Important

My Rabbit Room gift exchange package ready to be mailed.

I took part in the Rabbit Room gift exchange this year. Below is a letter for the person whose name I drew.


Dear Rabbit Room Gift Exchange person,

I am so so sorry.

Spoiler alert: I bought a Baseball Hall of Fame cap for you. Since I live in Cooperstown, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, I included some something from there with my RR gift. I know, there’s nothing rabbit-y about the Hall of Fame, but it’s a little piece of me. Cooperstown is where I live and the Hall of Fame was my first job. There’s some more rabbit-y stuff in the box, too.

The baseball cap sat on the piano in the living room blithely waiting to be wrapped and mailed.

The other morning I went to check on my father. He has some dementia. From the dining room I could see he wasn’t in his chair. When I went in, I found him by the piano wearing your cap. It was awkwardly perched on his head because he hadn’t noticed the cardboard inserts inside the cap. He had, however, ripped off the tags and held them crumpled in his hand.

“DAD!” I fairly shrieked. You would have thought he was about to burn down the house.

He looked up at me, startled.

“No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-NO!” I said. “That’s NOT YOURS!”

Clearly he didn’t understand what was happening as I pulled the cap — your cap — off his head. I stomped off to the coat room, found a Red Sox cap, and brought it back to him.

“Here,” I said, not very nicely, “You can wear this one all day and all night. This one is yours.”

“Why would I want to wear a baseball cap all night?” he asked innocently.

I changed the subject. “This one,” I said, waving the Hall of Fame cap under his nose, “is a gift for someone.”

He looked at me blandly.

“It’s not yours,” I said again.

“I didn’t know it was something important,” he said.

“Yes, it’s important,” I said, even though I knew in my heart that it wasn’t.

For the next hour, he brought me things and asked the same question every time.

The first was a bobby pin — “Is this important?”

Then 17¢ in loose change — “Is this important?”

A scrap of paper with a grocery list written on it — “Is this important?”

A photograph.

A book.

A garden stone with the word “SUN” carved into it.

A spool of thread.

“Is this important?”

After about the third thing, it hit me how unimportant things are.

“You’re important, Dad,” I finally told him — and was glad for the lesson that I learned.

So I’m sorry about the crumpled tags that I stuck in the cap before I wrapped it for you. They served as a reminder to me of how easily I lost sight of what is important.

Enjoy the cap. May it (and this little story) remind you not to lose sight of what’s most important.

Merry Christmas!

The funny shaped package is a baseball cap.

 

 

The Lucky One

I was sitting at the train station in Charleston, South Carolina.

The evening was a balmy 60-something — balmy in comparison with the 30-something I left behind in New York that morning. The station was clean, well-lit, and sparsely populated. I sat on a blue bench playing word games on my phone while waiting for Mary’s train to arrive.

“Last time I rode this train, it was an hour and a half late,” a man said. I looked up to see a wiry African-American man with gray bristle-y hair poking out from the edges of his Kufi. “Folks waiting for me in Savannah had to change their plans all around because of this train.”

I just smiled at him. My train experience is pretty close to nil.

A few minutes later my daughter texted me from the train. “Conductor says we should be in Charleston around 8 – 8:15.” Over an hour late.

Image result for north charleston train station

North Charleston train station, photo from abcnews4.com

The man was pacing the train station. On his next pass near me I told him what Mary had said.

He shook his head and sat down beside me. “This train never runs on time,” he said.

How we got from there to where our nearly hour-long conversation took us, I don’t know. Before I knew it, he was telling me about “Mama.”

“I was the lucky one,” he told me. “I took care of Mama. They was eleven of us, and I was lucky number nine.”

He shook his head and smiled, a gesture he repeated often as he remembered his mother.

“Mama was smart. She got her degree in journalism. You better believe we learned how to write. She and Daddy sent us to parochial school in New York — all eleven of us.”

I thought of how my parents valued education. My grandfather, my father’s father, never went to high school, but each of his children went to college and graduate school.

“Mama worked for Richard Nixon. She helped with his campaigns in New Jersey and he gave her a job with the federal prisons there.”

