Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day 3: stopping for lunch in Eugene

Here's a tip: an existential crisis is not a good thing to have when you go to your 50 year high school reunion.
But sometimes these things happen.
It would be easier to think about all the people who are gone if I had a real plan for going on from here. Used to have Rick waiting at home, cousin Nancy waiting in the Bay Area, Rick's folks Mark and Diane in Sonoma. 
Diane's still alive, but she's in Europe. 
Anyway, there were always people at the other end of the drive. Now - it's a high school reunion, for heaven's sake. I didn't like high school.
I was hoping this trip would kick start me. It hasn't yet.
OK - from here I head out to the coast. So I'd better get going. It'll be dark in a few hours.

Road Blog Day 3

If you are asking, "What happened to days 1 and 2?" set your mind at ease. There is no entry for days one or two.
Catching up: after running around my house frantically all day Tuesday I caught the 7 pm ferry from Tahlequah and made it down to Sonya's place in Vancouver a little after 10 pm.  
Yesterday I got up and drove over to Scappoose to visit my old friend Marilyn. 
Marilyn was my first female friend on Vashon when I first arrived in 1972. She is now living with her second husband, Mike, and their dog Shiloh, on a boat that is moored on the Willamette River in Scappoose. They spend their days working on making the boat fit for travel. At this time that means scraping off years of old paint so they can sand and put on new paint. Marilyn took me out to lunch at Ichabod's, and we caught up. 
Marilyn was part of my original group of friends on Vashon all those years ago and she knew Rick well. He called her "Marvelyn." Marvelous Marilyn, and she was. She and her husband then, Kyle, divorced after their son grew up and she left the island to seek a new life. Now she and Mike are starting over again in retirement. The starting over seems to involve a lot of sweaty work on the boat before the sailing off into the sunset begins.
Full circle: In 1971 a friend invited me to Vashon Island to help him and his friends build a ferro-concrete sailing boat, with a goal of sailing off around the world and singing and playing music. I told everyone in California that no one had ever invited me to sail off into the sunset before, and I came up to Vashon Island to check it out. The first person I met here the day I arrived was Rick, but we didn't figure out we were supposed to get married until years later.
But I digress.
The route from Vancouver to Scappoose goes through Portland, and it was a pleasant drive both ways. I've never spent much time in Portland, only driven through, and I began to get a feel for what a spread-out place it is. Like Seattle it is divided by water, chiefly the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and their various offshoots.
Made it back home to Sonya's in time to be barked at by her renter's two dachshunds for a couple of hours (note to self: no matter how charming and cute, never get a dachshund), and then have a dinner made entirely of veggies from Sonya's garden, except for a little grated cheese on top. Yum. 
  Today I head south. I was debating whether to take I-5 or go down 99 ... or cut over to the coast south of Portland. Maybe stop and take a gander at the Spruce Goose, ho ho.
  Supposed to be in Watsonville by tomorrow evening, but moving slowly, I admit. Very strange to be on this trip without Rick at home, without his dad and step-mom in Sonoma or my cousin Nancy in Benicia. Step-mom Diane is in Europe, and Nancy's sister Charlotte is who knows where, camping out while her village that almost burned gets power and water restored. 
  It's a new trip and a new life. Guess I better saddle up and get going.



Sunday, September 13, 2015

On the Road One More Time

A hilltop apple orchard in Watsonville, CA. Those hills in the distance? That's where the San Andreas Fault runs.

As I am sure I mentioned before, when Rick died I figured I would be out of my mind for at least two years. Having that idea intellectually is quite different from the actual experience. I didn’t know that my interior life would be burned to the ground when he died, or how long it would take to recover from the stunning reality of his passing. Finally it seems like even though I still feel like a mess inside, I’m at some kind of baseline where I can start building my new normal life.
So I’m going to California.
The object of this trip is to attend the 50-year reunion of my high school class.
Why go to a 50-year reunion? It isn’t as if high school was a great experience for me. I hated pretty much every minute, except when I was singing in choir, but I figure it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Maybe I’ll be able to tell you why I went afterward, when I’ve had the experience and had time to think about it. For now it’s a trip I’ve been planning for over a year, and which I’ve almost backed out of several times.
Ever since I can remember I’ve had this severe anxiety before trips. Only people who have these feelings can understand, I imagine. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Rick always said, “Once you’re on the road, you’ll be fine.” Rick was right about that. I was always in road trip mode by the time I got off the ferry at Pt. Defiance.
I hope it works that way this time.
So, a 50-year reunion. Wonder how many people I’ll recognize, or will recognize me.
While I’m in town, I’ll visit the ranch where I grew up. I’ll visit my parents’ graves and leave flowers. I hope to go to the Santa Cruz County Fair, and look at the apple exhibits. My parents used to enter their largest apples in my name and let me keep the ribbons.
I’ll go commune with the cows and the goats and the horses and look at the lucky 4-H kids who are spending a few days sleeping in the barns at the fair. Man, I wanted to do that, but my father wouldn’t let me raise a calf. He said my mother and I would get attached and name the damn thing and then when it was time to sell it to be butchered there would be hell to pay. He was probably correct.
When the weekend is over I might drive south to San Luis Obispo so I can turn and go up through Big Sur. We’ll see.
However far south I drive, when I turn north I’ll head up the coast, through the redwoods. Something about Highway 101 from Healdsburg north resonates within me, perhaps because occasionally I catch a glimpse of the California I traveled with my parents when I was a child. May have to stop and hug a gigantic tree or two.
I’ll definitely visit the Ship Ashore trailer park, motel, and restaurant at the mouth of Smith River. That’s the property my grandparents owned during the 1930s. It impressed me as a fairly desolate environment. I don’t know what my grandparents saw in the place, but apparently my grandmother Lyllian loved it deeply there. Grandpa sold the place after she died of Pick’s disease in 1938. Still, I stop and drive in and look down at the river every time I drive by.
Then I’ll head for home as fast as I can go, ready to be home and feel safe again. That’s my next couple of weeks. I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

Unless of course I decide to head to Los Angeles and take another crack at that songwriter career. But most likely that coming home thing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Please Help Me, I’m Falling


