Keep Pedaling Through Life; Lesson from Camp Magis 2019

            “In the silence of the heart God speaks.”—Mother Teresa

 

            “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”—Pope Francis

 

 

 

           The wind whipped the remaining strands of my tangled mop of hair that wasn’t covered by the helmet, which, by the way, was continuously pinching the skin under my chin.  I chose to ignore the minor skin irritation; and, instead, embrace the sensation of freedom that comes with riding a bike out of doors. In fact, I grinned from ear to ear feeling like a teenager again . . .

 

            Sweat dripped down my face. 

 

            “Please stay upright, Steph.  Now is not the time to crash. There is a car behind you.”

 

            “Oh Lord, I’ve got to stand.  Pedal harder, Steph. You’ve got to get up this hill.”

 

            Lungs and thighs burning.

 

            “Get up and around the bend of this hill, Steph.  Come on.”

 

            Heart pounding in my ears.  Lungs in my throat.

 

            “Oh my heavens, are my shorts stuck to my butt from sweat?  Is my underwear showing? Oh please, no God, don’t let them be showing.”

 

            Heaving breaths.  Legs trembling.  

           

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Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

 

          Random lyrics from a childhood record that my siblings and I used to play in my grandparents’ attic ran a loop in my mind—one word at a time, matching each stroke of the pedal.

 

“Just. Think. You. Can.  And. Know. You. Can. Just. Like. The. Engine. That. Could.”

 

            Legs, pushing harder on the down stroke of each pedal, slowed, as the peak of the hill bend grew closer.

 

            “No, no, no, Steph.  You can’t stop now. The bike will topple over.  You. Will. Be. Run. Over. By. The. Car. Behind. You. Don’t. Stop. Now.”

 

            Hands gripped the handlebars so tightly; I could feel the bubble of sweat trapped below each palm.  

 

“Must. Hold. On. For. Dear. Life.”

 

            “I am at the top.  Thank you, God. I made it.  Here I go. Oh, Steph, don’t go too fast.  You could topple over and that car is still behind you.”

            

          Wind blowing through my long, youthful tresses that were bleached from summer sun; the perspiration on my face and limbs drying from the rush of air that was the downhill flight.

 

            “FREE . . .DOM! Feel it, Steph.  Total freedom from it all. Oh Lord, don’t get carried away though; you could wreck.  Car is still behind you! Oh, why won’t that car pass me?”

 

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Photo by Haydan As-soendawy on Pexels.com

 

          I shake my head out of the Solida Road revere of my August bike ride home from high school band camp that I regularly made during the early weeks of August before another new school year had officially begun.  I am snapped back to the reality that I am no longer a teenager, not even close; and for a moment, I feel a knot of restriction in my throat threatening to release a spillway of emotion for which I did not have time.  

 

 

          I was at Camp Magis for heaven’s sake, chaperoning St. Joseph Catholic Middle School 7th graders on their annual retreat; and right in front of me, a wreck was unfolding as two girls’ bikes accidentally collided on the rough terrain of the off-road trail. 

 

          “Time to shift gears, and not on this mountain bike you’re currently riding, Steph, get back to your current reality. Be an adult, for heaven’s sake, and help those two giggling girls get their bikes upright!”

 

 

          Bike riding was only one of the activities planned for seventh grade students during their three day visit to Camp Magis, located at the Mary Help of Christians Pastoral Center situated in the sloping valley just outside of the Kumbrabow State Forest and on the literal edge of the Monongahela National Forest between the communities of Elkwater and Huttonsville.  From archery to rock wall climbing; from canoeing to swinging on a zip line-like contraption; from a focused, mindful prayer-walk to a late night scavenger hunt; and from a morning prayer service to an evening mass, Camp Magis focuses on students experiencing fellowship, prayer, and service to others through an adventure-filled camp-like atmosphere. Students get out of the classroom environment and away from their screens; and spend their days filled with plenty of fresh mountain air, exercise, and the glory that is the natural world.

 

 

 

          Honestly, it was physically exhausting, but it was worth it as the other chaperones, along with John, my husband, (also at teacher at SJCMS) and me, were able to observe the students interacting with one another and their faith in new ways that were equal parts challenging and pleasurable.  By the end of each day, there was no convincing the kids that the lights needed turned off at 10:30; they were ready for a good night’s sleep. Of course, so were all of the chaperones!

 

 

          While Camp Magis is offered for all seventh grade students enrolled in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia Catholic Schools, John and I also reaped spiritual benefits from the experience in spite of the always present fatigue as we were as deeply immersed in the activities as our students.  It was, in fact, that nagging, age-related weariness that required us to rely on our faith to get us through.  

 

          Additionally, Camp Magis provided  a continual reminder that our life together has, and is, rooted in service to others.  The very motto of the camp, “Go, do not be afraid, and serve,” truly emphasizes what is required, not only of educators, but of all humanity at this moment in time.  We cannot, and will not, survive, much less thrive, if we do not conquer fear, step outside the boundaries of our personal comfort zones, and offer good to the world.

 

          During those long ago days spent biking to and from band camp, I had to conquer my fears—fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of flipping my bike. (Never squeeze the left hand brake first, Steph, that’s the front wheel.  Always squeeze right hand first when braking.)  I may not have realized it then, just like it may not have dawned on the students at Camp Magis, but I was relying on my faith to get me through those numerous, and dare I say, treacherous, bike rides.  While I wasn’t, per se, in service to others; I recognize, as I look back on it now, (just as I hope my students will do), that those bike rides were an important step in learning self-reliance, overcoming challenges, and deepening my belief, and faith, that something Greater than myself, would get me safely across that four-lane intersection, up that curvy hill, and around the sharply bent, downhill slope.

 

 

          Now, as I boldly face the early stages of aging, the physical and mental demands that not only my career still dictates, but also that life in general requires, I choose to continue to keep going, to keep pedaling up that metaphorical hillside.  I choose to keep serving others through teaching, writing, and creating—however small my service may be, it is my life-bike to ride. Fear tries, and will continue to attempt, to dig its claws into me. Some days, I swear I can feel it sinking its talons into my heart, contracting my throat, and ripping into my stomach; however, I choose to persist, persevere, and well, keep on pedaling.

 

 

            And in the end, when I am coasting down that last hill, embracing the last gasp of breeze, may I still not be afraid, but may I know that it was worth every push of the pedal.  

 

          Remember, Dear Reader, there is joy in the push. Pedal on life, pedal on.

 

 

 

Reflection Revelations

            “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways . . .If you want to make the world a better place/ Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”—As performed by Michael Jackson; written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett

 

            “Yesterday I was so clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”—Rumi

 

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Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

 

            I can still remember the first time it happened as if it were yesterday.  Since then, it has happened on several more occasions, each one occurring as if it had never before happened.

 

            “What do I have on my forehead?” I will think as I catch a quick glimpse of my reflection in my bathroom mirror.  

 

            “What do I have near my eye, my cheek, my mouth . . .?”  