My father loves to tell people how he met Haile Selassie. Rubbing shoulders with the mighty.

“When my daddy was dying, he called me to his bedside. ‘Ali,’ he says, ‘Ali, you take care of your mama.’ I said to him, ‘Daddy, of course I’ll take care of Mama.’ But he says, ‘No, I mean it — you really take care of Mama.'”

He shook his head and smiled. “I was the lucky one.”

My father outlived my mother — but I watched him take care of her and I helped where I could. Making sure my mother was well-cared-for was a priority.

“I moved in with Mama.”

I moved in with my father.

“Mama fell and broke her femur. The doctors wouldn’t operate. They said nobody would operate on her. She was too frail. 90 years old. 90 pounds. All they give her was morphine to ease her pain. That was her last month alive. I kept her in her own home.”

We aren’t there yet. I try not to think about my father’s last days.

“I give the eulogy at Mama’s funeral. I look over at my brothers and sisters boohooing, and I said, ‘What you boohooing about? You didn’t come see her. You didn’t take care of her. You just feeling sorry for yourself.’ I said that to them. And they was mad. Hoo-boy! They was mad.”

He chuckled a little to himself. “But, you see, I was the lucky one. I got to care for my mama. When she died, I didn’t cry. I had given her everything I had.”

No regrets living — I could relate to that, too.

I’m thankful that my family pulls together. My siblings help — but I know that I’m the lucky one, too.

The train pulled in to the station and we both stood.

“Been real nice talking to you,” he said, and he extended his hand to me. “I’m Ali.”

I already knew that.

“I’m Sally,” I said, and shook his hand.

“Been real nice talking to you,” he said again.

It had been real nice listening.

 

 

Unwrapping

Every man, however matter-of-fact and prosaic, likes to receive his presents wrapped… He hesitates to cut the string; he prefers to untie the knot, to unfold the paper, and so to come slowly upon the fond surprise awaiting him. The contents element he will be able to enjoy for months, perhaps for years; the parcel element he can only enjoy for a few blissful seconds; he therefore lingers over it that he may taste its drawn out sweetness to the full.  It is part — and a striking part — of our human love of mystery.

Like so many other things that are pregnant with romance, brown paper and string look commonplace enough; yet, in reality, they embody all the wistfulness, the tenderness and the sacredness of Christmastide.

… I have an old hymnbook in which the words [to a classic Christmas hymn] are rendered:

“Wrapped in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity!”

Wrapped in flesh! It is the phraseology of the parcel! The child’s eyes sparkle as he catches a glimpse of the present through the paper. Human eyes have been entranced as they have beheld the unspeakable gift ‘wrapped in flesh‘ — the Deity Incarnate!

From My Christmas Book, by F. W. Boreham

I read that passage the other morning and immediately thought of my mother. She could unwrap carefully with the best of them.

Below is a post I wrote in 2013 about my mom unwrapping a Christmas present.

“Mom, the suspense is killing me,” I told my mother yesterday.  She took, oh, I don’t know, close to twenty minutes to unwrap a single gift.

My mother has always been a careful unwrapper.  I would blame it on our Scottish heritage, except that’s my father’s side of the family.  Are the Danish thrifty too?  For as long as I can remember, though, she has carefully peeled the tape off packages so as not to tear the wrapping paper.  It can be reused, don’t you know.

Alzheimer’s hasn’t taken that trait away from her.  Old age has slowed her down.  When you combine the two, well, let’s just say, it can take a painfully long time to unwrap a gift.

“Here’s a gift from Donabeth,” I said, placing it in her lap yesterday.  She looked at me with watery eyes.  I wasn’t sure she understood.

“Open it, Mom.  Let’s see what’s inside,” I said.

She held it on her lap for a long time.  I suggested, cajoled, encouraged, prodded, goaded, urged.  Nothing seemed to work.  Finally I said the line about suspense.

“That’s the name of the game,” she said. “Suspense.”  Maybe she was more aware than I gave her credit.

She turned the package over and began picking at the tape.  Did I mention that this was a slow process?

So slow, in fact, that she fell asleep while doing it.  Fortunately it was just one of the doze-y little catnaps that lasts only a few minutes.

