Generosity

Dear Kim,

Yesterday at work, a little boy wandered in front of the desk and finally stopped to ask if he could borrow a pencil.

(Months ago I brought in a small stash of Blackwing pencils which are the greatest pencils ever made and I wanted to have them on hand for moments like this. “Where did these cool pencils come from?” some of my co-workers asked, but I’ve never fessed up.)

“I have to write a sentence using the word ‘pact’,” the boy told me.

“Pat?” I asked. I had trouble hearing him.

“Pact,” he replied.

“Like you packed your bag?” I asked.

“No. Pact. P-A-C-T,” he said. “It means agreement.”

“What grade are you in?” I asked.

“Third,” he replied, and hurried off to write his sentence.

I turned to my co-worker. “That’s not a 3rd-grade word. I didn’t learn that word until I don’t know when.”

She laughed at my irritation.

When he brought the pencil back, I asked him what sentence he wrote.

“My brother and I found a pact,” he said confidently. “It means we found an agreement.” I like that he felt the need to explain it to me.

A pact, to me, is a more abstract kind of agreement and a 3rd-grader lives in a concrete world. In his 8 year old mind, he found a tangible something with his brother. He probably packed it in a pack. I wondered what his teacher would think of the sentence.

But this is supposed to be about generosity, the prompt for the day.

Generosity is also an abstract idea. I can’t pick up in my hands and hold a generosity.

I was thinking, instead, of coining a new phrase for a group. You know, like, a pride of lions or a murder of crows — except it would be a people group. A generosity of sons.

I have five sons, all of whom are now amazing men. It’s a marvel. A gift that I don’t deserve. A generosity.

My father used to tell me that I was the richest person he knew, and then he would add, laughing, “And maybe someday you’ll have money.”

To fill you in on what my sons are doing, I’ll give you a few clues, like one of those logic-grid puzzles. Two are still in school. Three are gainfully employed. One owns his own company. One lives in Canada. One lives in Florida. Three live in New York state. Three are married. Two have children. I”m proud of every single one of them.

Maybe in a future letter, I’ll tell you more details.

But I did want to say, in closing, that the very first person I think of and associate with the word generosity is you. You are such an amazingly generous person. You could win prizes for it if someone gave out prizes — but you’d probably give your prize away if I know you.

And I’m so glad that I do know you.

Love,

Sally

My five sons (2014)

Abundance

Dear Kim,

I want to use this letter to tell you about some of the abundance in my life. In your most recent message to me, you asked me about my girls. Talk about abundance! I’m so proud of each one of them.

My oldest daughter has her master’s degree in nursing. She works for an organization that cares for low-income elderly, trying to keep them living independently. Her career path was inspired by both my parents. The other day, one of the other kids said something about Helen pursuing law school. That may have been just idle conversation and have absolutely no substance to it — or maybe it’s true. I could see her doing that — arguing on behalf of people who cannot. She’s strong, strong-minded, and compassionate.

And she’s getting married — to a kind, compassionate man who knows how to handle someone who is strong and strong-minded. I’m so very happy for her.

My middle daughter just finished her first semester at an all-women’s college in Virginia. I was driving her to Syracuse yesterday to catch her flight back to Roanoke when she got a text from the airlines that one of her flights was canceled. She had gotten an email the day before from the school that a water main had burst in one of the residence halls. We had been watchingbracing for news that they would go remote because of COVID but that didn’t happen. Last night, though, she heard that in-person classes are being postponed for a week. In my heart, I rejoiced. I LOVE having her home.

She has blossomed so much at school. During the fall semester, she would call or text things like, “Guess what I learned today?!” and it made me so happy. My father would have been thrilled to see someone so excited about learning. Heck, I was excited about her excitement.

My youngest daughter also finished her first semester at college — a straight A student, but she’s not going back. Instead she’s going to pursue dental hygiene. It’s an interest she has had for a long time. Maybe I didn’t encourage it enough in recent years because the thought of working in people’s mouths all day was so YUCK! It’s the right path for her, though.

