Sunday, December 4, 2022

Circling Sea Glass

Some people think the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  But, not me. Because, there’s Mitch.

I’m tagging along with my husband and son on their hunting trip, which happens to be 15 miles from Surfside Beach.  Seems like a weird combination to me, but no matter. 

The guys left early this morning to hunt, and I walked out behind them to have a cup of coffee on the beach and watch the sunrise.  I’m not a morning person, so I haven’t seen a lot of sunrises, and I’ve seen fewer on the beach.

Without planning to, I got up with my empty coffee cup and started walking.  After awhile, I started looking where I was walking.  After another while, I noticed that someone had drawn what looked like eyes in the sand. One here, one there.

I assumed someone up earlier than me, needed to mark a moment of some great vision or insight.  

But, then there was one close enough to my feet, that I couldn’t miss what was inside of it.

Sea glass.  


It took me a minute, but it dawned on me that someone was walking this beach, circling sea glass for others to find.

Really?  It’s only 7 in the morning, and somebody has already been here, pointing the way to a treasure that a later traveler might miss? 

It doesn’t seem like a thing of great magnitude when you write it, but it is dumbfounding when you discover it.

I kept walking, but now, I was walking and wondering “Who is doing this?!”  

I stopped long enough to take pictures of the evidence, but never took the glass.  I was too eager for someone else to find the treasure I found.  Evidence of the person who found it first, and wanted you to find it, too.  

I only saw one other person coming from the direction I was going, so I stopped her.  “Was it you?”  “Did you draw the circles around the sea glass?!”

She, Michelle, head of beach clean up on their "4 miles of heaven", smiled knowingly.  “No, that was Mitch.”  

Mitch?

“Yes, he walks the beach every morning at sunrise.  He’s 85.  He couldn’t walk and was near death a year ago.  But, now he walks two miles every morning and volunteers to clean up the beach. He only wanted a bucket and a grabber, so that’s what he got. His wife Susie goes when he gets back, so she can use the bucket and grabber, too.”  

She said, “If you’re here tomorrow morning at sunrise…”

But, I won’t be.  I’m leaving soon. 

But, I’m taking Mitch with me.  Along with all of the treasures I found (outside of his circles).  But, leaving knowing Mitch walks the beach at sunrise, picking up trash and circling sea glass for others to find, is the greatest treasure of all.




 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

A Case For Marriage

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary.  Yes, we can believe it.  And no, we can’t believe it!  

Once upon a time, a ranch foreman who had given up on women and a horse trainer with a boyfriend back in Kansas, met on Valentine’s Day in the Hill Country…

“Your boyfriend let you come to Texas without a ring on your finger?!  Your boyfriend is a fool.”

We were engaged a month later and married eight months after that.  St. Isidore’s Catholic Church.  K-State campus.  November 9, 2002.  A fall wedding in Kansas is a bit of a gamble, but it was 70-something and sunny.  Because, why wouldn’t it be?  It was a game day and there were a lot of happy Wildcats honking and cheering us on as we crossed the threshold as husband and wife.

20 years later, we have three teenage boys, good jobs, and all we need.  I just finished my second class in my graduate program, and my husband has been unbelievably supportive.  Not only like not complaining when I’m holed up on the computer, or saying “You’ve got this!”, but also like…


Plate delivered, meat cut up, potato mashed and buttered with salt and pepper, and salad with just the right amount of the right kind of dressing.  I mean, freaking amazing.  

I could go on and on and on about all of the reasons I love my husband and why he is the best and why I am so glad I married him.  But, you might think your husband is better than mine and then we might have to fight, or you might think your husband is a loser compared to mine and then I would have to console you, so I’m going to switch tracks, because as much as I want to celebrate our 20 years, which I will, with him, tonight, I want to encourage you in your marriage, right now. 

Marriage is one of the best and hardest things there is.  I have talked to three different people this week who may or may not have used the “D” word, but are wondering if their marriages are going to survive, or if they’re going to die trying to make it work.  I’ve never forgotten what my married friends said, both having been married twice before…

“We could have made our first marriage work, if we had just known how much work marriage is.”  Yesterday, she lived through the date of his death for the fourth time.  It’s hard to call it an anniversary.  

