One-Liner Wednesday

In response to LindaGHill’s One-Liner Wednesday concept:

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
– Edith Wharton

The Rose Bush

When I started this blog, I reserved the right to post some older essays or poems that have been hanging out on my hard drive. I wanted to share this today because the rose bush is flowering now. Various changes have happened since I wrote this. My parents have a new senior community where they don’t have a deck and there have been other complications, but we do have a (relocated daughter) rose bush blooming in our yard.

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Today, April 19, 2007, is my parents’ 53rd wedding anniversary. It is also twelve days until they move from the cozy, two-bedroom bungalow they have owned for 18 years into a two-bedroom apartment in a senior living community a few miles away.

The move is their own choice, not precipitated by any health emergency. They want to settle into a place with transportation, meals, housekeeping, recreation and other services, available to use as they need them in the coming years.

They have been going through their attic, basement, garage, and five rooms, choosing what to bring with them, what to send to our home, what to give to each of my two sisters, and what to donate to charity.

There is one important heirloom that they can’t bring with them or give to anyone – a rosebush.

Beside every home that they have shared for 53 years, my parents have transplanted a rosebush that grew next to my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachusetts.

This is not a spindly, delicate, high-maintenance, hybrid tea rose, but a rose bush that is only a generation away from its wild cousins. Its stems are thick with thorns and its leaves are more abundant and a fresher, brighter green than the florist kinds of roses. Its blossoms have deep pink petals, which open in the sun to reveal a large cluster of yellow stamens, heavy with pollen. Unlike highly cultivated varieties, these roses’ scent is intense and attracts many bumblebees, who drink the nectar, busily fill the pollen sacs on their legs, fly to their nest, and then return for more. In testament to the work of the bees, when the petals flutter down to the ground below the bush, it produces large, bright red rose hips that decorate the branches for months.

Planted at their current home with its slightly warmer climate, the bush has grown very large and often produces a second round of blossoms in late summer. It is also part of the landscaping of their house, and as such, is being sold along with it. Given its current size, it also could not be transplanted again without serious damage to its roots.

This heirloom rose bush will still be close to our family, though. Fifteen years ago, we transplanted a shoot from the rose next to our own home, where it has thrived. Now we will propagate a new bush from it and put it in a container that my parents can keep on the little deck off their living room at the apartment.

It should be ready to bud a few weeks after their 54th anniversary.

 

 

Corpus Christi

This morning, we observed the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still often called by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. Because for many years we ministered at a church dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament who also observed it as its feast day, we are especially attached to its observance. I even composed a Corpus Christi anthem for the Blessed Sacrament choir to sing, based on part of the reading from the gospel of John (Jn 6:51-58) that we heard proclaimed today. It has also traditionally been the last Mass at which the adult choir sings before taking a break for the summer, so it was the last opportunity for Trinity to sing with Genesis Choir at our current parish, as I alluded to in this post.

Trinity was able to sing, although not without complications. For the last week and a half, she has been battling what seems to be a systemic allergic reaction. We can’t figure out what is causing it. So far, there have been a visit to the walk-in clinic at our family practice, overlapping doses of three different antihistamines, oatmeal baths, special lotions, blood tests, and a visit to the allergist, but no real relief or answers yet. Despite not getting much sleep last night and not feeling well, Trinity made it to church to sing and say good-bye to her choir friends, many of whom are a generation or two older than she.

I sat near the choir area and kept an eye on Trinity, in case she became so uncomfortable that she needed me to bring her home. By the grace of God, she made it through and is now changed into more comfortable clothes and resting. There will be a follow-up appointment with the allergist later in the week; we are hoping for answers and a plan to bring lasting relief.

Paying it forward

On Monday mornings, my parents usually head to their favorite grocery store. Because my dad is bald and needs to protect his head from the sun, he usually wears a cap when he goes out, often his SeaBee cap.

It’s not unusual for people to comment on his SeaBee cap, thanking him for his service or mentioning a family member who was also in the US Navy or another branch of the military.

While they were checking out, the man behind my father was asking him about his service; Dad served in the Pacific in World War II and was called back into active service during the Korean Conflict. When it was time to pay the bill, a woman who was third in line, having heard the conversation, came forward to pay for my parents’ order. Her husband, now in his 50s, had been career military and she wanted to express gratitude to the prior generation of veterans.

My parents were so surprised! My mom said that she had heard stories about paying it forward, but had never seen it in action. I told my mother that it is good for people who are used to giving, as she and my dad have been for decades, to be able to accept a gift so others experience the joy of giving, too.

Mom is already planning to give extra food/money this month to Mother Teresa’s Cupboard, which aids local folks who are hungry, to pay it forward again.

Father’s Day

In the United States, today is Father’s Day.

Many of my Facebook friends are also middle-aged and have been posting photos of their dads, with messages about how much they miss them. It has brought home to me how fortunate I am to still have my father here and nearby to celebrate with today.

