Category Archives: Thankful Thursdays

A Perfect Storm

Good news everybody:

I’m still younger than the average American. Just spent a lot of time combing through the 2010 census looking for demographic data to back up my position on certain, ahem, sensitive topics of discussion in an academic forum and while I was there, I also discovered that the average American is 36.8 years old.

That is good news, right? I mean, younger is better, if only because… wait… I can’t remember why younger is better. I know that the media tells me it is, and that for some reason all of my clothing looks infinitely better on my teenage daughter than it does on me, but aside from that, I can’t remember any hard and fast data that will back me up on that particular assertion.

I know the toddlers don’t buy it. Or the almost old enough to date/drive/etc teens. Or anyone on the brink of retirement age, for that matter…

My husband, however–did I rub it in yet tell you he turned 40? Yup, we are on opposite sides of that chronological hill.

Speaking of age differences.

My youngest brother is almost exactly ten years my junior.

I was poised to follow that sentence with some direct quotations from my ten year old self regarding the cosmetic deficiencies of my new baby brother.

But that will have to wait, because right… there…. on the brink, I remembered that I got a wedding invitation from another brother this morning.

Also a younger brother.  That… might… possibly be younger than the one I just labelled my “youngest brother”.

Awkward.

Mostly because I really have no idea how old this particular brother is. We did not grow up in the same house, and we haven’t had much contact. I thought about making a guess at his age by scrutinizing the photograph, except that there isn’t one. Invite to wedding: check. Registration card listing various department stores: check. Map insert with directions: check. Invite to dinner party: check. Invite to reception and dance, etc, etc: check.

But no photo.

The really awkward thing, is this means it’s entirely possible for me to mistakenly show up at a complete stranger’s wedding and not even realize it. Yeah. Unless that stranger happened to be, I don’t know, Asian or something. I fairly certain that my brother has a distinctly Aryan flavor.

Not that I’m actually going, because:

  1. I have class that day.
  2. They are getting married 832 miles away, and by June, I won’t be able to afford enough gas to transport myself to the college via my own personal automobile, let alone Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada.

I thought about going (of course, I also thought about running away to Malaysia, too, and looked how that turned out) mostly for illogical reasons related to the shirking of one’s duty to work, children, etc, but also because it would be so absolutely unexpected. And, you know, seeing as I am both younger than the average American and therefore have the impetuous nature of youth on my side, and yet I am also approaching that proverbial middle age  wherein you can blame such things on a fleeting mid-life crisis, I figure it’s a perfect storm of excuses. No?

Sigh.

Really though. Somebody needs to invent a cheaper form of travel.

If only so I can show up at a complete stranger’s wedding and introduce myself as his long-lost sister and see the expression on his mother’s, or his father’s face. Depending on which one is more suspicious of the other. Could make for some memorable moments.

(PS: I know this was supposed to be a post about gratitude. And I am–grateful, that is, because I finally finished and sent off my sociolinguistics literature review today. Uhg. May you never, ever experience English 535 and you, too, will have reason to be grateful eternally.)



Then Sings My Soul (Part II)

Every summer after my twelfth birthday, I spent a week at girl’s camp, backpacking and hunkering down in tents we pitched ourselves in places like  Waterton International Peace Park and Banff and breathing air that looked like this:

We did our fair share of marshmallow roasting and cheesy campfire skits, but the real highlight every year was a torturous experience the adult leaders provided us under the guise of a “hike”.

The “hike” always involved heavy backpacks, not nearly enough water, treacherous slopes, and a half or three-quarters point at which we were begging to turn around. At which juncture we would be informed that a retreat would take just as long, if not longer, than pushing on to the bitter end.

Sometime after this, when the blisters were oozing and our legs and lungs were burning, and we were faced with what I sure was a suicidal crossing of sheer rock face, I would begin pleading with God.

Let me survive this hike, and I will never, ever, pretend to be asleep when my mother calls me, again. I will be nice to the kid that sits behind me in science.

Or. 

Alternately, make my death swift and painless? 

At which point He would take away whatever cloud cover we might have been enjoying or send an entire colony of giant red ants swarming up our pant legs.

You got the feeling He might have been laughing.

But always, there was that moment of triumph when the goal was realized, the water bottle refilled, and we were perched on some granite peak that overlooked half the known universe, and the feeling was indescribable. We were so glad we hadn’t quit.

And somewhat awed that we hadn’t. The most fervent prayers of gratitude I ever uttered were probably delivered flat on my back looking up at a Rocky mountain sky, or while hunched on a windy peak, my arms around my knees and a granite boulder at my back. I remember one year, another girl collapsed on the shale beside me and we were looking out over this incredible valley and there were birds singing and a glacier behind us, and we looked at each other and there just weren’t any words for it.

