Saturday, July 21, 2007

On the Many Faces of Love

A recent conversation led me to contemplate the many faces of love and the need for forgiveness in light of the fact that none of us are perfect. It is impossible to go through life without both hurting and being hurt. Forgiveness, therefore, has to be learned and practiced if we do not want to end up unloved and unloving.

It had been over twenty years since my younger sister had spoken. When our mother passed away she could not deal with the anger and grief she felt. Since I had been unable to travel half away across the country at that time, she found it easier to direct her anger at me.

When I was so sick last year, my daughter phoned her and discovered that my sister had wanted to reconcile for a long time, but was afraid I would reject her. From my point of view the choice had always been hers. Originally we began corresponding by Instant Messenger once a week. We did not try to reclaim the lost years; it would not have been possible. We simply began the process of getting to know each other all over again.

From the time she was born, we had a deep spiritual connection. She needed only to think about needing to talk to me, and even from a thousand miles away, I would phone her. This was not mind reading, far from it. I simply knew how she was feeling emotionally, and would respond without thinking when she wanted to contact me. This strong a connection is not that rare. People often pick up the phone even before it rings, knowing in advance who it would be. Or they would think about calling someone only to have that person call them before they could follow through with the call.

When she let me back into my accustomed place in her heart, she found it a bit strange initially. I had been there from the time she was born, but had to block her out when she disowned me. It was simply too painful to feel her sorrow and anger without being able to do anything about it. She had forgotten that I had always been there, but as soon as I reminded her, she recalled how empty it felt when I was no longer there. I had not stopped loving her; I just had to do it from a distance.

It was not until last Christmas that I allowed myself to believe that she was back in my life to stay. It was not the gifts she sent, it was the wrapping, the same way we used to do, with a tree ornament on each package. I cried and cried and cried and finally believed.

Forgiveness is very hard to do, it is right up there with I’m sorry. In fact, I think it may be harder to forgive than to apologize, but it can be done. It has to be learned if we do not want to go through life with a heart filled with bitterness and anger, unable to love and losing those we have loved. That does not mean that we forget totally, but the open wound does heal and become a scar. It helps to remember that people don’t usually start out to hurt us,it just happens while they are trying to get their own needs met. The scar is always there, but no longer painful. Many things wound us over the years and we must learn to let those wounds heal for our own benefit if not for others. I will always bear the scars but it does not stop me from loving.

My love for my two chosen sisters, sisters of my soul, as close to me as it is possible for people to be close. They have walked in my soul. I know of no other way to describe what happened in the hospital last year. They came through the mist to bring me back. The image created in my mind was of the three of us sitting around a small bistro table in a glorious garden, while they told me that I could do this. I could come back, I just needed a bit of help and some extra strength to do so, and both of them gave me all that they had. One of them provided the direction, the other provided the visualization and made her strength available. They created an unbreakable bond between the three of us. They were not even sure they had succeeded until I wrote them from the hospital to try to thank them, although there are really no words for the love and gratitude I feel for them.

There are so many faces of love. The love is no less strong and it is not a matter of loving one more or less than another. Love simply is, it courses through us, bringing beauty to all that we see and do. For instance, my love for my biological daughter began even before she was born. She carries a part of my soul, the part that animated her when still in my womb. Another bond forged of love that cannot be broken.

My love for my daughters by choice is based on the need they had for a maternal figure, which I could provide. It has to do with never refusing to help when there is an observed need. My love for them is no less for that, but I am much more prepared to let them go when the time comes that they no longer have that need.

My love for my partner wears yet another face. It is based on many lifetimes spent together, the trust that comes from knowing each other so well and each putting the needs of the other first. He completes me.

When we are here on this earth, in these bodies, we cannot be perfect. We inevitably hurt one another, not on purpose but because we are unable to totally avoid it. We are simply trying to get our own needs met. We must remember to forgive ourselves as well as those who have caused us pain.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Hoax

As many of you know, I fell for my first hoax last week. If not for a friend replying to my blanket emails, I may not yet know it was a hoax. Others would also have believed the information I passed along and be hurt by it. Since the information came from someone in the medical profession, I simply assumed it to be true, and passed it on as quickly as I could.