Today she came to visit me at work. “What a beautiful girl!” my co-worker remarked — and she is. Absolutely lovely.

I realize as I write this that abundance may have been a better word to describe my sons since I have five of them. But I’ll save that for tomorrow when the word is generosity. I have a generosity of sons. God’s generosity.

I also have an abundance of blessing — three daughters.

Love,

Sally

Gobbledygook

Dear Kim,

Today’s prompt is the word “gobbledygook.”

I’m not really sure why, but that word makes me think of my mother. She liked to use words like that, but I’m not sure I ever heard her say gobbledygook.

Words are fun though, aren’t they?

I like that you like the word blithering — a word which rather aptly describes me and my writing style.

I was trying to remember when we first met. Was it Hutchmoot 2012? I think so. I remember seeing you sitting in the front row at Church of the Redeemer — watching, watching, watching, because that’s how you gathered the words that the rest of us so easily picked up through hearing.

My mother was still alive then. She didn’t have hearing problems. In fact, sometimes her hearing was too good. But she had the processing problems of dementia — and I think she knew that she was not grasping everything that was going on around her. It made me sad. It made her frustrated — because her reality wasn’t making sense and she couldn’t get us to understand what her reality was. Instead, at that point, I kept trying to bring her up to speed, orient her, help her understand truth. Over the next few years I had to learn to meet her where she was — in her strange netherworld of place and time.

But I saw you sitting in the front row and I remember thinking, I could try to help her. I tried sitting with you and taking notes that you could read but my handwriting is terrible and I couldn’t write anywhere near fast enough.

When someone would say something funny from the back of the room and everyone would erupt in laughter, you would look at me, questioning, what just happened? I would try to write it, but other things were being said that were meaningful or funny and I couldn’t keep up. I just couldn’t keep up with it all.

It gave me the tiniest glimpse into your world.

The funniest thing about that whole experience was that I thought I would help you, but you have ended helping me ever so much more.

Over the past nine years of our friendship, you have been the steadiest and most encouraging of friends. I have notes from you taped to my door where I can see them and think of you. I have books on my shelf from you, a mug in my cupboard, a small pottery pitcher with a rabbit on it, and a dress that you made for me — remember that? I wore that dress for two weddings!

There’s so much more.

But enough blithering. Enough gobbledygook for today.

You’re the best. I am so blessed to have you in my life.

Love,

Sally

Dear Kim

Gah — It’s New Year’s Day and I really want to get back into writing.

“I resolve to write every day in 2022.”

That sounds so pretentious. And lofty. And ridiculous. Yes, that’s it — utterly ridiculous because I barely posted anything in 2021 and I probably made the same resolution.

That’s where you come in, Kim. As I sat here squirming in my chair, feeling knots in my stomach — knots of both of anticipation and dread — I thought, what if I just wrote a letter to Kim every day?

I can picture you reading it. I know you’ll be kind in your responses. I owe you so much.

I think that‘s it, too. I owe you so much. So many thank you’s. So many responses to your faithful checking in on me. You know the road I’m walking — and you know how to encourage me on it. Have I ever thanked you for all that?

And here you are — unbeknownst to you at the time of my writing this — helping me again.

For the month of January 2022, I resolve to write to Kim every day. I’m going to use the prompts from Linda G. Hill’s blog. She calls Saturdays “Stream of Consciousness” and I’m not allowed to go back and edit. This may explain some of the blather in this post. I would ordinarily cut some of it out. But, then again, I probably wouldn’t end up posting because I would say, This is total blathering. Or blithering as the Scots might say.

Wednesdays are “One Liner Wednesdays.” Not exactly sure what happens there, but I’ll jump in and give it a go. At least for January.

All the other weekdays will have a prompt. So if I write to you about gobbledygook or unicorns, just know that that may be the prompt and I’ll try to work it into something meaningful I’d like to say to you.

Because I do have so many things I want to say to you — most of them centered around gratitude. You’ve been a good friend.

And if I fail to write you any of the days of January, just know that the failing is mine, not yours.