Went out into the yard to put in the cone flower I bought on an impulse yesterday. Cone flowers are perennials, and I am in favor of plants that have the sense to come back on their own.
So I found a spot, added soil from a new bag of potting soil, and put the cone flower in. It looked great, but only time will tell if it does great where I planted it.
Then I planted the dianthus I was given as a gift a few months ago. When I got it, it was in full and glorious bloom, and I enjoyed the blooms and the spicy fragrance the blooms gave off all summer. Then it occurred to me that it was time to get the plant into the soil.
I extended the boundary of one of my flowerbeds. The expansion required moving several bricks, rooting out many buttercups (which set off an earworm of, “Why do you build me up, Buttercup, baby, just to let me down …”*), re-stacking the bricks farther out in the yard, dumping soil into the new space, and then planting the dianthus and pressing it into place.
This sort of work leaves me drained. I’d like to blame it on old age, but gardening has always fatigued me. I liked gardening in the abstract, but the real thing has always made me exhausted.
I know people who say that gardening is relaxing. Digging in the soil, connecting with primal feelings, providing for the clan, meditating on the miracle of plant growth, the cycle of life ebbing and flowing, blah de blah blah.
Gardening makes my back hurt and as I get older and my knees and balance get worse, I have to pay attention to every step I take to remain stable. I get one little task done and then I have to sit down and think for several minutes. I have to sit longer when I do things like spend half an hour making space between plants and carefully placing a drip hose in a flowerbed, only to learn when I go to attach the garden hose that I’ve put the drip hose in backwards and it has to be taken out and put in again in the other direction.
So, anyway, I sit and think. Unfortunately that’s when I see more things that need doing, like pruning back the dusty miller which has gone leggy again.
SO, today I got the cone flower planted, and pulled zillions of buttercups (“… and then worst of all, you never call, baby, when you say you will, but I love you still …”*) and a couple of armfuls of non-blooming crocosmia, and got the new bed space created and the dianthus planted, AND the dusty miller pruned back. I was standing up before going to turn on the water to the drip hose, and that’s when I fell.
Fighting a fall is usually a bad idea – stiff, flailing body parts can get whacked but good on obstacles like furniture or the floor. Outdoors, I’ve learned to relax and tuck and roll when I realize that I am going down, so I don’t usually get hurt. That’s what I did today. The dry ground was hard, but I didn’t break anything.
I lay there for a while collecting my thoughts and doing an inventory of parts, another thing I’ve learned to do after falling, and decided I was all right and would try getting up. I rolled over and used my basic “toddler standing up” technique. I get on all fours, then put one foot on the ground and push off with the other leg and both hands, rising butt first like the sun coming up over the Cascades. Awkward, not exactly flattering to the ego, but I do end up on my feet again.
I fear falls more the older I get. My balance and control have improved quite a bit since I’ve been going to water walking classes at the Athletic Club. I can feel the improvement in my core strength. I’ve gone from “none” to “some.” So that helps a bit, but I have to be careful.
When my mother was in her eighties she frequently said, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” I am getting closer to understanding the full meaning of that phrase. Tomorrow morning when I wake up and feel the soreness in every muscle and ligament that was tweaked when I fell over today, I’ll understand it even more.

*Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Mike d’Abo and Tony Macaulay, authors of the Buttercup song, and The Foundations, who had a hit with it in 1969.

The Ring of Truth


When your spouse shuffles off this mortal coil you have to take care of a lot of business. As time goes on and the angst recedes a little, the less pressing issues begin to arise, one of which is, should I keep wearing my wedding ring?
The wedding ring is a little piece of bling that is freighted with a lot of symbolism and meaning. It says, “I belong to someone.” It gives the person wearing it a feeling of love and security.
When your spouse dies, you don’t automatically stop feeling married, but over time your feelings do change. I won’t say that marriage wears off, but, yeah, it kind of does. Gradually you learn to live your life without the marriage dance you did with your partner. You stop bringing home leftover popcorn from the theater for him. You get used to watching whatever you want to watch on TV. The habits of marriage begin to fade.
You still see things that you think he’d love to see, and you hear something and you can’t wait to get home to tell him, and then you remember – oh yeah.
You might wonder one day if, seeing as how you are technically no longer married, it is time to take off your wedding ring. One day late last spring I decided to try taking the ring off, and was surprised by how light I felt without it, so I left it off. Look, Ma, I’m healing!
A few weeks passed. One day I went to the transfer station to drop off about a dozen bags of recycling. A kind older gentleman offered to help out by carrying some of the bags from my car and dumping them. I thanked him for his kindness. I was thinking I had seen him around the island – it’s a pretty small island, you know – and asked him if he knew where we might have met.
At that point he got a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, and couldn’t get to his car and get out of there fast enough.
Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that whatever was going on with him was about him, and not about me, but tell that to my heart. In the moment I felt all the bewilderment, burn, and bitter irony of being rejected by someone in whom I was only slightly interested. It was as if all the hard-won wisdom and sense of the least fifty years had never happened, and there I was, nothing but a bundle of insecurities.
It was like being in high school again. Yark.
I went through a brief spurt of anger and saying, “Men! What the hell is the matter with them?” but eventually I came to see that it hurt to be misunderstood, judged, and rejected. At that point I asked, “What’s wrong with me?”
I had committed the great sin of being friendly to a man. Most women are aware of this rule. If you are friendly with a man, he is quite likely going to put the wrong construction on your friendliness, I’m sorry to say. Of course I don’t really know what set that guy off. Perhaps he suddenly remembered he’d left his iron on.
In the days that followed I thought that perhaps wearing my wedding ring would help me to avoid such awkward situations. My ring says, “I am not coming on to you, thanks, I am simply being friendly.” Friendliness is usually okay on Vashon, but not always.
So I went back home and put my ring back on.
Being married and widowed takes a lot out of you. It has taken a long time for me to begin coming back to the world. Occasionally running into someone who misjudges me, or whom I do not understand and might misjudge, is a risk that I take on by returning to the world. Such misunderstandings do happen, despite your best intentions. So I tell myself.
I also tell myself that I’d better remember that I can’t control what other people think or feel or how they behave, and I shouldn’t take their behavior personally. Hah. That’s a lesson I’ve been trying to grasp for years. I hoped to learn it through therapy, prayer, study, and 12-step groups, as well as the school of hard knocks, but I suspect I am not going to live long enough to truly get it.

I’ll keep working on it, though, and for the moment I’ll be working on it with my ring on, for whatever protection that gives me from the vivid imaginations of strangers. In the end, the question is, who needs this kind of grief? I have enough of my own.

Happy Anniversary

September 3, 2015

Today would have been our thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. In my heart, it still is. The last one we celebrated together was 34 years. That seems so long ago. At the end of December I will observe the second anniversary of Rick's death.
I couldn't understand why it was being such a lousy week. I was so depressed - felt like I was under a huge sack of wet sand. All I could do was watch TV and play solitaire. 
Then yesterday everything set me off. This computer, which has so many quirks and seems hellbent on living a life of its own regardless of what I want it to do, opening windows and moving the cursor away from whatever I was typing for no reason I could see, was making me apoplectic with rage. I was so angry with it. I even banged on it with my fist hard enough that I hoped I hadn't broken it. Everything was going so wrong.
Late in the afternoon I came down with a migraine, which I seldom have these days. After missing so much of my life to migraines over thirty plus years, I have been pretty happy not to have them so often any more. Once in a while, though, I'll get one.
At the end of yesterday's perfectly awful day, I felt one blooming within my unhappy cranium. I ended up taking a couple of pain pills and going to bed for a while until the pain receded. Sometime in there I remembered what day of the year it would be in the morning.
Oh.
Thirty-six years ago today we woke up at my mother's house on Wilkie Street in Watsonville, and we got up and got dressed and drove out to the Corralitos Womens Clubhouse and were married on the lawn in the yard by Father Charles Moore, a maverick retired Catholic priest who had started his professional life as a lawyer and got into some trouble - thereby hangs a tale. He did a great wedding sermon.
He said this was the third day of our marriage.
The first day was the day we met and recognized each other.
The second day was the day we confessed our love to each other - something we had struggled against saying, it being so serious a thing after all.
The third day was this day, the day we were wed. 
Charlie was a pretty smart guy.
He talked about what a lot of trouble it was to get married. Man, was that the truth. I have said since then that weddings and funerals bring out the best and worst in people. The day of our wedding, my mother's sister, whom we called Sister, was not speaking to my mother because my mother and I had invited my father's sister to the wedding. Well, we invited both of his remaining sisters, and they both came, but Sister really hated the older sister and was furious that she was at my wedding. I had to have a separate picture taken of me with Sister and Uncle Mike because she wouldn't be part of any family pictures.
My father's sisters, by the way, hated each other and had done from childhood. When the older one died and my cousin Nancy called the younger sister to let her know, the younger sister said, "What do I care?" and kind of tore Nancy a new one for bothering to call. Yeah, that aunt was a piece of work. But I digress.
Today, thirty-six years on from our wedding day, has been a day of sad and sweet remembrance. I sat in my chair on the kitchen porch and thanked Rick for marrying me: you made my life so much better than it might have been, and you were such an awfully good sport.
I could swear he then thanked me for marrying him, giving him the life and family he had despaired of having. So the words formed in my mind.
I do remember how desperate and angry he was in the aftermath of his first marriage. His first wife cheated on him, which for him was unforgivable, and he was still angry. Maybe even apoplectic with rage, if he allowed himself to fall into brooding on it.
Rick was one of the most stubborn people I've ever known, and once he made his mind up about something, he would not un-make it. So even though I know he was angry at his first wife for the rest of his life, it wasn't one of those keeping up the relationship by being angry things. It was a Rick being angry that she had wasted his time and broken his heart thing and he'd never forgive her.
He was a good guy, my Ricky. He didn't live long enough, but if he'd taken better care of himself over his lifetime, maybe he would have lived longer. Sometimes I think that, but I don't know, and what does it matter now? I just miss him so much.

