Pollinate Our Present with Positivity

“If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof.  If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.”–Thich Nhat Hanh


purple spring flower bloom
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There is an old country adage that states not every hole has a snake.  In other words, just because you saw a snake disappear into a hole doesn’t mean that every snake lives in a hole.  Nor, does it mean that every recess in the ground will be home to a snake. This simple proverb is a warning guarding against stereotypes and preconceived beliefs/judgements.


nature australia reptile snake
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As a resident of Ohio who works in WV, I have often heard my students and coworkers make fun of Ohio drivers.  


“Ms. Hill, my mom was so mad this morning because this car was driving so slow in the passing lane. And, guess where the car was from? (Insert dramatic pause here.) Ohio! Of course!”


Likewise, when I worked in Ohio, there were numerous jokes about Kentucky drivers, and when I worked in Kentucky, there were jokes about both Ohio and WV drivers, depending upon a person’s leanings. The point is there are always going to be both good and bad drivers in any given state–it all depends upon what you train your eye to see. 


close up photography of brown vulture
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Not far from where I live, there is a group of pay-fishing lakes that lay on the outside of a curvy section of the county road in which I often travel.  Between two of these lakes, beside one of the deepest parts of the biggest bend, is a tall, but dead and decaying tree. Quite often, congregating at the top of this inky dark rangy tree, is a venue of  buzzards. 


This past week, my college-age daughter, Madelyn, and I were driving along this twisty road on our way to a local walking path when I slowed the car to a halt in order to allow a buzzard to cross the road in front of me.  It ambled as if it were on Sunday stroll and heading back to the ground entry floor to its treetop apartment. Its beady eyes seemed to look at our car, then peck at something in the road, and finally made its way to the grassy curb, so we could continue.


Madelyn made some sort of comment about how cute the bird was, and she followed this comment up with a not-so-serious question as to whether or not we could take the bird home.  Being my ever-sarcastic self, I merely rolled my eyes at her query and continued driving. However, this was not the end of it.


Madelyn continued commenting on the cuteness of the bird.  Eventually I reminded her that this so-called cute bird was a buzzard.  She persisted to cling to her admiration.


“Don’t you see them nearly every day you drive by this tree?” I dryly asked.


“Yes, but I’ve never seen one up close. That makes it different.”  


Then, a song from her childhood began to echo throughout our vehicle, and Maddie switched from talking about the buzzard to singing a line from the song before regaling me with an anecdote about this once childhood TV star turned singer.


Part of the “beauty” of COVID-19 is spending more time with my artsy and analytical daughter, Madelyn, as well as our two cats, LJ, in Maddie’s arms, and Tippi-tail, beside her.


It would be days later as I watched my daughter “arting,” as she calls it, that I recalled her observations of the buzzard.   After two years of taking nothing but science courses–enough to already earn her a chemistry minor–Madelyn is now an art major–previously, her chosen minor.  Thus, her mind can switch back and forth with a fair amount of ease from the analytic to the creative. It’s kinda like being ambidextrous–only mentally.


I share this because now that she is back living at home in order to pursue art at the local university, Marshall, she has opened my eyes to a number of my “vision flaws.” For example, buzzards, Maddie would point out serve a very real and valuable purpose for the world–ridding the natural world of dead and decaying animals flesh.  “It’s all how you look at it, Mom.” While this is quite true, I began to see a lesson forming regarding the buzzard, but not in the same way Maddie was seeing it.


One of the very things I admire about buzzards is how high they soar and fly.  In fact, watching them circle and glide on the air over the hills surrounding my home is like observing an aeronautical ballet.  With all the height of their heavenly soarings, however, they still choose to look down in order to pick, peck, and probe dead flesh, yet with each flight, they nearly touch the face of God.


Buzzards fly so high, they nearly touch the face of God, and yet, they keep their gaze focus downward in order to feed upon fallen prey.


