Acting the Expert When Surrender is Needed

The human being has a serious inclination to make masterful talk, to inform, educate, even enlighten another of our species, then ultimately persuade the listener of one’s own point of view. We do this nearly without thinking during normal conversations, peppering our speech with ideas and details that are meant to define an experience with our first hand experience, and thus determined authority. It’s as if we believe we are each born experts in both broad and specific ways and so proceed in life on that presumption.

Perhaps we are experts–but of our own perceptions, our individual viewpoints. Or education and long experience makes us seem so. For all intents and purposes, what we think we know is also what is more or less real–in our minds, if no one else’s.

Consider one ordinary exchange:

“Watch out, you’re going to hit that car–the light is red!”

“What? I see the car, the light was yellow. Plenty of room, no harm done.”

“Yellow means slow to stop soon and was red as you turned. It’s alarming how that might have been an accident.”

“It means to speed up to not get caught in a red light, actually. I had plenty of time. You overreacted.”

“It’s not safe, pushing on fast at the last moment, not gauging distances clearly.”

“What’s not safe is you barking at me to watch out, it distracts me, then I lose needed focus.”

“You need to drive more carefully.”

“You ought to chill out and just let me drive. I’ve been doing so a long time now.”

“Wait, where are you going? Turn left there, it’s much faster.”

“It’s actually longer, that way is residential streets.”

“You miss traffic jams. I guarantee it’s ten minutes faster at least due to light traffic. I go this way all the time–”

“I’m turning on Siri; she knows the best way.”

“My gosh, an annoying computer and not one bit of driving experience although ‘she’ insists on directing us.”

“Siri has updated, inside info on all routes.”

Slightly sulking wife turns to the window, stares into the traffic. She would like to silence that computer once and for all, just take charge of that steering wheel herself. She sighs. It’s better to relent sometimes. But next time she is insisting on driving, her way.

Both are convinced they know what’s going on and what’s needed and what is not. They likely each have valid points. They each have literal viewpoints that create a manner of decision and action. Yet both desire to exert influence over the other. One or the other will win out unless a stalemate occurs. This time the driver did since he was in control of the vehicle and she at least verbally backed down. And it’s just a drive through town on a few errands, not a critical point to be made, not a major decision (unless he should not be driving due to a fading of keen senses). But we love our viewpoints, our familiar and comforting subjectivity. We know our own minds and assert them.

I’ve delved into this issue the past week–that sometimes overwhelming urge we have to make our voices heard, opinions accepted, our purported knowledge well heeded. There is such a powerful need to impact others, to even change them in some well-considered ways. And it is usually “for your own good”–this, from our singular and considered position.

If it is an acquaintance or even a stranger, that is one thing. We have interchanges in an elevator, on a park bench, at an event or when sharing a ride to work. But even interactions about weather at the grocery check out stand can be comically loaded with impulses to have the last word. This happens to me.

Checker: “How is it out there now?”

Me: “Great. Started out out temperate, getting hotter. So nice I got my sandals out.”

C: “I’ve waited so long for a day of real sunshine. It seemed grey and chilly earlier.”

Me: “Sunshine will prevail. But it changes you know, rain and wind, a smattering of hail, then bright clear skies. It’s Oregon, we like it.” (What does he mean by “real sunshine”?)

C: “I actually bought an umbrella, first ever. I’m from Arizona. It’s never warm enough here, wear layers all the time or about freeze.”

Me: “I see…it’ll be up to eighty, ninety soon, stays clear and hot until late October then the rains return.”

C: “I’ll adapt, right?…There you go, thanks for shopping at Fred Meyer!”

Me: “Welcome to Oregon, hope you’ll enjoy being here!”

It was only a chat about weather…but I really wanted him to appreciate a place where the beauty is magical no matter the season and go on to explain how our weather changes our landscapes and impacts choices in interesting, positive ways. He surely wanted me to understand how hard it is to get used to a different clime; he missed the predictable dry heat of his home state.

Just a passing exchange.

What happens when something closer to home challenges us? When we feel that something is not going the way it ought to according to our estimations and yet the other person insists it is well and good? The hardest of all quandaries to address meaningfully is with those we love. When is too much said, too much influence attempted? When do we step back, admit things will go the way they will go? When do our frank opinions start to sound like severe directives? The dread static of interference?