This hoax was of a particularly cruel nature as it played on people’s fear of cancer. The information purporting to be published by Johns Hopkins, connected plastic food containers and plastic wrap with breast cancer in particular. Many women I know, myself included, are at high risk for breast cancer. We go faithfully every year for our boob sandwich and pray that the mammogram shows nothing. All the while we know that it is not foolproof and we could still be harboring cancer cells in our bodies.

No amount of thinking can bring me to a point where I can even begin to understand such cruel behavior or the reasons for it. It seems to be another symptom of the sickness in our society. Violent crime is way up, particularly among our young people. Non-violent crime has also escalated, as has drug abuse. Could these hoaxes be another symptom of our society not meeting people’s emotional and spiritual needs?

The extended family has become rare. Faith in a power greater than ourselves has dwindled. The churches are not providing for the spiritual needs of our young people in particular That makes them vulnerable, looking for something to believe in, even resorting to drugs that alter their perception of reality, and cults that offer an alternative faith.

I have no solution to offer, just a warning to investigate any new thing or new idea very carefully before accepting it as truth. We do have deep within ourselves, the ability to recognize truth when it is presented. Many are not yet spiritually awakened yet, but our truths are still there waiting to be rediscovered. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If what is offered serves to change our perception of reality for a short time, we can know instantly that it offers only a temporary escape. It may even cause addiction, resulting in crime in order to obtain the money to continue to feed the addiction. If what is offered causes harm to others or ourselves, it is not a spiritual path and will only lead to grief.

We should each endeavor to awaken our spiritual selves. As humans, we create a platform to live our lives on, held up by four pillars, the physical, the mental, the emotional and the spiritual. In order to strive for a balanced life, we must cultivate all four. Balance is not a continuous state in this life, but is experienced at the point where all four pillars are at the same stage of development. Once having experienced this state, we seek it again and again. As we become more proficient in promoting our own growth, we achieve balance more frequently and for a longer time. When our lives are lived in this way, we are not susceptible to those who would do us harm. Our inner spiritual self is awakened and we become more able to recognize our own truths. Peace and contentment are also ours, as is the courage to live in harmony with the Universal All.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Another View

Another view of the river that runs through me. There is such solace in moving water. Perhaps because it reminds us of who and what we are.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The River

The river runs slowly on it's journey to the sea,
And the river remembers about you and me.
I told it my secrets, the good and the bad.
The river remembers the glad and the sad.
When life is all over and the tale has been told,
The river remembers the brave and the bold.
I told the river my hopes and my dreams,
And the river remembers what I wanted to be.
When my life's work is over and memories fade,
You can still hear about me in the riverside glade.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Whiskey, The Pistol and The Bible

A comment by a friend led me to thinking about my grandfather and the demon booze.

My grandparents were tee-totalers but......................Grandpa kept a pint of whiskey in the house for medicinal purposes. It was used to treat a sore throat and sometimes the flu. He would pour a teaspoonful and we had to take it down neat! Small children do not like the taste of alcohol! We would try very hard to get well again, and if we were faking, you could bet we had a miraculous recovery! He would have it with a little warm water and sugar and sip it for whatever ailed him.

We also had Gentian Violet, sulfur and molasses, Absorbine Senior (for horses) and cod liver oil. Once a year we were given a dose of gentian violet, which came as a powder folded in single dose papers, as a cure for any parasites we may have picked up. This stained everything expelled a rich deep shade of purple. The sulfur and black strap molasses was given to us as well as the horse and cow as a spring tonic, The cod liver oil capsules were given all winter long to ward off winter colds, flu's and such. We burped fish oil for hours afterward. The Absorbine Senior was a topical treatment for all bumps and bruises and swollen joints as well as any other skin affliction.

The other memory it triggered was the pistol and bible that he kept under his pillow...just in case! Just in case of what? I could not figure out what the event would be that the bible and a gun would be appropriate tools for. In later years, I came to understand they were there as a comfort or as security for him. He felt safe because the gun was there if he needed it to stop intruders....this back in the day that most houses did not even have locks on the doors. The bible was there to promote good dreams and somehow educate him in the ways of the Lord. He could not read, but Grandma read to him from the bible regularly, as well as from the Family Herald.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Great Flu

There has been so much in the news lately about the potential for a pandemic and the likelihood of the bird flu mutating, that it has brought dusty old memories to the fore. One such is remembering my grandfather recalling the events of his life. As a child, I would sit mesmerized for hours, as told his stories.

