What’s Your Goal?

(Warning: Long, rambling, and probably pointless)

Yesterday, I talked with a friend who had been a guidance counselor. I had asked his advice regarding one of my kids who needed a little direction.

“What’s your goal?” he asked.

I answered with the goal I have for the child in question.

“No,” he said. “That’s your goal for your child. I want to know your goal for Sally.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Just think about it,” he said, and waited about 2.5 seconds before he moved on. But he circled back to that question a couple more times.

“This feels like a guess-what-I’m-thinking question,” I said one of the times.

“What are you looking for?” I asked another of the times.

In the end, I felt incredibly frustrated.

What’s my goal? Sheesh. (I wrote that just before bed last night, still trying to process the whole conversation. Then I wrote about another 250 words expressing the same sentiment.)

What are we even talking about? Are you asking about my goal as a parent — which has been my primary job for the past 38 years? Are you asking about my goal at the gym? Or at the house where I still have a thousand things to do? Is it my goal for today? This week? This month? This year?

To be kind? To be a lifelong learner? To love my family?

What’s my goal? Seriously? I don’t know.

This is going to make me crazy.

I walked to the post office this morning. It’s about two and a half miles there. I thought and thought and thought while I walked.

Karl once told me that one of the doctors he works with has three goals for every day: to learn something, to teach something, and to laugh. I wish I was clever enough to come up with three succinct goals like that. Even if I had, I don’t think it would answer the question being asked by my friend.

Anyway, my three would be something like to listen, to see, and to be kind.

Again, I’m sure it’s not what he was looking for.

I copied another Thomas Merton quote into my journal the other day. “Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting as if your true identity were to be hard wax, the seal will fall upon you and crush you. You will not be able to take your true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.”

Merton was talking about sealing wax and the way it will crumble if it’s not adequately prepared for the stamp. Mary had just sealed a bunch of envelopes with wax. In fact, that’s what I had walked to the post office to mail. The seals were beautiful because the wax had been melted and was ready to receive the imprint.

But to say that preparing my heart for God’s imprint on it is my goal doesn’t sound right either. Plus, I don’t think it’s what my friend was asking.

Walking is such good therapy, especially walking on a country road, where the deer bound off into the woods when they see me coming and the ducks fly out the giant puddle in the cornfield in groups of 6 or 8 quacking and complaining at the inconvenience of my passing. A deer skeleton lay in the ditch. Last week, it had probably been covered with snow. A small collection of broken car parts were strewn about the ditch a little further down the road. A lone Lexus symbol at least told me what kind of car it had been. I wondered if the deer and the car parts came from the same mishap.

In the churning of thoughts about all these things — the deer, the ducks, the skeleton, the Lexus, the hawk circling over the field, the winter’s worth of garbage now revealed in the ditches — I kept circling back to the question: What is my goal?

Career goals for a stay-at-home mom are not a thing. Some days feel like survival. Some days feel like you won the lottery.

When my oldest son was born, what was my goal? To see him grow up, become independent, productive, happy. To help him discover what he loves and what he’s passionate about. In the late ’90s, he loved computers and knew he wanted to do something related to them. We had dial-up internet and I told him that if he wanted time on the internet, he would have to get up at 6 AM because I didn’t want him tying up the phone line all day. Doggone if he didn’t get up at 6 every morning so he could have his hour on the internet. Now it’s his livelihood.

For each of the kids, that has been the puzzle. I would watch them and ask them, “What do you love?” Two have gone into nursing. One works in the realm of outdoor recreation. Three are currently in college or graduate school. One is still figuring it all out.

I feel immense gratitude at the fact that most of them have found their way.

I love talking to them all on adult levels. I love when they call me. Or come visit. I love family Zoom calls and game nights.

I think my goal, maybe, has always been to have adult children who still love me in spite of the thousand mistakes I have made as a parent, to have children who are settled and happy with the choices they have made with their lives, to have children who still occasionally want my advice, to have children who share their lives with me.

I’ll try that goal on my friend and see if it works.

I doubt it.

Lenten Rabbits

Five years ago for Lent, I carried a rabbit in my pocket as a tool for mindfulness. I wanted to remember that people are often smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside. I know, I know — this may not make much sense to you unless you followed my Lenten journey in 2017. If you want to read about it, here’s a semi-explanatory post from that year: Tuga and Aleluja.

Tuga is the Bosnian word for sorrow. Aleluja is the Bosnian word for — can you guess? — Allelujah.

This year I have two more little rabbits. Meet Dòchas and Bròn.

Dòchas is the Scottish Gaelic word for hope. Bròn is the Gaelic word for grief. I gave them last names, too. Dòchas a-Maireach and Bròn an-Diugh. Hope Tomorrow and Grief Today.