Once the pretty paper was removed we found that my sister had the nerve to also wrap the gift with a layer of bubble wrap.

I began the same “encouragement” process, but Bud came over and simply removed the bubble wrap.  None of this waiting around stuff.  The suspense was killing him, too.

Inside was a music box that played “Amazing Grace.”  My mother listened to “Amazing Grace” over and over.  When I thought she had lost interest, I put the music box on the table.  I went to do something else and heard it playing again; my mother had retrieved it and opened it again.  Over and over.

Music still touches something deep inside.

I’d say she liked it.

Merry Christmas, Mom.

Boreham’s Introduction to Advent

I hate the saying “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

And yet… I’m going to do that.

If F. W. Boreham was alive, by all means, I would ask. “Could I please, please, please, put your introduction to My Christmas Book on my blog? I promise to give you credit and direct people to where they can buy the book. It’s just so relevant to today.”

 

But he died in 1959, before I was even born.

I wish I could remember how I stumbled across Boreham. I read one of his books earlier this year — A Bunch of Everlastings.

Then I did that other thing that I hate for people to do. I bought something for myself that was on my Christmas wishlist. I bought a second Boreham book — My Christmas Book: A Handful of Myrrh, Aloes and Cassia.

I was going to wait for Advent to start reading it — but I couldn’t. Since reading the intro about a week ago, his hope-filled words have been running through my mind.

From Boreham’s “My Christmas Book”:


By Way of Introduction

A Child is Born! That is Forever and Forever
The Message of Christmas.

A Child is born!  In the early days of the nineteenth century, men were following with bated breath the march of Napoleon and waiting with feverish impatience for the latest news of the wars. And all the while, in their own homes, babies were being born. Just think of some of those babies. Why, in one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! During that year, 1809, Mr. Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson drew his first breath at the Somersby rectory; and Oliver Wendell Holmes made his initial appearance in Massachusetts. On the very self-same day of that self-same year, Charles Darwin made his debut at Shrewsbury and Abraham Lincoln in Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Frederick Chopin at Warsaw and Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg.

But nobody thought of the babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet, viewing that age in the truest perspective which the years enable us to command, we may well ask ourselves which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809. When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. This is why, long, long ago, a Babe was born at Bethlehem.


You may not agree with his list of heroes, (or the comment about “opening continents”) but you get the gist.

Hope is here. It’s born every day. An echo of the ultimate Hope born in Bethlehem.

 

Encourager or Discourager

Last week, I sat at the timing table in my effort to learn how to run the computer for swim meets.

The woman on my right was the embodiment of sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice. She was genuine, kind, enthusiastic, and, like me, new and a little overwhelmed by the goings-on at the table.

The woman on my left was a pro. She had been working the table for many years. She was calm and unflustered, even when things got crazy.

Pool acoustics are never great, so neither woman could not hear what the other was saying.

Sugar-and-spice nudged my elbow during the 50 Free. “See that boy over there?” She nodded at a swimmer in the far lane. “I wish I had taken a video of him on the first day of practice,” she said. “He could barely swim. Look at him go!”

I watched the boy thrashing at the water slowly making his way down the pool far behind the other swimmers.

On my other side Ms. Pro said, “Oh, God! I don’t know why they allow that kid to swim! He moves in inches! This is going to take forever!”

Behind her, a young woman echoed her sentiments. “His stroke is awful! Look at him. He’s not cupping his hands!”

Sugar-and-spice said again, “He’s doing so well!”

Ms. Pro groaned at his slow progress.

I felt like I was sitting with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, one focusing on what the swimmer could do and the other focusing on everything he couldn’t.

I told Laurel about it on the car ride home. “I know which one I want to be,” I said.

Later that night — midnight to be exact — I was up with my father. He had changed mostly out of his pajamas and had his shoes on. That night’s self-donned wardrobe consisted of four layers of shirts, one-and-a-half layers of pants (don’t ask), three socks on one foot, and a single compression stocking on the other.

“Dad,” I complained, “what are you doing?!”

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” he said.