The next day at church we stood to sing the closing hymn, and I was dumbfounded to realize that there were  words for it and that Carl Gustag Boberg had written them more than a century before I was born:

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

I looked over at the girl who had shared that wordless moment on the mountain top with me,  and we smiled, because we knew what it was to look out over God’s creation and feel our souls harmonize with the universe. And then, while my soul was wide open with the realization that God was indeed a creative Being, the rest of the song rushed in, carrying with it the knowledge that he was a merciful and a just God, also. That he was not laughing at my blisters and my ant bites and my poor, empty canteen on that mountain that day, or at any other treacherous, painful moment of my life, but that He knew me intimately enough to recognize the melody of my soul no matter what it was singing.

That hymn became one of my favorites, and provided me with some interesting experiences later in life.

This afternoon while I was lying outside in the playground bark, with various snot-nosed toddlers clambering over me and pointing out airplanes in the sky, the song was on a perpetual loop in the back of my mind. I finally closed my eyes and faced directly into the sun and paid attention to the words and the music and it was amazing how many associations and how much momentum one song can gather as it accompanies you through the years.

I looked up the lyrics today–to see if Boberg really wrote the words I thought he wrote, and I came across a translation I had never read before. You might like it:

O mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of thine,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining earthly life with love benign,

When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
Where golden ships in azure issue forth,
Where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
Of changing seasons and of time on earth.

When crushed by guilt of sin before thee kneeling,
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel thy balm and, all my bruises healing,
My soul is filled, my heart is set at ease.

And when at last the mists of time have vanished
And I in truth my faith confirmed shall see,
Upon the shores where earthly ills are banished
I’ll enter Lord, to dwell in peace with thee.


Promised Pictures

Here are the pictures you asked for, from the Sweethearts dance. I know, I know, Thursdays are supposed to be all about gratitude–so, what? You’re not profoundly grateful for me sharing? And in such a timely manner? I know I am–grateful, that is, that my daughter has such good friends, and that at least one of their parents thought to take pictures, and was willing to share:

(And can I just point out, that clearly we have taught her well, when it comes to a girl keeping her date in line?)

And I don’t know if you can see it, but,  yes, her nails match match the infamous shoes:

They had a complete rainbow of dresses in this group–you’d think they’d planned it that way:

Her date is the one who seems to have tangled with a slinky at dinner:

He’s Italian, and asked her to Sweethearts with a long Italian missive which she had to translate online in order to understand. At which point she realized it was mostly blustering bravado about how much superior he was/is at almost everything they might have ever attempted to do. Sweet, teenage boy stuff like that.  If I remember right, she was going to answer with a letter written in a dozen or so other languages. Not sure that ever materialized, but if you know Michael, you’ll agree that it was a excellent idea.

I suppose I should include a picture of them on even footing, just in case she never goes out with someone taller than her again. (Kidding. I’m sure there are lots of men taller than six feet in her future. But just in case.):


Sharpening My Oyster Knife

In 1928, Zora Neal Hurston wrote:

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. … No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. … Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world-I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. … I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. … My country, right or wrong. (Taken from I Love Myself when I am Laughing . . . and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive)

This from a black woman living in the South, pre-civil rights era.  She could acknowledge “the terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave” while refusing to allow that she was “tragically colored”. She maintained that “there is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.”

And her attitude was not a product of an upbringing insulated against racism; she simply chose her own unique life-view: “Sometimes,” she said, “I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

I love this woman.

And as unpopular as it might be to say right now, I love my country, too. I’m sure it would be far more vogue to tilt my hat at a tragic angle and utter sidelong epithets against capitalism, politicians, educators, and moral decay, but here’s the thing: we have it pretty good. My children go to school every day. For free. Medical care might be expensive, but it exists. Gas prices might be rising, but I have the freedom to own and drive my car, or not, as I choose. This experiment called American democracy is ongoing and we have less than stellar moments in our history, but it has not failed. I get in my bed at night and I don’t worry too much about what will happen to my family while my eyes are closed. I’m warm, dry, and reasonably certain that when I wake up in the morning the landscape won’t have changed significantly while I slept. There is political unrest in some places–but those demonstrators pretty much all return to their homes at night; they aren’t carried off on stretchers or buried in mass graves. There are not thousands of children with swollen bellies languishing in camps on the outskirts of our major cities. Segments of our population know hunger, but we have never experienced famine; from time to time we endure  injustice, but not tyranny.

I am grateful to be who I am, in the country in which I live, with the opportunities that surround me daily. My race, my heritage, my country, right or wrong. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

Remind me of that, next time I start whining…


Here Comes The Sun!

