart medicine, the statin group that so many take to lower cholesterol or fight inflammation. I found out the hard way that I am one of two percent of the population that developed serious myalagias (muscle weakness and pain). I became severely impacted regarding ordinary muscle movement, with dizziness and balance problems, memory fog with confusion and more.

It became nearly debilitating over a couple of years. I did notice my fingers not landing right often as I typed–and I’m not a great typist to start. I found when I got up fast I lost balance. My limbs felt rubbery I experienced shooting “electrical” pain all over my body. Surely it was work stress or general tiredness, I thought. When I began to walk without warning like a drunk person, could not accurately reach for and grasp items and dropped them daily, I worried and pondered the origins much more. I was becoming scared yet hid the fear and body’s errors as much as possible, calling myself a “klutz”-which I’d never been. But when I could not reliably, legibly sign my own name, alarm plus the concern of a sharp physical therapist sent me to my cardiologist. I was to stop the statin immediately; if my symptoms improved, it was the statin and that was bad but sort of fixable. But if no improvement, I likely had MS or ALS or other neurological disorder. In two weeks, to my surprise, problems slowly started to clear: it was–surprise–the statin which was to support my heart’s health. I began to be returned to myself bit by bit and after a m onth to six weeks, I felt like I hadn’t felt for a couple years: almost right and well.

I share this story as there had arrived a quiet despair that my hands could not do what they were meant to do, what I wanted them to do, what they’d accomplished perfectly with barely a thought. I was told much if not all my strength and normal movements, my sense of balance and clear mind would return. But parts of functioning have not returned to a homeostasis I enjoyed before statin use for 13 years. One is my overall hand strength and their necessary discreet movements–and more, an ability to look at a thing, reach and grasp it immediately. I knock things over as I reach and drop and break things even now, if not as much. I struggle still opening jars, once a breeze. It is discouraging sometimes.

But one thing I can do again is write out anything by hand. My signature slowly came back, with only occasional blips. But the actions writing takes sometimes create cramps in a short time. I carry on after a pause and finger stretches, and return with s relief that becomes joy.

I’ve long loved setting graphite or nib or ballpoint tip or even marker point to paper. Printing is fun; I like to experiment with different styles with that form. But there is the other experience: subtle curves and curlicues of each cursive stroke; the ease or labor of pen or pencil over smooth or textured surfaces; the manner in which letters conjure words to specifically name things or people and give form to idea and emotion—visually, one has personally rendered it! And then to consider it and commit those written words to memory.

I write; therefore, the world and I are one and more, truly present here and now: that is how I have felt even since childhood, I suspect. Language is given fuller life–and its molded beauty is so apparent– when set onto a tangible surface. It is given sharp clarity, then set free. So am I, it seems.

So signing my name, an authentic reflection of one’s identity, was part of it–but it seemed the universe opened like a fantastic lens as hand was put to paper. The beauty and relief of it felt a treasure. I’ve long known others didn’t much feel that way–most students of my generation hated learning cursive and having to write papers. But I found that artists of many sorts did. And writers, of course, as it was and is a helpful tool for creating story. Neurologically speaking, the very act of writing and the brain are natural cohorts. Language, both written and spoken words, arise from clearly sophisticated gray matter activity, though one can surprisingly be done if the other cannot be (as with some stroke victims). My statin toxicity seemed to sully general language and memory facilities as it curtailed my hand’s ability to form good letters; the brain would not listen and translate my intent. For writers who do write longhand, this is anathema. The return of that particular skill was a steady recovery.

I often attend writing workshops that require a participant to write freehand and impromptu for proscribed times. With pencil or pen preferred. Say, writing for two minutes or for ten, often using a prompt of a first sentence or a picture or a fragrance shared with the group–or just stating anything that comes to mind. This is heaven to me. I write quickly and freely, my hand barely keeping up as the wealth of language and image come forward in great bursts: I am in a whole new world right now. I also find when we read our short pieces aloud, I may not well decipher that handwriting. But the very action of longhand and its unlocked ideas–a nascent plot was received in words roaming the pages. If I had used a computer, I’d have paused as I re-read, been more distracted, gotten up and down–in part due to ways I use a keyboard versus the way I write longhand. Things occur differently, more fluidly in thinking as a line is crafted by hand. (Though I appreciate both for different virtues, and admit using my computer more for blogging thanks (?) to WordPress design.)

