Wake Me Up When September Ends

It’s only mid-August, but it seems like the summer has flown by. I feel a little wistful every year about this time. It’s as if another summer has passed me by, and I didn’t get to swim nearly as many times as I would’ve liked. Okay, I’ll quit whining. I did get to do quite a few things.

One highlight of our summer was a trip to see my cousins Joe and Catherine back at the end of June. The occasion was Joe’s birthday, but it was combined with a visit from Catherine’s siblings and their wives (she has 4 brothers), as well as my cousin Sue and my uncle Paul (who is 93 years young and still gets around quite well without a cane). The extended weekend was fun. We sat around and chatted a lot, celebrated Joe’s birthday on Saturday, finally got to meet little Stella, Joe’s 18-month-old granddaughter who is absolutely delightful, went to Busch Gardens and rode several rides (I, however, didn’t participate in the roller coaster rides with younger cousins Nick and Stephanie. There just comes a point in one’s adult life when you realize that maybe slinging around in a roller coaster and having your heart come to the top of your throat just before you go sailing down a steep incline and get jerked around side to side may not be the best thing for your body). Joe and I road the Log Flume, and I wish I had bought the picture of us at the top of the hill just before we went sailing down to come to a nice splashy end. I screamed for all I was worth! It was good to see family and friends who have become family that weekend. Mona and Craig made the trek from Louisiana via Michigan and were on their way back home with Mona’s parents…what a long trip! John and I had a fun weekend then.

We got back home barely in time to prepare for Julie, our 24-year-old daughter’s, arrival back home from 2 years in Madrid. It is interesting (on both sides) to get used to living with a young adult and trying not to revert to old patterns. So far I haven’t done as well as I’d hoped, because Julie reminds me that I nag her constantly. Oh well. Guess it’s in the mom jeans, I mean genes, but that doesn’t mean I have to voice every thought. And a funny thing I’ve noticed is my tendency (our tendency) to blame misplaced objects on Julie rather than ourselves. I told John we needed to stop jumping to conclusions…we may be the ones who are putting things in weird places, and in many cases “the enemy” was us! I will say I am quite proud of Julie for not sitting around on her duff and waiting for jobs to come to her. The first week she was home, jet lag notwithstanding, she applied for 20 jobs. She had a job before she had been home 2 weeks. It’s not one she wants to be working at very long, but she felt the need to make some money and get on the way to supporting herself, and I say Bravo! to that. She is trying to figure out the next chapter of her life, but meanwhile she is hostessing, waiting tables, doing whatever is needed at Coco’s Italian Restaurant, a popular restaurant in Nashville. She is working hard, and we’re somewhat like two ships passing in the night, because our schedules rarely jibe. But maybe that’s for the best, because it may mean less conflict.

And then there’s my dad. John and I moved him to an assisted living facility in Canton, NC back at the end of December after he’d lived with us for 13 months while undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Turns out he wasn’t exactly in assisted living but in an apartment that provided some services (like assistance with bathing and administering his medications, plus 3 meals a day, and housecleaning once a week) he needed. He experienced several falls (none of them major, thank God…just mostly slips from his bed and one fall as he was backing into the bathroom, holding onto his walker and he lost his balance and fell back toward the commode). John and I went to NC the first week of August (left on a Saturday; returned on Monday) and were checking on him. While John was trying to arrange a primary number for the service my dad has been paying for in which he wears a pendant around his neck that he can push if he falls, the head nurse came by his apartment and told us that a spot had opened up at the assisted living facility just across the street (there are several buildings in this facility), and she thought Daddy would get a better level of care there. While I was trying to absorb all this, I asked if we could go take a look at the room, and we put Daddy in his transport chair and took him over there. The huge downside is that he did not have a bathroom in his room but had to walk down the hall a short distance (and share a bathroom with all the residents on his hall). There are 4 bathrooms for about 26 residents, not an ideal situation. When you’re 92, you don’t need to try to remember to gather supplies to go to the bathroom like you did in college … plus, it’s just hard to go down the hall to a bathroom. I didn’t take in this information at the time (being under a little duress, with our having planned to leave by 2:00 p.m. so we could get home to Nashville at a reasonable time to prepare for going back to work the next day), but there was no sink in Daddy’s room.