Finally!

Some step-by-step directions for taking full advantage of the first warm(ish) day of the year with toddlers:

1. Line ’em up:

2. Pile ’em up:

3. Stay out of the way:

4. Feed ’em before they pass out:

5. Take a good long listen: Do you hear that?

Yeah, me neither.

(Insert big, sun-drenched, grinning emoticon.)


All The Joys Of Heaven

Standing here beside my stove, blinking away tears that have no real reason for overwhelming me.

Except that I am profoundly grateful for the experience of being a mother–in this town, in these decades, in this family. I am grateful for all the summer days and winter nights and all the struggle and all the joys. I would not trade my life for any other, for any price. And I suppose that sometimes I allow the strain of days to overshadow the satisfaction of the experience.

This little file, found on a thumbdrive  in the back of a silverware drawer is just a sliver, a few brief flashes recorded one summer, and yet it affects me this morning as though it were an entire illumination of what it means to love beyond understanding. I don’t know if the images hold the power for you that they hold for me, but I hope my children will remember all their lives, the blessings of their youth-spent with people who loved them, whether that was while we were getting dirty:

Getting clean:

Or getting silly:

Or just stretched out on the grass looking up through Grandma’s walnut trees:

The important thing is that we were comfortable with one another:

We helped each other down the steep parts:

Across the deep parts:

Even  when we’d lost our oars:

We gave each other the courage to take those leaps of faith:

To share our secrets:

Worries:

And the deepest feelings of our souls:

We are young and old, side by side, forever family:

And we’re on the same path. You may not see me, but I’ll always be there–right behind you, every step of the way.

I love every one of you. In ways you’ll never understand–until you, too, walk this same path behind children of your own.


Beyond 647

I think it’s interesting that I have lived in two homes that burned to smoking ruins, and yet I never dream of losing everything I own to fire. I do, however,  have a recurring nightmare about having too many possessions: I am required, on short notice to pack up my family (usually including not only my children but  young versions of my siblings, too) and evacuate a house that represents everything I have ever owned. Every piece of clothing, every toy and craft stick and crumpled receipt; they are all there in a jumble, and I am hip-deep in it, and I am trying to sort out what is most crucial to take along.

I’ve had this dream for as long as I can remember. The only thing that changes is the sheer volume of stuff. I don’t know if it’s related to what I perceived as many spur-of-the-moment moves during my childhood–coming home from school on a Wednesday to a moving truck, and driving away on a Friday. I was always glad on some level; moving was a reinvention–of self and possessions and place. When I was sixteen, the moving truck was empty and Mom was working full-time. My brother and I filled three dumpsters with things we deemed non-essential in the still of the night–sneaking across the street to another apartment complex when ours were full.

I started dejunking my place this week. Not only dejunking, but de-everything-not-absolutely-crucial-to-survival-right-now. That means I am not keeping any car seats for that nebulous time in the future when I might have to transport a small person. I am throwing away the rosemary and caraway seed. If a recipe ever calls for them, I’ll pick another. I’m not keeping my fat clothes.

Just to keep myself honest, I texted my sister-in-law: Give me a number between 100 and 1000.

She answered: 647.

So that was my goal, the magic number of things I needed to part with–though I thought it unlikely I had that much to get rid of.

Silly me.

Said sister-in-law is now helping me out: I stack everything in my front hall, and she comes along and hauls it off. I don’t know if it will help with the nightmares, but at least when I’m awake I’ll be able to locate my cinnamon. And if REC ever explodes, or a rail car turns over in my backyard spilling toxic waste from Hanford, my life should be easier to condense into a space the size of my lap. I almost kept my crock pot, I admit. But then I remembered I have an oven-safe pot.

We’re way past 647, and I’m not counting anything made out of paper.

You remember that scripture in Malachi? About how if you pay your tithing the heavens will open and pour you out a blessing so great you will not have room enough to receive it? I must have been paying way too much tithing, because the excess is ridiculous. BUT, I must point out, that I am blessed–and always have been–to have everything I need, and more. I have never truly gone without, not even when our home was a smoking pit of ash or when I slept, five to a twin-sized mattress in a filthy apartment complex in Portland, Oregon the year I turned six. There was always enough, and always a lesson we needed to learn.

I know that God loves us. I know he wants us to have all the good things we desire. I also know that we don’t always want what’s best for us, and we end up with a hallway full of unneeded and unnecessary items that we once thought would bring us happiness. He knows this, but he allows us our agency, allows us the exquisite schooling of trial-and-error, and lets us try again.  Thank God for all that, and for every spotless tomorrow.