Writing longhand aided me at work, as well. I took notes on a yellow legal pad after the counseling sessions and liked to annotate or emphasize with various marks. In team meetings, brainstorming came readily when I could jot ideas down, doodle. Got a person-to-person problem? Detail it first on paper; consider carefully. Stumped by a client’s diagnosis? Write down current observations plus past data gained; see what rises up from the info piles.

I have a recent pen pal. Both of us came to the idea from a book group online and we decided to give it a go. I’m not sure yet if we have enough in common to strike up a decent postal friendship, but I do get a kick out of writing the letters and cards. (I had a pen pal as a kid; he lived in Japan.) I well consider my words as I go, and keep it pleasantly legible. I like seeing her personality in her handwritten replies.It is a pleasure to receive an envelope with my name and address carefully noted on its smooth front, stamp neatly placed in corner. Someone took the time; it got to me via human hands in many places.

I’m the type who buys cards all year long, blank ones with unusual, colorful, funny or skilled art on the front. I love making an effort to sit down with soft blue, indigo or black ink-filled pens (color matters to me) and communicating with another. I anticipate how they’ll see it amid bills and junk mail and then be surprised, take time to read it, look at the art and set it on a bookshelf or lamp table if they truly like it. Which I have been told is done. My friends and family expect this of me sooner or later, often for no reason at all other than I’m thinking of them. I want to take the time and care. It feels a more considerate way, a civil a thing to do in our fast-moving, techno, throwaway world.

Hands at work, at rest and at play. Silent communication as they move about with potent, sometimes frantic energy; or slow, graceful expressions. (I talk with my hands so much it’s been suggested I keep them on wheel when driving. Or stop talking…but not sure I can talk without hands aflutter.) Writing, our hands begin to sculpt imaginative or solution-based plans. And there is the creation of art from a plethora of materials, giving life to a form minute, intricate, rangy or towering.There is such power to that. But we routinely use our hands to take care of business, to survive as we go about living, and how fortunate that those of us who can, do.

Meanwhile, Alera’s hands. I wonder now as I did when daughter Naomi was born and studied her translucent, teeny fingers (she was 2.5 pounds at birth): will she be an artist? A musician? Naomi (like a many others in the family) has both abilities. So maybe I have a good instinct about Alera. Then again, maybe she’ll become a master gardener, a jeweler or an oceanographer who studies dolphins–her exploratory touch accepted. Perhaps Morgan will make pottery or be a tennis player or heal the sick with her determined touch. Who knows? They both have those working, intricately arrayed hands to help guide them. And I can write about them as I choose, thanks to my heart doctor’s intervention, and to my mind’s delight.

“Monday’s Meander” Note on Tuesday: North Carolina Week

Flying over Newark, New Jersey last night

Well, getting up at 3:30 to catch a 6:00 plane (boarding at 5:25) is for the birds. Since readers and others know I am neither a jolly or well-seasoned air traveler, this was a challenge I was intent on meeting but with a bleary-eyed whine. I kept my moans on low the rest of the day; why annoy my traveling partner (Marc) further? He’s a good guy and he has to go to work all week. It is not an actual vacation for us, and for me it is a little getaway for a few days. I’ll take it!

We got to the hotel around 9 pm. I was awake until 3 am, sadly well into morning. It took that long to sink into a level of semi-drowsiness, then heavy sleep after a long day flying from Oregon to East Coast. This, however, followed my research of free phone apps to find one that promoted nature’s (doctored) soothing sounds so I might settle down to rest. Ended up with rain falling on a lake (I think)–more pleasing than a fan’s loud whirring, a metal wheels-on-track train ride or night’s city shenanigans, or even frogs croaking that was more froggy gossip fest with burps interjected. Well, it takes what it takes for us all. At that time in the dark (although only midnight in Pacific Time…) after a numbing day, nothing quite seemed as it should. I also was battling the usual allergic response to recirculated airplane air. Sneeze, blow nose, sneeze, cough, repeat. Apologized to the stranger on my left, assured him I was not sick in a conventional sense. But today I am less allergically waylaid and rested a bit; all feels much better.