I carry them both in my pocket — separate pockets, of course.

For this Lenten season, I want to become friends with Bròn. Bròn an-diugh. (Pronunciation — and I may not have this totally correct — Bròn is like our word “brawn” but you need to roll that “r” a little. An-diugh sounds like on-jew, because the “di-” in Gaelic is our soft “g” sound as in giraffe, and the -gh at the end is silent.) Grief today.

I listened to a woman last week go into a long tirade full of conspiracy misinformation. She had told me weeks before that wearing a mask was the equivalent of the Nazis requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. Another gym member had started the whole confrontation by shouting at me about the masks — “This is BULLSH-T! This is BULLSH-T!” After the Nazi comment, I had turned and walked away from the desk.

Later that same day I put a check-in note on the woman’s membership — that if she checked in again, I wanted to speak to her. She finally came back on Friday — and I spoke to her a little and listened to her a lot. She has such deep fears and hurts.

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

While she was talking, I reached in my pocket and held Bròn. I don’t know if hers was grief or just unhappiness at our world today. She needed to talk, though.

And I listened.

At the end of her diatribe, she extended her hand across the counter. “What’s your name?” she asked. I told her. “It was so nice to meet you,” she said.

“What just happened?” my co-worker asked after the woman had headed to the pool. She had been sitting there listening to the whole thing.

“I’m not sure,” I told her.

But I stuck my hand in my other pocket — and there was Dòchas, hope.

Maggie

Maggie would have loved the snow this morning.

Even in this, her 14th year, she would run out the door when she saw fresh snow, throw herself down into it, and roll on her back, like the snow was scratching some itch that she couldn’t otherwise reach. When she was on her feet again, she would shove her snout into the snow, bringing it up with a small white pile on her muzzle. She always liked to grab a few bites of snow on her way back in the house.

I’ve never seen another dog love snow like that. The joy of Maggie’s snow-love always brought a smile to my face.

This morning’s snow is pretty — but there’s no Maggie to revel in it. No Maggie to bound through the depths of the drifts. No Maggie to chase the snow thrown from the shovel as we clear the driveway. No Maggie to leave that odd dog-snow-angel print just off the deck.

Maggie had been my birthday gift 14 years ago. I had long wanted for a dog, but my husband was resistant to adding a furry member to our family. In 2008, I received a leash, a collar, a dog dish for my birthday — and I looked up at him and said, “What’s all this?”

“You can get a dog,” he said.

And thus Maggie was adopted into our family.

On my birthday this year, we had to put Maggie down.

I still haven’t even been able to cry about it — life is too full. If you’ve ever been in that place of not being able to cry, you’ll know the giant lump of ice resting in your chest that can only be melted by tears — and the tears won’t cooperate.

I looked at the snow morning and missed Maggie intensely.

Now she’s a real dog-snow-angel and I hope someone somewhere is throwing snowballs for her to chase.

Rest in peace, Maggie.

On Seeing

Dear Kim,

So much for writing every day for a month. See how I am? My last draft was January 21 and I called it “Catching Up.” I planned to cram all the missed prompts into one post. Meanwhile, prompts kept piling up like unopened mail. Sigh. I gave up.

It’s February — a new month. Time to try again, eh?

My morning reading is from five separate books. Does it ever happen to you that disparate readings coalesce into one concept? Yeah, well, that happened to me this morning.

I started a little project last year of writing down all the questions Jesus asked in the gospels. Then I moved on to the questions that people asked Jesus. Now I’m writing down all the questions — and who asked them — and what the reply was. Every morning, I write one question and the reply.

Today Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered “I saw you under the fig tree.”

How do you know me?

I saw you.

Ponder that for a while.

I moved on to Brian Doyle. In a “proem” (which is what he called his combination of prose and poetry) titled The Shrew, he describes an encounter with — you guessed it — a shrew. He ends with these words:

For just an instant I paid attention with every shard and iota of my being.
Maybe we couldn’t survive if we were like all the time, I don’t know,
But when it happens we see that which none of us can find the words for.
Sometimes we are starving to see every bit of what is right in front of us.

Brian Doyle, One Long River of Song

I think we are starving to see.

And to be seen.

I had an unnerving conversation at work several weeks ago. Someone said something to me that both thrilled me and bothered me. I talked to Rachel, my therapist, about it. “You were seen,” she said — and she was a hundred percent right. I’m not used to being seen. For a brief moment someone saw behind my facades, and I’ll admit that it was slightly terrifying.

Perhaps that’s what Nathanael felt. Thrilled and terrified. How do you know me? I saw you.