As a parent, we are expected to be the ultimate guides. Or to at least gain enough trustworthy information that we’re able to behave like we can do the job. Some decisions are instinct for most parents: to nourish our children physically, mentally and emotionally; keep them safe from harm; train them in all sort of skills; provide assistance and feedback as they progress or need more aid and practice. And we want them to feel well loved. According to our cultural norms and traditions, we have further priorities to address as they grow up. We do whatever we can to ensure they get the information needed, then use it satisfactorily. And explore their lives from a solid base of confidence. This all seems reasonable most of the time, an arduous task during others.

But we all know that no matter how well we manage to pull off parenting responsibilities, little ones have minds of their own from a very early age. And then they grow up and our opinions and expertise mean less than a a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper tossed over popcorn and potatoes. They can and do make up their own minds They’re turn into adults somewhere in their early twenties. They’ve already stumbled, fallen and gotten back up, even become stronger and smarter–more than a few times if fortunate.

So just why am I standing here going on and on about what may well be the better way, what is probably in point of fact the wiser choice? Excuse me, a look tells me or a pause on the phone: thanks for those awesome words but we have complicated lives to attend to and we do have a tentative plan–don’t I have a busy life of my own? They might not say all that but I hear it.

Yet, wait a minute. I have decades on them. I have experiences they have never had and may not. I have knowledge that might be derived from excellent and arcane sources that could transform their lives. I just know those adult kids really well after the diapers and strep throats and night terrors and scabby knees. After we’ve shared heartbreaks and missed chances and anxiety over more change and the victories and moments of stirring clarity and the strength and courage that courses through their tender selves like life giving, sometimes even holy, water. The healing that comes when loving kindness is infused into rancorous wounds.

It’s sacred, being a parent. It demands of us much. We are witnesses to a life changing before our eyes. And our speaking and listening both helped keep them on the road that’s unspooled present and future for a long while. Safe! we’ve breathed again and again. Or if not then we waited without end at bedside, outside closed doors, in the night as we called for angels. In the kitchen making something that they liked. Put that kettle on for soothing tea, anything to help them rebound.

The truth is, I would take out my heart and lay it down for them. I would leap over a burning bridge to rescue them. I would find and carry their souls in my own hands out of a menacing darkness and into the lustrous light. And I am a woman for whom motherhood was not originally in the foreseeable, feasible plan.

So when an adult who was once my small child, a grown person whom I so love chooses to do something I do not understand, I have tried to quell my response unless requested. But not always, not by a long shot. I have to be honest, it almost seems unnatural after those intense decades of being ever-present and needed. So I attempt to offer thoughts with care even when I feel the weight of urgency. I remind myself: they are smart people, creative thinkers, they have an array of attitudes, ideas and feelings, too.

It’s not my life, after all.

It might be marrying someone I have not even had the chance to properly know. Leaving a fine job for other interesting but uncertain possibilities. Adventuring to places that are so far away and seem risky. Changing the configuration of a family despite the clear challenges. Moving to another place when the old one could improve if given more time and effort. But they have come up with a mutable plan, a working map and preferred criteria. My input is only useful or impractical data and may or may not be discarded.

The thing is, I know they generally value my well honed opinions. They call or stop by to toss about ideas with me, share work lives and creations, ask for some skill or ability of which they need to avail themselves. Most still even name their hurt, hopes, joys. They know they can always get a hug. They know I can listen. I have spent a lifetime of listening to clients and also to friends and family. I can be quiet, can wait, observe. But I also have a need to be honest about what I think and to inquire after more when I don’t understand well enough.

I am not good at being fully neutral with my family. Aloof or inscrutable, disengaged. Utterly objective. Sometimes I have to pray long and hard to regain a viewpoint that will enable me to place distance between us even as I zero in on the issues. It can be a hard maneuver to pull off but I have gotten better at it. I also pay attention to Mother Wit, my gut.

Nonetheless there are many times when what I think is not particularly relevant to these adults. They may not even ask much less tell me the good stuff in the first place. But when they share their lives and I’m taken aback by matters revealed, I have to remember I want to be the sort of parent I at times wish was here for me: someone calm, attentive, with a sense of humor, too. Able to consider a kid’s view valid even if all whys and wherefores are elusive. I would want respect. Trust in ability to make good decisions. Due consideration of the whole story. Acceptance of my adult life, anyway. Love.

All this is just what they deserve, as well.