This is a view from one of the hotel windows.

It was a lark, really, to accompany Marc on a business trip to an area where there isn’t anything for me to do within walking distance. I am not renting my own car, not driving him to and from work 45 minutes each day. We always stay a distance from his place of work as the manufacturing town is very small–he prefers to keep distance when day is done. And I preferred a hotel with an indoor pool and exercise room as it is surprisingly colder here than in Portland– despite North Carolina being the mid-South. Marc said there could even be snow later. Egads, I am not quite prepared for that scenario.

I occasionally travel with him as sometimes I like a little break from usual routines, enjoy refreshment of life here and there. (I might prefer Mexico, another of his business destinations but lately various political and other events have not encouraged risk taking…)

I began my respite after breakfast with a short walk to get a better look at the colorful trees noted from my high window. Nice start to wake up my mind and senses. It was freezing wind and with no hat packed, it was wide-eyed I went into the world. But here is a bit of what I found:

A twenty minutes walk did me good. On return, a lingering spell by the lobby fireplace, a look at the fine pool I will dive into before long and then the quietness of a pleasant if anonymous room… I admit this has restorative potential, wandering, writing at a cleaned off desk, gazing through a window at the November blue sky and last of autumnal trees. And the simple anticipation of strong side strokes for a few laps is a boost as later my energy flags some again. Must rest better tonight!

Tomorrow is my usual fiction post day; I will try to stay on schedule. At end of week we will be visiting daughter Naomi, a sculptor primarily. Her 5 foot tall art installation “Boundings” as well as a photograph entitled “Personal Space Capsule” are exhibited in South Carolina’s Biennial Part II, in Columbia. A pretty two hour drive certainly worth taking!

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: To Herald the Coming Holidays–or Not?

I know, I know–it is not even mid-November and I dare to display this wreath! But we are bombarded with seasonal themes and items in stores and ads everywhere; I am made to think on the holidays despite my distaste of the early advancing of the madness. I write in a general protest. I am having second and third thoughts aplenty.

If I was an artist of considerable ability (not just a lazy wanna be who sketches and dabs paint now and again) I would create a spare but lovely watercolor and ink picture of a cozy, snow-laced cabin in the woods. White tapers would burn softly in two front windows, a curl of smoke rising from the chimney; a deer and fox would be peeking out from beneath frosty green boughs. A cardinal would fly by. I’d be standing in the open front door with Marc, arms opened.

Then I’d turn that bit of imagining into a card and send it off to family and friends some weeks ahead, with this message inside:

Skipping the holidays’ material madness at last, but come on by for a good hug–and a mug of something tasty–if desired.

That’s how I’m feeling about Christmas. I have given it my thoughtful attention. This may be the year some variation of that idea comes to be, rather than remain considered.

Thanksgiving is another matter, made for cooking and eating and convivial conversations around the table. Well, Marc cooks these days; I’ll toss a salad and prep veggies, make the drinks and pretty up our old oak table-and am happy to clean up. But even my long-standing love of baking has cooled. It seems to have slipped out the door with our five children, although I baked with and for grandkids here and there; even they have flown the coop. (Must wait for the six month old twins to grow up a bit and we’ll fling flour about and indulge in likely forbidden sugary delights.)

We will likely have Thanksgiving at our place until the adult children indicate they have lost interest or can’t manage it with their hectic lives and own broods. We’d be alright with someone else cooking up a feast, setting the table and cleaning up one of these years, too. Yet we enjoy the family gathering–with an occasional friend–tremendously. And this year my oldest daughter, Naomi (an art prof) is flying in from South Carolina to lecture at Portland State University and will stay on for Thanksgiving. This is a luxury visit; we are quite looking forward to it. (One thing I do love to do is talk with family– and others, the more the merrier.)

Still, then arrives Christmas. What is it that has me with knuckles to teeth as we try to determine the best way to celebrate?

