Saturday, January 28, 2012

Attitude adjustment

       This has been the scene at my house the past week.  The picture is 
not a great one, and doesn't quite capture the adorable chaos of having
three dogs and two people in a relatively small space for days on end.
Thunder, the big guy in the front, has been staying with me while his
"parents" are on a cruise, as they have kept Hurley for me on previous
vacations.  The little white fuzzball is Pachouli, my new roommate's
dog.  We have had quite a rowdy household these past few days.  And I
have relished (almost) every moment of it.  
       Hard as it is to believe,  Hurley has been with me only a little over a 
year.  Before that, I had been on my own for a very long time.  For years 
and years, it was just me, and I got used to it.  With Hurley, I was reintroduced 
to the joy of being part of a "we."  This year, that "we" has grown to include
Connie and Pachouli.  The roommate arrangement was born of financial
necessity, and was only supposed to be for a few months.  I had no
idea that I would like having another human and dog in the house so
much that I would want them to stay, not just for the rental income,
but for the companionship.  Simply having someone else there to enjoy
TV shows or cook a meal together or ask, "How was your day?" is
something I had almost forgotten.  Now I like getting used to it
again, so much so that our "we" has decided to stay together, at least
for the rest of 2012.  Maybe by then, I will have found a "he" to form
another kind of "we."  Who knows?  Anything seems possible when the
year is still so young.



I should have taken a "before" picture.  My desk, previously piled with books, reading glasses, papers, bills, earrings, receipts, notebooks, lists, hair clips, recipes, markers, clipboards, post-its, and tiny Polly Pockets, is clean!  It's simply clear, uncluttered space.  Purged, dusted, organized.  

I'm working my way through the house with a quote from William Morris in mind.  “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Hmm,  I could be getting rid of a lot of stuff.  


Attitude Adjustment
      I have this photo at work. When I look at it, it brings me peace. I don't know if it's the layers of green or the memory of a family visit to the botanical gardens at Riverbanks Zoo, but whatever the appeal, it enables me to stop, breathe and slip into the mystery of something that deeply resonates within that has nothing to do with deadlines or performance or work or even thought. 
      I call it a joy catcher, and I use many things as such including quotes and prayers that I collect. I ran across this prayer this week and thought what a beautiful attitude adjustment, a reminder that sometimes what I need most in a harried day, is a dose of spirit, a chance to be filled with something other than thoughts of me, me, me.  It's like a having a soothing cup of tea, with a touch of honey and mint. Everything seems better. More bearable somehow.
      Father Mychal's prayer
Lord, take me where you want me to go
Let me meet whom you want me to meet
Tell me what you want me to say
And keep me out of your way.

       It's a refreshing thought.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Schadenfreude, a winter dandelion, and a finish.


      When I ask my kids to read cooking directions in the fine print on food containers, they look at me as if I’m crazy, wondering if I’ve forgotten how to read. Though I realize aging is inevitable, I’ve been surprised how irritated I’ve been about losing something I’ve taken for granted all my life. I don’t know who this person is wearing granny glasses to read, even though the glasses are chic-colored fashion items. The worst thing is I have two older friends, who are tickled pink that I’ve reached this stage. I mean roll-in-the-floor-laugh kind of happy when they see me pull out the glasses to read a menu.
      It brings to mind the old German idea of Schadenfreude, which means to gloat over someone’s misfortunes. Of course, we all do it at times, but still, really? I have to put up with loss of eyesight, my youthful self-image and now this … mean-spiritedness?
      I believe aging is God’s way of refining us, humbling us in the last length of life. It is the great equalizer. I’d say I hope these friends have to get hearing aids or scooters or whatever the latest aging gadget is before I do, but then that would be too Schadenfreude.



What are you doing there?
Bizarre burst of color in January,
Brave and beautiful, weed though you are.
The sunshine must have misled you.
Your season is still far away.
You couldn't stand it, I think,
Sleeping away these April-ish days
Safe underground with other growing things.