I also ask myself: what was I thinking and doing at their age and what did my mother say or not say to me? She managed to get some decent sleep and also care about me despite some choices made that she sighed or likely wept over. She knew what I know now: you cannot act like an expert and blatantly insist on the wisdom of parental opinions and viewpoints no matter how you might want to… not with grown children. Especially when it is not their wish. I can’t any longer take away treats; I can’t give them “time out.” Nor do I want to, thank goodness.

But lest the reader think the five I raised are not quick to engage in their debates, too, it can seem like pandemonium around our table when they visit. Each one for themselves and yet in the end they are each one for all, too. I guess they’ve been taught to question, to probe, to re-imagine, to assiduously examine. But they know when enough is enough. They know to be kind.

So, I now do know what to do with my important advice. Leave it, tell it to pipe down. All my pushy, incisive, needful words can find another place to stir things up: a poem, a story, a walk along a brilliant river. Or to find solace: a prayer, a talk with my spouse or a friend, another walk in life-affirming woods and dale. I can manage my own self. Why would my children not do the same?

I feel humbled. I don’t always. Sometimes I feel as if someone must please hear me but today I think I’m the one who needs to reckon with greater truth. What do I know except for myself and even then…? I am not in charge of anyone else’s life. My mind can be a lively though peaceful haven or a corral knocked about by a hundred wild horses in it. I want to let out those beautiful and maddening horses. I can always look for them later. I prefer my innermost haven more right now.

My children, I surrender my worries and questions today and maybe even the morrow. I give over to the choices and aspirations that make up your own journeying. I want you to take chances that matter to you, to dream wiser and farther. To become your extraordinary human selves. And may our paths forever cross along the curious byways we take, the bends, twists, peaks and valleys that we each chart and traverse along our way.

 

Yesterday Becomes Today and Tomorrow: Intergenerational Living

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

At the park where I power walk, I spotted a few couples comprised of wildly disparate ages. No, they weren’t romantic partners from what I could deduct. Rather, they appeared to be son, daughter or grandchild walking and talking with their parent or grandparent. Or they may have been neighbors or others, good friends. I didn’t want to impinge on their privacy but observing them gave me great pleasure. The energy of spirited discussions which accompanied quick footsteps or the meditative quiet as they strolled–reasons to appreciate their presence. One twosome sat on a bench and pointed out abundant water fowl, naming many, enjoying the water’s painterly reflections. They all appeared glad to be in each other’s company.

This park is, as are all safe and well-kept public parks, popular for recreational pursuits. One side is devoted to basketball, kickball or volleryball or soccer with a busy jungle gym and swings nearby. On the other side of the street the pathways continue in hilly loops around an ample, tranquil pond, then past an off-leash area for dogs and sprawling picnic areas. I can easily spend forty-five minutes there and still be loath to leave. The rich light filtering through old trees changes moment by moment. The park always infuses my spirit with examples of life being lived well. There there are homeless folks, too, who seek sanctuary, as well they might. The lush, varied spaces welcome everyone. People (and dogs) romp, barbecue, read, make music, meditate, practice Tai Chi and sleep. Meet friends and lovers and family. Today I saw a group of role playing older teens in full costume. It’s a fine place to witness generations interacting, particularly parents and younger children.

Yet I do not as often see children, teenagers or younger adults with men and women between the ages of sixty and ninety (or older). These are often previous careerists who are now focused on other activities, whether it’s sitting on a porch crocheting, running a marathon or developing another business. Illness may alter their lives, slow some down. So can loneliness. I wonder how many of our older citizens visit with families and friends enough?

Likely not that many. Much of our culture doesn’t encourage intermixing of young and old. Unless it is already a long-held tradition, reflective of one’s ethnicity or part of social mores, it can be easy to gloss over ties to relatives and other important persons once integral to quality of living. Relationships become transitory with a pick-up-and-go society. We often meet others online or text whole conversations on cell phones. There is so much distraction that we forget the visit, the call, the time spent face-to-face with those we insist do matter.

I don’t want to lapse into sentimental nostalgia. I wonder if my viewpoint arises from having parents who were forty when I was born. As a youngster, I spent time with many silver-haired people (very few dyed their hair) and found them quite nice, fascinating with such varied life experiences. Still, we don’t necessarily cherish great and grand memories of family, neighbors or long ago friends, or at least not without equally impressive hard times recalled. Most of us, however, can yet recall enough occasions of togetherness that were momentous or contented, even happy. Love found its way into those gatherings with a few someones and in time the good will spread out, repeating acts of care.

