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Monday, August 31, 2009
I think of how many moments it would take to make me one with these stones, how long before I would meld with stone armrest and back. My joints are already stiffening of ankle, knee and toes in this mountain water. Rafters would pass by my bony remains in throne of stone; I, skull grinning, unseeing, having recorded a century before:
The surround sound vigilance of eternal falls of whitewater,
Boulders angrily thrust away by powerful river arms and strewn at base of cedar trees so massive; the boulder, though room size, appear as mere tree roots. The backwash trickle over stones in river greedily slurping the wake as though a crystal sliver of fish perpetually strokes upstream.
I, a fool before nature, try to describe its grandeur in its little ways; I suffer for my lack of language. Any language is mere mockery.
Why do I try?
It matters not to God.
The very words have become the thing. In the wording it is His already.
Perhaps in my puny attempts to put useless words into the details and struggle to encompass one perfect word for the whole of this almighty scene, I acknowledge the reason it is here; the reason why I never tire of its ceaselessness as final and irrefutable proof that I, too, am immutable.
Friday, August 28, 2009
I’m not sure I can handle much more of summer, but that’s okay because summer is, thankfully, drawing to a close. I love this time of year—the panicked slide into school and return to routines inculcated into our very DNA, it seems, but easily abandoned during lazy summer months. I love that early morning rush and then the slower, calming return home for a cup of Echinacea tea (because you know it all goes to hell if Mom gets sick) and a little breathing room. Shower, chores, and then a trip to the gym before picking the hoodlums up from school again.
So I sit, and I anticipate, gleefully, the return of my house, my time, myself. As I do so, I start to sift through summer photos, which I’ve long since given up on editing and printing until time decides to grind to a shrieking halt. It’s a fitting tribute, I think, to these hot months of endless hither and yon and home again, home again. And so it is that I stumble upon our river pictures.
This was a good day. You can see it in the wide smiles and deep dimples carved in my hoodlums’ faces, mischief shining out of their eyes as they plot their next adventure. There was competition over who was the better fisherman (Lawson), who was the better swimmer (Autumn), and who had the best legs (Mommy). There were those silvery spiders skating on the surface of the water, lovely algae beckoning from under its surface, and the wind in our faces when Daddy sent the boat cutting through the river. There was warm sun, and cool water, and togetherness.
It was a good day.
It reminded me, actually, of another day, and another river. Other kids, and another father. After the divorce, Dad used to pick us up for visitation every other weekend before he moved halfway across the country. Invariably we’d head down to the James River to play, rolling our pants up and leaping across rocks tumbled carelessly in the shallows, like marbles from some abstracted giant’s hand, deaf to Dad’s warnings to be careful of the slippery spots. Always, without fail, one of us would get a dunking, clothes and all. I’m pretty certain it was intentional. We’d investigate the shallows, searching for crawdads, shells, minnows and whatever other treasures we could find—just as Autumn and Lawson do today.
The trips to the river ended when Dad’s job took him first to California, then to Ohio, then to Indiana, and then to Illinois. It was apparent that weekends would be out for some time. And that was it. My love for the river shriveled in tandem with the immediate scarcity of those weekend outings. Quite some time elapsed between those childhood jaunts and our own, more recent trips to the river. It took marriage to a good ole’ boy and a couple of mini-hoodlums more interested in mud than t.v. to carry me back. Now, sifting through these photographs, the past is nothing more than a gently beckoning shadow on a sunny day.
Cool water on hot flesh.
Wind in my face.
It is what it is, and it’s good.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Does it get any happier than cupcakes in shiny wrappers?
I used to think that perhaps it was a bit disrespectful to go against the grain when it came to those who were paying their final respects to someone that they loved. So, in the past, when asked to assist in providing a meal for those in attendance at a funeral I always prepared exactly what I was asked to bring.
Until my dad died.
After returning to the church from the cemetery I was drained. Emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I walked to the food tables, loaded with mountains of rolls and pans of cheesy potatoes and slices of ham that many kind people had prepared for us, and forced myself to eat. When I had finished my meal I happened to walk past the dessert table so that I could toss my empty paper plate in the garbage. I had no desire for sweets. However, in order to hold in my tears I had resorted that day to putting empty thoughts in my head, so as I walked I mentally noted what I saw. White cake. Chocolate cake. Yellow cake. Chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. Yellow cake.