In between the wistful bouts of sadness, there were adventures today. When I went out to use my car, it wouldn't start. I managed to jump start it with Rick's truck. Later this evening my friends Harry and Leanna gave me a jump start in town so I could drive home and Harry said he thought it was the starter, from the sound of it. Sigh. After I drove home and turned the car off, I tried to start it again and it wouldn't start, so I think Harry nailed it.

Drove up to the mailbox today and it was full of ants and their eggs. I had noticed them in there a couple of days ago, and bought some ant traps which I was going to put in the mailbox, but yesterday because of my migraine I didn't get around to it, nor did I pick up the mail.
By this evening when I stopped to put the traps in, the mailbox was fully colonized, as was yesterday's mail. Hundreds of ants, thousands of ants, millions and billions and trillions of ants.
I picked up a brochure and a few hundred ants and eggs fell out of it. 
I took all the mail out and waved it around and smacked it against the mailbox post trying to get all the ants and eggs out of it. Ugh. When done with that, I used a piece of cardboard to sweep as many ants and eggs out of the mailbox as I could, and set the new traps in. 
Here's the irony: last year when the ants invaded the mailbox, I put ant traps in. They were using last year's expired ant traps as the base for this year's new colony in the mailbox.
I don't know why ants set up housekeeping in my mail box, but they've been doing it for years. Ants, and spiders, and occasionally paper wasps. Does everyone's mailbox get this buggy?

Well. So today was our anniversary. Tomorrow I'll make an appointment to get my starter replaced. With new tires and a battery, I felt all set for winter. Not quite. Life goes on, my dears, regardless of grief and dead car parts and ants in the mailbox.
Happy Anniversary, Ricky.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Sunday Afternoon of the Year

Photo by Mary Liz Austin of Vashon. I don't know her, but I sure like this picture of a summer sunset from the island.
We’re coasting into late summer. I figure that after the Strawberry Festival, there are a few weeks left of wearing shorts and tank tops and going to the beach, but you might as well acknowledge that fall is coming.
Not this year, maybe. Between El Nino and Climate Change it seems that the climate of Central California has moved here. I can’t decide if it makes me less or more homesick for California, “the Golden State,” as it calls itself. It was only after I lived here a few years and went back to visit the state of my birth that I realized that all that gold was grass that hadn’t had any water lately.
Now California is the “Parched as Beef Jerky State.”(Motto: “When we get dehydrated, we elect Jerry Brown.”) I’ll be going down there in September for my 50-year high school reunion, so I’ll get to see their drought up close then.
I hear that we are suffering from a drought here in Washington, also. I reckon it’s true because I had to start watering my yard in early May, and have had to keep it up every other day or so all summer. For most of the years I have lived here I didn’t have to water the garden until sometime in July. This having to water for months instead of weeks has me thinking of planting truly drought-tolerant plants, as in, if I don’t water for five days, they’ll still be alive. I’m open to suggestions for possible plants.
In France, I’ve heard, everyone goes on vacation for the month of August. I always thought everybody saying to heck with work for a month was a great idea. It has never caught on in this country, and would be a tough sell – God forbid any American should find something preferable to WORK – but August is a popular month for our vacations, as well. The kids have all been to camp and had their swimming lessons and there is a lull before everyone gears up in September for going back to school or away to college or simply concentrating more on the job because summer is over. We fill this slack time with vacations, or we stay home to paint the house or some other chore we think we can do in our vacation time because we are workaholic boneheads.
August is like a month long Sunday afternoon, rather drowsy and directionless if left to itself. You could read, or take a nap, or take a nice drive somewhere in your solar oven/crossover SUV, go camping or hiking, or visit Disneyland or some other entertainment mecca if you’re the kind who likes or needs to be entertained, or (sigh) you could paint the house or do repairs or mend all the old jeans or otherwise be virtuous and productive.
Americans like to be virtuous and productive, most of them. I consider it a shortcoming in the national character. I think if you get time off and spend it working you have missed the point.
Although, if you’re having fun doing the work, I suppose that’s not so bad. I am enjoying cleaning paper clutter out of my house, for example.
My idea of a great August is swimming, napping, and sitting around a fire (real or electronic – c’mon, you know I’m not the “I never watch TV” type) in the evening, then tucking into the nice clean line-dried sheets of my own bed and reading a romance or mystery novel. Ah.
I did not reference mosquitoes in that paragraph because they are pests that infringe upon the romantic dream, nor do I mention that those line-dried sheets had to be laundered and hung up by yours truly. Laundry and mosquitoes, both tedious and persistent in August. Hey, nothing’s perfect.
I hope you are enjoying this slightly imperfect August. I hope you get to be a little lazy, and feel guilt-free if you’re doing absolutely nothing. I hope you smile, and relax, and feel how much you are loved and how important you are to this imperfect world, and how wonderful it is to be living your imperfect life. Take it easy, because if August is the Sunday afternoon of the year, September is the Monday morning, and we don’t need to be in a hurry to get there, do we?
I thought not. Peace, you all, and resist that urge to do something useful.