Meanwhile, the compact hummingbird possesses a likewise graceful flight pattern.  However, rather than setting its sights high, this aerodynamic creature flies closer to ground seeking blossoming sources of nectar (sweetness)–all the while pollinating flowering plants.  Hummingbirds’ vision focuses on the Divinely created colorful beauty of this world. Buzzards, on the other hand, ascend celestially, but ultimately, dive to dine on the deceased. Both birds are useful to the balance of the world, and yet, I think there is a lesson for those of us living in the new world of COVID-19.


black hummingbird selective focus photography
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We can choose to be like the buzzards, soaring close to the heavens, but choosing to continuously look down to feed upon fallen prey; or, we can choose to humbly fly closer to earth, not always visible to others, but nonetheless peacefully pollinating the earth with granules of positivity and hope.  In fact, the hummingbird’s present moment flight promotes a continuation of flowering plants for not only unknown passersby to enjoy, but also it creates additional food sources for future hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. 


Dear Reader, let us not be like the buzzard, soaring high on the wings of sanctimony, looking down in order to feed upon the geography of misfortune of others who may have experienced and/or unintentionally spread this illness.  Rather, may we fly humbly like the hummingbird, spreading hope like a hummingbird spreads the pollen of the spring flowers surrounding us. May our time at home be used as an opportunity to clear our vision, plant seeds of love through simple acts such as regularly checking in with family and friends via phone call, facetime, or texts.  Furthermore, may we acknowledge the sacrifice and labor of health-care providers and those employees of businesses who must continue to work in the public realm in order to provide us with provisions of food, supplies, and basic medicine needs. 


In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”  May we take care of this present moment as if we were touching the very face of the heavens from our own earth-bound homes.


Take care of the present moment as if touching the face of the heavens.


Where Flowers Bloom So Does Hope

“Blossom by blossom the spring begins.”–Algernon Charles Swinburne


“I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils; beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”–William Wordsworth


photo of yellow flowers
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A co-worker had joked about it in the previous week’s Friday staff meeting.


“Get ready!  Next week, there’s a full moon and it ends with Friday the 13th!”


We all laughed good-naturedly as there is something about full moons that, anecdotally, seems to bring out, well, the “high-spirited” side of students.  Of course, I’ve been in the education world long enough to know that all student behavior is cyclical, developmental, and dependent upon multiple variables, rather than the size of the moon. Still, we had no idea the real foreboding that my co-worker’s good-natured joke held  . . .




I was only minorly concerned, but throughout the weekend, as the evidence and data continued to mount, so did my concern.  By the beginning of the week, more and more states were affected by something called, COVID-19. What had once seemed like an other-worldly concern was unfolding into a harsh reality. Day-by-day, as this past week progressed, like dominoes in a line, more and more closings, including colleges, began to occur.  By Wednesday, when Marshall University decided to close for a minimum of three weeks, the pulse of Hungtington, WV, was palpable, especially at our school, one block away from MU. Thursday’s new reality became a, “Not an if, but when we close” scenario; and by Friday, with a decision from WV Governor Justice, plans began to swiftly be created for our school’s students, and the majority of staff, beginning the following Monday, to remain at home “indefinitely” as instruction would become virtual.  Life with COVID-19 was now part of the Tri-State area.


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Simultaneously, while all the news outlets were filled with stories of COVID-19’s proliferation, spring was silently and nonchalantly populating the landscape.  Daffodils displayed their buttery bonnet capped blossoms. Willow tree branches, that were already gradually unveiling their green, were now fully encumbered with vividly green leaves.  Long and lithe brambles of delicate, golden forsythia waved hello in the shifting winds of the week. Throughout town and countryside alike, seemingly snow-capped trees expanded their blossomy branches.  Furthermore, spring’s chorus could be heard through the cheerful morning birdsong and the goodnight tune of the spring peepers. Meanwhile the dipping and darting return flight of the brilliant blue birds added another harmonious line in spring’s song.