 

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

            It’s always the same surprise.  At first, I think I am seeing dirt, and I begin rubbing vigorously with a saliva-wet finger—as if I do not have a faucet only inches away from my fingers.  When it doesn’t disappear under such spirited efforts, I then switch to the soap and water directly below the mirror and renew my efforts. About halfway into the motion of soaping up the so-called soiled skin, it hits me like a red round gym ball smacking the side of my head. Arg!  It’s a wrinkle, or two, or seven.

 

            That’s when I go through the next round of self-deprecating thoughts.  

 

            “You look at yourself every day in the mirror to brush teeth, wash face, apply make-up, fix hair . . ..  How on earth did you NOT notice these wrinkles before? Are you blind?”

 

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            The facts are, Dear Reader, I don’t wear contacts, I’ve been far-sighted since I was a kid, and I am the proud owner of aging eyes with an astigmatism; so of course, I don’t see my wrinkles when I am at the bathroom mirror as I typically don’t yet have on my glasses for the day. 

 

            Ok, well, that’s not entirely true.  I typically have my glasses on when I am brushing my teeth—which is twice per day, but let’s be honest.  At the age of nearly 54, I do not spend much time truly gazing at myself. In fact, while I may see my reflection, I don’t really see me.  My mind is typically off meandering around the hundreds of thoughts scattered throughout my cerebrum.  Still, at my age, it should not be any great shock or surprise to discover wrinkles are mapping out my face like the tattered, overused roadmap that my husband and I once kept in our vehicles in the years before driving apps. 

 

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            In fact, recently, due to my aging eyes, and a remodel, I now have a small magnifying mirror attached to my bathroom wall near the vanity mirror.  Talk about a shock to the system! At first, it was all fun and games because I could actually see to pluck my eyebrows, apply eye makeup, and floss my teeth.  The party quickly ended, however, when it also began to reveal how deeply those crows feet, laugh lines, worry lines, and smile lines have really embedded into my face like lines on wet sand made with a stick.  What the heck? When did all of this happen? Why didn’t someone tell me? You mean, I’ve been walking around feeling like I am 20, or at the very least, 30 years old on the inside, but actually looking like my real age on the outside?  I’ve been lying to myself, and no one had the courage to tell me? Clearly, I have no real friends or honest loved ones!

 

            And so it, with criticism.  Hard, cold, biting, slashing, tearing, stomach wrenching critiques offered up freely by others.   Speaking of being whacked with a red gym ball, criticism can also be like that. It seems to come out of nowhere when we are not prepared or looking for it—like the way I felt the first time I really gazed in my magnifying mirror and saw the truth of my aging face.

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            Proclamations of censure seem to happen with great frequency in pop culture, and at this point in time, they almost seem comical given their sources.  However, when it is personally delivered and received via special delivery by an important person in one’s life, it is not so funny. Raw emotions, wounded feelings, and even misunderstandings are often tilled up like a fallow field of wasteland as a result of these personal bombshells.  What is a person to do at such times?

 

            According to wise words I recently read, one has two options.  The first alternative is to make the realization that the person must not truly see you, your true heart, and your true intentions. Understand that their vision may be a reflection of their own self-judgement or insecurities.  Accept it with empathy for their suffering, and then move on with the knowledge that you have actually learned more about the messenger.

 

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            In contrast, the second option is to think of the critique as mirror magnifying and reflecting an actual smudge of dirt upon your proverbial face that needs to be cleaned.  Of course, you can ignore it, and lie to yourself, as I have done for years regarding the wrinkles on my face. Then, there is the option of fighting back, punching the mirror, and shattering its reflection, hurting both the person, your metaphorical fist, and possibly risk destroying any opportunity to amend the relationship.  Finally, you can view it for the truth it is revealing. Thus, creating an opportunity to wipe the dirt off, and challenging you to begin to search for ways to change, seizing the opportunity for a more fertile awareness in which a new seed has been planted, offering you a chance to learn, grow, and perhaps even improve. 

 

          Here’s to magnifying mirrors.  May we embrace the true reflections they reveal.

 

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A Penny For Your Thoughts

        Find a penny, pick it up, All the day, You’ll have good luck!  Give it to a faithful friend, Then your luck will NEVER end!—Unknown

 

There it was, glinting in the bright morning sunlight, although not as lustrous as it once had been.  The blacktop had recently been paved, and from the appearance of its copper face, it appeared as if some of that pavement had covered it as well.  I started to walk on past, but like the siren call, I could not ignore it.  The face seemed to implore me to bend down.  Must. Be. Picked. Up.

 

Hunched over, the weight of my bag pushing me even lower, I could see the year.  1977, huh?  I think I was in 6thgrade or 7thgrade when it was made.  I had a total of two albums then:  Queen’s, Night at the Operaand Kiss’s, Rock and Roll Over. Additionally, I possessed one eight track tape, Fleetwood Mac’s, Rumors,that played on some portable 8-track player that I had somehow won for selling something, but I don’t recall what the somethingwas; and, I was saving my lunch money change and babysitting money to buy the Saturday Night Feversoundtrack, from the soon-to-be released movie that I was absolutely forbade to see. Bell-bottom jeans were on their way out. While straight-legged jeans and Annie Hall clothes, would soon be all the rage in teen fashion. Why all this should pass through my mind in an instance, I’ll never know.

 

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The words, “In God We Trust,” were fairly crusted over with black; however, the word, “Liberty” was fairly recognizable. Abraham Lincoln’s image was marred in spots by the blacktop as well, but he was still identifiable. I decided to give in to my instincts and pick it up.

 

I thought about giving it to one of my clients; and now, based upon my research, I wish I would have.  However, I decided not to give it away because it seemed so tarnished.  (See what I did there?)  Still I felt thankful and even a bit giddy after finding it.  Perhaps, it was the silly memories it triggered me to recall; maybe it was the bright sunshine that imbued my soul with joy; then again, maybe it was the feeling of luck—luck for me, and luck for the rescued to penny to continue on another day, rather spend the rest of its life doomed as part of a parking lot.

 

Did I have a good day on that Saturday?  Absolutely!  Did good fortune follow after finding it?  Well, not exactly, but, hey, I am healthy, alive, able to work, and can spend time with my family—I’d say that’s fortune enough.

 

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Photo by David McBee on Pexels.com

 

Still, finding that penny inspired my curiosity. Why do we say, “Find a penny, pick it up, all the day, you’ll have good luck?”  Week’s later, relaxed and out of town for the weekend, I took time to indulge my inquisitiveness. What I learned was quite interesting—assuming my sources were reliable.

 

First of all, there’s more to the saying than I knew.  I had never learned the rest of the saying, “Give it to a faithful friend, then your luck will NEVER end!”  Who knew?  I should have given it away as my gut had told me to do!

 

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However, before that, I also should have paused andthanked God for my blessings. According to several sources, only a face-up penny possesses the words, “In God We Trust,” which is serves as a reminder that we must trust and rely upon God for everything in our life. Therefore, picking up the penny, pausing long enough to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving before giving the penny away, is key to increasing positive fortune in one’s life.