I recently wrote a post about summer Missourian visits to see my aunts, both lovable characters, and an uncle and cousin (which you can find here: 2015/03/25/summer-trips-the-kelly-girls/). But I had many other cousins and uncles. My mother was one of thirteen children, many of whom were alive when I was born. My father, one of three brothers. Though I never got to meet my maternal grandparents, I did know my father’s parents. We stopped at their place each summer, as well. Many cousins, aunts and uncles had moved to other places, so were less well-known. But they came whenever they could to the common ground or we travelled to their homes, at times.

When we joined forces at relatives’ houses and yards it was entertaining, a bit crazy: lots of kids racing and yelling and playing games; tables laden with a large variety of home cooked food, conversations that veered from updates of life circumstances to detailed health updates to general gossip in lowered voices to worries and hopes about the future of the country and world.

My family was a bunch of talkers; kids could wedge in some words. My elders expected respectful exchanges but they were interested in what I accomplished in school, what I enjoyed doing for fun, who my friends were, what I was going to do with myself when I grew up. And I, in turn, held on to their offerings, sought their affection. They knew things I didn’t. Some had been to Europe both before and after terrible wars they fought in. But even if it was Arkansas, Texas or Colorado I wanted to see the slide shows and photos, hear at least a good chunk of the travelogues.

There was an uncle who owned a plumbing business, something so different from my musician and teacher parents that his world seemed exotic. I peppered him with questions. An aunt had a thriving seamstress business. Her descriptions of fabrics, designs that worked and those that did not–even the countless buttons and thread types explained were like a litany of small delights. Witty vignettes about their customers or past spouses captivated me (divorce was not at all good in our religious family but sometimes, it seemed, could not be avoided). One uncle was a high school coach; his daughters were my favorite girl cousins. Another was a music professor, flutist and prolific composer. A grown second cousin revelled in being domestically talented, which impressed me since I had very few domestic leanings. They all did and said things that inspired, intrigued, motivated, and guided me somehow. They introduced me to different ways of being and doing. Plus, lest it seem I am only on a serious note, those Missourians were plain fun to hang out with. Laughter is a constant in my memories and even now when who is left meets. So, too, were the majority of older guests my parents welcomed into their home good-natured.

How fortunate I was to know at least one set of grandparents fairly well. Grandfather Will ran a public school system and read voraciously, wrote poetry and essays, encouraged me to write more. His presence had a leavening effect on my life. Grandmother Ida worked hard in her garden and I followed her around, picking tomato worms off fat red orbs, choosing brilliant flowers for display on the dining room’s lacey tablecloth. It was she who patiently taught me to peel a potato so its tough skin came off in a curl, showed me how to decorate a pie with cuts in the top crust. Her quiet presence was certainly well noted.

They made up some of the best of my life, those adults who fussed at me, corralled my energy, sought my ideas and exercised their considerable opinions in group conversations that lasted hours. The older ones modelled examples of whom to become as a grown up–or not to become. I sensed the deep reach of the past, the connectedness through time and this helped me more fully thrive in the present. Envision my own future better by paying attention to it all. The young adults were like sisters and brothers who had run the gauntlet of adolescence, were powerful in victory and seasoned by defeat. I aspired to their smart decisions or worthy careers. Rooted for them if they backslided. My youngest cousins were some of my best friends. How could I not find pleasure in a fierce family game of badminton or croquet, ghost stories as we huddled under covers, tag played in the dark amid moths and mosquitos and scents of summer? Even for one summer each year. I waited all winter for it.

When children’s lives entwine with a few generations, they learn to better value not only the young and old, but also themselves. The past and present overlap visibly and invisibly. If there is loving involvement in the everyday as well as special occasions, it begins to permeate one’s world view like osmosis. A feeling of belonging not only in the family but in the greater world is more likely to root itself and flourish.

I’m not discounting the failures that happen, the breathtaking losses families inevitably experience. Disagreements that may linger. We have all been through things never imagined, with likely more to come. But for those, there is this: sitting in a circle, passing a handkerchief with cups of coffee or tea, remembering better times and praying for relief. Taking each other’s hands in your own. Later, making phone calls, writing letters that offer solace. When troubles are shared, they become more endurable. And out of that dark time arises the will to go on. There is that net beneath us made strong with the care of all who love us.