It’s not that he is young; he’s 89.

It’s not that he hasn’t had health issues, including three different cancer diagnoses and a double bypass.

It’s not that he has a great family history. His father and all three of his siblings who made it into their 70’s have been afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

Yet, my dad has managed to bounce back from illness, stay sharp, and keep active.

At least a good share of that is helped by my mom. They exercise together and she keeps any eye on his diet. They are careful to make all their doctor visits and lab tests and to take their medications properly. They laugh often. They stayed engaged with their community.

Most of all, they have been there for me and my sisters and our families, no matter how scattered we were.

I have been the luckiest daughter, though, because my parents retired near us, twenty-five years ago this month. I can’t imagine how life would have been without them nearby for all but three years of my elder daughter’s and all of my younger daughter’s lives.

My dad does follow my blog by email, so he will see this post.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I hope you enjoy the fresh strawberry pie we have chilling in the fridge for after dinner.

 

24 Years of Lessons Learned

The nursery rhyme tells us that “Friday’s child is loving and giving.” While I don’t universally subscribe to the accuracy of nursery rhymes, as all Wednesday’s children will be grateful to hear, in the case of my younger daughter, who was born twenty -four years ago yesterday on the Friday before Trinity Sunday , the nursery rhyme was definitely true.  We didn’t know her sex until her arrival, but we had chosen the name Trinity for a girl, after a high school friend. It was an extra bonus that she was born so close to Trinity Sunday.

Her birthday this year fell on Pentecost, and at early morning Mass where she was both singing and ringing handbells, I began to reflect on the gifts that she has given to me as a parent and a person. (I recently wrote a post about the impending end of the resident-daughter-in-church-choir era here.)

Trinity reinforced a lesson I had begun to learn from her older sister:  that children come as their own individual selves, with a large portion of their temperament already formed. Even before she was born, Trinity reacted strongly to her environment. For instance, she would startle markedly in utero if there was a loud noise nearby. As an infant, she was so sensitive to sound that she would awaken if someone across the room turned the page of the newspaper.

This sensitivity extended to people and emotions as well. It was clear at a young age that Trinity had a social conscience. I remember her playing with paper dolls and creating conversations between them, as though performing a little play. She told me that this doll worked at helping people who were poor, but her sister liked to have lots of nice clothes and things so she had a job where she made a lot of money, but she also gave money to her sister that she could use to help people.

Trinity’s empathy also encompasses the environment. She went on to major in the Science of Natural and Environmental Systems at Cornell and will soon start a master’s program in Conservation Biology at ESF, with a goal of restoring native species to ecosystems. Her empathy does not extend to harmful invasive species!

Trinity also taught me the importance of solitude. Perhaps because she was so sensitive to the world around her, as soon as she could crawl, Trinity would sometimes go off to her room to play alone. As she got older, there was always solitary reading, writing, thinking, dreaming time built into her day. This alone time is vital for keeping her sense of personal balance and I expect will remain so. Her example taught me about being alone without being lonely.

Trinity was also spiritually aware from a young age. She was blessed with a sense of prayer and connection with God as a child. Unfortunately, dealing with the church as a human organization is more complicated. Her place in the church was severely tested in her early teen years, when we left our home parish over an emotionally abusive and unstable pastor. Trinity was halfway through the two-year preparation for her confirmation, so we joined a parish where many of her high school friends were members, so that she would have familiar classmates for the final year of preparation. It was still very difficult to decide that she wanted to be confirmed in a church that had hurt her and many friends and family very badly. She also had to write a letter to the bishop who had refused to protect us, asking to be confirmed. I never read the letter, but she apparently forthrightly told him of her struggles with the situation. She did decide to be confirmed and receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts she displays in her own quiet way. The red vestments and banners in the church, the symbol of the tongues as of fire, and the readings and prayers of Pentecost reminded me of her confirmation and her spiritual gifts yesterday on her birthday. Next Sunday will be Trinity Sunday, so I’m sure more reminders are in store. Each of us is a child of God in our own right; Trinity has always clearly shown that being my child does not make her God’s grandchild or child-once-removed, but always her own unique reflection of the Divine Light.

In other ways, Trinity has taught me to patiently and quietly deal with suffering. When she was sixteen, she was hospitalized for a week with severe colitis, which was diagnosed as Crohn’s disease. I stayed in the hospital with her and she was such a good patient, despite pain and some pretty harrowing test prep protocols. Given that we were already dealing with a chronic illness with her sister, Trinity’s diagnosis was a big blow to our family. After catching everything her sister had brought home from school before she was old enough to go to school herself, Trinity had been remarkably healthy during her own school years, so her level of equanimity in the face of illness was amazing to me. The next two years were filled with side effects from meds, follow-up tests, second opinions, diet changes, concerns about health care facilities when looking at colleges, etc. Finally, after transferring her care to a gastroenterologist near her college, she was put on a carefully monitored program to cut back and out the medication she was taking, which revealed that she did not have Crohn’s disease after all, for which we are all very grateful. I will always remember how calmly and maturely she dealt with a very difficult situation and an uncertain future.