So back John and I went to Canton/Waynesville the following weekend, and in the meantime Daddy had a rough week trying to adjust to his new home. He has expressed dissatisfaction, saying he feels like he’s in prison. I didn’t know exactly what to say. I usually try to put a positive spin on things, but there was not much positive to emphasize in this situation. About that time my stepsister and her daughter and son-in-law came over to visit Daddy, and I quickly went outside to call an assisted living place in Nashville that we’d looked at and nearly signed papers to admit Daddy back in December, when we got the e-mail from the assisted living place (we thought it was assisted living, but according to NC law, it’s a multihousing unit, and it’s private pay only…and they do have a dining room and one CNA on staff, and the nurse comes by every day to check on the residents, but they are pretty much on their own) where Daddy had decided he wanted to go, and they had a vacancy. I talked with him about it, and I wanted to let him be part of the decision. Of course, he chose to return to NC because he was quite homesick for Canton, and he had felt pretty isolated here in Nashville. His main activity was going to the doctor’s office, getting treatment, and occasionally getting out to the drugstore or to Kroger or Costco, and often that was with John. He went to church with us a few times, but staying for both Sunday school and the worship service was too taxing/stressful for him.

So I let Daddy make that decision, and it has not worked out great for either him or us. Not to mention placing a burden on my stepsister and stepbrother, who have to take him to doctor appointments and get constant calls about supplies he needs from Wal-mart.

After he moved on August 5 to the “new” (really old, more than 100 years old) assisted living facility with the bathrooms down the hall from his room, John and I decided that we just needed to suck it up, admit we’d made a bad decision, and find a place for Daddy in Nashville. Sometimes you just have to say, “I am sorry, I was wrong.” That certainly applies in this situation. I also say, “I made the best decision I could with the information I had available at the time.” So be it.

We got back home late Monday night (around 10:15 p.m. Eastern, 9:15 Central time), and we both prepared to go to work on Tuesday. We had an appointment with an assisted living place here at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday. I was a little bothered (well, a lot bothered) by the distance Daddy would have to walk to get from his apartment there to the dining room. There’s a shortcut across the courtyard, but that wouldn’t work very well in bad weather, and the walk around the facility to the dining room was even longer than the distance he’d had to walk from his apartment to the dining room at his first “assisted living” residence, and that was challenging enough for him.

So back to the drawing board. John called another facility that I’d already taken a look at in December, and he made an appointment for after work a couple of days later. We toured it, and even though it is a “high-rise” residence (8 floors), there is an apartment available very close to the elevator, and Daddy will have a short distance to walk to get to the dining room. He will also get the assistance he needs to find his way around, and the RN/sales manager said that they would train him in fall prevention and there were physical therapists available who can work with him to do some strengthening exercises. Daddy is really good about doing PT exercises; he’s been practicing almost daily since he had home health care with PT just before moving to Nashville.

So the next thing is getting him moved here, and we are preparing for that. Oh, I forgot to mention one other minor thing. I am having heart surgery sometime around the first of September. It’s for atrial fibrillation and sounds like it’s not too major (an ablation), except for any time you have general anesthesia and are cut on, it’s “major surgery,” in my opinion. So there goes the rest of the summer…and I am praying for strength and sanity to get through all these changes…and the patience to explain it all to Daddy and perhaps take over his finances and then just do what I need to do for him to help him get settled. I am so thankful that John is by my side to look out for me and his father-in-law, and I’m glad Julie and Daniel are around to visit their granddad as their work schedules permit. Together we’ll get through it all, moving Daddy and having my surgery, and just adjusting to a new season of life.

So yeah, I’m a little sad about summer’s end and the usual crazy schedule of fall as we return to a busier schedule. This fall will be different. I will have to be mindful of my physical limitations. Somehow it will all turn out for the best. I know a certain person to whom I pray and place my trust in…that Person watches over me and my dad and cares about what happens to both of us. Oh, and by the way, God cares for all people, so we wouldn’t be anything special, except for the fact that the Bible tells us (and I get the strong sense from attending my church) that even the hairs on our heads are numbered, and we do not need to worry…that God’s got us covered.


My Bucket List

I heard Bob Cowsill being interviewed on Hippie 94.5 (my favorite radio station) on the way to work today, and he said that a bus tour (his last with the Cowsills was 43 years ago) is the last item on his Bucket List.