And then... cupcakes! In bright, cheery wrappers! But the thing which really caught my attention was the colorful chocolate candies, placed on top of each cupcake in the shape of a smiley face. Somehow this simple change from the expected brought a smile to my face and I grabbed one, hoping that the saying 'You are what you eat' would hold true. I thoroughly enjoyed each bite, savoring the happiness each one seemed to contain.
Now, when asked to provide a cake for a funeral luncheon, I always do something more. The cupcakes I made not only looked blissful, they tasted it as well. Do you know why? They were frosted with my best homemade buttercream frosting. They were topped with sprinkles. And they were made with the hope that even the smallest bit of happiness would come to those who would be enjoying them.
When it comes to happiness, I'm all for paying it forward.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
"One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives."
When I was little…in the days before cable T.V. and it’s abundance of channel choices, KSL Channel 5 played movie every afternoon at 2:00pm. Of course I was in school all day every day so didn’t usually watch the KSL 2pm movie…unless I was sick. KSL’s target audience seemed to be people that were home all afternoon – older, retired people, so most of the movies were from old Hollywood and very often in black and white. This was kind of lucky for me because we didn’t have a color T.V., so I wasn’t missing out on anything like I did with some movies - the yearly broadcast of The Wizard of Oz for example. I didn’t know until I was 18 years old that when Dorothy steps out of her door in Munchkinland – the whole movie turns into COLOR! Yeah, T.V. was not a big focus in our home. Anyway, every once in awhile when I got to stay home sick from school (and I really had to be just about ready to lose a lung or something to get to stay home) I would get to watch Bernie Calderwood host the KSL two o’clock movie. Sometimes, I have to admit; the movies were really boring and kind of hard to follow. But sometimes there would be one like Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, or Little Women with the other Hepburn that were awesome. Because I was by myself when I was watching these movies, it was kind of like I was discovering something special that no one else knew about. One of my clearest 2pm movie memories started out with a shot of two stars – you know in the sky – talking to one another. They would sort of blink back and forth as the voices spoke. Then another littler star shot over and joined them and they started talking some more. I must have had a fever or something that day because I remember kind of waking up during this part and thinking something like “wow, those stars are talking to each other,” and that image drew me into the movie. Now speaking of cable T.V., anyone who has watched his or her fair share of TNT in December may already recognize that I’m talking about the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. This movie has been about played to death every Christmas season for the past 20 years or so. But when I first saw it, about 1974 or 75 it wasn’t something that played all the time (like The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music”or The Ten Commandments every Easter”). This was a magical movie for my 8 or 9-year-old self that I remember feeling really emotional about. Part of that was, of course, because Jimmy Stewart rocks and does such a great job playing the character of George Bailey. And part of it too was probably because I liked the idea that the whole thing was told as kind of a flashback of George’s life as told to Clarence – his brand new guardian angel (I liked the idea of guardian angels). I didn’t have the life experience at that time to understand the emotion and desperation that led George to be praying for help on the bridge in the snow, but the story and characters are laid out so clearly that I didn’t have any trouble even as a little kid, understanding the problem or the satisfying resolution. George felt like a failure. But Clarence helped him realize that no one in his life would have been better off without him – he really did have a wonderful life…and of course Clarence deserved to get his wings.
