Blessed are the P’s

Blessed are the Painters of pictures for their work brings joy to others.

Philip water-colored a picture.

Owen water-colored himself.

Two artists


Blessed are the Painters of chicken coops for they beautify the world, or at least a tiny piece of it.

1989?

2019 — a work in progress


Blessed are the Preservers of the Past; blessed are those who Push for Progress;

In a sidewalk in Boston — “Friend –  Look up and see the North Church Tower … This view preserved for all future generations…”

View of the North Church Tower

And blessed is the balance between the two.

I recently went to Boston with my daughter, Mary. We walked the Freedom Trail from Faneuil Hall to the Massachusetts State House. Along the way, we saw the large medallion pictured above, telling us to “Look up and see the North Church Tower.”

“One if by land and two if by sea…” My mother could recite Paul Revere’s Ride well into her dementia. Earlier that day, I had attended worship at the old North Church, where the usher let me into my own private box. I read the sign on wall there that told of Charles Wesley preaching there. I was in awe.

But I could barely see the North Church from the site of medallion. Oh, it’s there. It’s spire rises above whatever that blue-green thing is.

Boston is a city that works hard to preserve the past.

It’s a balancing act, though.

For instance, the Old Corner Bookstore, built in 1716, is now a Chipotle restaurant. Mary bemoaned its fate. On the other hand, I pointed out to her that the building was going to be demolished in 1960 and turned into a parking lot, but investors purchased it and revitalized it. It’s still standing.

Preservation versus progress.

Both are necessary.


Blessed are the Perseverators.

I can’t remember exactly what my father was doing at the time, but I remember Helen telling me that he was perseverating. It was a new word for me,

but certainly not a new concept.

The repetition that goes with dementia, or autism, or brain injury may be all too familiar to some of us.

Lately my father has been perseverating over church. Our conversations go like this:

Dad: So are you going to take me to church?

Me: No, Dad. Today is (fill in the weekday). You go to church on Sunday.

Dad: Why?

Me: Because that’s when they have worship services. If we went there right now, nobody would be there. You go on Sunday.

Dad: Ok. (short pause) Are you going to take me to church now?

Me: No, Dad. Today is (fill in the weekday). You go to church on Sunday.

And so on.

He wants to go to church, and I remind myself what a blessing that is. He perseverates over a positive.

Blessed are those who Persevere.

I admit that I get frustrated with the perseverating.

It happens all day.

It happens all night.

I’m getting tired.

Yesterday I had to re-certify my lifeguarding. For the first time, the pre-test — a 300 yard swim followed by a timed brick retrieval — was daunting.

I knew I could do it, but my body wasn’t so sure.

Had I thought of it, I could have sung the Dorie song — “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

Instead, I did the Little Engine That Could — “I think I can, I think I can,” and slowly, slowly I completed the swim. (Okay, well, not too slowly. I swam it well within the allotted time.)

Perseverance sometimes requires a series of inner pep talks.

Each time I had to climb out of the pool at the wall, I had to remind myself that I could do it.

Each time I start feeling frustrated with the perseverating, I also have to remind myself that I can do this.

I can.

I can.

I love this man and I can answer the same question 257 times.

In one day.

Blessed are those who persevere, who run the race with endurance, who finish the swim test, who live with perseverators, for they shall hear, “Well done.”

For Those Who Work Behind the Scenes

Blessed are those who work behind the scenes —

the dishwashers,
the line cooks,
and the sous chefs,

the delivery truck drivers,
and the shelf-stockers,

the shut-ins who pray,
but say, “I wish I could do more,”

the gardener who weeds
and weeds
and weeds,
making the garden beautiful
by removing the unsightly,
knowing most people will only notice
where he fails to do his job.

Blessed are the set-changers
and the prop placers,

the page-turner for the pianist,

the proof-readers,

the collaters
and assemblers,

the trash emptiers,

and the little man with the push broom
who sweeps the last of the refuse in the dust pan
before shutting off the light
and closing the door.

Each person
Each small act
Is seen
And noted
by the One who sees all.

All work can be an act of worship.

One of my mother’s gardens

Blessed Are the Daily Bloggers

Over eight years ago, I started writing in this little corner of the internet with nothing more than a silly name and a struggle to understand my mother’s dementia.

I wrote nearly every day. It was as if some unseen floodgate opened. A tidal wave of stored-up words poured out.

Three years later, at Laity Lodge, I shyly told a then-new-now-old friend about my blog.

“How often do you write?” she asked.

“Every day,” I replied.

Every day?!” she repeated.

I realized then that blogging every day isn’t normal. Or expected. I started giving myself more permission to skip days.

Over the years, though, I wrote about my mother’s decline, my father’s health struggles, my brother’s death, my mother’s death, my children, my grandchildren, my husband. I wrote about writing. I wrote about spiritual things. I wrote when I was angry, sad, confused, grieving, joyful, content, challenged.

It’s rare when I write these days. I have 255 drafts in my draft folder today.

I start. I stop. I think it’s all stupid. A few days pass, and I repeat the process. 255 times.

The exception to my lack of posting has been April’s A-to-Z Challenge. Give me a task and a schedule, and I’m much more likely to get something done.