He was 41 years old in 1918, with a wife and 5 small children on a farm about 10 miles from the nearest town. He told me about the terrible flu epidemic, of rising before dawn, kindling the fire then going to the barn to harness the horses to the sleigh. My grandmother would get up and prepare hot tea and porridge, wrap them in blankets to keep them warm and my grandfather would put them in the sleigh.

He would then follow the same route every morning, looking for smoke rising from chimneys. If there was smoke, he knew for certain that there was someone still alive in that house, and would stop to make sure that they were still strong enough to make meals. Then it was back into the sleigh and off to the next house. If there were no smoke, he would stop as well, to see if there was anyone alive. If so, he would bring in his porridge and tea and feed them, light their fires and do what he could to help them survive another day. At the end of his route, he would return home, put the horses back in the barn, feed the livestock and go back into the house for his own breakfast and tea. In the afternoon, they would return to any of the homes where the families could benefit from nursing care and do what they could.

Many families were wiped out totally, none were spared completely. Such hardship and heartache! My grandparents and their children all survived, and I believe the angels watched over them because of their dedication to helping their neighbors as best they could.

It was a different world, a different time, with different values and ethics. I wonder how we would fare if such a pandemic were to happen now.

Down Memory Lane

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Thinking about the great flu of 1918 led me to thinking about my grandparents and how much they shaped my life. If there is any good in me, it is because of them.

My grandfather was born in 1877, grandma a few years later. She had been a nurse before they married; he had no education at all. She was disowned by her family for marrying “beneath her station”, but they raised five kids below the poverty line and spent a lifetime together.

I experienced their lifestyle because I lived with them for a number of years as a child. They had retired from the farm to a small clapboard house that the town fathers had built on half an acre of land deeded from the community fairgrounds for my great, great grandmother. She was the first white woman to settle in the area. Ownership passed down through her line to my grandmother. My parent’s generation sold the property because it could not be divided into five parcels. The house stood until I was well into my twenties and I have such fond memories there.

There was no water on the property, nor did they have electricity. My grandfather’s sister and family lived across the street and all water was dipped from her well and lugged across the road. It was heated with a wood cook stove. A Coleman lantern and coal oil lamps provided light. There was a barn, small trap shed, smithy and carpentry shed on the property. They had a cow, chickens and an old retired workhorse. Grandma sold butter and eggs when she had them. They also grew a small garden, with golden bantam corn being the main crop, sold at the roadside. Grandpa made axe handles and did a little woodworking and blacksmithing to supplement their meager income. They trod gently on the land, taking only what they needed. Their motto could well have been “Fix it up, use it up, wear it out, or do without”. They taught me that poverty is not a financial limitation, but a barrenness of spirit. They were rich in all that matters.

My grandmother passed away when I was around twelve, grandpa at the age of eighty-seven in nineteen sixty-four. I am now past sixty myself, and I treasure those memories of a simpler time.

Mrs. Lott

When I was a small child, no more than 6 years old, I lived with my grandparents. They had already retired to the small clapboard house in town and life was hard.

One memory of my grandmother sticks out so clearly in my mind that I have to share it. There were a few "Old Rubbies" as the hard core alcoholics were called at that time. These were the ones who drank vanilla, aftershave and rubbing alcohol.

One family in particular suffered greatly because of his drinking. Mrs. Lott had children and no way to feed them as her husband drank it all. Whenever she could, Grandma would pack a basked with eggs, butter and fresh home made bread and send me the quarter mile up the road to Mrs. Lott's house to deliver them. A very cool day in fall, Grandma rooted around and found a cape that would not drag on the ground and put it on me. All I could think of at the time was Goldilocks and the Three Bears. My head swiveled constantly looking for bears, which I never found.

Not until years later did I understand that as little as my grandparents had, they were so very rich in what counted. I believe the Creator watched over them because of the kind hearts they both had. I wish to be as kind and generous as Grandma was, and as honorable as Grandpa.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Why Remember

It took me a while to understand why it is important to preserve and pass down memories of my grandparents. My younger sister does not have clear memories of them is one reason. I do this is to help her preserve what was a part of her past too. It is also important to me to pass on to my daughter the "roots" of how I became what I am and give her a sense of heritage. That does not explain my desire to share these memories with others, some of whom I know and others that I will never know. By sharing my memories, I hope to remind others of their childhood and be moved to share their memories as well. If we do not, much of value will simply fade away.