beautiful bird bloom blossom
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Those with whom I shared conversations about spring’s renewal seemed to concur that spring’s annual showing was early for the Tri-State area.  I thought about this as I walked outside this past Saturday, taking in the surrounding spring sights. I wondered if there was a lesson in this seemingly premature unfolding of nature’s glory.  Clearly, trees, flowers, shrubs, and even animals do not adhere to a calendar, much less a specific schedule. These heavenly creations only sense when the conditions are right. With winter’s mild temperatures, the large quantities of rain throughout the winter months, and the increasing amount of sunlight, nature took its cue to raise the curtain for spring’s first act.  And so it is with COVID-19 . . . 



The conditions have been right and the evolution of a new way of living and talking continues expanding its reach like the brambly branches of forsythia, blowing in the ever-shifting direction of the spring winds. One blossom, so to speak, begets another, and another, and soon enough, just as the forsythia began to reveal its blossoms one branch at time, COVID-19 has begun to send out branches of a virus around the world, blooming into pandemic proportions.  Hand-washing, social distancing, quarentines, and even toilet paper are now words worthy of near-like worship and focus.  




Meanwhile spring keeps on shining–continuing to beautify the world at a time when chaos, stress, tension, and concern seem to overburgeon our lives like those spring blossoms seem to over-burgeon trees.  Sweet spring, be it ever-so-early, is signaling us to blossom into our fullest potential in the midst of this crisis–becoming the best versions of ourselves. We cannot fall into an, “us vs them” mentality, rather like spring, we must use these conditions to unite us to navigate together.  


It is the fullness of the spring orchestra–the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the grass, the birds, the peepers, and so forth–that dresses-up nature, marking the end of gray winter months.  Thus, it must be with the fullness of our humanity, our compassion, our ingenuity, our hardiness, and well, a good dose of patience and humor that must likewise band together for the symphony of survival.  


hello spring handwritten paper
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I sincerely believe that each of us is a creation of God, filled with a Divine light.  Let us shine those inner lights and unite them as one large flame of hope. Let us take our cue from Mother Nature using these conditions to bloom, allowing us to spring into action together with each person playing her or his harmonious part for the renewal of all.


Lady Bird Johnson had it right when she said, “Where flowers bloom so does hope.”  May hope bloom in your heart today. 


heart shape with hand
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A Prayer of Light

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.”–Ben Sweetland     

“Be the reason someone smiles.  Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.”–Roy T. Bennett


It took a moment to register.  How long it took, I am unsure. I suspect it was a gradual awareness, albeit, a confused recognition clouded by sleep. 


Light.  Why was it so bright?  Who turned the light on? What is going on? Where is the light coming from?  I gradually forced my eyelids slightly apart. The source of the cheerful brightness seemed to be coming from my right.  I closed my eyes again. Tried to drift back into that blissful blanket of sleep, but the radiance would not be ignored.


Gradually, another modest moment of awareness, pried my resistant eyes marginally apart.  Turning to the right with heavy-headed effort, I blinked back the boldness of the intruder to realize it was nearly a full moon.  Bathing the bedroom with its silvery, bold shine, alertness remained with me long enough to take in the preciseness with which its light penetrated the darkness, chasing away the shadows.  As sleep drew me back into her comforting arms, I sensed my mind nudging me to recognize the moonlit depiction was important.


Upon waking, the image of the nocturnal illumination continued to gnaw at the edges of my brain as I made my way through my morning rituals.  Coffee in hand, I sat down with my laptop, shivering off the morning chill, and clicked open a document titled, “Writing ideas.” Reading through the snippets of phrases, I mentally touched each one as if I were a child walking down the plush animal aisle at a toy store.  Metaphorically, I gave a squeeze here, a rub there, a brushing back and forth of the velveteen on another. Then, I read two quotes, and I knew their words were working together with the middle of the night spotlight to offer me a lesson that needed written.