That nostalgic scene I have the urge to create–cabin in snow, deer and fox, a cheery cardinal; candlelight and inviting fireplace and woods about–all enticing one indoors to see what else awaits–is just that: nostalgia. I don’t own a cabin or cottage and never experienced a Christmas in either but it sure sounds good, evokes the peace and pleasures that deeply appeal. (There are people who live out this fantasy. I have a niece whose family convenes in her Colorado mountain lodge. The photos posted are wonderful.) I did grow up in Michigan. There was often a glittering white blanket silencing the outside noise as we crowded about a festive tree. We sang around the baby grand, familiar hymns and carols; our family made a natural chorus and music was a huge part of Christmas. So maybe all that set precedents which are not now met as once before.

In any case, I have not been a child in my parents’ home for 50 years; they are gone. Christmases have long been my own–with the tradition of many gifts, good food and large gatherings. When you have a bunch of children and then they have children, it gets bigger each year. And I do like to “do” for others, to decorate, to find special gifts for the 14 (more including friends) I shop for, and most of all share this time with them, all in one spot. Or mostly. Not the entire five adult children, generally, as two live out of state and one is a chaplain with an overload of duties that time of year.

I used to host big gatherings for extended family. I loved preparations and the spread on the dressed up table and the congenial intersection of lives, the laughter. The love. But my older sister, brother-in-law; a brother and a nephew have died; my niece is not as available; my other sister and partner live in a retirement community and are not that well. All this changes the way family interacts more than I anticipated. It is a little sad, but it is the way of things and I have adapted year by year, loss by loss.

In any case, I’ve been thinking this over for many years: what would it be like to not have a fluffy freshly cut tree in the living room; to not have underneath it the usual heaping pile of presents, to not have everyone over at once for gift opening and brunch on Christmas Day? This has especially weighed on me since our daughter with the new twins confided that she almost dreads the coming holidays as there are now more family wishes to fulfill. (Her husband’s family lives in WA. state so they must travel back and forth. Though it may take only 45-60 minutes to get to WA., it is a challenge, no doubt.) And since we moved in March things are less easy for everyone to get together. Who would have thought moving from a northeastern part of the city to a southwest area would make a big difference? In part it is congested roads that complicate meet ups. Before, everyone was more or less central to one another, a short drive or even walk away.

There is also the fact that our current apartment is smaller, not so much square footage but in its spacial configuration–the old place accommodated a large family well. But one has to make decisions based on what works best for current needs and this place made sense–Christmas, etc. gatherings notwithstanding. So here we are. I can still put in two table leaves to seat 12 if needed; it just gets crowded here.

There is a spiritual component to my musings. I have long seen this holiday not so much as a genuine celebration of Christ’s Birth than a time of gentle merriment, of family, of meal sharing and gift giving more in the spirit of ole St. Nick. We would go to church, yes, but the fact is, it is really a re-imagining of a long enacted pagan holiday, also known as Yule. Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year is on 12/21 this time– which is lovely no doubt but it is not my religion. Many of the same traditions were entwined with Christmas. Yet Jesus was most likely born in the spring. In 350 AD Pope Julius I decreed that 12/25 would also be designated Jesus’ nativity celebration.

The reigning materialistic aspect has nothing to do with Jesus’ coming into the world with his revolutionary message of love, mercy, faith and forgiveness. The bottom line is, engaging in Christmas is more a secular event than a religious one even if I go to services on Christmas Eve. My faith is deeply rooted and less dependent on a ritualistic, institutional structure. So this holiday has been a broad conundrum at times: faith and tradition versus materialism and those ancient beliefs to which I do not subscribe, despite s tendency to incorporate more spiritual experiences than is typical of a traditional Christian.

I do suspect I’m not the only believer who ponders all this and yet each year follows the usual path–buy gifts, fancy up a tree, hang a fragrant wreath on the door. Even among those not of my faith yet enjoy the celebratory nature of it can discover a community bonding, sharing of conviviality, and an inclusive hopefulness. I enjoy this, too; it is heartening that many can find any common threads with which to connect us even for a short time.