 

It would appear that the whole, “Find a penny, pick it up,” practice might stem from ancient times.  Folklore has it that metals, such as copper, were considered gifts from gods. If one found something metal, such as a copper coin, that object was a gift, sent from the gods, to protect the finder from evil

 

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Photo by Carlos Pernalete Tua on Pexels.com

 

However, the picking up a penny found in one’s path can also be traced to ancient Ireland and parts of Northern Europe.  Long ago, in this area of the world, it was once believed that pennies belonged to fairies, leprechauns and pixies.  When one found a penny during this time period, the person was instructed to spit upon the ground where the penny once lay.  Then, the coin was to be tossed into nearby foliage or bushes, so the little creatures could have it.  It was further believed that when the little creatures witnessed a human doing this, they would provide this person much luck and fortune.

 

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Photo by Annie Japaud on Pexels.com

 

There are other interesting, so-called rules regarding the finding of pennies.  For example, a penny found tails up should be turned over and left for another person to find. This promotes good karma to both the person who turned the penny over, and the person who finds the head-up penny.  Along this same line of logic, supposedly, if you see a penny tails up, and do not flip it to the heads up side for someone else, bad luck will befall you.

 

Another nugget oddity that I found was the belief that if you see a person drop a penny, you must return it to them if it lands heads up; otherwise, you’re attempting to steal their luck.  If, however, the penny lands head-down, then it is your job to flip it over.  Thus, changing your fate, the dropper’s fate, and the ultimate finder’s fate!

 

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A few writers went so far as to offer this sage wisdom: Do not flip a found tails up penny, wait 5 seconds or whatever, and then pick it up. Good fortune does not work that way!  These were also the same writers who further believed that when you do find a heads up penny, it must go some place significant, not just in your wallet or pocket. In fact, one source said the found, heads up penny, must be placed on, near, or with some area of your life in which you hope to flourish or increase.

 

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Then, there were these quips about pennies:

 

          “Put a penny wrapped in paper, keep it to avoid your debtors.”

 

          “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—and a lucky penny in the shoe!”

 

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Finally, I found that some people believe that a penny represents oneness (Get it, one) with God—the unity of the spirit and the body—reminding the finder of their ultimate afterlife.  Several of these writers went on to add that, if, however, one finds a dime, it is thought to be sent from a loved one who has passed away letting you know that you are loved and valued.

 

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Regardless of which belief(s) you wish to embrace on finding a coin, may your day, Dear Reader, be filled with good fortune, much luck, and perhaps, a random coin or two.  Just remember, I shared this advice with you, so don’t be a miser, and keep it all to yourself!

          Hmm . . .maybe I’ll start leaving random, heads-up pennies on the ground for others.  After all, I can now fully say that the penny I found gave me the good fortune of added knowledge! Who knows what a penny could provide for someone else?

 

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Shining Light on the Golden Present

          “There is nourishment like bread that feeds one part of your life and nourishment like light for another.  There are many rules about restraint with the former, but only one rule for the latter–Never be satisfied.  Eat and drink the soul substance, as a wick does with the oil it soaks in. Give light to the company.”—Rumi

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

          My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces.  From the center of my soul, I felt the shards of accusations, regret, and all those unsaid words exploding from within my body and moving in an outward trajectory piercing my flesh—my mistakes visible for all to see.  The car of the past, in which I was the driver, was rushing, speeding, racing, and breaking all speed limits–accelerating too quickly to control. The vehicle of the present was dead ahead. The impact was coming. It could not be avoided. I attempted to bear down on the brakes, but the collision was inescapable.  Bracing, knowing it was coming, the impact, the pain, the unavoidable blood, carnage, and most likely, death, was seconds away . . . 

 

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          Gasping for air, as if fighting to stay afloat after being capsized into a tumultuous, tempestuous sea, I sat bolt upright in my bed feeling my heart race, sweat dripping down my neck, back, chest, and arms, wondering if I was really alive.  Gradually respiration resumed a more regular rhythm, allowing my heart to pound with less voracity. The cloak of darkness that is 2:00 am enveloped me with little solace. Emotional rubble from the impact once more pierced my heart as if stepping barefoot onto a tile floor covered with the remains of a fractured light bulb.  It was as if the metaphorical bulb of what seemed like a well-intended, great idea had suddenly shattered, leaving only a black hole from which there was no escape.

 

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

 

          Days later, the waves of emotion, with little to no warning, would heave, pitch, and swell with its nauseating and dizzying effects.  Was there no Benadryl for emotional sickness? Was there no salve for the raw and blistered soul?

 

          “But what is visible?  The golden present. Think of the golden present, sow what is necessary, what is right.  Sow good thoughts, sow good deeds . . .”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

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          Wait, what?  I read and reread those words clinging to them with great wonder as if I were Charlie with the winning ticket to the Wonka chocolate factory. The golden present.  The. Golden. Present.

 

          Riding the raft of remorse and repentance did nothing.  Nothing to change the past. Nothing to affect the outcome.  It was what it was. But the golden present, the winning ticket, was doing what was right, now. This is what could be changed.   This is what could be done, and it began in my head and my heart. 

 

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The message written inside a piece of Dove chocolate that I recently found.

 

 

          The soul needs nourished; and, one must soak in that nourishment as a wick in an oil lamp in order to give light to others as Rumi once wrote.  This notion reminds me of what airlines advise parents: In the case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on first in order to effectively help your children. Feed the soul and the mind with words of encouragement.  Focus more on the positive, let go of the mind’s desire to attach to the negative. Seek, read, listen to words, scripture, and other texts that offer timeless wisdom and nuggets of valued truth in order to train and guide the mind, fueling the soul.  

 

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As seen on a post on Instagram.

 

          More importantly, judge less, beginning with myself.  If I am to be transparent, I have battled with self-worth throughout my life.  I have spent countless energy, especially during my younger years, saying, “If only I could be better; if only I could be good; if only I were more like this person or that person . . . then ___________ (fill in the blank) would happen.”  It was, and, even today, at times, the erroneous belief of my ego that my actions could control, influence, or otherwise affect the outcomes of others’ actions, beliefs, or behaviors.  

 

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As posted on Instagram by heartcenteredrebalancing.

 

        Perhaps, it is the curse of my empathic nature.  Due to the fact, I can often sense others’ emotional energy, I sometimes have urges to fix, fight, or flee from people.  It can a bit manipulative, if I think about it–trying to alter the actions of another. Therefore, it seems to me that the proverbial broken light bulb of the past now needs replaced with a new light, one that is brighter, more golden, as it were.

 

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          I cannot change my past thoughts, words, and actions.  However, I have been given the present, and a new light shines on this realization.  It is up to me to stop dwelling on the past and begin sowing seeds in a new way. Like an organic farmer giving up fertilizers and pesticides that often deplete the soil of nourishment, I, too, must put aside poisonous ways. I must continually till and remove the weeds of past behaviors, including judgment that inevitably will rise with regularity, threatening to overtake the seeds of positivity.  It will not be easy; and, change will not occur lineally, as I would prefer, but rather, in fits, starts, and spurts with setbacks in between. In fact, the best advice can be found in Rumi’s words—“Never be satisfied.” 

           May my life become as the wick for which Rumi spoke—properly fueled, illuminating in the golden present, in order to offer that light to others.