Because they were from a simpler time and I had the privilege of experiencing some of the way of life back then, the lessons they taught me were easier to understand, not always at first, but eventually the light would dawn and I would have another piece of the puzzle. I don't know if they were exceptional, or simply a product of their time, but the “Ten Commandments” was practiced at all times in their home. Although I cannot claim to be a Christian, my faith runs deep and my moral code is what was instilled in me simply by watching how they lived.

My grandfather was totally illiterate. Grandma taught him how to sign his name and to write the necessary numbers. He was an extremely honorable man. His word, or his handshake was a stronger bond than any agreement drawn up by lawyers and signed in blood. Many saw him as a stern, unforgiving man; however they did not see how he interacted with family behind the closed doors of his home. He had infinite patience with us children. He would tell us stories in the evenings and rock me in the rocking chair. To this day, I rock sideways in my chair, totally unaware that I am doing so. He took us to the Saturday afternoon matinée whenever it was a jungle story or a western. We sat in the front row as he had cataracts and his hearing was going, but he made the best of the faculties he had.

In his later years, he did a little blacksmithing, a little carpentry and made axe handles, for both left and right-handed men. They all came to buy his axe handles as they were the best to be had. He charged 25 cents each for them. He made us a folding sled, bending the runners and holding it all together with pegs. He planted a small patch of Golden Bantam corn and sold it at the roadside. When the teenagers tried to raid his corn patch, he loaded the shotgun with rock salt, set up platforms throughout the garden, tied tin cans together on top and ran a line to the fences. If anyone climbed the fence, it would trigger all those cans to fall and raise a racket. If they avoided that trap, there were still strings run across the rows that would also trip the tin can alarm. Leaning back in a kitchen chair, hat pulled low over his eyes, he waited for the "two legged raccoons" to show up. He then aimed the shotgun at the noise and fired the load of rock salt. They never tried to raid his corn again.

He never expected charity and would not have accepted it even if it were offered. He believed a man had to make his own way in the world. If you were honest and honorable in all your dealings, and worked your a** off, you could gain the necessities of life and not be beholden to anyone. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself and dedicate your efforts to achieve it. He was proud but not arrogant.

He taught me to be honest, honorable in all my dealings, work hard and treat all with fairness and an even hand.............but you could protect what you worked hard for. You do not climb to success on the backs of others. He also had a great understanding of nature and respect for the wonder of it.

He also had a "bit of a temper" and if he and grandma argued, he often picked up his gun and told her he was going out to shoot himself! After so many years together, scratching out a living on a rocky, infertile farm, raising five children together, grandma knew it for the bluff it was, and would continue to make the evening meal, setting his place at the head of the table as usual, and saying absolutely nothing when he returned and put the gun away. This taught me not to make threats I had no intention of carrying out because it hurt those you love and who love you.

Life was not always serious. We made our own fun. Grandma would read to grandpa in the evenings, or he would listen to the Lone Ranger on the old tube radio. He also entertained us children with all of the Mother Goose and Grimm's Fairy Tales. I believe his memory was so good because of not being able to read.

More about grandpa next time, and I would also like to share my wonderful, loving grandmother, who taught me to love and to share.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Grandpa and the Outhouse

My great great grandmother was the first white woman in Minden and the town council deeded her a half acre from a corner of the community fair grounds. They also built her a four-room clapboard house, no electricity and no plumbing.

When I was a small child, we went to live with my grandparents for a while. At that point they were living in the home built by the town and had added a small barn, a henhouse, a tractor shed and a trap shed as well as an open smithy area. The outhouse was on it's own a short dash from the back door. There was still no electricity and the water had to be bailed from the dug well across the road, where my grandfather's sister and her husband lived.

When the community decided to install more modern bathroom facilities for the fair grounds, my grandfather loaded the old one on a drag and the old horse towed it home. It had a door at each end and the men's and ladies were separated by a central partition. After installing it at the far end of the trap shed, he built a long covered hallway from the front of the shed along the side to the ladies entrance so that my grandmother could go to the outhouse without getting wet in the rain. The men were made of heartier stuff and were expected to brave the elements and use the men's door.

This in the beginning of the era when houses all came with electricity and indoor plumbing! It struck me as odd at the time, but I came to understand that although they could not afford electricity and there was no water to be had on the property, my taciturn grandfather loved my grandmother very much and would do all in his power to make her life easier (with the exception of what he considered women's work).