I no longer have the privilege of celebrating an anniversary without thinking about a time when celebrating them might end, and dreading them might begin.  Grieving spouses are great teachers.  They help me believe in the depth of my husband’s love for me.

Two years after her death, a grieving husband told me on Monday, “I still look for her.”

“I know she’s not there, but I still look for her.”

This helps me to know that if I should die, I will not be dead to my husband.  Even after a long time.  It also reminds me that he is looking for me, now.  

And this is a really good thing to see and know and be reminded of.  Because sometimes my husband is bringing me a plate of bite-sized meat and buttered potatoes, and sometimes he’s gone for two weeks, and I feel like an acquaintance on a good day and a beggar on a bad one.  Please, sir, can you spare just a little bit of time?  Under the right circumstances, I can convince myself that I am destined for leftovers, and it’s embarrassingly easy to despair.

As much I would like to say this is old news, I just about blew it again this weekend.  More time away for him, a big paper due for me, and patience, charity, and anything that feels like love at all seems to fly right out the window.  We were supposed to overnight in San Antonio to watch a boy and a band march at the Alamodome and go for a hike the next day.  Storms were coming in, I was on the fence, and he didn’t want to spend the trip in silence, so…

So, after 20 years, I realized something.  I realized that I was withholding my love because in my wounded and selfish heart, I didn’t think he deserved it.  When I actually admitted this to myself, I was ashamed.  I was ashamed because that is not who I am.  I believe in giving my love to everyone, especially to those who don’t deserve it.  And he does deserve it.  Every bit of it. 

I assured him the weekend wouldn’t pass in silence.  We went, and had a wonderful time.  

I cringe at the thought that I almost bagged the whole thing.  Over seven miles, we walked and talked about the meaning of life and happiness and the two times in our 20 years of marriage I told him to go-fly-a-kite with fewer words and no kite.  He’s forgiven me, but he still remembers how many times it happened.  Twice…

I was reading a book about parenting teenagers yesterday because it’s so easy and I love reading about how easy it is.  (HA.Ha.ha)  Anyway, I came across this great quote.  I think it fits nicely here, as we own our mistakes, and let the good and bad all go together somehow, like they do…

One of the most widespread superstitions is that every man has his own special, definite qualities:  That a man is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, etc.  Men are not like that…men are like rivers…every river narrows here, is more rapid there, here slower, there broader, now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm.  It is the same with men.  Every man carries in himself the germs of every human quality, and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the man often becomes unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.      -Tolstoy

The only thing harder than living with someone in marriage, is living without them.  Yes, it is normal for it to be “this hard.” Keep fighting for what is worth fighting for.  Find the good and circle around it.  Forgive the rest and begin again.  

Happy 20th Anniversary to Us, and Love and Encouragement to all… 






Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Look Through the Kaleidoscope

I facilitate a grief support group for spouses, every Monday. I'm sorry if I sound like a broken record. I feel like I say this more than I say any other thing, except hopefully, I love you.

Facilitating this group and getting to know the people and their stories have become part of who I am and a highlight of every week.

This week, I planned to discuss bravery, feeling pretty brave myself after camping on the beach with my teenagers over the weekend.

But, this is their group, and more relevant this day were love letters written during courtship, mailed in time to meet their muse (who was a flight attendant for Pan Am) at her next destination, somewhere around the world.  These letters were kept, mostly forgotten, and found 50 some years later, right around the one-year anniversary of his passing.  These letters took six hours to read, all in a row.  This day, they were neatly bundled with a bow and shared with cupcakes.


More important this day, were songs sung by a cowboy who once sang for hundreds, but only for his dogs since his wife went Home.

And more important this day, were dreams of spouses-gone-ahead by spouses-left-behind.  Dreams as real as the realest thing there is.

This Monday morning, one woman greeted another.  She'd met her a few times before, but couldn't remember her name.  So, she asked her again.  She needed to know her name, because she needed to thank her.  And give her a toy kaleidoscope.

On the second anniversary of her husband's death, she dreamt.  In her dream, she was at one of our meetings.  When our meeting ended, the woman (whose name she did not know) handed her a kaleidoscope and told her to look through it.

When she looked through it, she saw her husband coming down from heaven.  (When she says this, her hand extends to the sky and her eyes spring with tears.  It feels a little bit like you were there, too, and like it is happening right now.)

Her husband looked well and happy.  He came near, walked past her, got on his horse, and rode away.  