 

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As posted on Instagram by spiritualist_within

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightswimming: September is Coming Soon

            “Nightswimming deserves a quiet night . . .

            Turned around backwards so the windshield shows . . .

            Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse . . .

            Still, it’s so much clearer . . .”  lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

            R.E.M.

 

 

 

 

           I heard the stirring sounds of oboe and strings.  Immediately my hand, momentarily, went to my heart as my mind raced towards the youthful summers of my past.  Reaching down for my phone as I drove, I waited until I reached a stoplight before snapping a picture of the song title.  Later, I would use that picture as a reminder to not only add the song to one of my Spotify playlists, but also as a potential source of inspiration for a later written piece. 

 

 

 

 

            I continued listening, and even replayed it later, a few more times, allowing random images of the past to flash through the movie screen that is my mind’s eye.  Nonsensical was the order as memories from all different ages hit me: The scent of green beans and sliced tomatoes; the summer soundtrack of cricket chatter offering background sounds to a quiet conversation with one of the neighborhood boys as we sat on his family’s wooden rail fence, seemingly late into the dark of the night, until my mom came to the front door to call me inside; the distinct metallic resonance of a water hose spraying car hubcaps on a sunny Saturday morning; hot rays of sun penetrating any exposed skin; the taste of Honeycomb cereal—a special treat courtesy of grandparents; kickball games and childhood tempers; family gatherings and church picnics; vacation bible school and late morning wake-ups; summer jobs and money to burn; roller skating and record playing; The Midnight Special and the discovery of album oriented radio (AOR); ice cream, French fries, corn on the cob, family treats of bottled pop guzzled alongside my three siblings to the sounds of music, laughter, bickering, and, yes, much to our Mom’s disapproval, burping contests . . .sweet, savory, summer.

 

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Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

 

            By August, although though I would have never admitted it aloud, I was a bit bored and semi-ready for the routine and social aspect school brought with it.  It was always a new start, as ripe and juicy with possibilities as a July watermelon. Usually it began with several sleepless nights filled with anxious wonderings regarding teachers, classmates, classes, workload, and of course, the never-ending, but unspoken worry of my youth, “Will I fit in this year?”  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Updated clothes, newly sized trendy shoes (or at least as updated and on-trend as we could afford), unblemished notebooks, sharpened pencils classically scented of wood and lead; plus a new tube of bubblegum Bonnie Bell Lip smacker for pockets, and a pink bottle full of Love’s Baby Soft Cologne—these were the shiny, sparkly implements waiting to be used on that first day.  Inevitably the bus stop would be chaotic and competitive, the bus ride smelly and hot, schools halls redolent with scents of newly applied floor wax and cooked cabbage or other such malodorous vegetable. Then, there was always that first step into the classroom, the moment of truth, the feeling of dread, or hope. Who was your teacher; and, more importantly (at least at the time), who was in your class?

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Crossing the threshold, summer’s enchantment crumbled like chips in the bottom of a foil bag, and the new reality began to itch slightly as if bitten by one mosquito only to later mercilessly feel the irritation of numerous bites waking you in the middle of the night.  This was what happened, or so it seemed, between day one and day six of school. First days made it all seem manageable, fun, and even lighthearted, followed by homework, tests, and requirements that started building in crescendo-like fashion until finally reaching the climax at the end of a grading period, only to begin once more with the next.

 

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           And yet, in between, in between the raindrops of assignments, and storms of essays and exams, there were those moments, those times, when you just knew, just felt you were either going to rock this world or be crushed by the world; and this unknowing, somehow felt exhilarating, tantalizing, and even breathtaking. The world was filled with an endless array of possibilities, potential, and even dangerous, but tempting, pitfalls. It all seemed right there, alive, and at your fingertips for the taking.  Drunk on youth, heady as it was.

 

 

 

 

            Looking back through the rear windshield of time, I sometimes grow nostalgic for that spine tingling longing that is uniquely part of youth.  Oh, it’s not that I am dissatisfied with my life. Quite the contrary. It is merely that I truly did not know what I had when I was young; but then again, none of us truly do until we are years removed it.  

 

            If only I had known to slow down, savor the moment.  If only I had known to really sip from the cup that is youth and relish every drop of its intoxicating effects.  Ah, but such is life. . .

 

 

 

 

             Perhaps that is why my husband and I still teach, still go out on dates, still workout, and still hold hands.  Perhaps that is why we are drawn to conversations with young people, allowing us to bask in their energy and vivaciousness. No, we are not trying to be young again, nor are we trying to relive our youth.  Rather, it seems to me, as if we are appreciating the NOW, the now of the moments we are living, and the now of the relative health we possess.  You see, we have caught glimpses of the other side, the next step of progression as it were, and now own the life-wisdom to know—to know and to appreciate bursts of energy found in exercise; to linger a bit longer over date conversations; to savor the comfort, and tingle, that comes from holding hands, embracing, and even kissing.  We value the vibrancy and vigor of youth and allow it to fill us with inspiration, laughter, and hope—endless, boundless hope. After all, hope, it is said, springs eternal.  

 

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           Goodbye, summer, my dear friend.  Even though, I know by calendar-time, you will linger a tad longer. I must leave your dreams, your reverie, your romance, and return to a new reality. A land filled with the sights of unblemished whiteboards and post-it notes of reminders; the feeling of a busy, new schedule and a rushed routine; the scent of floor wax and dirty gym clothes stuffed in a locker; the taste of rapidly thrown down lunches and vanilla or mocha coffees; and, the sound of blaring early morning alarms and the banter of middle school students.  A new school year, a new start, as ripe, sweet, and prickly as the blackberry brambles of mid-July, begins this week. 

 

            “These things, they go away

            Replaced by everyday . . . 

            September’s coming soon . . .” lyrics from, “Nightswimming,” as performed by

             R.E.M.

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Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

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On Mistakes, Lessons Learned, and the Power of Kind Words

             “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” ― Mother Teresa

 

            “Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift.  And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.”—Richelle E. Goodrich

 

            I reread the client’s text in disbelief. How could I have made this mistake? I looked at my Google calendar.  Nothing there. I looked at the business app. Yep. It was there, but I had not checked there. On a hunch, I glanced once more at my calendar, but ahead one week.  Insert face to palm as I felt a knot begin to form and constrict my insides.

 

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            I once learned that there are three default modes for humans when reacting to a so-called “threats:” fight, flight, or freeze; and, I have years of experience with freezing—absolute glacial freeze. Inside my body, it feels as if the great glaciers of the ice age are tying, twisting, turning and tearing their way through my gut; while on the outside, starting at my extremities, and moving across my outer skin, I physically become cold to the touch.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            How could this have happened?  I am 53 years old. In addition to 31 years as a teacher in various schools, I also worked at a number of other locations from an early age.  For years, as a teenager, and into my 20th year, I worked as a part-time opener for the local McDonalds, which meant, depending upon which job I was assigned, I had to be at work between 3:30-5:30 am.  Never. Never did I miss a shift. Never have I not shown up for work. Ever. Until age 53.