You took your chance,
Carpe'd this diem, and now what?
I fear the cold will return soon
To put an end to your rebellious blooming.
How long is the average life of a dandelion?
You may not last that long, risk-taker.
But you are here now, drinking in the sunlight,
Basking in the warmth the others have missed.

I think I will forget my errands today.
I should be outside
Enjoying pseudo-spring while it lasts.
I can go off-book for awhile,
Take some risks
While they're mine for the taking.
Thank you for reminding me
With the audacity of a yellow flower in winter.



       “And don’t drop your medal when they give it to you in the finish chute.  You’ll be tired but hang on to it.”  concluded Maryanne, my hairstylist and running guru after a haircut and an hour’s worth of invaluable training advice.   
       What? I get a medal? 
       One of the coolest things about running a half marathon is this:  If you finish, you get a medal.  You don’t have to finish in the top ten or even the top three for your age group (although there are extra prizes if you do).  You just have to cross the finish line on your feet and there you have it.   A shiny gold, blue and green medal. 
      So thanks to all of my friends who asked about my training, put up with my dramatics, and cheered me on as I prepared for the Charleston Half Marathon.  And special thanks to Maryanne for advice on everything from arm warmers to body glide; to Julie and Jordan for cheers from the side of the road; to Lynne, my friend and encourager who navigated a maze of blocked roads to check on me at miles 4 and 8 and to cheer me on at the finish;  and, of course, to Don who put up with months of training, complaining, and obsessing, who got up before dawn to get me to the starting line, nearly froze to death on his bike at the start to get some pictures, and waited patiently at the finish while I stood in line for my post-race shrimp and grits.   
     You don’t make it to the finish line without friends.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A half marathon, beauty and a tombstone

 3 days, 9 hours, 44 minutes

While everyone else is busy setting goals and making resolutions for 2012,  I am still working on a dream from 2011. Maybe it was turning 50 and realizing that some things are sliding into the “now or never” category, but, for whatever reason,  I signed up for my very first  half marathon.   I’ve been a runner since high school -  in the early years of Title IX when I ran on the boys cross country team.  I’ve done 5Ks and 10Ks.  But, I had never tried this distance and had to register in the "50-54" age group.  

Ever so slowly, a quarter mile at a time, I began adding mileage and working my way up the distance ladder.  My body parts, however, were not so sure.  Each run started with aches, creaky old knees that were slow to warm up, IT band issues, complaints from my ankles, shins and an old broken toe.  I was whiny.  I was cold.  I was too hot.  My pace was too slow.  What was I thinking?  But, for most runs, by mile 3, I was in the zone and determined to finish.  

I’m old and I'm slow, but I'm still running and down to 3 days, 9 hours, and 44 minutes to the starting gun for the Charleston Marathon.   I’ll keep you posted.



 Beauty as Diet Aid

            I would like to say I’m a strong, disciplined person, set on following through with my healthy living resolutions. The fact of the matter, alas, is I’m weak. I need incentives, rewards, perks, friends and the like to prod me along. My tumbler, pictured left, was a Christmas splurge for myself. Its purpose is twofold. One it reminds me of lessons learned when I did a 21-day detox diet with a fellow co-worker last year just before Thanksgiving. She is a wonderful cook and a foodie who felt sorry for my uncreative diet and thought this would be a good way to refresh my palate. She was right.

            Two, it’s pretty. I like looking at it. The tumbler reminds me of the simple things I can do that can make a big difference. Small investments in health can reap big benefits.  One big advantage of the diet is that it retrained my taste buds and got me off my high sugar load. Spiritually, it reminded me that stripping away excesses and getting back to basics always is good for the soul.



