Saturday, July 21, 2012

New and old blessings

      It was a peaceful afternoon at the beach, a little breezy, not too crowded. The receding tide had uncovered the sandbar an hour or so earlier, and to get to water deep enough to be gently lifted off my feet by waves (my favorite thing), I had to wade a long way from shore. Most of the time, I faced the beach, keeping my blue umbrella in sight, small though it was from this distance. A woman on her stand-up paddle board talked with two friends about fifty feet away, the nearest people to me. 
      I felt how isolated I was, until I heard a noise to my right. Without looking, I knew that something large had just disturbed the water, and I froze. Heart pounding, I turned to see a spray of water and a round head. The face looking back at mine was unfamiliar. "Do we have walruses in South Carolina?" I wondered for a second. Then I realized. "Not a walrus. A manatee!" I don't think I had ever seen one, not even in a zoo or an aquarium, only photos. Now here was one just a few feet from me, almost close enough to touch if I dared. The creature gave me the luxury of a few seconds to smile and appreciate the rarity of such a sighting before it swam away, its huge form visible just beneath the water's clear surface. 
      It was the sort of experience that needed to be shared. I swam over to the paddle-boarder and her friends, asking excitedly, "Did you see it? Did you see the manatee?" They had seen only a dark shape in the water, and had feared it might be a shark. Only I had come face to face with the manatee. A few days later, a volunteer at the SC Aquarium told me that manatees are rarely seen this far north, and that meeting one is good luck. But I prefer what my aunt Sharon said: "That is a special blessing." 
     A blessing is exactly what it was, and a reminder. I thought of the plaque in the office of one of my seminary professors, inscribed with the words of Renaissance scholar Erasmus: "Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present." There was nothing I could have done to summon a manatee to me. I had absolutely no control over that rare and special moment. I had thought myself all alone in that stretch of ocean, but the reality is, I never am. There is an abundance of life all around, both beautiful and terrifying. For a few seconds, I was given a glimpse of what is always just beneath the surface. And from time to time, God surprises me in just that way, reminding me that there is nowhere I can be where God is not, no matter how lonely my way may seem at the time. Then my heart pounds, and I try to turn my head quickly enough to catch a glimpse, and I smile at the rarity of such a sighting. 
      It is a special blessing.


“Old friends... sat on a park bench like bookends.”   ~Paul Simon

     Well, maybe not on a park bench, but we’ve had some old friends sitting around this week. There’s something about old friends who remember you when you were young and idealistic and ready to change the world, when you were newly married,  when you were a young parent trying to figure out how to get to church on time with a newborn (or newborn twins!).  Friends who studied together, went to school together, who were in each other’s weddings.  Friends who in later years worked in a church together and lived through some serious church craziness together.
      And now we’re old friends, as in  “rocking the geezer shoes together” friends.  All those babies have graduated from college - although some are still in grad school.  Our friends are grandparents now (We’re not! Haha! They win the geezer prize!)   Some kids have moved back home - other kids are moving across the country.  So we sat around,  memories brushing the same years,  telling stories, remembering friends, looking up people on facebook, and just continuing the conversation.  
     That’s the blessing of old friends.  The conversation continued even though we hadn't been able to spend real time together for ten years or more. We just picked up the conversation and kept talking - as if there had been no time away.   The shared story was enough.
     The seminary roommates are both senior pastors now.   Debbie and I both made our way through grad school, raised kids and struggled with the balancing act of working professionally and being a minister’s wife.  We had grown, changed, experienced new things and yet...  in essence, as we found sitting on the back porch, we were still the same as we were all those years ago when the guys were in seminary and Debbie and I were newlywed working wives with the job of putting food on the table.  Old stories, new stories.   Paul Simon, again,  said it best in The Boxer....

“Now the years are rolling by me.  They are rockin’ even me
I am older than I once was and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual.”
No it isn’t strange.  After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same,
we are more or less the same.”


DB is away on vacation this week. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Days

Tidal Pool Reflections
     I love where different habitats meet, land and sea, beach and marsh, secular and spiritual. A naturalist once told me that magic happens at the boundaries between habitats, transition zones that offer a wealth of diversity in plant and animal life. Tidal pools for me are such places. I love it when I hit a beach walk just right to be treated to the sight of them, to have time to indulge in the personality of each dip in the land. I like how short lived tidal pools are, how some sport minnows and crabs. Others serve as wading grounds for shorebirds. 
     All offer fun discoveries if only the lap of warm water. 
     In a few hours, they will be gone. But then again, so will I. 


     Disclaimer: The above photo is not of me. At least, it's not the way I look. But it's close to the way I felt a few days ago. I had gone to Waterfront Park for my boot camp class, as I usually do three times a week. On this hot and steamy day, though, no one else showed up for class. The trainer gave me exercises to do, instructed me to do five rounds of them, and left. A few minutes later, all by myself, drenched in sweat, I was doing jumping jacks and I realized, "I'm that crazy person, that one person working out in spite of the elements, with no one coaching or watching." I always had great respect for that person, self-motivated enough to do such a thing. My eyes filled with tears as I felt that same respect for myself. Doing my third round of wind sprints, I thought I heard someone applauding. When I looked back, I saw that the sound was a little girl's flip-flops clapping at the pavement as she ran to keep up with me. I smiled. It was even better than applause.
     I loved that moment, when that girl and I were running side by side, pushing ourselves, reveling in the strength of our bodies. Girls are too often discouraged from such things, as I was reminded again by a review of the movie "Brave" on a Christian website.   Merida is labeled "not a charming, sweet young girl" because she stands up for herself and takes joy in her God-given abilities. In the fact-based movie "Chariots of Fire," Olympic athlete Eric Liddell said that when he ran, he felt God's pleasure. That's what I experienced during my solo workout in the park, and what I shared with a sprinting little girl. I hope I can give myself permission to pursue it more often, and I pray no one tries to take that joy away from her.

      It smells like summer.  As I head out for an early run, the smell of freshly cut grass and the rapid ch-ch-ch of the sprinkler in our neighbor's yard give me pause.  I smell the grass - and even smell the water from the old fashioned oscillating sprinkler.   It smells like every summer I've known.
     Of all our senses, smell seems to have the best memory of place. A wave of exhaust from a diesel bus hits me and suddenly I'm a student in London, standing in a queue waiting for the bus.  I don't need to open my eyes or even use my ears to know I'm at the ocean when the smell of the sharp salt air blows over me.  New sneakers smell like the beginning of school.   The scent of damp decaying leaves and pine tree resin take me back home hiking  in the mountains with my brothers. For my husband, the smell of Coppertone suntan lotion is summer in Myrtle Beach.  Charleston smells like pluff mud and old lace. The list goes on - a charcoal grill, the smell of rain in the distance, smoke from a campfire with friends...
     Writer Diane Ackerman refers to the sense of smell as the "mute sense, the one without words."  Smells are often hard to describe in words but are acutely connected to memory and place.  I imagine that we, in our sanitized and civilized world, have lost much of our animal sense of smell.  I watch a cat or a dog smell their way through a day and realize how much I'm missing - some of it possibly for the best.  But as we pay attention to the ordinary wonders in our lives, we need to remember not just to look and listen but to smell each moment.   Our moments and our memories will be so much richer for it.
     What smells like summer to you?