The joy of seeing him seemed to outweigh the pain of not being able to talk or touch.  Seeing the one person you chose above all others.  Your other half...

We dabbed at our tears and marveled that someone you barely know (and who doesn't dream), could give you an opportunity you would give anything for, and yet, could not give yourself.

I wonder if Rose Marie had not been there to hand Melissa a kaleidoscope, if it would have been someone else?  Would Melissa have seen her husband on the second anniversary of his death, no matter what?

 It's hard to say.

The thing is, Rose Marie was there - giving kaleidoscopes and instructions, and by doing so, connecting her with the person she loves the most. 

Does this mean that simply by showing up and tending to our own needs and making ourselves available to others in real time, that we create unlimited possibilities for future connections - inside and outside of time?    

It seems like maybe, um probably, I'm going with yes...

I am beyond hopeful that relationships continue after death and in awe of the synchronicity of a well-timed dream and heavenly visitation.   I am also exceedingly grateful for the small, but irreplaceable parts we play in one another’s lives, knowing or unknowingly, and that a kaleidoscope can connect strangers, lovers, worlds, and us.  

I hope a peek into this Monday morning can do the same for you.

Sweet Dreams.





.



Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Halfway to 90

I’m halfway to 90 today.  Not that 90 is my goal, really.  

I would say mid-eighties is an ideal checkout time, but just about then, I meet an amazing 91-year-old and others well beyond that, and I feel like a jerk just for thinking it.  A very experienced and beloved coworker recently said, “As long as I can suck a milkshake through a straw and enjoy it, I still wanna be alive.”  I like that, too.  

 I didn’t drink a milkshake today, but I am just home from eating out with my family and topping off with cake and ice cream.  I like to write a blog post on my birthday to see how my perspective changes and what is top-of-mind from year to year.  Kind of like a 2D time capsule with just words, and nothing to open but a website.

Today, I want to remember the questions that are bearing fruit in my life.

“What do you want more/less of?”  and “Lord, what do you want me to know?”  

Answers to these questions in recent months have been…More one-on-one, more quilting, less stomach fat (more exercise), more nature, less Facebook, less supervisor responsibilities, and more education.

So, I’ve…

…started drinking my first cup of coffee on the front porch in the morning.

…stepped out of management and back into the field full-time.

…started doing burpees (again).  It feels like longer, but I timed it today.  It only takes a minute (or so) to do ten.  Even I can commit to doing something for one minute.

…made a table runner, two quilts, and am halfway finished with a third.

…applied to graduate school, and start in 13 days.

Still no 21-and-holding for me.  I love growing older.  So much to wonder at, be in awe of, and grateful for.

It looks like there is a little debate as to what was actually said by St. Iranaeus.  But, I like the version that says, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  I can’t help but wonder if that man was 45…





Friday, July 29, 2022

Darce Day

This is my favorite thing I’ve written to date.  I am a hospice chaplain.  To me, this story, this woman, our relationship, and traveling the past year with her on her journey has become the picture of everything I could hope for as a hospice chaplain. 

Yes, we can accompany people for a little or a long while, do death and moments of crisis, Scripture, music, and prayer. But, entering into the life of another for weeks turned into months, finding yourself there, adding unexpected joy, and giving and receiving an opportunity to reflect on a very hidden and private 90-year-old life has changed me.  Darce has given me permission to share it with you.  I hope you like it, too.

(A video of me reading Darce’s story to her, here…https://youtu.be/jx5tukDPZuE)


Darce Day”

Once upon a time, there was a woman who had 90-year-old eyes and 90-year-old teeth.  


On days when she is feeling blue, her daughter cheers her up by saying, “At least you have your own teeth!”


 She passes the days reflecting on all that has been – Amazed that one who so loved golf and gardening, sailing and cooking and tennis, could be so content – looking at the sky and an occasional bird, but not really being able to see either one.


 “Have you ever thought about what it’s like to talk to someone without being able to see them?” she asks.

 

No, I guess I haven’t.  And I’m afraid to experiment in my next conversation, imagining the other person will be unable to listen at all because they can’t stop wondering why my eyes are closed.  So, I imagine it for the rest of the day, and conclude that it would be very different, indeed.