Hmmm, I wondered. Is it good when you’ve crossed off all the items on your Bucket List? I don’t think I’ve ever made a Bucket List, though I have certainly mulled about it. I would bet that my Bucket List has changed over time.

Right now, here are some things I want to do before I die. And when I cross off the last item, well, I think I’ll be adding to the list. Don’t want to tempt fate or whatever!

1. Go on a mission trip to Mexico. My church, Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, takes an annual trip to Puebla, Mexico. This is the one I want to participate in. One of its focuses is educating women. I believe the primary focus is “Give Ye Them to Eat” or something like that.

2. Travel to New England and do a historical tour with John.

3. Go to the Grand Canyon with John. I’ve seen it before but he hasn’t. I am ashamed to admit that we didn’t take our children to the Grand Canyon. Oh well. Life got busy. We did take other great and not-so-great trips.

4. Go on a hot-air balloon ride. Yes, this will challenge my fear of heights, but it just looks like so much fun.

5. Learn to paddle board.

6. Write a collection of stories, poems, or perhaps a book. Whether it gets published or not, well, we’ll see.

7. Continue practicing yoga and do as much exercise as I can to keep my body healthy. I believe in the power of exercise to relieve stress, and I’m hoping it will also ward off dementia, which runs in my family. I am planning to take a tai chi class at some point.

8. Walk outside in nature and appreciate the beauty every single day that I can.

9. Learn more about botany. I am already obsessed with identifying trees. Not so much their scientific names as their ordinary names and maybe a little about them.

10. Continue to read all kinds of books. Well, maybe not so many trashy novels, but balance is a good thing. 😀

11. Practice conversational Spanish and brush up on tenses besides present tense. Learn at least one new Spanish word each week.

12. Work toward more balance in life...have more fun, don’t continually work more hours than I have to (this has become a habit), bite my tongue when I need to but also speak up when I need to.

13. Find some joy in every day. And learn not to work so hard at my spiritual life. God loves me the way I am. Of course I can always do better, but I just need to chill and accept that there are seasons in the spiritual life, just as there are seasons in nature.

14. Do at least one random act of kindness a week.

Okay, these are enough items to keep me busy for the rest of my life, I think. I have some other ideas, but for now this is enough.

Song of Peace

Song of Peace

Fireworks behind statue of liberty

“This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.”
–Lloyd Stone, 1912-1992/3, written in the interval between WWI and WWII when he was only 22

This song is one that our choir has sung several times around the 4th of July. I love it because it reminds me that just as we in the USA feel strongly about our country, its beauty, and our patriotism, so do people of other countries love their land, its beauty, and they are patriots too.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the freedoms we so often take for granted in the United States. I love my country, despite many things I see that make me recoil. A few things that come to mind are racial prejudice, the rich lording it over the rest of us, crooked politicians, a callous attitude toward those who are less fortunate than we, an air of superiority, and insistence that one point of view is right while everyone else’s is wrong. But though there are a lot of things that are wrong with our country, there are also many things that are right with it.

Traveling outside the U.S. has a way of making you see our country differently. When my husband and I visited Spain for a couple of weeks in March, I thought it was interesting to watch the news. There wasn’t much about the United States on their news. Oh, my…does that mean America is not the center of the universe, as we sometimes think we are?

This was our second trip to Europe; the first was 30 years ago. When we got home after that trip, I was so thankful for many things I’d taken for granted: air conditioning, ice in drinks, clean public restrooms without having to pay an attendant, being able to communicate in a common language. After our trip to Spain, I realized my perspective has shifted. We Americans are often spoiled. We visit other countries and expect things to be the way they are here. Well, they’re not.

I enjoyed our trip to Spain. We found the people friendly and helpful. Of course, it helped that I was able to communicate in Spanish. Not fluently, but my conversational Spanish was passable and I understood most of what I heard.

I’ve often heard it said that people are reflections of the way you treat them. If they treat you kindly, perhaps it’s because you send out vibes of kindness. If they are nasty toward you, maybe it’s because they sense some ugliness in you. Or maybe they’re just kind or nasty on their own…I don’t know.