After getting him changed into his pajamas and back to bed, I lay in my own bed thinking about the swim meet, and how easily I became the person I didn’t want to be. I was frustrated with what my father.

“Lord,” I prayed, “help me appreciate the fact that he can still put on a compression stocking — because that’s hard. He can still tie his shoes. He can still walk. And talk. And feed himself.”

I fell back asleep counting his abilities.

Two hours later he was up again. And I forgot again.

“Dad,” I said, “you’ve got to get some sleep!” By which I meant I need sleep.

“I’m doing the best I can,” he said.

And I remembered again the boy with uncupped hands struggling down the pool. I remembered Sugar-and-spice cheering him on.

Again I prayed. “Thank you, Lord, for my father. Help me help him. Help me give back to him a little of the lifetime of caring he has given to so many. Thank you for the lessons that he still teaches me. And thank you that he’s back to sleep.”

For now, I thought, and smiled.

apologies to e e cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the brownly roasting spirit of turkey
and a scarlet celebration of cranberries; and for everything
which is edible which is edifying which is yum

(we who are scattered gather today,
and this is thanksgiving; this is the wealth
of abundance of family and friends: and of the glad
long table illimitably mirth)

how should smelling tasting touching seeing
consuming any—lifted from the yuck
of all nothing—food becoming Eucharist*
not invoke Gratitude?

(now the tastebuds of my tongue awake and
now the fullness of my heart overflows)

 

(e e cummings original poem)

*The word “Eucharist” is a transliteration of the Greek word eucharistia, which is itself a translation of the Hebrew word berekah. All three words have the meaning of thanksgiving, or praise for the wonderful works of God. (from: votf.org)

Treasure

At church on Sunday, the visiting pastor asked people to share “God moments” during a time when people usually share prayer requests. I knew exactly what I would say if only I were brave enough.

My God moment had started at the end of September, when my anxiety was at an all time high. I received an unexpected package in the mail that contained a t-shirt and coffee. Coffee is one of my love languages — and the t-shirt, soft and gray, with a rabbit and the rhythm of a beating heart, was perfect. I pressed it against my cheek and thought of the dear friend from Indiana who had sent it.

wearing the shirt at Hutchmoot (photo credit Lisa Eldred)

St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. … Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.”

In that moment, my far-away friend was Christ to me, soothing my anxieties and reminding me that I was loved.

A few days later, another Indiana friend unexpectedly pressed a little package into my hand — a tiny clay rabbit she had made for me. Rabbits are another my love languages.

In the weeks that followed, as I dealt with a lot of interrupted sleep because of my father, my husband being quite ill with what we now know to be Lyme’s Disease, and my youngest daughter suffering a concussion, other packages showed up at my house.

A hand-crocheted hat and scarf.

Mary borrowing my new hat.

A mug to replace one I broke years before and never thought I would hold another like it.

A FreeWrite — a portable smart typewriter that I had off-and-on looked at wistfully for a couple of years.

The packages came from Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

On a day when I was feeling overwhelmed, one would arrive.

I sat one morning drinking good coffee from my new mug, feeling very rich indeed, and a story came flooding back to me. It was a Dr. Purple story that I stumbled across when I was researching this 19th century physician from the village of Greene.

In 1826, Dr. Purple has acted as clerk for a trial in the village of Bainbridge, a nearby town. Joseph Smith (yes, that Joseph Smith) was on trial. He claimed to have a stone that could reveal to him where treasure was buried. For a fee, he would tell the landowner where to dig. When the man started digging, the treasure would recede and never be actually found. The landowner would be disappointed. Until, of course, Joseph Smith with his seer stone claimed to have found the treasure again in a different spot on his land. For a fee, he would tell the landowner where to dig.

I thought about the disappointment of that treasure that could never be grasped — and the depth of the treasure I held in my hand in the form of a mug sent by the generosity of a friend.

All that ran through my head when the pastor asked for a God moment — I had had a whole month of God moments, and then some.

The riches we have in Christ are riches indeed.

Sometimes they come in the form of rabbits and hats and typewriters.

And sometimes it’s a mug full of coffee.

Yes, definitely coffee.