And yet.

Each year in the midst of hectic tasks, or as we clean up the detritus from the surrounds, my husband states with wry laugh, “Next year Hawaii!” But we choose to stay, to put Hawaii–or any adventure in December–on the back burner. Because we love our family. We love any caring intentions of this season and even pretty trimmings. The money spent–not so much. That many gifts gets very pricey. Many donation requests get filled. And I often wonder why this needs to be done when we do give gifts on special occasions and share our money all year. Also, by the time kids become preteens these days it gets very hard to shop for them. And the twins are far too young to care one bit about any of it, thankfully. Is it the lifelong habit that keeps us tied to this kind of Christmas?

Since it is getting tougher to corral everyone for a few hours, this can be a frustrating time. There are some who do not have families all in one home so must travel to have their kids part of the holidays; some who have to work up to the last minute or beyond; those who have vacation plans or partners with other ideas; and those who are feeling stressed financially.

So when all is considered, what precisely is the point? Yes, yes: demonstrating more attention and care toward family. Yet that is always available, often in more meaningful ways. Fun celebrations? I get that; it would be missed. But a growing array of gifts? How much stuff do we need? I personally need nothing more. I don’t want to tax my children’s cash limits. Marc and I don’t even care to exchange gifts, anymore.

My brother reportedly gives his grandkids gift cards and skips his children. I see the wisdom in that even if it seems less…jolly and fuzzy. He and his wife sing in a couple of choirs at Christmas church services; otherwise they travel as they do most of the year. It isn’t cash reserves but other priorities that have altered. And that works for them. I find it more refreshing than not.

This year Marc and I will decide, finally, what works even better for us. What seems reasonable yet more fulfilling. The family comes first so much of the time. Christmas is one of these. But we also matter as an older, long-wed couple. It sounds good to have less busy-ness and more relaxation as Marc takes off his holiday time from a pressurized job. I suspect we would rent a huge alpine lodge, then ask family to join us if we could; perhaps another year we will. In the meantime, we want to make sure that Christmas has meaning and magic that stays true to what we both need in our lives, not just the larger family’s. Who knows? Maybe our adult kids will let slip a sigh of relief.

Mostly-grown grandkids would enjoy a good gift card–with a special gift wrapped up pretty under the tree (I still have to have a real tree). But we sure don’t need to deluge them with things. I know for sure those baby twin girls will enjoy the lights and, of course, music. They already are held in thrall to it. Alera, particularly: upon hearing a classical choral piece, she stopped moving, slowly held her hands palms up in the air. She barely stirred the entire time, she was so entranced, her face an expression of wonder, large blue-grey eyes staring into space, head turned toward speakers. I have a photo of her that moment, and would happily share it if not for lack of approval from parents regarding baby photos on social/other media. But I do I study it, mulling over her expression, as if she is hearing angels so struck is she by the music. She loves all classical and much jazz–her sister, Morgan, enjoys it but is currently less entranced.

And music is a true and abiding joy to experience years to come. These are moments that matter, do they not? How can we forget and get caught up in holiday frenzy? Trying to make everyone happy–at least, what we believe makes them happy– we often find that happiness is not even in the places we think it was.

In my home, we will certainly share good meals, share well wishes and blessings, cheery and sacred songs. (My husband has been playing his acoustic guitar for the first time in a long while…) And how else can we demonstrate a steady, active gratitude for life and love for one another, as well as a devotion to a faith? The ways are endless– the coming holidays or any time at all. And American culture and the wide world needs much more of this, far less of the other.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Mind and Soul as Compass

Mt. Hood

As I was walking the trails around our area, I practiced locating where they all interconnected–as far as I have explored–and how each one has taken me back. It is useful for strengthening recall since we haven’t lived here very long. And it’s a pleasing exercise; I like to use different perspectives in my mental imaging, as though traversing from one direction, then another, then another. I can see in mind’s eye each route the unfolding scenery, pauses taken along the way, different housing clusters that peek through woods or circumnavigate greenways, how main and side streets curl and crisscross. I happily meander.