The day of the moonlight wake-up call was also the same date for the March run/walk of the Ashland, KY wear blue: run to remember community, held the first Saturday of each month at 8:00 am in Central Park.  For months, I had not been able to participate in this worthy cause due to other commitments, so I was grateful for the opportunity to once more have the time to support this group.  This local chapter is part of a national nonprofit that, according to their website, “honors the service and sacrifice of the American military . . . creating a living memorial, ‘For the fallen. ‘For the fighting,’ and ‘For the families.’”. 


As we circled up to read the names of 24 soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice on this same weekend date since 2000, I shivered.  Yes, it was a reaction to the 30 degree temperatures, but it was also a visceral sensation upon hearing and reading the names of men and women, who, if still alive, would most likely be younger than me and are now absent from the lives of countless moms, wives, daughters, sisters, and other family members.  Shuttering as I read the names I was given, I wondered if they knew we still remembered them. I further pondered what their families would think if they knew we honored their loved one by name . . .



With those names etched in our hearts and before setting off, each person in our small group encouraged one another to reach their personal goal for the day.  Throughout the three laps, runners and walkers alike, continued to uplift one another. In fact, even local bystanders, out for their own morning exercise, also volunteered smiles, kind words, and even a joke or two . . .


“You better run harder, she might catch you.”


“Keep it up.”


“I see you’re still at it.  That’s the way.”


“We’ve almost got this.”




While the words, in and of themselves, were nothing special.  It was the way in which they were spoken and the smile that was proffered with each audible emission that made a positive impact. I felt heartened and part of something greater than myself as I thought of those names.


Driving to Ashland, I was full of doubt, self-deprecating thoughts, and mentally listing every reason why I should not and would not be able to complete the three laps around the park.  How could my small effort even compare to the sacrifice of the men and women whose lives we were honoring. However, once there, I felt a small flicker; and though that spark was not big enough to completely rid my brain of self-doubt, those motivating smiles, words, and most of all, the names of those fallen men and women, brightened the path helping to overcome the shadows of self-defeating thought.   




To come full circle in conclusion . . .


I now understand that my mind used the image of the bold moonlight to serve as a reminder of the need to offer light to others.  May we shine through with our thoughts, words, and actions. May we overlook the ugliness that all too often permeates our own thoughts, vies for our attention in the media, and sometimes fills our conversations. Instead, may our smiles be given freely. May we believe in the innate goodness of humanity. May we offer love, gentleness, and kindness to all with whom we come into contact– even to those who seem the most unlovable.   


And, finally, Dear God, may I continue to grow and learn, so that one day, perhaps, I, too, might light the way for another fellow traveler struggling in the darkness.


Winter Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of Prayer

“If you want to see sunshine, you have to weather the storm,”–Frank Lane


“O sunlight!  The most precious gold to be found on earth.”–Roman Payne




“How do people live in Seattle?” I asked one of my co-workers?


“Or, Portland?” she added.


“No wonder our kids are so sick,” added another co-worker, referring to the large number of students that continue to be absent due to illness.


“We need a good frost, a solid freezing to kill off things, but we just haven’t had it this winter,” the first added in response.


We all made our way down the short school hallway, each exiting into our own classroom before the arrival of our students. 


abstract art background blue sky
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Walking into mine, I made my way to my desk, and clicked on school email.  There, in my in-box, were numerous emails from sick students or parents of ill students asking for missed assignments, requesting clarification, or submitting make-up work.  I was struggling to keep up with the daily correspondence as well as keep up with all the other behind-the-scenes work and preparation as well as maintain the demands of the daily schedule.  Sighing, I turned to look out my classroom windows that ran almost the entire length of one wall. Light snow was blustering about, but it was expected to return to the rain that we had seen throughout the week.  Another day of gray and gloom. With one more audible sigh, I turned, and began setting up for the day.