 

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            What happened?  I had accidentally plugged the date into my Google Calendar for the following Friday.  I could feel my face growing red; my heart pounding in my chest. I could feel that icy sensation crystallizing like shards of glass on a window pane across my epidermis as my innards became more bound up like wet, sweaty socks balled up and stuffed inside a sports shoe for later retrieval.  Was it too late for me to be retrieved and cleaned, or was I stained for life?

 

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            My current employers and clients don’t know me—at least, not my work history and work ethic.  They don’t really know my passion and drive regarding the ridiculously high bar for which I set for myself.  Honestly, what do they know about me other than my visible outward work behavior, which, up until this point, had been taintless?  Now, this mark, this failure, this complete and total mess-up by me—was now part of my work legacy.

 

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            That’s when the tears hit.  My heart shattered. I made my way to my bathroom, turned on the sink water, then slumped to the floor in a heap and cried.  Tears of regret. Tears of remorse. Tears of, “if only I had.” Salty, briny, bitter tears.  

            This began all over again when I received the typewritten censure.  Here was a young lady, still in her twenties, having to reprimand me. ME!  It was more than I could I take. Great sobs of failure racked my body. I had let the team down.  I was a disappointment. Moving forward I would be asked to . . . , I felt the weight of my error

 

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            The clients, though, were nothing but nice when I communicated with them.  Words like, “Everybody makes mistakes;” or, “It’s no big deal;” and, “I still love you and the business,” only made me feel worse.  Not because I thought they weren’t sincere, I think they were, but it still only pointed out more, at least in my mind, that I was a complete and total failure, a letdown.   

            Hours later, as I studied my home Armstrong email inbox, which had contributed to the problem—I did not receive my typical reminder email regarding substitute teaching.  Earlier in the week, for some inexplicable reason, my emails began appearing in a jumbled, random order; and, it now appears that I am not receiving all of them either. I continued examining the inbox, hovering over one tab, and then another, in an attempt to find a way to correct the issue, when an email popped up—of course, in the middle of the inbox, rather than the top, from an unknown name with the subject saying, “Your columns in the Herald Dispatch.”  Hmm . . .

 

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            As I moved, like a distracted squirrel to grab this little nut of possibility, another email popped up—also, not at the top, but toward the bottom of the inbox—with the subject, “On wearing purple,” the name of my most recent column.  Now, I really felt like a squirrel in Ritter Park during the autumn months when acorns are abundantly available. Which should I grab—click open—first?  

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            Then, my sense of order kicked, strengthened only by years of a teacher schedule—first period, is followed by second period and so forth—I clicked open the one that entered chronologically first!

            Wait, what?  I could not believe what I was reading.  Without revealing the content of the emails, let me just say, I found myself once more teary-eyed—this time from the sheer sweetness of the thoughtfulness of a stranger’s words.  They did know of my epic-failure that occurred earlier that morning. Neither did they know of the so-called stain upon my reputation—they only knew the heartfelt words that pour out of me week-in and week-out.

 

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            Writing this piece, after a mere two days of reflection, I recognize, first, that a lesson in humility is NEVER a bad thing. Additionally, heading into a new school year, this was also an extremely VALID lesson for me to have experienced what it means to make a real mistake, so that I can better empathize with, and teach, my incoming 6th , 7th, and 8th graders.  Human beings err, fall short, and make mistakes.  No one is perfect—not even at age 53.

 

            Thus, I have learned three lessons, so far, from this experience. (Though I suspect there will be more.)  First, be humble—in word, deed, AND thought. Who was I to pretend to be Stephanie Supersomebody who would NEVER _______ (fill in the blank)?  How haughty of me! Secondly, humbly admit a mistake, not only to others, but also to yourself; learn from it (double check dates when inputting to Google calendar, and check your business app daily—rather than relying on memory) in order not to repeat it again; then move on, offering yourself forgiveness.  Lastly, and I think, perhaps most importantly, while actions do matter, so do words. All spoken, written, and thought words influence us–often imperceptibly.  Therefore, not only is it important to take the time to speak, or write, positively to others, but also offer yourself, in thought, kind words—even in the midst of so-called failure.   After all, in the words of Henry Ford, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learning nothing.”

 

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Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Purple landslide and the Undertow that is Life

            “ Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above?”— from the song, “Landslide,” written by Stevie Nicks

 

            “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple . . .”— from the poem, “Warning,” written by Jenny Joseph

 

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         “It’s been a good life,” he said as he leaned in kissed me.  

            

            Inquisitively, I gazed at John, my husband, now of 30 years.

 

            “What are you thinking?  What prompted that comment?”

 

            “Just thinkin’,” was all he said.

 

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Maddie’s very first meaningful painting–painted in May of 2003. It’s called, “The Beach.” If you look, you’ll see the, “happy beach sky with sun; Daddy, Mommy, and Maddie on the beach.”

   

        “Well I’ve been afraid of changing . . .”

             Had he been reading my mind from earlier in the day, or were we both wrestling with an underbelly of life’s newest current.  Hours prior, I had been completing routine chores around our home. My mind wanted to drift with the undertow of thoughts awash in my head, but instead, Stevie Nicks’ song, “Landslide,” became a sort of cerebral soundtrack on repeat, with an odd intermittent interruption of the famous first line of the poem, “Warning.”  I began to wonder if this random monopoly of my mental loop was worth further mental investigation. Of course, as a yoga teacher, I recognize that, like leaves on a tree, thoughts come and go, and aren’t necessarily reflective of reality. However, I have also learned that there are times when seemingly arbitrary thoughts are whisperings of my soul’s search for a greater understanding of a deep seeded emotion trying to surface like a bubble rising to the top of a carbonated beverage.  

 

 

            “Cause I’ve built my life around you . . .”

             I recalled a last minute, hastily planned, vacation with John, and Madelyn, our daughter.  It was the first of August, and we decided to travel to the four-wheel drive beach of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We stayed in a tiny house near the edge of the Virginia border. There was no ocean view from the vacation rental, but the cabin was cozy, inexpensive, and perfect for the three of us.  We would load up our 4-wheel drive vehicle with our beach gear: three boogie boards, towels, sunscreen, and chairs, and drive to and from the beach—usually twice per day.  

 

 

      

      “But time makes you bolder . . .”

                         This trip was made special by the fact that John, Maddie, and I spent most of the days boogie boarding together on the rough OBX tide.  Of course, the fact that the temperatures hovered near 100 degrees daily encouraged us to get in, and remain in, the ocean. Once our vehicle was parked on the beach, and beach chairs placed in front of the open hatch, we’d awkwardly push, pull, work our way past the low breaking waves, boogie boards in hand.  Together, we’d catch a good wave, and ride it to shore, laughing hysterically, at the person whose board had been flipped–usually me! Then, without really gazing at the shoreline, we’d push, pull, work our way back out to those bigger waves. Eventually though, one of us would notice that one of OBX’s famous undertows had sent us on a northward drift from our starting point. We’d stand calf deep in the water, just feeling the edge of tide’s pull, and marvel at the great distance we had drifted, and yet we had not realized it until that very moment.   

 

          Images from Maddie’s current bedroom–a mix of childhood favorites, stuffed with memorabilia from elementary, middle, and high school as well as her now former school, Bethany College. 