Even Smart Alecks Need Days Off

 Photo by Laurie Shepherd Heath
Folks, it pains me to rerun an old column, but your smart aleck has been ill this week, and my brain has put up a “closed” sign. While out watering my nasturtiums and hollyhocks today I felt a bug on my arm, and it was an earwig. It reminded me of this column. So, from 2013, I bring you:

The Icebugs of Grylloblattaria
This has been the most beautiful summer I remember in years. Day after sunny day dawns, and we put on our shorts and tank tops and sandals, those of us not restricted by bothersome things like jobs, and go out to meet the delirious, delicious summer day.
We water our gardens, we admire the blooms of our flowers, we revel in the sweet juiciness of our homegrown fruits and vegetables. I have five tomatoes on my single tomato plant, and if the weather holds, they may have time to turn red. Meanwhile I love to touch the leaves and smell the tart muskiness of tomato plant, a scent that says “summer” to me.
The sun discourages, but does not stop, the slugs. I got some of that “safe” slug bait and while it may kill slugs, and I’m not saying I have any proof of that, it is apparently a tasty treat for mice.
Our son told me that every time he went out on the kitchen porch, he heard the scurrying of little feet and saw mice bailing out of the slug bait container and running away. I never saw these mice, but a quick check of the slug bait stash revealed a liberal sprinkling of mouse turds among the few remaining pellets.
Rather than trying to trap and kill the mice, I figured that when the slug bait was gone, the mice would forage elsewhere. Let the problem resolve itself, I thought.
NOTE: this benign neglect method may work with mice, but I have been informed it does not work with raising children. Little tip for you young parents (although nothing you do or do not do will forestall the day 10 or 20 years from now when your adult children will tell you the mistakes you made as a parent), be of good heart. Taking the blame for everything is a little service that parents provide for their adult children.
Where was I?
Another feature of this long hot summer is that the spiders are spinning early. Usually I don’t run into spider webs until August, but this morning I had to clear a web before I could walk out the kitchen door. I can only imagine the size and extent of the webs we’ll have in September.
The mosquitoes have been numerous and hungry this year. Eh, that’s usual here on the edge of the woods.
Speaking of hungry creatures, the deer have stripped the leaves and buds off of my roses three times this year. I don’t begrudge the deer their need to eat. I only wish they wouldn’t eat my roses, then wait long enough for the plants to recover and begin putting out buds before stripping them nekkid again. It’s the repetitive dashing of hope that gets me down.
Lastly I mention earwigs. Earwigs comprise the insect order Dermaptera, according to Wikipedia, which also says, “Many orders of insect have been theorized to be closely related to earwigs, though the icebugs of Grylloblattaria are most likely.”
The icebugs of Grylloblattaria!* Isn’t that glorious? Doesn’t that sound like a science fiction novel?
Earwigs like to inhabit crevices. We all know this from experience. Quite often earwigs will inhabit crevices in flowers I bring in from the garden and a few hours or days later I find earwigs crawling across the kitchen table, or the kitchen counter, or the living room rug. I have an irrational dislike of earwigs, and will usually crush them without hesitation or compunction. They give me the creeps.
So it was extremely creepy when I opened up my bedside CPAP machine the other night and found an earwig inside. Ugh. I walked it into the bathroom and sent it for a quick swim in the bathroom sink. Beats me how or why it got into my machine. The darn thing simply showed up. I guess that’s why I don’t like them – they’re always sneaking up on me. Give me the oogly-wooglies.
Even the most wonderful summer is bound to have some down sides, but all these critters aren’t stopping me from enjoying this summer. Hope you are enjoying your summer, critters and all.

*”Grylloblattidae is a family of extremophile and wingless insects that live in the cold on top of mountains.” – Wikipedia. Now you know.

The Rotten Part of Life

Everyone understands the importance of cleaning out the refrigerator on a regular basis. Granted, sometimes the motivation is a certain something in the air that turns out to be leftovers from three weeks ago.
Yesterday I cleaned out the condiments and containers in the refrigerator door. They’ve been in there a long time. That jar of pickle relish? I don’t eat pickle relish. Rick loved it on sandwiches. He’s been gone for a year and a half. This is both a math and a logic problem.
I pulled out a couple of virtually empty mustard jars, some highly suspect yogurt – it made a little “pfff” sound when I opened it – a container of apple juice which I remember bringing home a year ago, and other interesting archaeological finds.
I’m not sure if Worcestershire Sauce has an expiry date. That’s the trouble with condiments in general. Let’s see – barbecue sauce, salsa, soy sauce, blackberry pancake syrup? If it’s not growing mold, is it okay? If it’s the kind of thing that tastes a little expired when it’s fresh and new, how do you determine if it’s spoiled?
Maple syrup: I keep it in the fridge because if it is not chilled, it starts to ferment. It stays.
In the vegetable drawer, the appearance of the food can be the deciding factor. I am aware of the sensible advice that a little brown on your lettuce leaves won’t hurt you, but when the leaves have gone all the way to black and the texture has become slimy, I return lettuce to the wild.
I take aging vegetables and other moldy or slimy carbohydrates to the compost heap, where the raccoons and other scavengers trundle up from the ravine to browse. 
Now, this is not an upper middle class tragically hip compost heap. This is a circle of wire that mostly keeps the dog out and the compostable garbage in, and that's all. It's not a plastic drum that can be rotated and fussed over. Nope. This is simply a place to toss expired food. I even sometimes throw in cooking grease, gasp. The compost predators never complain.
An awful lot of expired food has gone in that heap over the years, and most of it didn’t stay there for long. When I go out every day or two to toss the compost bowl from my kitchen, all that is visible in the heap is a lot of coffee grounds and filters, plus a few things like melon rinds and corn cobs and shucks. And clam shells. FYI, clam shells do not compost, at least not within your lifetime. I would like to think I wasn't the one who threw them into the compost, but I might have.
Despite the paucity of actual vegetable matter that stays in the heap, I know that if I removed the fence and dug in, I would find a huge writhing mass of worms doing what comes naturally, and around, under, and beyond them, lovely black compost. I know this because I’ve dug in a few times. I like to throw a few shovels of compost into the hole when I plant a rose, for example, to get the plant off to a good start. Don’t want the deer eating inferior roses.
What I noticed a few years ago was that the compost was leaking out the fencing at the bottom of the heap. It radiated out in a circle. I also noticed that plants near the heap benefited from that creeping black soil. They were flourishing.
Then I heard about keyhole gardens. A keyhole garden is a circle with a compost heap in the middle, and a little path from the edge of the circle to the compost heap so that adding compost is easy. This central compost heap has wire fencing, like my compost heap, and the compost leaks out the bottom, same as my compost heap, but in a keyhole garden the compost is going directly into your garden soil, so you’re enriching your soil with compost from below while growing things in the garden on top.
I have seen keyhole gardens with walls built out of stone, and cinder blocks, and empty bottles, whatever is on hand to build a wall.
I’ve wanted one ever since I saw keyhole gardens online, but have never got around to making one. I don’t have enough stones, cinder blocks, or bottles.
I suppose I could start drinking.
Just kidding.
It would be great to have one of those gardens. I’d feel so righteous every time I emptied the compost bowl, or cleaned out the refrigerator and fed the compost heap.
Nice to participate in this upside to rot. Go, worms! Go, bacteria!
Ah, the circle of life.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Testing

Trying to figure out how to to get some paragraph breaks into the text.
Does this work? Hard to tell from only two sentences.

I only have eight or nine years of blog entries to revise.
Yikes.