Lately, in the mornings, I’ve been thinking on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5 — the Blessed-are-the’s). I’ve also been doing some local research.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Cooperstown High School’s 1922 yearbook, called “The Pathfinder.” A graduating student had rewritten the Beatitudes for Cooperstown students:

I don’t know what a V.P. in deportment is and I don’t think the punctuality prize is awarded anymore. But the Ruggles Essay contest — where every student in the Junior class writes an essay on the topic of their choice and the top essays are read to the entire student body who votes on the winner — is still going on today. (The earliest account of the Ruggles’ Essay contest that I could find was 1896, but it could precede that date.)

My favorite of Emily’s Beatitudes was #6 — “Blessed are they who knowing nothing do not give you wordy evidence of the fact” — probably because it’s one of my biggest fears as a writer.

All this is to say that for June, I’ll be sharing an A-to-Z of beatitudes.

Or at least I’ll be trying.

Either my draft folder will expand to 281 or I’ll give you wordy evidence of the nothing I know.

The Adult Swim Lesson

I stood in the warm water of the teaching pool helping Nahla (not her real name) float on her back. It was my second time giving adult swim lessons, and, honestly, I love it.

Nahla had grown up in another culture, one that didn’t have access to swimming pools and swimming lessons. She wasn’t the person who started me thinking about immigration, but it has been weighing on my mind. I’m too much of a news junky not to think about it, but I’m always frustrated with the one-sided telling of the story.

“What do you think of immigration?” I asked a wise friend a few days later.

Jonathan paused before he answered me. “That’s a big question,” he said.

I had made a quick trip to Washington, DC, and gotten together with some people I know from Hutchmoot. I knew that I would get a thoughtful answer.

My own experience is limited. It is, perhaps, a downfall of living in a small, rural community. A few weeks of international travel opened my eyes, but certainly has not made me an expert on much of anything.

Doug, the other person at the mini-moot in Washington, joined in by telling a story about something that had happened when he was working with refugees. Then he told a story about his father, followed by a story from Sweden. He strung the stories together with the common thread of immigration. Some revealed one side of the issue; others revealed the other.

Never once did he tell me what I should think. Nor did tell me exactly what he thought.

His and Jonathan’s stories made the topic of immigration multi-dimensional. I could walk around the issue while I thought about it — kicking the tires, tooting the horn, taking it for a test drive.

On the other hand, memes — and I feel like I’ve been inundated with memes lately — take a complex issue and flatten it into a pithy saying.  Sometimes the pith is crumpled, fed into a cannon, and fired at those with opposing views. Those who agree laugh and A-men. The targets become offended and angry.

Memes are not conversation, nor are they conducive to conversation.

Last week, a picture showed up in my Instagram feed that showed a young woman holding a sign that said, “Behind millions of successful women is a an abortion they don’t regret.” Frankly, I found it offensive.

I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who do have regrets about their abortion.

I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who didn’t choose to have the abortion, and yet are still successful.”

And how do you measure success anyway?

Then I thought about the fact that the woman holding the poster has a story, too. I need to hear her story — with open ears and an open mind. She probably won’t change mine, and I won’t change hers, but we’ll be one step closer to understanding each other.

I thought about the pro-lifers who wave posters showing gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. I’ve wanted to tell them about my friend who 30-some years ago had a late-term abortion because complications with the pregnancy were causing her kidneys to shut down. She and her husband had to make a Sophie’s choice. They don’t need their noses rubbed in it.

Oh, how we need to hear each other’s stories!

So I stand in the teaching pool, gently supporting Nahla’s back, encouraging her that it’s okay because I’m right there in the water with her.

A thousand thoughts run through my head — thoughts on immigration and fear and courage and the struggles women have and how grateful I am for this moment.

Mostly, that’s it — I’m grateful.

 

 

 

K is for Known

God is not fully known when He is only “known” by the understanding.
He is best known by us when He takes possession of our whole being and unites us to Himself.

Thomas Merton, Bread in the Wilderness


It is the “great mystery of Godliness” which occupies him (Saint Bernard) before all else.

What is that mystery?
Not an idea, not a doctrine, but a Person: God Himself, revealed in the Man, Christ.

How is this doctrine understood?
When the Person is known.

How is He known?
When loved.

How loved?
When He lives in us and is Himself our love for His Father.
Loving the Father in us, He makes us one with the Father as He Himself is.

Thomas Merton, Last of the Fathers


Known and loved

 

 

A is for Advent

In Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton reflects on the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Saint Bernard spoke of three advents of Christ.

The first advent is “that in which He comes to seek and to save the lost.”

The third advent is “that in which He comes to takes us to Himself.”

The second advent, the one which I’ve been thinking on ever since reading about it, is the present advent which “is taking place at every moment of our own earthly life as wayfarers.”

Thomas Merton said, referring to the second advent, the one between the first and third,

To meditate on these two Advents

is to sleep between the arms of God

with His left hand under our head

and His right hand embracing us. 

It is also to sleep ‘between the lots’ —

that is to say to

‘live at peace in the midst of our inheritance’.


Bud snuggling with Laurel.