Mountain Park is a neighborhood of 700 acres on a volcanic hillside; there are 8 miles of trails. They seem complex as they snake this way and that, lead through trees, tunnels, up hillsides, by creeks. Likely we’ve trod only about 75% so far–time being an issue and partly due to their often climbing steeply, requiring endurance harder to maintain in summer’s blasting heat. It can be challenging even in cool weather rains. But I–or both of us– go out every day a good hour. I don’t worry about getting lost. I have a small map inside my head, and if I end up somewhere surprising, I can retrace steps. I also trust a new trail link will lead back to one I recognize better. There are, of course, landmarks even in wooded areas.

The only time I felt a bit nervous was when there was news of a cougar outside the state park boundaries, prowling by homes on the east side of the city. But that was a fair distance. And I want to walk so off I went. I don’t know where the cougar is. He/she possesses supreme stealth, but is more likely to hunt in a state park forest. However, I do see rabbits and lots of birds, bees and other insects, a snake now and then, and people like us who love being under the treetops and working up a sweat. Once I thought I thought I saw a coyote and likely did; it melted into the dusk.

I do have a well attuned sense of direction so rarely get lost. Oh, occasionally misaligned, but briefly. I’m grateful; I got it from my mother, perhaps. My father made sure there was a good working compass mounted on the car dashboard when we took trips. And then he proceeded to go off route, intentionally, unconcerned thanks to his sense of adventure and trusty compass. My mother tut-tutted–it took longer his way to reach destinations but if he did get lose his bearings she enlightened him. A great map reader/navigator (back when there were colorful fold out maps), mostly she gazed at landscape and pointed. Off we went. If we did get lost it was treated as part of the trip, not cause for distress other than wondering when we’d find the next restroom or cafe. (I realize my spouse and I are the same; he agrees he has a poor sense of direction, a poor visual memory when on the move. (GPS was made for those like him; he travels quite a bit for work and relies on it.)

As I was revisiting the trail system mentally–huffing and puffing in 85 degree heat, water bottle in hand–I saw it as a metaphor for how I try to live life: trust my sense of direction, rely on instinct/intuition. And God’s guidance and care. I say “try” because my one weak point is worry about my loved ones. I can get bound up in a tangle of possible disastrous scenarios in a blink of an eye, at times. Especially when I awaken for no good reason at 2:50 a.m. from a deep sleep. Oh, right–a perfect time to worry right into full exhaustion.

Case in point: my son and his new wife went off camping and rock hounding all the way to Montana on Monday. They started off in Washington; no word since they were on their way. This makes me a little anxious. Not that I would often hear from him; they’ve had to travel through mountain ranges and forests where cell reception is sparse. Josh travels fairly often and they’re veteran campers. He is very independent, following his own path. When six, he took off early on bike into our new neighborhood. I didn’t see him until dinnertime when he brought new friends to the table. Did I worry then? Some… not really. He always paid attention to surroundings, found his way back–and it was 1980 when kids freely roamed about. Besides, he inherited his grandmother’s uncanny sense of direction, too.

So today after considering these facts, I chose to turn the annoyance of worry over to God in prayer. After all, they’re also on their honeymoon, not thinking of me! He will communicate as he can/wants.

Also, my oldest daughter is driving from Colorado to South Carolina by herself–from visiting her boyfriend to a return to her home and teaching position. This is an old story for her, too–she goes solo out of the country, as well. It’s not uncommon for her to drive great distances. She also figures direction well, knows her way around busy highways and lonely roads, and she travels smart, takes care. She stays briefly in touch.

But there is that blasted impulse to worry a thought thin. And worry is a kind of disease: truly, a state of dis-ease, imbalance, a tension that undermines helpful insight. And there have been a few serious matters to worry over this year, so far, and worry did not aid me in a pursuit of solutions or succor. The real glitch about perseveration–and that powerful director of such thinking, trenchant negativity– is that it not only takes up time and energy, it obscures the picture rather than clarifying it. Issues multiply and become fuzzier. One becomes worn out, not refreshed and refocused.