Surprisingly, towards the end of the school day, a bit of milky sunlight began to break through the pervasive dullness. In fact, the following day, Saturday, abundant sunshine filled the heavens; and despite strong wind gusts and frosty temperatures, I could feel the positive effects of the sun’s rays.  The metaphorical cloud of despair that seemed to permeate my outlook for the past few weeks, began to–momentarily, at least–thaw.




“Not again,” I bemoaned to my husband, John, later that same day. “Another week with mostly rainy weather!” 


John and I were on our way to dinner to celebrate his birthday.  I had just clicked off the weather app on my phone to check out the forecast for the following week as the day’s dousing of sunshine made me hopeful, and perhaps a bit greedy, for more sunshine in the following week.


“It’s supposed to be heavy at times too.  Another chance of flooding,” he added with a voice full of disappointment.


I let his words sink in feeling the weight of disappointment clutching at my chest.   




Sunshine, sweet cheery friend, why are you so fickle this season?  


Seasonal affective disorder has never felt so real to me as it has this winter.  Is it my age? Is it in my head, and like the pains of childbirth, I have simply forgotten how I felt last winter?  Surely, I cannot not be the only one feeling this way as February winds down? Based on conversations I’ve been sharing with co-workers, I don’t think so, but maybe we’re more sensitive souls as we work with hormonal middle school students.  And yet, I have participated in countless conversations with others outside of the confines of our school building who share similar thoughts. Still . . . 




Where are you sunshine?  You tease me with a day or two of golden joy, only to hide for days, even weeks, at a time.  Please come back to me and stay. Have I been taking you for granted? Have I not admired you enough? Have I not given enough appreciation for your satisfying solar sensations?


Then, it hit me. I have abandoned specific routines that typically nourish my soul.  However, my morning meditation and prayer practice has fallen by the wayside. I have further abandoned  my morning moment of daily devotional reading. Daily yoga practice has likewise been forsaken. These morning rituals have been supplanted by “to do” lists and hitting the snooze button, one too many times, and/or setting a later morning alarm because I am so desperate for more sleep.  While I do need sleep, and I never seem to get enough of it, my overall need for rest is not going to be solved by getting 15-20 more minutes of sleep. Thus, perhaps it is connecting with the Divine through my spiritual practices that I am truly missing–my inner source of sunshine. Insert face into palm!




The day before writing this piece,  I encountered a woman at a local grocery store.  I was departing the store through the designated “exit,” and an unknown woman was attempting to enter through it.  I stepped aside to allow her to come in, and I encouraged her step in out of the sharp wind. She smiled and apologized.  


“I know I shouldn’t come in through the exit.”  


 I smiled at her in reply, confessing that I often do the same thing.  It occurred to me then that the store doesn’t mind how you get inside their premises as long as you keep coming back when you run low or out of their products. Hmm . . .  




How similar is that to our own faith habits?  God doesn’t mind the way in which we enter our faith walk, we just have to keep returning for the love and the lessons that are offered.  Otherwise, we will always run low, or in my case, run on fumes–nearly depleted of all inner joy. In fact, Divine Providence, I continue to observe, has a way of continuously placing the same lessons in my life until I am finally ready to learn.  While I am not by any means stating that the dismal weather was purposely put into our local winter weather system solely for me to learn this lesson, I do realize now that it was/is my perception of this season, created by my depleted tank and lack of faith habits, that was/is the main source for my personal cloud of suffering, rather than the actual weather.  


Winter weather must be endured, or spring would not smell so sweet.  However, by returning to my faith routine, the ones that I know nurture my soul, I can begin to, well, weather the downpours of life’s seasonal and metaphorical changes.  I believe I see a forecast for the return of earlier starts to my day with morning peaks of devotional reading, prayer/meditation, and perhaps even five minutes of yoga.  May they return me to the Ultimate Source of personal sunshine.


grayscale photography of man sitting on grass field
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