Relief

One of the feelings which is part and parcel of grief but seldom is mentioned is relief. The relative silence on the subject is perhaps due to the guilt a person might feel admitting that he or she feels relief that someone has died. “What kind of person does that make me?” you might ask yourself, and if you were asking me now, I’d answer, “You are the normal kind.” There are a lot of reasons to feel relieved when someone dies, and some make more sense than others. When my uncle who had molested me died when I was sixteen, I felt nothing but relief. I did not question my feelings. No guilt there. Years later I made a special trip to the cemetery to dance on his grave. I wonder how often people do that. When I got the news that my father died, my first thought was, “I am half an orphan,” and then a sentence arose in my mind unbidden: he’ll never be able to hurt me again. I always thought my dad loved me, but he had a temper. He did not hit me often, but when he did, he hit for distance, as the joke goes. When he died, I felt a little relieved. I was surprised. I felt guilty. What was the matter with me? I told no one. When my mother died, again I felt relief. That, I understood. In talking to other people I have learned how common being hit was in the 1950s. Some parents hit without a moment’s compunction, and nobody thought much about it. A lot of children were slapped and hit regularly. My mom was a daily slapper and hitter, but probably more hurtful was the emotional and verbal abuse that also occurred daily. I could not get anything right for her. My mother was usually angry and wasn’t much fun, and I had to be hyper-alert and on my guard around her. I loved her, I hated her. You can imagine how confused I felt, or maybe you don’t have to imagine if you had such a parent. When she died, I felt enormous relief. My deepest condolences and sympathy to those of you who had that kind of parent. For about six months after her passing, I sat on the couch every night wrapped in a warm blanket and watching John Edward talking to dead people on television late at night. I grieved the loss of my mother. It was a year and a half before, one day, I felt I had turned an internal corner and was able to begin living my life in the rarified air of no parental potshots. I have spoken with various counselors and friends and have realized that relief is not an uncommon feeling when someone dies, especially if they hurt you, but sometimes for other reasons. During the last weeks of Rick’s life, it was clear that he was not going to get better. His vital organs were failing. All the drugs and machines that were meant to keep him going weren’t enough in the end. You are never ready for someone to die no matter how ready you think you are. I would like nothing more than to have one more night lying next to him in bed, talking as we often did about anything and everything, but I was relieved when he died. The long losing battle was over. He wasn’t suffering any more. One relief I felt after Rick died that is tough to admit is that I was relieved that I was no longer annoying him. For example, when I drove him to medical appointments he freaked out if I became distracted while driving. After he spoke to me about this, and it wasn’t in a calm voice, I did try to focus when I drove so as not to upset him. Once he was gone I didn’t have to worry about annoying him anymore. Once he was gone I wanted to stay home and be alone forever so I wouldn’t bug anyone ever again, but it turns out that it bugs some people when you don’t leave the house. You can’t win. So you see, there are many reasons why you might feel relief when someone dies. It’s normal, it’s common, and you’re not stony hearted or defective if that’s what you feel. So don’t add guilt for feeling relieved to the burden of your grief. You are feeling bad enough as it is. Tell you what, though. It would be a RELIEF for me to write about something other than grief. Maybe the next column will be about dogs and cats. People like dogs and cats.

Monday, June 15, 2015

1. The Anger Stage, and 2. A New Computer

All right, class, we have discussed the non-linear properties of grief. Non-linear means that the stages of grief which Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described for us do not happen in order. You don’t work your way through them like lessons from a textbook. More like they work their way through you, at unexpected times. Last night I tripped and fell into the anger stage. A friend posted online that after twenty years of marriage, he and his wife had been talking about which of them might die first, and each of them expressed the wish to go first in order not to be the one left behind. “Isn’t that romantic?” he said, making a joke of it. This is not funny, I thought. Because my husband was so ill the last five years of his life, it looked like he was going to die first, but when we talked about it we both acknowledged that You Never Know. I could have a car wreck or a heart attack and be gone in an instant. He expressed his wish that we both go at the same time. I said, speak for yourself, buster. I might not be ready to go when you are. He then said that if I died first, he would stop dialysis and die himself. That made me angry – what about the people here who would need you? After he died, though, I understood his thinking. It is so hard to go on without him. Occasionally I have to decide, again, to go on living. Unless you’ve lost someone as close to you as a spouse or a child, you cannot possibly imagine how much you long for the life and the person you used to have. If I’d gone at the same time he did, there would have been no grief, at least not for me. I can’t get my old life back. Sometimes it’s harder than other times to keep walking into the new life. It sucks, and it blows, and it tears the rag off the bush. It ain’t fair, and it ain’t right. It simply is. If you catch my drift. My friend and his wife were talking about the inevitable end of their life together. One will die, and no one knows who or when or how. This is not a subject that people can talk about easily. I understand that you might want to joke, to keep the specter of your own death or that of your spouse at a distance. That makes perfect sense to me, but I was not in the mood last night. Joking about spousal death ticked me off. You want to know how you’ll feel if you’re the one left behind? Stunned. Destroyed. Devastated. Crazy. Numb. For a long, long time. It is not “romantic” not to want to be the one left behind, it is self-defense. Do have a plan: make your will. Live as fully as you can, let the people you love know that you love them. Be kind. Have those discussions about death as you are able. Or don’t. It’s the love and the kindness that matter. And that’s all I have to say about that. PP Now I shall speak about the death of a machine. It was plain that my old computer was going down, so I got a new computer to replace it. Two weeks after the new computer arrived, the old computer went from quirky to non-functional. Non-functional is when nothing you try to open will open, not even the clunky old solitaire games. Sigh. Good-bye, old Paint. My computer needs are modest. Here’s what I do on computers: play solitaire and online games, write in Word, get email and check Facebook. I look up every stray question on Google, and I shop online. Sometimes I look up houses and used cars. When I was young I used to fantasize about men, but now it is more fun to fantasize about real estate and Subaru Foresters. I wanted Windows 7, but got Windows 8.1. Remember when you got your first computer, and you sat there and stared at it and wondered how the heck to do anything with it? First time I started my Windows 8.1 computer, I felt that lost again. I had heard that 8.1 is designed mainly to telephones and tablets, and that there was a steep learning curve. I heard right. Fortunately, the computer came with lots of tutorials and information. When I found the desktop things started looking more familiar. Took me a week and a half to find the Office 365 software I downloaded, but I’ve got it now, so that’s all right. So here I am working on a Windows 8.1 computer, and it’s not so bad, but I had to download solitaire, and I will never understand why Microsoft keeps fixing things that aren’t broken. I guess they have to make a living.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jury Duty, Part 2