I am fond of the idea of mind-linked-to-soul as a good compass. I find it can correct missteps, redirect, reiterate or discover essential ways and means to “home”– and thus enable me to better proceed. It well informs me. How can I be certain? I am questioned by friends, family and my own doubting self at times. It isn’t that I am always one hundred percent certain every time I need good, orderly direction. But I have a proclivity for that loaded word–trust. That’s the thing. Despite making significant mistakes over decades and experiencing deep losses and being uncertain of the future like everyone else–I trust I’ll get through difficulties. Even being lost.

And I have been badly lost at certain life junctures, the sort of lost that is hard to note. Like childhood sexual abuse, three rapes during youth and adulthood, domestic violence that finally resulted in my being nearly run over–someone walking up the road screamed “Move out of the way!” just in time– by my then-partner. Or when I experienced a toxic psychosis at age 19, resultant of a lot of amphetamine mixed with other drugs, and then being carted off to “the dungeon”, a poorly staffed, badly managed Gothic structure that was officially called a hospital that was actually, I still think, hell–and that took a court order for me to be released to my parents. And there were other brushes with death that left me thinking that it was really too strange that I stayed alive.

Let me not get started on the lives of my family and friends, my own children. They, too, have had hardships and nightmares to live through and, well, I love them so. The hurdles needing to be overcome have been many. Tests of endurance. It seems the fate of being human that we collect calamities of one sort of another…

So, some experience wandering lost in the dark. Confounded, feeling alone. Yet I do not truly fear being lost. For one thing, been there, gotten through stuff. But more so, a certainty that I can investigate and glean more information that will be advantageous. Other people can be more helpful than imagined. And I grasp onto what makes sense- by this age, it is clear common sense underlies so much, if we just pay heed. Add some intuition- more is revealed.

One thing that has not changed is that I have faith in a Divine Love that does not quit. (Perhaps it has become more fierce a belief.) This is my “true north” spiritually, how I live my daily life. When I am fearful of an outcome or just worn by it all, that faith does not weaken or leave me. It is an intrinsic part of me, that numinous Light a tremendous hope for the better. It has sustained me through all difficulties. I call on God and as I do so I call on God within me and all others I come across. By doing so, I can seek what helps, not harms. It is not hard to pray for clarification of intelligent–that is, loving and solution-focused– directions. It can be still a trial to quiet my selfish worry arising from fear of more loss. and a sudden lack of certainty in ongoing strength and the beauty of this human life.

But when things do get tied up in cat’s cradles, I go to the source of peace, of fortitude–my faith in God. And pieces will begin to fall in place once more. I disengage from anxious energy, become renewed in soul and mind. It is superfluous, this worrying snag. So I use my rescue procedure from nagging thoughts that are distorted and magnified.

What really matters most to me? I ask myself again. Get back to basics. God: God’s creative genius, God-ness alive in others, and living God’s way of compassion with courage. The power of that is what brings me back to fresh possibilities. To my good sense. It is a sweet medicine of hope, clarification of calmed mind and heart. I am not alone as I go on.

It seems easy to doubt; I am not immune. The world appears to be shattering about us in pieces that fall and fly, strike randomly and stymie the desire for well being, much less happiness. There is simply more horror than we can take in, begin to understand. Threats of worse and the specter of helplessness test our resolve to stand firm, try to do what is good and true. To speak up, help one another, to just keep on and seek better answers. For perseverance is a big part of finding the way. We cannot afford to give up; so much is at stake. But to trust that innermost compass (or share one that works well), have some faith that what is better and best about being human will yet illuminate a way ahead. Why not stand up, trek forward? Move as if you know where you are going–you likely do. Or will learn the lay of the land as you proceed. And, too, there are moments of sheer synchronicity that come into force and aid us.

Not surprisingly, my son texted me as I finished this: “In Montana! Great time! Heading toward Yellowstone!” My daughter, too: “Doing fine, in Alabama, heading to Atlanta.”

For now, all is well. This is what I hold close. Whatever comes will arrive moment by moment, hour by hour, day by night by day, as before. And if I have the good fortune of being here, I will meet it. If not, then with God, in any case. I am not ever utterly lost. I know where home is and it is here, within, where it always was.

Cascade Mountains