       I couldn't read his name when I happened upon his tombstone beside the
marsh.  There were a half dozen others scattered among the trees,
relocated a few years ago from where they had rested for decades or
centuries before Interstate 526 needed them to make way.  I read aloud
the names on those I could decipher.  I couldn't say why, except that
I liked the thought of someone hundreds of years from now doing
likewise if she came across my name on an ancient stone.  But the top
half of this stone had broken off who knows how long ago.  There was
no name to read, only the epitaph.  "The latter departed this life the
29th of June 1808 after a long and tedious decline which he endured
with meek resignation to the will of God. Aged 23 years and 8 months."

       Questions flooded my mind.  Who wrote the epitaph?  What was his
illness?  Just how long was his decline?  Who took care of him?  Did
he live his whole life in Charleston?  What kind of medical care was
available here in the early 1800s?  But most of all what I wondered
about was his "meek resignation to the will of God."  

Friday, January 6, 2012

And it's 2012 already!

A blessing for Elli

The first day of 2012 brought a special joy for me in my work as a hospital chaplain. Death and grief are much more common in my job, so this was a welcome change to begin the new year. Some friends of mine had come to the hospital in the waning days of 2011 expecting their first child, and after 30 hours in which her mother gained a whole new understanding of the word "labor," Elliott Virginia came into the world. She is, in a word, perfect. I started my first shift of 2012 by holding her, feeding her, and rocking her to sleep. She gave me the blessing of a tiny smile and wrapped her long fingers around my thumb. Then I got to do one of my favorite tasks as a minister. I spoke a blessing for Elli that went something like this:

Elliott Virginia, may God bless you with kindness and wisdom, creativity and strength, bravery and faith and beauty, in this new year and for many, many, many years to come. May you bring joy to God, your family, and all of us who love you, as we do our best to help you become the woman God created you to be, all the long years of your life.         Amen.



I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.  ~Woody Allen

      I hear them laughing even though I'm in my office upstairs.  Our youngest daughter, Savannah, and her dad, Don, are laughing uproariously downstairs.  They both have the gift of loud, raucous, out of nowhere, belly laughs.  It could be something on TV.  It could be the face Savannah just made, a story, a one-liner, who knows?  The laughter blesses our house and my life as little else can do.  Laughter lights the darkness, cleanses the soul, and fills up a house.
       Savannah heads back to Furman University tomorrow for her final semester as an undergraduate.   She has been home for the holidays, working on grad school applications, sleeping late,  visiting friends and, of course, telling stories and laughing.  We will miss the laughter when she is gone.
      I turn off the light in the office and head downstairs.  I think I'll join them.


Last sunrise of 2011,  Myrtle Beach, SC

      It goes something like this.
      I'll come home and say something like, "I'm sure you all have done all your homework."
      One child will pipe up and answer that's "inconceivable!"
      And then another chimes in, "Do you even know what that word means?"
      For anyone who's a fan of the classic movie Princess Bride, no explanation is needed. Otherwise the preceding is just nonsense. What I love about ritualistic exchanges such as this is that it marks us a tribe with our secret code. It's a sign of intimacy - a moment to break from the routine or homework or whatever the issue is at hand and go off on a nonsensical tangent. That's one of my resolutions for 2012. More nonsensical tangents to thwart the over thinking, analytical side of myself that takes life too seriously.
      I told my family on our New Year's break to Myrtle Beach the story of a friend who found her Christmas marred by a contentious family member. She and others decided not to let this person's issues pull them down, so they used the word Duck anytime things got tense. Ducks just let the water roll off them and don't get pulled down by its weight. I shared this with the boys just as we were driving past Dick Pond going to Myrtle Beach. I'm not making this up. Needless to say the conversation deteriorated from there, but whenever things got tense or someone was irritable, someone would shout Duck, and we'd start snickering.
      I have my spiritual prompts that have the same effect. As I was walking the beach to see the last sunrise of 2011 and feeling a bit melancholy, a word unbidden rose above the mental chatter.
      More for myself. More for others.
     Just like that, the one word broke the spell of tension. I returned to the present moment with a deep breath. I opened to the new year.
     In the words of my friend, 'Happy New Year. Be the duck.'