I can remember the first time I saw you at Church of the Redeemer. You were instantly someone I wanted to know. Why is that? Perhaps, I had a sense of our commonalities. I don’t know.

To see and to be seen. That’s what’s swirling in my thoughts today.

On a different note, I’m sorry you’re not feeling well again. I wish more people knew about the long-term effects of COVID. I wish more people understood that fighting a pandemic is a team sport, not an individual one. It’s like a massive round of Tug of War. The stakes are high. We need everyone to join in pulling on the rope.

You’re in my thoughts today.

Love,

Sally

My messy little reading space

Protocol

or, Wilma’s Rules for Facing Life

Dear Kim,

It’s been a rough few days and I haven’t written. Again.

Last Thursday’s prompt was protocol. A protocol is a list of rules to be followed in specific formal situations. My life these days is anything but formal.

One evening, when I was at a low point, Mary sent me this video of my granddaughter. Wilma has a good protocol for facing challenges.

I wish you could hear her little voice. She’s so cute. But here’s what she is saying during the video and what her words represent to me:

“Don’t fall.”

Rule #1 Be aware of the risks.

Life isn’t easy — and sometimes we expect to be.

It’s dangerous. We COULD fall — but that shouldn’t stop us from moving ahead.


“Good job.
Good job.
Good job.
Good job.”

Rule #2 Offer words of affirmation to yourself and others.

Wilma repeats “Good job” four times. Words of affirmation are so important and often in short supply.

Mary told me about when she worked as a supervisor at one of her jobs. This involved training new employees. “I would go around and tell them they were doing a great job all the time. It probably sounded stupid,” she said.

“No,” I told her. “It probably was really nice for them to hear those words. Not everyone takes the time to say that.”

My granddaughter tells herself that — probably because she DOES hear it from her parents.


“Okay, baby.
Go down slide.”

Rule #3 Take your time.

It’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come.

Then, we sometimes need to change gears.

We need to scooch around to get situated for the next thing. We need to take a few seconds instead of rushing headlong.


“Go down slide, Daddy.”
(Yep)
“Okay.”

Rule #4 Remember that you’ve got people that love you and are ready to help.

Between you and me, I’m lousy at this step. I hate feeling needy and insecure. I hate asking for help or support. Why is that? Why do we lose that ability to reach FOR help? I think I’m pretty good at offering help, just not so good at asking for myself.


Wilma: “Wheeeeeeee!”

Rule #5 Enjoy the moment.

In the midst of chaos, happy moments seem impossible. But in the midst of last week’s chaos, I had a group hug that made me laugh and cry and cry some more — in a good way. That moment will stick with me for a long time.

Next week will be better, right? I hope you’ve had a good week.

Love,

Sally

3 C’s: Clutter, Cosmopolitan, and Chocolate

January 12, 2022

Dear Kim,

Today is One-Liner Wednesday and the prompt is clutter.

I find great comfort in clutter.

Love,

Sally

My cluttered desk in Greene (2011) The clutter has moved with me to Cooperstown.

January 11, 2022

Dear Kim,

I had to look up the definition of the word cosmopolitan today. It’s the word prompt for the day, and cosmopolitan is one of those words that people use — quite honestly, I don’t think I ever have — but I’m not 100% sure of the meaning.

For the record, dictionary.com says that cosmopolitan means “free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world.” It wasn’t quite what I expected.

Also for the record, I think I am NOT cosmopolitan. I’m quite provincial (dictionary.com definition: “belonging or peculiar to some particular province; local”). I have such deep roots here in upstate New York that I think if someone tried to uproot me, I would shrivel up and die.

That’s about all I’ve got for you today.

Love,

Sally


January 10, 2022

Dear Kim,

I looked up the benefits of chocolate today.

According to wizardingworld.com, “Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings.”

Please send chocolate.

Love,

Sally

p.s. You don’t really have to send chocolate. In fact, please don’t. I want to be a reasonable size for Helen’s wedding.

And dementors aren’t real.

But there are plenty of real things which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings.

Unicorn

Dear Kim,

I know that somewhere I started a post about unicorns years ago, but I’ve searched and searched and can’t find it. This is what happens when you have a troll and you delete blog posts and whole blogs and then try to reinstate them and also start new ones under fake names etc etc etc.

I have no idea where that post went. [sigh]

And today I am so uninspired.

Insomnia last night and no coyotes to soothe me.

But unicorns are awesome and magical and can’t be explained away by physics the way my tensegrity table can.

I choose magic and wonder and coyotes any day.

Or night.

Sleep well, my friend.

Thanks for being you — as unique and magical as any unicorn.