This is the story of Doris Marie Johnson.  Only she didn’t like the name Doris.  So, she changed it.  When she was seven years old.  And no one noticed.  It might have been around the same time she realized she was not “a goddamn little bastard, but a Daughter of the King!”


Whenever it was, after that, she knew she had the power to change things.  Like an “i” to an “e” in Maree.  And that Johnson could be left off altogether.  


Darce was sitting in her favorite spot, communing with God, when she had a new visitor one day.  Well, she had a lot of new visitors, but the visitor I’m talking about is me.


In that first visit, we looked at little paper bags with her artwork on them – made each day for her precious daughter to tote her lunch to school.  Even the doctor’s daughter recognized their preciousness and wanted to buy them.  But, they weren’t for sale.


Not exactly sure what, but something magical happened between lunch sacks, and whatever was said before or after looking at them.  


It was decided that only weekly visits would do, even though monthly visits from this hospice chaplain was the normal order of things.


And Friday would be the best, because Darce’s daughter had to do this thing called work.


So, Fridays at lunchtime became the high point of Darce’s week.  And Heidi’s, too.

———

Oh, my name is Heidi.  I never changed my name, but I did add an “e” to the end of my middle name for a while.  I thought Ann looked better and more sophisticated that way.  I was probably trying to be like Darce even though I hadn’t met her, yet.  


Subway turned into Taco Bell, and how can tacos taste so good EVERY.SINGLE.WEEK?!


 But, they do.


 I think it has something to do with the way I put the sauce on while she holds the taco open.  And the way all of the stuff falls out and we pick up the pieces with our fingers, and shove them into our mouths afterwards.


The large drinks were always too big and heavy, so I poured them in a smaller glass for her.  But, the smaller glass is getting too heavy, too.  


The days are getting longer for Darce.  Getting into bed at night requires heroic effort and has become a task to dread.  Fortunately, her daughter doesn’t mind lifting her tired legs up and in, and her big panda is waiting there for her when the work is done.  Like receiving prize money at the end of a marathon.


The panda helps her tell time, too.  When you’re tired and taking a lot of naps, it is easy to forget if it is daytime or nighttime.


 Well, the panda knows.  If it is daytime, he sits up on a pretty bed, with the covers all nice and neat.  


When it’s night, he lays down and waits for you.  Mr. Knightly, the cat waits on your pillow, too.

——

When every part of your body is 90-years-old, it is easy to feel like your parts are falling apart, if they haven’t fallen off completely. 


But, you know something?


You can always feel good on Fridays. 


When your daughter wakes you up and says, “It’s Heidi Day!”, you feel better.  


When you wake yourself up, and you remember it is “Darce Day!”, you feel better, too.   


When you’re 90-years-old, you can forget it is 100 degrees outside and summertime, because you never leave the house, but you know more important stuff, like what it means to be really alive.


It turns out, it is the simplest recipe around.  Only takes three ingredients.


1.     Discovering new things.


2.     Contributing.


3.     Connecting.


Learning this from Darce over a year after meeting her for that very first time, I’m beginning to understand the magic that is us.  Not that I really need to, but we find ourselves trying to explain it and come up short.  (I guess we always will.)


We enjoy this sweetest-of-dishes every Friday along with the pecan toffee bits we savor for dessert, if we haven’t already eaten them all.  We like how they get stuck in our teeth, so we can enjoy them longer.


When Darce looks at me, she says, “You are who I used to be – DOING. BEING. ALIVE.”  She seems to admire me in a way she was unable to admire herself.  I doubt she ever asked herself, “Do you know how special you are?”


When I look at Darce, I see who I hope to be, 50 years from now.


Darce greets me with an eagerness only akin to those who love me for my own sake.  She even remains interested in me, long after I take my seat.  She asks great questions and laughs in all of the right places.  She’s a great listener and thinks I’m a great listener, too.  And we laugh at how much people talk and talk and talk, and at what they can’t hear us saying. 


Maybe we got the same superpower when we were 16 – when her Mom died and mine stopped walking.  Maybe something is born in you when you become a teenage mother for your own Mom.  Maybe that is why she “walks around more in the world of other people than in her own world,” and why I do, too.


We wonder aloud what dying will be like.  She is even fascinated by it, when she is not too tired to hold it away from herself to give it a good look.  She thinks she is closer to knowing for sure, and I think she is right.  But, she remains unafraid and in moments, would “welcome it, even.”