I should probably close before I risk embarrassing Trinity any further. I don’t think she reads my blog very often, so perhaps she will be spared. Thank you, Trinity for the privilege of being your mom for the last twenty-four years. I wish you a great year to come, as you embark on grad school. I’m sure you will keep learning and that others will learn from you by example, as I have.

A Thought for Thursday

Thanks to Walt Whitman and Jenni for this message.

Unload and Unwind

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This image is courtesy of RUGU and speaks very loudly to me today.

Whitman clearly understood something that most take far too long to appreciate, I know I did and paid for that time wasted dearly. He intuited that it is not the choices made in comfort and ease alone that creates strength, will and provides us with the impetus to grow.  We define ourselves by ALL the choices made but when we contest with others who would write the lines of our life’s play THEN we discover the path that WE would take through life and the lessons from which we will grow.

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Witnessing suffering

Today, I have experienced a number of reminders of suffering – some large-scale, such as the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, some personal, such as hearing of the death of the sister of a friend, who had been caring for her as she died of breast cancer.

As difficult as it is to suffer oneself, it is also difficult to witness suffering – especially if the sufferer is someone you love, someone you want to protect. You want so much to make their suffering stop, even though it is impossible to do.

I am reminded of the times in my life when I have been confronted with the suffering of a loved one, which have, unfortunately, taken up more years than I care to dwell on here. I wish I had some great wisdom to pass on, but I’m afraid all I can say is that it is important to be available to the one who is suffering and to listen to them, whether that means hearing them speak, intuiting the meaning behind their words, or reading their body language. I think it also helps to concentrate on the other person, even though that may mean setting aside one’s own worries, sadness, and fears. The one who is suffering has enough to deal with without adding to their pain by their worrying about you.

You can take time on your own later to process the worries, sadness, and fears. Sometimes that happens later in the day or week, when you find some time and space of your own to reflect. Sometimes, it is years later when something reminds you of that period of time when your loved one was suffering.

A day like today.

End of an era

This June marks the end of an era for me. Since my older daughter began singing in the youth choir at church when she was in third grade, one or both of my daughters have been singing in choir, cantoring, and/or ringing handbells nearly all the years that they were living at home. With my younger daughter scheduled to move away to begin graduate school in August and no likelihood of her or her sister living in our hometown again, after this month, I will not hear them singing or ringing on a regular basis.

Of course, I have heard them sing in other places: elementary, middle, and high schools; Gettysburg College; Cornell University; even Carnegie Hall in NYC. I’ve heard my older daughter sing at her now home parish in Honolulu. My younger daughter is hoping to find a chorus in which to sing while she is in grad school, which is only about a 90 minute drive, definitely close enough for concert attendance.

I’ve actually extended the era of hearing them sing in our church longer than anticipated, with my younger daughter living at home for two years while doing volunteer work and preparing for grad school, affording her the opportunity to sing for the first time with an adult, rather than youth or teen, church choir, and to join the new handbell choir at our current parish. She and her sister had both rung in the parish where they were baptized, which is now closed; she had missed ringing, so the new bell choir was a tremendous blessing for her personally, as well as for the parish.

While I don’t foresee a circumstance where our daughters would live here, it is possible that at some future point – after we are retired, perhaps – we might live near one or both of them and again get to hear their voices raised in song at church on a regular basis. I don’t know what the future holds, but I will try to cherish these last few times, hearing my daughter ring and sing, helping us all to lift our hearts and minds to God in prayer.

 

A Wiccan Wedding

Today, I accompanied my daughter to the wedding of one of her middle/high school friends. The weather was beautiful. The setting, in a stone and wood pavillion overlooking part of a state park in the Finger Lakes, was lovely. The bride and groom were glowing, just as you would expect with a young bride and groom.

What was different was the ceremony, which was Wiccan. Having never been to a Wiccan ceremony, I was curious about how it would unfold. Wicca is a nature-based religion, so the ceremony included elements of nature. There was a lot of focus on the symbolism and blessing of the rings. The rings were blessed with earth, fire, water, and air, each of which also represented one of the four directions. The vows focused on mutual love and care, as the rings were exchanged. The final element of the ceremony was a literal tying of the knot, as woven cords representing the two families of origin were draped around the hands of the couple and tied to symbolize their union.

During the couple’s first dance, a mother sparrow flew into the pavillion with food in her beak. She alighted only a few feet away from where they were dancing, remaining there for about thirty seconds, before flying up to the rafters and over to her hungry chicks in a nest hidden in the base of a lighting fixture. Another blessing from nature.