Ever since that magical afternoon movie experience, I’ve had a soft spot for It’s A Wonderful Life even with the dreadful overplay it’s received over the years. I’ve come to realize too, especially in the last couple of years, that I often use it as a touchstone or reference point for life. And it’s not a bad question to ask once in awhile too I think. How much would the world change if I had never been born? What differences have I made and who have I influenced? I have had some pretty profound changes in my life in the past couple of years that have made me question a lot of things not to mention recognize in a very clear way the desperation George Bailey felt on the bridge. I suppose too, that I am hitting that time in my life when a lot of things are bound to change. Something about having one of your children hit the age of 20 invites a certain amount of reflection. I have found that as the seasons of life come and go responsibilities and influence change it is easy to become really- isolated. Of course it’s my own fault if I do, it’s part of the choices that I make. But circumstances compound sometimes to add to that isolation and feeling of …well, loneliness. I can’t really say that I am where I want to be in any aspect of my life right now, which is, to say the least, unsettling. But I’ve had a couple of George Bailey moments over the past few months that have made me recognize the truth of what Clarence, the angel wrote to George in his copy of Tom Sawyer, “…no man is a failure who has friends.” I have known some lovely, lovely people over the years. People that I have come to respect through the work we have done and the lives we have tried to influence. I have seen them all in action and recognize the quality of people that I have been lucky enough to learn from and be around. But I am also lucky enough, and quite frankly surprised to have found out that these remarkable people are my friends, my good It’s- A –Wonderful- Life – George Bailey kind of friends. I’m not surprised that they would do kind and unselfish things. But I am surprised at the concern and passion with which they will do these things for me. They count me among their number because they have seen value in what I have done and in the life I have led. That has really been a valuable and gratifying realization. I think these lovely, lovely people are amazing, and the fact that they seem to feel the same way about me makes me feel good….about me. So, I’m not sure if my guardian angel has earned his or her wings just yet, but having friends like these makes me hopeful that someday…that bell will ring.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I had started working at this particular school during my freshman year of college, and my job took me to many different classrooms and assignments; however, it wasn’t long before I came to find a favorite place in which to work: Mrs. Berger’s second grade.
I simply loved working with these kids; while I was helping them read or assisting with Math, the day would seem to fly. Unfortunately, no matter where one likes to be, this is not always the place where they are assigned, and it wasn’t long before I found myself scheduled to work in the learning lab.
The lab was not a bad place—in fact, I came to know some of the students there very well; however, I spent most of my time filing papers, grading assessments, organizing and compiling information, as well as a host of other duties which were far less meaningful than working with the kids.
In this lab I soon became very well acquainted with the dreaded “in” box. I hated this box, simply from the fact that no matter how hard I’d worked the day before, and no matter how empty it was when I left at the end of a shift, the next day it would be heaping again. Each day that I came I’d feel a veritable weight settle upon me as I looked at the huge pile of daunting things yet waiting to be done. In reality, it was all of the things the teachers themselves did not want to do—the unpleasant jobs.
Day in and day out over the months of the school year, the “in” box and I had set a pattern: I’d dwindle it down in my hours of time, and magically overnight it would refill itself up again; seeming to laugh reproachfully at me the next day when I arrived.
It was literally sickening.
I’d been working at Finch Elementary for quite some time by now; the snow had melted and the birds were returning from their migratory trips southward. It was a cool April day when I arrived—I’d been smiling and had felt happy—but now I could feel the weight settling upon me. I moved my concrete feet to the table where I worked and took the first few items from the “in” box and sat down to complete them. As I began the arduous tasks before me, I noticed a bright orange sticky note attached to the top page.
I sat there staring at this small piece of paper for very nearly a minute; reading and rereading over that simple little message that one of the lab teachers had written. I checked the back of the note; there was no name. I looked around the room, but there wasn’t any recognition from the teachers that I was even there...yet someone was aware.
I looked back at the note.
As I stared at that little piece of paper, something inside of me changed; no longer did that “in” box seem quite so unfriendly, nor did the tasks inside of it seem so mundane. And it was all from the simple fact that somebody—I don’t know who—noticed a young college student who was there every day, whether or not he liked it, and appreciated what it was he was doing.
It was Margaret Lindsey who so eloquently penned the words:
The little things are most worthwhile—
A quiet word, a look, a smile,
A listening ear that’s quick to share
Another’s thoughts, another’s care...
Although sometimes they may seem quite small,
These little things mean most of all.
There was so much power in that little, orange sticky note—a note I put into my planner and have saved for the past twelve years. I have come to realize since that time that is really those little, seemingly insignificant things that we do that can make the biggest difference in the lives of those around us.
May we all remember the power of the little things.
Monday, August 24, 2009
In a sense, that’s what this first post really is—it’s our celebratory statement; the proverbial welcoming of you to our little corner of the web—your corner. May it always be a place for you to come and to feel uplifted, inspired, and motivated.
May you explore new vistas with us.