We have five grandchildren. One is barely known as he has lived far from us all his life. It has been challenging to stay connected. It may be too late, as he is still at a distance in more ways than one, a grown man. But I still hold out hope. Two others who are older have been in and out of our lives due to parental life changes. They finally moved to our city with a daughter so we have gotten to know each better in recent years. I try to show them my love is real and won’t disappear. They are always my family despite time and space gaps, despite the fact that I have been their mom’s stepmother since she was five.

And there are two with whom we have been more up close and personal since their births. They remain in my life in significant ways. But I wonder how much longer this will be, for any of the four nearby.

I recently took my soon-to-be thirteen year old granddaughter ice skating. We had a ball gliding about. We can shop for hours. We are going to attend a dance concert for her birthday. I feel her start to move beyond my easy reach yet know it is part of inevitable transitions. We still made Easter eggs with her brother. My nine-year old grandson loves to draw and paint with us and enjoys hunting and identifying rocks. We have hiked in mountains and walked seashores. My husband and I play Scrabble, checkers, dominoes and more with them. We attend school events. I correct their manners if they forget because manners make far more difference than they can know yet. They voicalize family complaints; I try to stay neutral. We share many meals with them and the rest of our good-sized family.

I can offer a listening ear and hugs when they are hurt or angry or discontent. And pray for them all, that they might cross through the vast reaches of their lives with a firm hold on honor and dignity, a philosophical sense of things when encountering hardship.

Is this enough to offer as they navigate an increasingly complex and treacherous world? Will they grow up feeling the strength of such love, will they be secure in the knowledge that their families are here? The thought of my leaving them one day suddenly grieves me–not being around for my children, their children and with all our other relatives. Then I remember: I was blessed by previous generations. They followed me into my own adulthood in some way or other. They keep me company, still, as I grow older. I dream of those who have left, and their faces shine. They formed the major part of the foundation of my living. They were so many things to me, strong and resilient, faithful and forgiving, shaped by creativity and good humor. And, too, there were weaknesses and foibles. I have loved them for it all.

I can pass on what I have received. We each have the task of sorting and strengthening bonds that matter most, and the opportunity to carry forward the good we have been given. The common wisdom we have is gathered like imperishable riches.

So at the park today it was satisfying to see folks moving and resting in concert with each other, younger and older. I hope they were related by blood, but if not they were connected by interest. Perhaps by the strength of the deeper heart. I could see it in the way they leaned toward each other, how they talked, what they experienced together. This day will be another that remians with them if they remember the details or not. The cumulative benefits will be reaped. We are all on our way to tomorrow. We find our way better with each other.

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Earley Waits for Mail

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Earley waited for the mail all afternoon like he did every delivery day, with the patience of Guernsey cows, which he’d loved as a child on the farm. His grandson would take issue with that idea, tell him, Cows don’t know enough to be patient, but that’s what Earley thought of when faced with the occasionally slow passage of time. Cows liked to eat, rest, socialize, all with a deliberate pace and acceptance. It seemed a good lesson. Being human created issues with time. For Earley, time generally was dashing away. As far as the postal service went, he was just grateful he still got it. What sort of life would it be without a little junk mail and a letter or package now and then?

Sol was too smart sometimes, explaining calculus and reading thought-provoking passages from his contemporary novels. Earley had patience with his grandson, but who cared what sorts of odd tricks numbers got up to at this point in his life? But the books he liked, or rather the being read to, especially when it had to do with a little love or a lot of history. One stimulated the other in the world, he thought.

When his son, James, was at work and Sol was at school he had some waiting while he did chores and puttered. Today was–he checked Sol’s calendar on the fridge–computer club. Three days a week the boy had obligations he said were fun. Earley had neither for the most part, unless you counted being a grandfather.

“You have to get a hobby, Grandpa. Ever since Grandma passed you’re just waiting all winter to garden. I know gardening is your thing but really. You need more than that. Maybe like playing Sudoku or checking out that new fitness club. I saw one of your friends over there. What about your woodworking?”

“I’ve made enough stuff, why do I need more? I do my crosswords and word searches so I don’t get soft in the head. I walk everywhere. Cook. Do laundry and pay bills like when Nana was alive. Plant my garden in spring. What more? You have hobbies, I get some free time.”