Jury duty was, as I expected, heck. The slickest part was taking the bus. You get a bus ticket with your jury summons, so the fare is covered. I parked at my church parking lot, which the county uses as a park and ride, and went out to the side of the highway to wait. Lo and behold, up pulls a bus driven by Larry Flynn. He stopped so the door was right smack dab in front of me and all I had to do was step up. I’ve always liked Larry. Transferred to the Express bus going on to the boat and that took me right to the front door of the King County Courthouse, where I got in line for security screening. Put my bag in the tray and sent it through the scanner, walked through the gateway and then was informed that my cane was a weapon, and it had to go through the scanner, also. Having collected bag and weapon, I ambled off to the jury assembly room. It’s the size of a school gymnasium, and packed from one end to the other with comfy padded chairs, mostly filled by people who wish they weren’t there. At eight a.m. an orientation video is shown. This is the most exciting thing that happens all day if you aren’t called to be on a jury. This video talks about the Constitution, and how the jury is part of our process to ensure fair and impartial justice for all. It really said that. “Fair and impartial justice for all.” The video stresses the importance of not talking to anyone about your trial, and shows a woman ratting out a witness who tried to talk to her. Same woman is shown at home refusing to talk about the trial to her children. You are supposed to follow her example, but I thought she was a bit of a prig. After the video the person in charge of the room and the selection process gets up and thanks you for coming, acknowledges that pretty much no one wants to be there and that you are sacrificing time from your regular life in order to do your civic duty. She says several times that if you don’t get picked for a jury, don’t take it personally. You have no idea why someone would or would not want you on the jury. It’s not personal. Like in The Godfather: “It isn’t personal, it’s business.” She said we were not allowed to look up information online about anyone or anything involved in the trial, or talk about the trial online. This is a relatively recent problem, but a big one. A juror researching or talking about a case online can derail a trial that has been years in the making. I was not called for a jury the first day. I did nothing for six and a half hours, and was not a happy potential juror. Once released I learned how to catch the C line bus back to the ferry. Bus service between downtown and the ferry dock has improved immensely in the last thirty-five years. It still takes just as long to get home, though. The second day I was an old hand, and I took my Kindle for entertainment. Was called in the afternoon to be considered as a juror for a case and was quickly determined not to be the juror they were looking for. I realize that I am too much of a smart aleck to be a good juror. There is no comedy in a courtroom. There have been courtroom comedies on television, but there is no intentional comedy in a real courtroom, only the unintentional sort, like the lawyer who said that one of his client’s children had died, and then went on to say that falling off the defendant’s porch was the worst thing that had ever happened in the plaintiff’s entire life. I thought that if falling off a porch was worse than losing a child, the plaintiff needed a lot more help than the court could give her. That sort of thought is what makes me unsuitable to be a juror. You’re supposed to pay attention and deliberate rationally as a juror. You’re not supposed to laugh out loud when you hear something that is nonsense. You’re not supposed to say out loud, “She’s lying!” when a witness is talking, even if you’re certain she is. You’re supposed to take it all seriously, and keep your mouth shut until the jury goes out to deliberate. Oh, and you’re not supposed to doze off in the jury box. They really don’t like that. But I didn’t take it personally.

Jury Duty

I have been summoned for jury duty again. The summons says I have to report to the courthouse at 8 a.m. Monday morning. Eight a.m.! Are people still doing that? Wow. I do get up at six-thirty a couple of days a week because that’s how my life is, but I don’t like it. Being at the courthouse ready to be a juror at 8 a.m. does not entirely make sense to me, because when I worked for the county the workday did not begin until 8:30 a.m. Maybe they want us to be present when employees come dragging in all droopy-eyed at 8:30, clutching their coffee cups and counting the days until their twenty years with the county are up so they can retire with a pension. A big part of jury duty, in my experience, is sitting and waiting to be called. You need to pack some things to pass the time – a knit or crochet project, a book, a smart phone or a tablet in these technological times. It’s good to stake out the location of the bathroom early, and to have some food in your backpack or purse. Sustaining food - nuts, a boiled egg, fruit, carrot sticks, water of course. The candy bars go without saying but a woman does not live by chocolate alone. It seems that way sometimes, but we have other nutritional needs. Potato chips. Halvah. Once you have provided for your physical and
mental needs while waiting for your number to be called, you might consider trying to strike up a conversation with fellow potential jury members. I flunked Small Talk 101, but I listen well. Until I get someone else talking, I try to imitate normal people, and have some rules. Avoid politics and religion. Sports are good. The weather, of course. If you want to hear tales to curl your hair, though, get people talking about their children. The conversation often goes deep, fast. Most people aren’t talking about how their kid’s biggest problem is choosing among the prestigious four-year colleges that have given him or her a full ride scholarship. No. Most people talk about how their child has struggled, in school and in life, and while parents don’t say so, it is apparent that they have had a great deal of heartache watching their beloved, unique children collide with a world that demands conformity more than uniqueness. They do brag about accomplishments, but they also talk about disabilities, autism, Down Syndrome, addictions, arrests, cults, car wrecks, homosexuality, estrangements, spouses (horrible or wonderful), tragic deaths, unexpected pregnancies, and the rest of the rich panoply of human experience. Then, if their children survived childhood and adolescence, parents talk about how their children triumphed in some way: they are now adults who have jobs and families, who do good work, who help people, who have ultimately made their parents proud of their great kids. Often the wallets come out and you get to see pictures of the grandchildren. Yup, children are a pretty reliable subject. Except with people who don’t have children, who are angry because they have been told they are weird for not having children, or that they “can’t understand” something because they don’t have children. Yeah, that would make me angry, too. Childless people, as well as parents, will show you pictures of their cats, dogs, horses, and other family members of different species, and tell you stories about them. The time flies. So maybe you get placed on a jury, or maybe you get sent home. I’m hoping I don’t qualify this time, mostly because I hate getting up early, and because I have an important medical appointment on Wednesday of that week which could not be re-scheduled for months. We’ll see how it goes. First hurdle is to arrive on time Monday morning. I need to go get some more coffee.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Recalled to Life

Grief is a lifetime sentence. I have heard many times that you don’t get over losing someone. The death of someone you love is at first unthinkable, and gradually becomes a part of you with which you make as much peace as you can, depending on who you lost and in what circumstances. I realize that for some people there is no peace, ever. When Rick died I told myself I would allow the process of grieving for him to happen at its own pace. I would not force myself to “get over it,” or listen to people who told me I should be over it by now. I figured that I’d know in my heart when I was ready to move on. It is strange the times and places you realize you’re ready for the next step. I was in Target, looking at a travel iron, trying to decide if I wanted to get it. I’ve been getting out my summer clothes and so many of them are wrinkled from storage. That’s why I thought I needed an iron, but as I stood there it hit me deep in my soul that for some reason buying that iron was the beginning of a new phase in my life. Either there is some mystical meaning attached to that iron, or there isn’t, or the manufacturer has perfected subliminal marketing messages. “You NEED to buy this iron.” I got the iron. Came home and got rid of the old iron, which was literally falling apart. The irony of the iron? I seldom iron. Usually I wear the wrinkles, my fashion motto being, “If it’s comfortable I don’t care what it looks like.” This week I’ve been sorting and donating Rick’s winter coats, shirts, pants, and work boots, and that is progress, but the big news is that I have started on Rick’s corner. Rick’s corner is the northwest corner of our bedroom. It is where his drawing table is, tucked up against the window that looks out over the ravine. He loved that northern light. Surrounding the drawing table are his books, drawings, pencils, pens, brushes, Bristol board, mugs, toys, videos and video cameras and video players, and photographs. All of his cartoons. All of his drawings. On one wall is a large color poster of the USS King, DLG-10, the ship he served on in the Navy in 1967-68. Hanging in the window over the drawing table are a couple of Navy signal flags he got when he was a volunteer on the Turner Joy in Bremerton. Rick was a signalman in the Navy, so he knew all about signal flags. He received and sent messages with flags, with lights, and with semaphore. There is a rule, he told me once, that if someone hails a Naval ship, they are obliged to answer. He was doing some shovel work on a beach up on the north end of the island one day when a Navy ship came steaming by. He grabbed a couple of old rags he had and hailed the ship using the rags for semaphore flags. They had to answer. He had a brief conversation with them, part of which was, “HOW NAV?” Semaphore for, “How’s the Navy?” They promptly replied, “NAV SUX,” which is semaphore for – well, I think you can figure that one out. Apparently not much had changed since Vietnam. So I’m getting rid of stuff as I am able to part with it, and getting rid of stuff has the effect of making me feel light and happy. On the other hand, every item I relinquish means another bit of Rick is gone, and every day is a day farther from when he was here, my best friend, advocate, and partner. I feel so conflicted: while I do feel lonely sometimes, I want more time alone to become who I am, this new me, living this new life. Every morning I give thanks for my life and all the blessings that have come to me, and I try to acknowledge my sad or angry feelings. I am trying to embrace all of life, as it comes. That’s the ideal, anyway. It ain’t easy. When I’m under the hammer of life, it’s impossible, because I’m so busy getting from one minute to the next that I don’t have time to think about ideals. Then I revert to form, and my prayers tend to be, “Okay, God, what’s the deal? This is stupid!” Etc. God takes this whining pretty well. He hasn’t smited me yet. Smote. Whatever. Rick’s corner is in there waiting for me to come back and keep sorting. I will, as I can. There is a lot of treasure buried in that corner. I’ll try to share some of it with you as it surfaces. Blessings on you all, and peace. Rick and shipmates demonstrate semaphore, circa 1968. 1. THE 2. NAVY 3. SUX