On this trip, rather than thinking about what I missed about home, I started thinking about the advantages of being in another culture. It’s good to experience a slower pace of life, to linger over a meal for a while, to be anonymous in a crowd, to not feel like everyone owes me something (I don’t think I have that attitude as an American, but perhaps some of it is engrained in me).

I did come to appreciate the virtues of toilet tissue and having a commode seat (we ate in a few restaurants in Sevilla where these “amenities” were not available). I was also glad I took along a purse-size package of Kleenex.

Well, I am getting distracted now because my family is in the kitchen, so I will close. No really deep thoughts here, just appreciation for our country and its freedoms and the right to express my opinion and the right for others to disagree with me and the prayer that we will learn to appreciate the differences of others and embrace diversity and learn to practice compassion, listen more and talk less, and be a little more tolerant and forgiving of those who “push our buttons.” That is all.

Making Sense of the Senseless

Like many Americans, I am grappling with the tragic shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier this week. I heard President Obama making yet another comment about a mass shooting, the 12th one he’s had to make since he’s been in office. I’ve briefly watched news reports of the senseless murder in, all of places, a church sanctuary where people were gathered for Bible study and prayer.

Yesterday I was shocked to hear the news media report that Dylann Storm Roof, age 21, had almost changed his mind about killing the 9 people inside this African American church because they were so nice and welcoming to him. Almost changed his mind.

And meanwhile the city of Charleston and this lovely African Methodist Episcopal Church and our nation are reeling.

“We are not African Americans, we are not black Americans, we are Americans across the board,” Edward Johnson, pastor of New Vision Cathedral in Lincolnville, South Carolina, said. “We have to address what race is because what we are calling race now is a lie. It is evil.”

As a white person who has grown up in the South, I’m not sure I am even qualified to speak to this issue. I do not know the pain of my black brothers and sisters, nor can I really relate to all they have been through in their history and its aftermath.

As a Christian, I am so, so sad to witness yet another senseless shooting, and this one so racially motivated…and motivated by hate. I don’t have words to describe my feelings. Maybe my feelings are not that important.

But I do know it is high time we start to address the underlying issues that have caused this tragedy. I want to have dialogue with people of color whose experience is so different from my own. I want to understand where they are coming from. I want to do my part to end the hatred and racism that continually rears its ugly head. I want to do something positive, uplifting. But right now all I can do is grieve and pray … and look at the people of Emanuel AME Church and admire their brave, forgiving response in the aftermath of such a senseless, horrific event. The families of the victims have expressed forgiveness. Would that I could do the same, show the same grace that they have, if something like this happened to one of my family members.

This church has lost its pastor and three other pastors. Six of the nine who were killed were women. The dead include a librarian, a high school coach and speech therapist, a college enrollment counselor, a recent college graduate, and a government employee. Meanwhile the city of Charleston and others are looking for ways to “move beyond” this tragedy and help prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

How does one move beyond such an event as took place this past Wednesday? Many of us try to rush on, try to fast-forward through the news, not wanting to dwell on a dark, dark situation.

May each of us examine ourselves, our own prejudices, and rouse ourselves to action. But may that action be preceded by much thought, prayer, and conversation with others who have radically different life experiences and points of view.

May we all be humble enough to let others be our teachers.

God, help us all.

Parting Words

I sent my love out the door
with a kiss and the words
“I love you. Be careful today.”

Some would say I fret too much.
I prefer to think that I am aware of
all the things that could happen…
and I want to leave my love with
words of blessing
instead of fussiness.

Too often I have rushed by him
barely brushing my lips against his
and casually saying, “See you later,”
or sometimes in anger,
“Have a NICE day” (if we have exchanged
some heated words that morning).

Later I think,
“What if these were the last words
I ever said to my spouse?”
None of us knows what could happen
during the day
to those we love.

I’ve had that truth brought home
to me too often.
One of my daughter’s friends
succumbed to depression
and took her own life.
A colleague fell ill about a year ago
and died.
The husband of one of my coworkers
was struck by a 30-foot limb of a tree
and was seriously injured.
Three people at my church have
had biking accidents in recent weeks.

So as my love goes out the door
and returns two or three times
to pick up a forgotten item
I smile and think,
“Yes, have a good day…
and be safe.”