Love,

Sally

my Christmas present from Sam

In the Middle of the Night

Dear Kim,

In the middle of the night
I sometimes wake up
No, no — I mean
I often wake up.

I hear the coyotes howling
And lately I’ve heard an owl

But that’s not what wakes me up

It’s the thousand thoughts
Racing through my mind
Of this and that
And nothing particular
And everything all at once

The thoughts scurry around
Like the mice I hear in the walls
Occasionally
Not as much since we got the cats

The mice, I mean
Not the niggling thoughts

But just like the cats keep the mice
At bay
I think the coyote howls chase the thoughts

There’s a strange comfort
In those howls

You’ve struggled with insomnia
And I know you pray your way through it

I need to work on that.

Love,
Sally



_______

Stream of Consciousness Saturday (SoCS) means no editing and little planning. You get what you get here.

I also tried my hand at Six Word Saturday which requires a six word title.

Tempest

Dear Kim,

Speaking of Brian Doyle (again), have you ever read any of his work? He’s from Oregon! Maybe you were the one who sent me the copy of A Book of Uncommon Prayer that I found when I was cleaning our family room in preparation for Christmas. I’m pretty sure someone sent it to me but I can’t remember who. Was it you?

Today’s prompt is tempest.

I’m reading Brian Doyle’s book, The Plover, and it is SO GOOD. I’m only about a third of the way through, but, one scene early on has the main character in the midst of a terrible storm trying to shout survival strategies to a friend on his boat.

We can’t run away fast enough. The only thing to do is face into it. If we try to run we’ll get pitchpoled for sure. The chute holds us facing into it. If we go sideways we sink. If we get rolled we sink. This is a serious bitch and we basically have to endure it. The boat will float if we stay facing the storm.

Brian Doyle, The Plover

I love that — facing life’s storm instead of running. “The boat will float if we stay facing the storm.” Also, Sally will float if she stays facing the storm. Kim will float if she stays facing the storm.

All this tempest stuff is wearying. But there’s also a calm that follows — a time of drying out and making repairs, of deciding what’s salvageable and what isn’t, of rest, of looking ahead.

You might like The Plover, if you hadn’t read it yet.

You might also like A Book of Uncommon Prayer — which may be a kind of silly statement if you’re the person who gave it to me. In that case, it is an amazing book — so up my alley — thank you!

I hope this letter finds you in a calm. But if you’re in a storm, face into it. I’ll be doing the same.

Love,

Sally

Anticipation

Dear Kim,

When I was trying to choose a word for 2022, I confess that anticipation didn’t make the list. It’s cousin, expectancy, did. (For the record, I ended up choosing aware and I’ll explain it another time.)

Anticipation (today’s prompt word) walks a little too closely with anxiety. To anticipate what’s coming next may feel thrilling, but it may also shift into dread.

I nixed expectancy for similar reasons. Expectancy sounded too much like expectation — and you and I both know that expectations from others can feel like a heavy thumb pressing down on us.

But, you know, I have been an expectant mother nine times over (if you count my one miscarriage) and that kind of expectancy is pretty wonderful. Each time, though, I remember in the early days holding the secret close and not telling anyone because I needed to get used to the idea of my life changing — again. I’ve loved being a mom. I truly have.

About that miscarriage, he or she would have been child #2. I hadn’t even told my husband about the positive pregnancy test. He was going away to a class and was going to be gone for a week or more. I wanted to think of a special way to break the news. I remember spending that short period of time whispering secrets to the little person inside me, with my hand on my abdomen, while I lay in bed at night alone. My first son was sleeping in the next room and he had already been such a joy.

Anyway, the night before Bud was to come home, I started bleeding. This was back before cell phones and I think he was already at the airport for his first flight. I had no way to reach him. I called my closest friend and she came to take care of my son while I went to the hospital.

I was alone when they did the ultrasound and then the laparoscopy. I was alone when they gave me the news — an ectopic pregnancy. Honestly, it was probably one of the loneliest times in my life.

But I had a son who needed me and a husband, home again, who had picked up a virus somewhere in his travels and wasn’t feeling well.

You know how we women do it. We get up and we start the next day and the next day and the next day. We make breakfast and do laundry. We change diapers and go to the grocery store. We press on — because what is the alternative?

I think back then was when I first chose to live in hope. Hope is also a cousin to anticipation and expectancy. They’re all good words. It’s that looking ahead that keeps me going.

Why does God allow us to go through awful things? I don’t know except that our experiences in the hard places build compassion and hope — and for that I am grateful.

Sorry for such a heavy letter.

Love,

Sally

the sign I painted and put on our barn