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Simple Glass of Water

A boy and his pagers. Ready to go to work, mid-90s Some friends were complaining about chlorine in their water the other day. I sympathize. No one likes that taste or smell. The state of Washington has these standards that public drinking water must meet, you see. If your water comes to you from one of the major island water systems it has to be tested daily for levels of chlorine as well as a lot of other things, especially organisms such as e. coli or cryptosporidium. Some bacteria are dangerous to everyone, and some are not so dangerous to a healthy person but are life-threatening to someone with a compromised immune system – people undergoing chemo, or people who are HIV-positive, for example. If a system’s water does not test up to the required standards, everyone in the system is sent a letter telling them that the water is potentially dangerous. You might be asked to boil water. The Washington water quality folks are trying to avoid mass illness and death. It’s a modest enough goal. I know all this from being married to a guy who devoted over thirty years of his life to providing safe drinking water on Vashon Island. Rick worked on most of the large water systems (Heights Water, Water District 19, Maury Mutual, Dockton Water) and on a lot of the tiny little creek and spring-fed systems on the island. He started in 1974, working for Mr. Mukai at VIPCO. As an employee of VIPCO, Rick repaired and installed a lot of pipe on Vashon Island. He worked on both septic and drainfield systems as well as developing springs. He decided that he preferred working on drinking water instead of waste water, and for a few years after he left VIPCO he worked independently developing and repairing little water systems. In the late 90s he worked as an underground utilities locator. It turned out that a lot of the water pipes he located on the island he had installed years before. It would be nice if utilities had planned from the beginning to put all utilities in the same trench underground, but they didn’t. When someone wanted to throw a utility in the ground, they threw it in all higgledy-piggledy, resulting in an underground maze that makes digging a new hole or trench without hitting a buried utility almost impossible. This is why you see all those signs saying, “Call before you dig.” This is why there are utility locators. Consider the major Comcast outage a couple of weeks ago when a major fiber optic trunk was dug up in the South Lake Union neighborhood. That, my friends, was a locating failure. Either it was marked wrong, or the mark was ignored. When Rick was locating he learned how to dowse. Some of you may laugh, but dowsing is something that people who work digging up the ground use. They don’t talk about it much. Dowsing is not the first technique they use to find utilities. There are fancy-schmancy locating machines that can send an electronic signal through pipes so that you can trace their route through the ground. Unfortunately for a few decades the new pipe being put in was not metal, but PVC plastic, which does not carry a signal. When there is no signal to track and there are no other clues, it’s time to get out the dowsing rod. Rick spent the last few years of his working life at Water District 19, doing daily water testing, repairing leaks, replacing meters, reading meters, doing locating, and, yes, adding chlorine to the water. When you want to have a simple glass of water, consider all the men and women who are out in all weathers at all hours testing, monitoring, sanitizing, and repairing your water system, and staying up all night with generators during power outages to keep the pumps going and the water running. We tend to think that we have a God-given right to water, and it should be free. If we could go down to the creek and drink the water without getting a galloping case of gastroenteritis, that might be true. That is not how it works. Water is treated and monitored so that you don’t get a deadly bug, or a really annoying one, like giardia. People have to take classes and get certified to do water work, and that’s one reason why you get a water bill. If you have your own system or well, you have to maintain it so that you don’t poison yourself or other system users, and that requires time and money. Nope, water is not free. I haven’t even mentioned cross contamination, when water goes into a connection and then flows back out into the system, perhaps bringing something nasty along. That is something water workers prevent so you don’t even have to think about it. Pretty cool, huh? Thank a water worker today, and pay your water bill cheerfully. People all over the world die from bad water every day, but you and your family won’t. P.S.: If you don’t like the chlorine in your water, put your drinking water in a jug or other container, preferably glass, and let it stand overnight. The chlorine will “gas off.” You can sweeten your water further by running it through a filter – Pur and Brita brands come to mind.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Apologia

Someone dear to me has discovered atheism as the explanation that makes the most sense out of the world and human behavior. I love and respect my atheist and I love that he is thinking deeply. What he has to say about what he is learning challenges me and makes me think about my own faith walk. It has made for an interesting Lent. Perhaps you are wondering if I, as a Christian, am worried about his immortal soul. Well, no. My faith in God is not a form of fire insurance. My faith says that people have to ripen in God’s time, not mine. My faith says that God takes people as they are. My faith also tells me to do the same: take people as they are, where they are, with love and respect, and without judgment. This is only one of the reasons that being a Christian is really hard. Atheists believe that man invented God, not the other way around. They cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell God. If they perceive no empirical evidence of God’s existence, it follows that there is no God. Whatever life throws at them, they can handle on their own. Given all that splendid reasoning, why do I and so many human beings persist in believing that there is something greater than ourselves? Because splendid reasoning skips lightly over the parts of reality that are invisible to the eye. Purely rational thought omits the longing of the spirit. Because I am a Christian, I shall speak of my Christian experience. I was called. Answering a call from God means you have to answer to something higher than yourself and surrender your own sweet will. In the early days of my adult conversion, almost thirty years ago now, I realized how much harder it is to be a believer than a non-believer. Knowing I was accountable made me want to cop out on my conversion, but it was too late. A Christian has to persist in believing that, all apparent evidence to the contrary, God is good and is working to turn all things to good. As a Christian I believe that Christ lived, was crucified, and rose again. How’s that for a stretch of the rational mind? I am called to stay aware that I am not the one to mete out God’s judgment. You should thank God that I am not in charge of judgment. I am called to perceive myself and others through the lens of humility. I have to work at humility. It does not come naturally to me. By nature and training I have a bad temper, am judgmental, do not think well of myself, and want everything done my way. What is humility? It is not beating yourself up. It is an honest acknowledgement of who you are. It is an unwillingness to be arrogant because you understand how vulnerable you are as a human being. It is owning responsibility for your own behavior, and minding your own business when it comes to other people’s behavior. Humility is contrary to our human nature. When we’re hurt, we feel justified in wanting to hurt back. When we feel victimized, we want to see our abusers punished, and we want everyone else to see them as the dirty dogs we think they are. Humility is counter-intuitive. I believe God asks you to acknowledge your own true worth and dignity, to own your gifts and flaws, to go and sin no more. To walk with your head up and do what you can to encourage the good in humanity, ease the pain of humanity, and contribute to the healing of the world by being your own honest, precious, beloved self. By humanity I mean: the people with whom you deal in your everyday life. Family, friends, the cashier at the grocery store. Did I mention that the faith walk is really hard? Wouldn’t it be great if all religious and all non-religious people had a common vision of good and could join together to make this world a better place? Wow. Too bad that we are too busy finding fault, trying to control other people to make ourselves comfortable, waging war, and worse, to make that happen. Well, that’s what I’m thinking at the end of Lent, and I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I only have so much space here. Thanks for reading. Go in peace.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Second Year