Sol and James looked at each other, eyes rolled. It made Earley think a bit. He did get restless at times. Then he saw the ad and put in an order.

For the last week he’d been watching over Sol by himself. It wasn’t hard but it took a little more out of him. Worrying and making sure he did all that homework, catching up with him more than usual. No James as a buffer or disciplinarian. It went pretty well.

James had gotten to Florida on Tuesday. He was supposed to have have come back home by now, not that Earley was anxious for it. It was never much real hardship being there for Sol. James called twice, once when he got to Miami and once when he found out he would be back a few days late. James was a fully degreed person, a writer and a construction worker, which Earley didn’t quite get, but the building trade usually worked out better. Bills had to be paid for three people.

James had this desire to swim his way into that smallish pool of people who might find their stories on shelves. He had been working on a psychological thriller for four years and it was almost done. Earley hadn’t read it yet. He wondered if it would scare him; the thought of that captivated him. Well, in good time.

James poked his head out of his office door one morning.

“I’m going to Miami, you guys! Kevin was hired as editor of Killing Justice, that new thriller and mystery magazine I mentioned, and said I’d be a good addition. But I have to do a formal interview. We’ll all move there, start fresh if this works out.”

Sal frowned and considered. He was fifteen. He had a small, well-defined life that he liked just enough. The house they shared with grandpa was big and had a garden he helped tend. He wondered how his grandpa would manage down there. He did want his dad to be happier. Sal could try Florida after ten years in Omaha despite leaving his best friend. The thought of tan, beachy girls and large reptiles soon held him in thrall.

As it lowered, the sun shot out pink and orange rays behind houses across the street, making half-halos about trees and rooftops. The sky warmed up like a tropical vista. Earley wondered what it would look like in Florida. He watched out the bay window, then saw the porch bathed in a glow despite a deep chill he kept at bay with the heat jacked up too high. The mailman–well, mail woman now– should have been there long ago. It annoyed him despite his resolve. So much for Guernsey patience. He wondered about James coming back late, what that all meant. His stomach growled as he glanced in the refrigerator. Leftover meatloaf when Sol got home.

He grabbed the seed catalog and sat in his worn, smooth leather chair. When he turned on the light and opened it to the first page pictures dazzled him with their lushness, as always. He could hardly stand that he had months to go before the planting.

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What would it be like to grow things all year long? he wondered. Florida looked like it sprouted life without any effort. It unnerved him a bit. The winters in Omaha were a good time to hibernate, which he liked. He might have to wear madras shorts in Florida, learn how to swing a golf club well, use terrible smelling sunscreen all the time. Or stay indoors even when there was no snow and no rain because of that heat. He wanted his son to use his degree in English and Sol to be able to try other things, but this was a lot to ask. If it was to be asked. He breathed into the gathering dark, a ruffly sound making its way down his commandeering nose. What if James thought it was time for him to join the others over seventy in those cramped places they pretended were communities? He had one already, right here, on this street, in this house. It had been good enough for forty-five years. The house had conformed to him and he, to it.

The front opened, then slammed shut the same time his cell phone rang. Sol tossed a package on the rectangular table in the foyer. Earley got up, then looked at his phone.

James. He answered.

“Hello? Son?”

“Hey, dad. I’ll be home tomorrow but I wanted to talk to you guys. Is Sol there yet?”

Earley beckoned to his grandson and he came over.

“We’re both here.”

Sol put the phone on speaker.

“Sol?”

“Hey, dad! See alligators yet?”

James laughed. “Not yet. But we might sooner or later.”

“We? You got the job, dad?”

“I did. They liked me and I like them. I’ll start in May.”

Earley walked to the table where the package lay. He could hear the two of them talking, excitement tinged with disbelief in Sol’s voice. He shook the package to confirm it was his order for sure, then went back to to his chair and sank down in the old cushion, box in hand.

“Hey Dad? You there?”

“Yes, I heard you.”

“Are you glad for me?”

“Happy as a clam.”

“Grandpa, clams aren’t even close to being smart–”

“You don’t know that, Sol. We don’t know every single thing.”

“Dad, I have to get going. Kevin is taking me out to dinner to celebrate. I’ll tell you everything when I get home.”

They hung up. Earley fished his Swiss Army knife from a back pocket. Sol had sunk into the couch, his jacket still on, backpack at his feet.