I imagine my Fridays without her.  It makes my eyes sting and my throat lumpy.  I imagine eating tacos by myself and wondering why TGIF doesn’t resonate the way it used to.


I imagine writing a story to tell the tale of Darce and Heidi Day, and a desperation to share it with her.


So, I stop imagining and I start writing.  Because there’s still time.


I wrote the first page in the Taco Bell parking lot and read it to her yesterday.  I asked for her input, but she wanted it to be all mine, so I’m finishing it this morning in my favorite spot.  As we tried to remember the name of Paul Harvey at our last vist, I told her I would read her the “rest of the story” next Friday.  


I hope she likes it.



 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Unwashed Strawberries

Standing in front of the coffee pot, I just refilled my second cup.  The strawberries are still sitting where they’ve been sitting for the last couple of days.  I bought them to cut up and put on ice cream, but didn’t use them all.  

This morning, it occurred to me that perfectly good food can go to waste, if any effort is required to consume it.  If I had washed the strawberries and put them in a bowl, they would have been eaten.  If I had cut them up with the others, they would have been eaten.  But, these remain locked away in the plastic box they came in, rotting on the counter in plain sight.  

This, in a home where boys scavenge the pantry, counter, and refrigerator day and night.

Seems like a metaphor for all of the things that could be enjoyed, if we weren’t so afraid of work or tiny inconveniences.  It reminds me of the old children’s story, where the housekeeper’s bonus was hiding under the rug.  If she did her job thoroughly - and swept under the rug - she found the treasure that was hers.

While planning nothing in the order of cleaning or hard work on this Saturday morning, and prioritizing relaxation almost always, I am just wondering how many little joys we miss when we heed the lazy voice in our head.  The one that urges us not to bother with the strawberries and to sit back down.




Sunday, June 19, 2022

Lego Dads

Yesterday is just one example among thousands of what a father might be doing on a Saturday, or any day.  In this example, he’s examining the streamlet of water running down the curb and the patch of grass around the water meter that is greener than all the rest.  He’s calling the City to see if this little situation is their’s or our’s.  But “ours” really means “his” because I.know.nothing. 

It’s ours.  So… Lowe’s, water off, repairs, line cleared, water on, no hot water in the tub, water off, bathroom panel removed, water on, still no hot water, water off, glue extraction, polish tub knobs, water on, and we’re back in business.  

 I tell him thank you, and wonder how much I would have paid a plumber to do all of that.  He’s sweaty and dirty and relieved it only took half of the day, and not the rest of it. 

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking about how fathers spend most of their time.  A handful of words come to mind…Fixing. Providing. Teaching and Hiding (and Napping w.h.e.n.e.v.e.r. possible).

Fixing.  Yesterday - water pipe.  Last week - washing machine.  Week before - neighbor’s bike tire.  Before that, truck brakes.  To do - Van upholstery, re-side the rest of the house, remodel bathroom. 

Providing.  Preparing to go to work. Time spent at work.  Recovering from work.  A friend once told me it is easy to forget that our husbands feel like they’ve been pulling a long train behind them all day when they walk through the door at night. I think she’s right. 

Teaching.  My boys love to imitate my husband yelling, “BOYS!”  This is usually followed by some instruction on not leaving plates in the living room, or what it means to “clean the kitchen”, or how you put something back where you found it when you’re done using it, or some small detail about spray painting things, like PUT SOMETHING UNDER IT!

Hiding.  Sometimes, fathers have to hide to get some time to themselves. The bathroom and garage are popular places.  But, they’re good at hiding other things, too.  Like little irritations, back pain, fear, fatigue, and how hard they are working.

Napping.  Well-deserved, men.  Nap away.  

What is amazing to me, is that the two fathers in my life, my father and my husband, had no long-term in-house model.  My husband was only 5-years-old when his Dad died.  He dreamt he lived in the attic for some time afterward.  My father’s in-house Dad was abusive or absent.  And yet, these men continued to move forward through life like self-constructing Lego people.  Observing the best of what they saw in the other men in their lives, and building those things into themselves.  They are unrepeatable, irreplaceable, and so very.very.good.






Happy Father’s Day to my Lego Husband, my Lego Dad, and to all of you Dads out there. Thanks for being who you are, doing all that you do, and paying for dinner.