Rhett & Scarlett trip the light fantastic while she is still in mourning. Onlookers say, "Well, I never!" There used to be a custom in British and American culture of literally wearing your grief. For a woman who had lost a spouse or a child, the rule was to wear full mourning, i.e., all black, perhaps including a black veil, for at least one year and up to four years. Remember Rhett Butler swirling the black-clad Scarlett O’Hara around the dance floor in “Gone With the Wind?” All the correct Southern ladies who witnessed them dancing were scandalized and some even got the vapors, whatever vapors are. That was around 1861, so the custom certainly held then. In the second stage, half-mourning, you were allowed to move on to lavender and gray. Yippee. Many cultures observe the custom of wearing mourning colors and clothes but this custom was pretty much gone from America by the mid-20th century, except for the convention of wearing black at a funeral. In a way I think it’s too bad that the old color codes have lost their meaning. It was a way of letting people know that you were grieving, and they should respect you and your grief. Nowadays if you wear all black you might be taken for a Goth. Or a priest. Best case scenario, you’re mistaken for a “woman in black,” one of the sisterhood that stands in silent protest against war and social ills. At the end of my first year of grief, I had a moment of bright clarity in which I thought the color code was a good idea. I briefly wished I’d worn black all year, and could now transition to slightly less mournful purples and grays as a visible sign that things were literally lightening up. Too late to do that, but then the color code implies that there is a steady and predictable progression of grief. After fifteen months, I know that is not so. Grief is not linear. Grief is disorderly, if not drunk. You experience all the stages of grief, but you never know what stages you’ll be experiencing on any given day, or if you’ll be experiencing a stage that didn’t make the list of stages. Denial, being as numb as a rock, depression, anger, hurting yourself sobbing, overeating, oversleeping, not being able to sleep, drunkenness, unwise sexual experimentation, teeny tiny wedges of acceptance followed by more denial, depression, anger, and so forth. Really, it would be impossible to list all of the stages of grief. Grief is exactly like the rest of life, you know. Sort of a predictable routine you get into interspersed with unpredictable events and big emotions. Grief in the second year becomes not less subtle but a little less persistent. You get to have moments of actual happiness, and dare I say it, lightheartedness. I do, anyway. Then you step on a grief-mine, put your foot right in that load of hurt you’re still carrying, and bam, the tears rise and you lose the control you thought you had. If you’re in public people are either lovingly sympathetic or go stick their heads into the frozen vegetable section and pretend they didn’t see you do that embarrassing thing - that is, have a deep feeling. The emotion feels unexpected because you were going along minding your own business, feeling pretty good about not being a full time basket case anymore. Even though grieving is a normal and common state of abnormal, who wants to feel like a full time basket case? It feels good not to be sad all the time, and in the second year you may not feel sad all the time. You cannot mistake this change for a cure, though. I’m talking to myself here. I’ve always had a tendency to think that whatever my emotional state is, it’s permanent. I know better, but as I once heard someone say, that few inches between head and heart is the longest journey in the world. Driving home the other day I realized I was feeling sad. I thought, well, of course I’m sad. My husband died. I am feeling what anyone would feel in the circumstance, and there is nothing wrong with me for feeling it. Then I thought, what if every time I felt this sadness over the years, I’d realized that being sad made perfect sense and there was nothing wrong with me? Childhood was hard, and lonely. Early adulthood was also hard, and lonely. Growing older has not been a picnic. Like most of us, I have taken some hard knocks. Of course I am sad and angry at some of the cards I’ve been dealt in life. Who wouldn’t be? Isn’t that nice and neat? I laugh. Life is not nice and neat. Anything but. Like a wagon with a couple of crooked wheels on a potholed track, we straggle along, and occasionally we have a necessary and appropriate break down. We get up and keep going, though, because we still have things to do and people to love, and people who love us. Let’s say that again: we still have things to do and people to love, and people who love us. This is one of the big things grief teaches us, how connected everyone is. So many people are ricocheting around their lives acting as if what they do and how they feel doesn’t matter. So many people don’t understand that they are loved and someone cares, maybe many people care, about how they are doing and what they are feeling. Carl Jung spoke of the collective unconscious. I don’t know exactly what he meant because Carl was a much brighter and more educated person than I am, and he’d given the matter quite a lot of thought. I read about the concept, read those words, “collective unconscious,” and what it meant to me was that at some primal level we are all connected. Believing that I feel charged to say to you that if I could convince you reading this of one thing it is that you matter profoundly. It’s not because you are a hero, although you probably are in some ways, and it’s not because you’re good all the time, because nobody is good all the time. You are important because you are the one and only, unique, irreplaceable you. When you lose someone dear to you, you understand to a degree that you never did before how much that person mattered and how connected they were to everyone who knew them as well as the world of people who did not know them. It’s my second year of grief. My husband has been gone for almost fifteen months and I’m gradually beginning to move into the world again. I’m sticking around to see what happens next, to make some new friends and rekindle old friendships, to sing a few songs and write a few essays, and, of course, to keep the squirrels off the bird feeder. It’s good when life has purpose and meaning. Well, to tell the truth, I think I’m giving up on that squirrel thing. They’re jumping eight or nine feet from the apple tree to the bird feeder now and it’s hard not to admire that kind of grace and dedication.
Queen Victoria, who may have made wearing black less popular when she wore mourning after her husband died in 1861 until her own death in 1901. She did love her husband dearly, and we are sorry for her loss, but wow - forty years? That's enough to knock the meaning out of anything.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The People Who Are Better Than I Am

I was sitting here playing solitaire and feeling guilty about all the industrious, virtuous things I am not getting done, and thinking about people who seem to have it so much more together than I do, when this came ripping out: The People Who Are Better Than I Am - second draft People who are better than I am Are people who don't watch television every night Because, you know, television makes your brain liquefy and dribble out your open mouth People who are better than I am Don't play solitaire for hours Trying to make impossible plays or win once, at least and their homes are neat and tidy And their diets are healthy and balanced and they don't feel guilty when they sit back to relax Because they aren't doing the vacuuming, or Putting away the dishes, or Folding the laundry, or any of the other chores I mean to get around to Because people who are better than I am Have balance, and structure, and equilibrium in their lives. But they are not perfect, For all their tranquility and order They've been known to split infinitives And sometimes they go out and spend money that was meant to pay bills On something frivolous Sometimes they lean over a garbage can and yell, "The world can go to hell!" So even though I know They are better than I am I kind of like them Just fine.