“Florida… sweet. I think.” He sat forward, hands clasped together between his knees. “What do you think, Grandpa? Oh, you got a package. What’s in it?”

Earley cut through tape, tossed the paper and pried open the box. Inside were neatly bagged pieces of wood. A whole ship.

“Behold, Sol, the Santa Maria. The largest ship of the three sailed during Columbus’ voyage. Modest, really, especially by today’s standards. About one hundred tons of her. Deck was 58 feet. A good seafaring ship until she shipwrecked in Haiti.”

“Nice! A wooden model. So that’s your new hobby?”

Earley smiled. “Could be.”

They looked over the plans and talked about history until Sol said he was hungry. At the table over meatloaf sandwiches, they were quiet awhile. Then Earley spoke up.

“You think you could head down to Miami, then? Or would you want to stay here?”

“We’re all in this together! Dad’s taking me and you if you’ll go and I’m sure taking you, so we’re going together. Right? Florida, like it or not, here we come.”

Earley wiped his mouth and sat back. “Well, it could be a good place to make and sail ships. But I’ll get back to you after your dad gets home and we talk. I’d have to have a garden. At the very least.”

Sol agreed; no garden, no move. He put the kettle on for tea and got out the organic peppermint teabags. That’s what his grandpa liked after a meal. That’s what Sol would always make him.

Monet in the Garden by Monet
Monet in the Garden by Monet

Fealty: Definition 2. Faithfulness; allegiance

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I am often jolted from sleep, words blazing in my brain, sometimes whole phrases or poems that demand their places in my notebook. I obey, lest they slip away to the vast hinterland of dreaming once more. I hope they will stay in place on paper, releasing me so I can return to rest, but they often pursue me until given the gift of freedom. Which means: a life to call their own. This ultimately requires my attention in the waking life. The day has begun and I am glad of it.

But this morning was the sort of re-entry into daily life that I would rather avoid. I rose from murky consciousness toward a sheerness of wakefulness as sunlight tried to illuminate my thinking. My eyes remained closed against the morning as a weightiness threatened to hold me hostage. Unbidden words passed through the darkness under my eyelids: The music is over; your voice was lost. Too much means less and less. Travelling alone without one good compass ends good journeys. Who can even see your footsteps upon the earth?

All the things I don’t like and who among us would? Uncertainty, the remnants of loss, weariness, old hurts that reconvene like a war council. Unease remained as I pushed out memories that can still haunt me, the times when problems didn’t resolve despite earnest effort. The errors of judgment that hollowed out places where defeat still can burrow. I called on God of all, of east, west, north and south, God within and without, Jesus who finds and comforts me, reminds me of revolutionary love.

Capture all old tears and bring them back to me as shining orbs. Set me straight. Let me see again, a woman without misgiving.

My eyelids flickered and the room in its blueness came forward. The variety of pictures greeted me. Morning was grounded as light slipped over my hands and feet. I let the scattered threats fly away. But not before one more word lodged itself where the others had lain in wait.

Fealty. I knew the word from somewhere. Fealty. Didn’t it have something to do with truth? Or…money?

It presented itself many times as I prepared for the day. With a fragrant mug of tea beside me, I picked up The American Heritage Dictionary. I opened the volume.It was there, the word, right on the page before me. Out of all the pages that might have been interesting to read first, the dictionary opened to this page.

I read the first meanings: “1. a. The loyalty of a vassal to his feudal lord. b. The obligation of such loyalty.” I immediately recalled watching an historical drama, “The White Queen”, the previous night and believed I heard the word there. But, wait, a second meaning: “2. Faithfulness; allegiance.”

I sat back, held the mug between both hands and sipped. The words ran through me. Spoke to me. What am I faithful to? What loyalties means the most  and what am I called to do? Where is the allegiance that matters no matter what? My family, yes, of course, and friends. Then, as though unearthed from beneath the unwanted sourness, came this: Divine Love. Compassion and the causes of mercy and enduring hope. Celebration of all that the Creator gave us. And this fierce passion to write.

How foolish I can be, a small soul making my way through the unbearable and marvelous phantasmagoria of life. Fortunately I am still teachable.

This is the life I most care about, the one I choose. This morning began as a puzzle tossed into disarray, then reassembled in one swift movement. The day and my place in it came together again. I have my  compass. I have notebook and pen. A guiding Hand, an angel, a sudden crack in the dark that allows the right clues admittance to my heart.

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