 

            I paused mid-stride in my house hallway. Oh my heavens that was it! I was standing calf-deep in the waves of my life, my boogie board has just been flipped, and only now do I realize that the undertow that is also life, and its constant ebb and flow of changes, has been carrying me along with waves–waves of joy, waves of love, waves of wonder, waves of struggle, waves of sorrow, waves of regret, waves of  . . .well, time. And, now, as I catch a glimpse of the shoreline, I see that I have drifted into a new phase of life.

 

           One night, Maddie jokingly prayed for a snow day, then she placed a spoon under her pillow for added security; the next day her prayers came true. She and I had played in snow all day, and when we came inside, I made her purple snow cream.  Later, we painted our toes in front of the fire that John built.  

    

        “Even children get older . . .”

             I mentally tick-off the inventory of recent changes.  Maddie is now changing universities, transferring to Marshall, and she is switching from a Biochemistry/Chemistry major with a minor in Art to a Visual Arts major with a minor in chemistry.  She is moving out of our family home and into a rental. Even now, as she prepares for the move, her bedroom is often empty for long spans of time as she stretches her newly found wings of adulthood.  

 

 

            Meanwhile, our house is in the flux of a gradual remodel as John and I prepare for the next phase of our life.  This phase will ultimately mean we, too, will leave this house, our home, for another. How much longer will we be here?  One, two, three more years? There is no definitive answer.

 

 

            “And, I’m gettin’ older, too . . .”

             Furthermore, John and find ourselves in new roles as more and more of our family members have passed, moved away, and/or changed in ways we could have never predicted when we first married.  Divorce, death, disease, and departures, of one sort or the other, seem to occur with more frequency than we care to admit. We are no longer defined by our daughter’s schedule, but by new roles, for which we feel, at times, ill prepared.  Just as when we first arrived home from the hospital as proud new parents, but without a parenting manual, neither is there a manual for, well, AARP living, for which we are now official members—though not retired.

 

          Even though he wasn’t a human member of the family, saying good-bye to our Rusty-boy truly broke our hearts. 

 

            “Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?”

             When I was younger, I knew, with a fair amount of predictability, that junior high would be followed by high school, which would be followed by college, which would be followed by a career.  Later, I felt confident, that in all likelihood, a Masters degree would be followed by more educational hours, that marriage would be followed by at least one child, which would, of course, be followed by parenting. Then, as I parented alongside John, we were keenly aware that one developmental stage would follow another, and so on and so forth; but, not this–not this sea of unknowing, this sea of no control (As if I ever had control?).  

 

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My mom had these images framed for me years ago from Maddie’s Kindergarten graduation. Her artwork was the cover of the program.

 

            “Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

             John’s parents are now gone.  My parents are older. Maddie is leaving home.  We will, one day, leave this home too—both literally and metaphorically.  How long will our careers continue? Where will we live? What paths will Maddie take?  How long before the next change? What does the future hold? How much longer will the newspaper continue to publish my words? Will I ever write a book, or will I continue to express myself creatively through other written means, such as my website? Does this writing help anyone other than me, or is it a selfish pursuit? How much longer will I have my loved ones and friends? For heaven’s sake, when shall I wear purple?  And, in the end, will my life have mattered? Will I have mattered to my parents, my siblings, my husband, my in-laws, my daughter, my friends, my colleagues, my students, to anyone at all?

             I hope so.

            “Ah, take my love . . . And, if you see my reflection in the snow covered hill 

Well, the landslide will bring it down.”

             

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Rootbound: A Lesson in Limiting Beliefs

            “You can do it, you can undo it, and you can do it differently.”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

            “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2

 

            I smiled as I took in the view of the 17 plants, nearly two flats, of ajuga, often known as carpet bugleweed. It is a beautiful ground cover that, well, carpets land by underground runners that root the plant into the surrounding soil.  Ajuga is perfect for crowding out weeds; it thrives in poor soil, doesn’t need regular attention, possesses a colorful, shiny foliage, and it’s late spring to early summer bluish to purple blossoms are bee, butterfly, and bird favorites.  In fact, our beloved dog, Rusty, who has since passed over to his eternal yard, loved to sit in the middle of the ajuga blooms, snatch the bees into his mouth, and eat them! (He always was a one-of-kind dog!) Shaking my head out of the Rusty-reverie, I settled down to the business of planting.

 

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Rusty, on our front porch, after snatching all the bees current in the late spring ajuga, looking pitifully up at John, my husband, as if to ask, find more bees for me–I just can’t help myself.

 

            Sliding on my purple gardening gloves, I glanced around at the bright begonias and geraniums that were recently potted, pruned, and plucked of dead or yellowing leaves and buds. The new plants’ cheery reds and glossy greens radiated with the joy of roots freed to spread, expand, and grow.  It was as if they came home from a hard day of work at the green house, put on their comfy pants, and sighed an audible, “Ah . . . .”   

 

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Free from the constraints that once held them firmly in place, the roots are free to explore and expand beyond their former boundaries.

 

            Grabbing a trowel, I went to work.  Digging holes 8-12 inches wide, not too deep, I began by persuasively coaxing each plant out of its pot. Once out, I observed that the roots were tightly bound.  In fact, it took quite a bit of hand strength to pry and unbind the roots for planting—so tightly were they clinging to their former pot shape in which they were contained.  As I developed a planting rhythm–digging holes, vigorously shaking free plant from pot, firmly clasping and pulling apart bound roots, gently placing in prepared hole, tucking in soil over and around roots—my mind, like the newly planted ajuga roots, was free to expand and roam.  That’s when Divine Providence began to trowel up a lesson for me.

 

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17 newly planted ajuga, also known as carpet bugleweed, have room to carpet new territory and explore new space because their roots are no longer tightly contained in pint-sized containers.

 

            Many people, myself included, become root bound by limiting beliefs about self, faith life, career path, education, community, and so forth. Often, these beliefs are seeded in early childhood by well-meaning adults and the knowledge those adults possessed at the time. These views are sometimes further propagated by schools, churches, and/or societal “norms’—again functioning with the best information these groups have at the time.  Additionally, the soil, or culture, into which we are planted, may not be as fertile as others—either damp with too much emotion, or dry and devoid of all support. Thus, we can become bound up by beliefs, attitudes, and even tenets that keep us from thriving with the unbridled vibrancy I noticed in the flowers planted days earlier. 

 

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This plant only had one way to grow as it was in a crowded flat in a container the size of a school lunch milk carton tightly surrounded by other like plants. It will be interested to watch its shape change and shift over the coming months.

 

            Ironically, even when planted into new circumstances with nurturing support that welcomes new thinking, new ways of being, new ways of expressing, living, loving, learning, and so forth, internally we are still remain bound, restricted, and constrained.  Whether intentional or not, the pot into which we grew, so tightly bound us, that we may not realize the expansion and possibilities that wait for us if we would only allow our roots to release the shape into which they so tightly grip. 

 

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Despite their freedom, these ajuga roots still hold tightly to the shape of the former container that limited their scope.