On a Crispy English Muffin

I forgot to check the setting on the toaster this morning
when I stuffed my English muffin in it.
It came out crispy and almost burnt,
reminding me of times my mother would fix toast
right before we left on a trip.
The toast popped out of the toaster
black and dry.
But Mom would never throw it away.
Her Great Depression upbringing
taught her to use every crumb,
for there might not be more.

I remember watching her stand over our garbage can
with a table knife, scraping the blackness from the toast
and wrapping it in aluminum foil.
That toast was never any good,
but I ate it anyway
because my mom had labored so hard to preserve it.

So now I eat my crispy…some would say burnt…
English muffin,
smeared with cream cheese and slathered with plum jam
and the sweetly crisp texture and flavor
take me back to days gone by…

Days when my mother worried about my getting carsick,
though to my memory I never did.
It was my cousin Jan who got carsick
whenever she was in the backseat,
and I guess my mom feared the same would happen to me
as we set off on a journey over winding roads
through the hills of Virginia, West Virginia, and finally Pennsylvania.

The aluminum foil-wrapped toast was my
antidote against carsickness.
And I guess it worked,
though it tasted awful.

I wonder what kind of antidote
my English muffin is for today.


Relationships are messy.

What has led to this “insight”? you may wonder. I had a phone conversation with a relative yesterday after I had written her a note. I decided to write her a note as part of my daily writing practice, rather than e-mailing her or phoning her as I often do. Usually she is the one to initiate contact with me.

I have decided this relative has some issues, because I didn’t say anything I thought was offensive in my note. It was basically a cheery note telling her that I was thinking of her, hoping her eyes were better (she’s had cataract surgery recently and a longstanding problem with her eyes) and that life had settled down somewhat.

The response I got was basically a notice that she is no longer going to have contact with me or my family. She won’t send any more birthday cards or Christmas cards. I am not to give her another subscription to The Upper Room, the daily devotional guide that my workplace produces. It only complicates her life. I am not to e-mail her or call her. She then said, “Well, have a nice life.”

Well, damn. I try as much as possible to live out my Christianity, following the scriptural admonition “As much as possible, live at peace with everyone.” But sometimes I just want to throw in the towel when it comes to family relationships.

This is not the only relative in our extended family with whom we have little to no contact.

One of my relatives lost his wife several years ago and has since made himself unavailable to talk. He comes to family occasions such as weddings, but he doesn’t stay in one place very long, so it’s hard to have any conversation with him. He sends us a Christmas gift of oranges and grapefruit every year (supporting a teenager, I suppose, by buying the citrus fruit). I like citrus fruit, but every year we wind up throwing some away because we can’t eat it all. I’ve taken some to the office to share with others. Anyway, it kind of irritates me that he gives this gift when he won’t talk to me. At a family wedding about 3 years ago, I walked over to his table, and he kept moving away from me. I finally grabbed hold of his arm and said, “I would like to talk to you. Quit running away from me!” Of course the conversation was awkward, and it didn’t last long. I guess I should take solace in the fact that he deigns to answer my occasional e-mails to him, though briefly. I have started communicating with him briefly too. After all, I have made many efforts over the years to stay in touch. I recognize that he is grieving, and we all handle grief as best we can and in different ways. I respect that. I’m trying to give him the space he seems to need. I don’t like that the relationship is all on his terms, but I have come to accept that that’s just the way things are.

And another relationship is completely estranged. This has been going on for probably 7 years. We are dead to this family, and I’m pissed off about it, but again, there’s not much I can do. Except pray.

There. I’ve aired my dirty laundry. I am my mother’s daughter–she was always the peacemaker in the family. And as far as I know, she got along with everyone, except for her oldest half brother, who had no contact with the entire family of 11 children. I have tried to follow her example. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a relationship. I’ve done what I could to make things right, and I just need to trust that God will work out the details.

But every time I read Matthew 5:23-24, I feel guilty. “If you are offering your gift and the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” And when I pray the Lord’s Prayer and get to the part “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I get a catch in my throat.

God, you know my heart. You know I want to live peacefully with others, especially those in my own family. How can I reconcile with those who won’t talk to me? Please show me how to be at peace with myself and help me do the right thing. Thank you for working in my life in ways that I can’t see to make things right…eventually. In the meantime, I pray for these persons with whom I have difficult relationships. Watch over them, soften their hearts, and help me to be patient. Amen.