 

            In order to get each ajuga plant out of its container, I had to robustly shake it free.  Once free, the roots remained in the exact shape of the pot from which it came. In fact, in order to get the roots to release their grasp of this shape required forcible, almost violent, pulling apart. Once broken free though, the roots seemed to comfortably sink and settle into their new environment with relative ease. And, isn’t that like life?

 

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In order to free the roots, I had to forcibly pull apart the bound ball of roots to allow them to properly develop runners and expand into new, more natural way, of living.

 

            For some of us, it takes a negative, blunt force experience, or even trauma, to break us free from our tightly bound self-imposed constraints.  However, for others, it’s as simple as waking up one day and realizing what Satchidananda was saying in the quote above, we can recognize that we are living one way, because at one time, it seemed right for us, but it now no longer fits our need for growth.  Therefore, it is within our power to undo past paths, and expand in a new direction, keeping in mind the lessons from the past.   

 

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While this is the perfect size container at the time of planting, eventually, this plant will begin to outgrow this container, and will require new territory in which to expand its need for growth–just like humans.

 

            Like the newly planted ajuga, begonias, and geraniums around my porch, we can choose to unbind our roots, prune off the decaying, limiting beliefs, and allow our minds to be renewed–transforming and beautifying, not just our own life, but all of humanity in a new way.  While the ajuga only produces flowers once per year, its blooms not only beautify the location in which it is planted, but also its flowers attract bees, butterflies, birds, and on the rare occasion a random dog, from miles away–taking bits of its beauty with them wide and far.  Furthermore, even once their flowers are gone, the plants’ foliage seems to take on a whole new sheen of color and vibrancy as if they glow from not only giving back to the world at large, but from the new found freedom of their underground runners use in order to expand—allowing them to cover more ground and offer up new shoots of growth—and new possibilities for replanting and expanding.

 

                        We can choose to release and prune decaying and limiting beliefs. 

 

            May our roots be unbound, so that we can cover more ground, offering more love, beauty, and peace to the world. Heaven knows the world could use it!

 

            

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Backwoods Blackberry Boogie: Lessons on Connectedness

            “When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is.”—Mary Oliver

             “ . . .purple as the stain blackberries leave on the lips, on the hands, . . .”—Marge Piercy

 

            “Ouch!”

 

            Smack.  Rub. Brush.

 

            “Ow!”

 

            Whack.  Ruffle. Shake.

 

            “Ah, dang it!”

 

            Wipe. Smear.  Reach.

 

            I smile as I decide to give my shenanigans a name, the “Backwoods Blackberry Boogie”.  Truth-be-told, while I should be in the woods, I am actually standing in our yard. Several years ago, a bird must have “dropped” a special package amongst the shrubs planted along one side of our home; and now, some years later, we have a large blackberry bush blossoming each July just around the corner from my front door.

 

            Should we have cut it down?  Probably. Perhaps, we should have dug it out instead.  Then again, there were always chemicals we could have use; and yet, we did not.  Lazy? Not really. Distracted? Certainly. Distracted with life—caring for loved ones; working long hours while juggling a few part-time gigs; and, spending time with our child—initially running with all of her sports/activities of high school, to now, making the four hour drive each way to her college several weekends per year . . . the list goes on. Bottom line, we no longer should live on five acres of land, much less own a large yard; and so, a blackberry bush grows in one small part of it.

 

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            Whether the choice was intentional or not, the point is moot now; and honestly, we don’t have the heart to uproot, cut down, or destroy our yard-growing blackberry bush.  Most likely, it will come down at some point—either by us or future owners—but, for now, blackberry juice, which ironically looks like blood—will not be on my hands. Well, actually it is on my hands, but not due to the death of the bush.

 

       While I did have blackberry juice stains on my hands, it was NOT from killing the wild bush in our yard.

 

            If a big ol’ blackberry bush is gonna grow wildly in my side yard, to the scorn of aesthetics—I can only imagine what a realtor would think—then, I am going to at least make the most of its brambles. When life gives you lemons, or in this case blackberries, why not make blackberry cobbler, right?  Therefore, in the cool shade of a quiet July 4th evening, well before the noise and mayhem of fireworks, I peacefully, well as peacefully as one can be in blackberry bramble, picked berries.

 

            As I live alongside a main route in Lawrence County, OH, the late afternoon/early evening hours are typically filled with the sounds of cars zooming by as residents traverse home from work, head to town for dinner or errands, and even zip down the road for a summer joy ride.  However, on this night, there was little to no traffic, allowing bird song, insect buzz, and the mewing of the neighbor’s cat to provide a soothing sort of lullaby as I piddled, prodded, and picked. My mind floated, like a lotus flower on pond water, despite distractions from the prickling thorns and the overbearing bites of the aggressive blood sucking summer bullies.

 

 

 Picking blackberries

One by one

Thinking of him.

Papaw taught me

How it was done.

Not in the heat 

Of the summer sun, but

Early morn’ or evenin’ cool.

Pick ‘em ripe and

Leave a few

For feathered friends—

They gave ‘em to you

 

Plucking blackberries.  

One by one.

Carefully selectin’

The darkest of clusters

Purple blemish on hands.

Blood blots on limbs.

Mosquitoes buzz and bite.

Birds scare and scatter

While a nearby rabbit skitters.

Plunk, plink, plop

Bowl fills.

Did I leave enough?

 

Cleaning blackberries.

One by one

Thinking of her.

Grandmother taught me

How it was done.

Search for crawling critters and

Random leaves or stems.

Add some sugar.

Bake it up.

Summer bursting,

Exploding with goodness

Memories in my mouth.

 

             Divine Providence served up part fruitful lesson and part sweet memory on that evening that continues to linger in my mind as a sip of good wine on the tongue.   Sure, there are the obvious lessons of thorny times; brambly messes of unexpected life events; and the fruits produced by our labors. However, beyond that, at least for me, there was the lesson of connectedness—not only to my past, but also to nature, my life, and the roots of my faith.

 

          The thorns and bramble of blackberries are often like the thorns and bramble of life.

 

            My grandparents, the three that I knew well, were deeply influential in my life in their own unique ways. While I spent more time with my maternal side, all three planted within me the belief of God and the magic of summer that our Creator provided.  From summer church revivals to extended summer sleepovers at one of their houses; from the proper time to pick a tomato to green bean stringing techniques; from flower watering to bird watching; from garden planting to good ol’ Appalachian summer cookin’; and, from berry pickin’ to pie or cobbler bakin’, they taught me that summertime was God’s magical show for adults and kids alike to savor, sip, and share.  

 

Rinsing batches of blackberries in the kitchen sink when I noticed a hitchhiker that I had to send back outside!

 

            A bird drops a seed.  One tiny seed. The rains come, and frost covers. The sun warms, and a sprout grows.  The mower misses, and the busy family doesn’t notice. Bees flit about its early blooms.  Slowly, quietly it grows, rooting, spreading, and sprouting—just like my faith, just like my grandparents’ love, and just like life.

 

            As I rinsed the blackberries carefully, their astringent, but sweet, aroma rising from the sink, I plucked a fat berry from the colander and plopped it into my mouth. I bite.  Juice explodes upon my tongue. I am again a child–drifting between–Grandmother’s kitchen as she prepared to bake a cobbler, humming a hymn, while Papaw could be heard in the basement below, hand-cranking ice cream; and then over the hill to my Mamaw’s front porch after she’d watered her multihued zinnias and gathered their seeds, the squeak of the to and fro of the green and white metal glider, upon which we sat, provided the ambient seasonal sound, and the scent of her baby powder mixed with her VO5 hair product filled my nostrils as we waited for the fireflies to dance, and listened for the whisperings of God. 

 

         Blackberries in grain-free granola and topped with chia and flax seeds with a splash of non-dairy milk.

 

          I thoughtfully chew the berry, closing my eyes, knowing at that very moment, birds are once more nibbling away at the remaining blackberries in my yard, and somewhere, in a Raceland, KY, cemetery, rest in peace all of my beloved grandparents eternally bird-watching, cradled in the arms of the Creator.  My heart burst with connectedness, and I offered up a prayer of gratitude.

 

            Who knows, whenever we do leave this house, maybe the next owners will keep the blackberry bush too?

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Blackberries and hemp hearts on a freshly made garden salad, drizzled with fresh made Dijon Date Dressing. 

 

 

 

 

 

            

 

            

 

The Sweetness Follows–the Story of Healing

            “Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love.  Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.”—Sai Baba

 

            “You enjoy the white writing because there is a black board behind it.”—Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

abc books chalk chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

           As a young girl, and later, as a newly minted educator, I savored the look, feel, and sound of printing neatly, and as precisely as possible, on a clean, black board.  I wrote slowly and meticulously because I did not want to have to erase a mistake. Erasing meant a fine white cloud would not allow the writing to pristinely stand out against the dark background. However, the immaculate look of the black board never lasted long—not with students to teach.  Eventually, the board became overcast, gray, and dull by day’s end, requiring a fresh shower of water to wipe the slate clean.

 

antique blackboard blank chalk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

            I have been reminded of chalkboard writing this past week as I have watched my vibrant, gregarious daughter, Madelyn, succumb to the darkness of the painful healing required of a tonsillectomy as an adult.  She had been warned that the procedure came with a difficult recovery. However, she moved forward with her commitment to the procedure and the promise it offered of improved health. As is often the case in life though, knowing that an event will be grueling, and actually experiencing the pain in real time, are two different matters.

 

            Without going into great detail, I have watched her suffer through what appears to be excruciating tenderness, gurgling/choking sounds during fits of sleep, fever spikes, chills, flashes of heat, and the rejection of most forms of liquids and food.  She’s given up on Percocet, the prescribed, temporary form of pain management as it knocks her into a sleep-induced fog, but doesn’t seem to reduce the pain much. Instead, she relies on acetaminophen, which dulls the pain, but never fully allows it to abate. The usual offerings, recommended by well-intended people, such as popsicles, Gatorade, and ice cream are either too acidic—which sets her throat “on fire”; or, in the case of ice cream, offers too much milk fat—causing her to cough, which is not only painful, but can also cause her scabs to come off too soon.  Even her favorite soft foods, such as pudding, mashed potatoes, and noodle soup are all irritating and difficult to swallow according to Maddie. Therefore, I am often coaxing her just to eat a small something in order to take the prescribed steroids.

 

 

 

            Meanwhile, John and I do what we can to make her comfortable and distracted from the pain.  Caring for sick adult child, however, is different than when she was little. Gone are the days of pulling her into my arms, cradling her closely, gently swaying back and forth, humming, and using a free hand to lovingly stroke her hair off her forehead as if the action was a sacred healing ritual.  Instead, I now try to balance not hovering in an overprotective/reactive manner, with being an available and present source of compassion, concern, and consolation. Furthermore, I find myself imploring Divine Providence for the wisdom to know when to encourage her to push and persevere through the hurt versus when to back off and let her be.  I want to make her feel better, but experience has also taught me there is growth in the anguish of the ache.

 

            Like the classroom black board of years ago at the beginning of the day, Maddie’s life board has barely begun to be written upon.  She will have to endure repeated erasings/do-overs, clouds of confusion, and experience the dullness of the drills demanded by her own education/training.  The spring showers and the new blossoms of her budding career and new way of living will come, but not without the dust, dark, and dimness of the work and pain required to achieve her future adventure.

 

 

 

            One of the tenants that my faith, my yoga practice, and life experience teaches me is that nothing is permanent.  Nothing. Not my body, not my various life roles, not my home, not my job, not my circumstances, and certainly not the challenges and pain.  Change, and the temporary nature of circumstances, whether perceived as good or not so good, is the one real constant. One cannot get the satisfying white writing on the chalkboard without the dark side; there is no real joy filled experience without sadness; and, of course, there is no healing without pain.

 

 

 

            Two weekends ago, we stayed in Cincinnati for two nights celebrating Maddie’s 20th birthday.  My brother, Scott, and his husband, Mywon, joined us for both days; whereas my mom, and Mywon’s mom, were only able to spend Saturday with us in order to see the production of Maddie’s childhood favorite, Cats.  We gathered for meals, relished the joy of the theater, and shared numerous laughs. We immersed ourselves in the bliss of the moment—no work, no studying, and no real challenges.  And yet, even with all of the happiness of the moment, life still managed to dose out a few challenges, difficulties, and discomforts. Ironically though, as I look back through the pictures, it appears to be a picture-perfect weekend.

 

 

 

            This past week, as I attempted to offer comfort to Maddie by means of foot, neck, and/or back rubs, a song, “The Sweetness Follows,” by R.E.M., repeatedly echoed in my mind.  The enigmatic lyrics and haunting cello music, I have read, are one of the most misinterpreted songs by fans. Regardless of the true meaning of the lyrics as intended by the songwriters, I believe there is a reason this song, and in particular, its title, became an earworm in my mind’s ear . . .   

 

            My dear, darling daughter, the sweetness will follow.  No, you will never be able to avoid the pitfalls, pains, and problems of life, but there is always sweetness following, even within a seemingly unrelenting, difficult situation. Life requires perseverance, fortitude, and sometimes even, doggedness, especially as a woman, but there is a sweetness to savor.  Messy—Neat; Stormy—Calm; Exhausted—Energetic; Black—White; and yes, Pain—Ease. You cannot have one without the other. Therefore, look for the sweetness—the sweetness in an unexpected gesture; a kind word; a stranger’s smile; a friend’s visit, call or text; and even in a caring caress and touch of a loved one . . .

 

            While I cannot take away the painful events of life, may you always have the ability to find the sweetness . . . for it will eventually follow.  

            

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          Maddie and my Mom having a little fun in honor of Maddie’s birthday!

 

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I cannot recall photo-bombing a picture before, but in the frivolity of the moment, I hopped into view.  Fortunately, there’s another photo of this beautiful moment of my brother and mom without me!

 

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LOL In the age of selfies, I still haven’t mastered it, probably because I do not take selfies that often.  Maddie laughs (and I am sure rolls her eyes) whenever I attempt to do a selfie with her when she is home, then she grabs my phone, and takes the picture for me as was the case here!