You’re the best.

Love,

Sally

Remember this?

Eclipse

Dear God,

The eclipse of the moon this morning was amazing.

Thank you that I have a job that gets me up early enough to see it. As I drove to work at 4:50 am, I looked at the sliver of moon and said to it, “How pretty you are!”

Thank you for my co-worker who asked me if I saw the eclipse. “I saw the moon,” I said. “It’s eclipsing,” he replied, and we walked to the window together where I saw a half-moon with a rounded edge between the black and white. If it had been a cookie, it might have been a reject; but it was the real moon and it was lovely.

Thank you for the big windows where I work. I walked to them frequently over the next 45 minutes and watched the moon wax. (Or is it wane? Or is there another term for the changes during an eclipse?)

Thank you for the camera that I carry in my pocket, a.k.a. my phone. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have been able to easily photograph moments like these.

Thank you, too, that I forgot about the camera in my pocket, so I stayed in the moment. This morning I didn’t snap a photo until it was almost too late.

Thank you for lousy photos that still help me remember a magical moment.

Thank you for the eclipses I see in people, like the grumpy man who growled at me that one morning when he first walked in and came back to apologize after his workout. Endorphins pushed the shadows back for him.

Thank you for endorphins, those neurotransmitters that trigger positive emotions. They relieve pain and stress. Exercise helps release them. So does chocolate.

Thank you for chocolate.

Thank you for co-workers who share their chocolate.

Thank you for the chocolate side of half-moon cookies, which I like slightly less than the vanilla side, but the chocolate makes me appreciate the vanilla.

Thank you for contrasts like that.

Thank you for the eclipse, for dark and light, earth and moon, people, chocolate, and life itself.

Amen.

Life Update (and a story)

I have a full-time job with benefits for the first time since 1984.

Gosh, it sounds funny to even write that. As a stay-at-home mom and then a caregiver to my dad, I’ve worked full-time forever.

And I’ve had great benefits. The kind “real” employers can’t possibly offer.

But that’s probably a post for another day.

I have a full-time job.

A little over a year ago, I started working at the front desk at the same sports facility where I’ve worked many years in aquatics. Part-time, of course.

the front desk

It is so much fun. I look forward to going to work every day.

When a woman retired in June, my boss asked if I wanted to come on full-time.

“Um, letmethinkaboutthat-no,” I said, all too quickly, clearly not thinking about it, because, seriously, I haven’t worked full-time outside the home in 37 years.

They hired someone else who left within a few months for a better job.

I mean, really, who wants to be part-hostess, part-policeman, part-retail sales clerk, part-telephone operator, part-let-me-help-you-with-_________(fill in the blank)?

Yesterday I was reminded all over again why I love this job.

One of the perks is paid work-out time. Yep, I get paid to go swimming if things are quiet. Yesterday I took advantage of that.

As I was changing back into my work clothes after a swim and a shower, I heard a woman crying. We were the only two people in the locker room. She was sitting on a bench in the shower area, her head in her hands, weeping.

“Are you okay?” I asked. (Dumb question — clearly she was not.)

“No,” she said, looking up at me.

“Can I do anything for you?” I asked.

“No,” she said, and she proceeded to tell me her story. Her husband was very sick. He was waiting to be transferred to a hospital in New York City. The helicopter had been arranged but then the weather didn’t cooperate. The bed that was being held for him in New York was given up. Then the helicopter was able to fly but there was no bed for him. Then there was a bed and a helicopter but his condition had deteriorated so that he needed a procedure to stabilize him. “He’s in the OR now,” she said, “and I just walked down here to take a shower and clear my head.”

“I’ll pray for you,” I said, but it sounded trite. I think she needed a hug.

“I’d hug you,” I said, “but it would be weird. I mean, you’re wearing just a towel, and social-distancing, and all that.”

She looked down at her towel and laughed. “You’re right.”

“Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do for you? Have you eaten today?” I asked again.

“No, no. I’m fine. I need to get going back to the hospital,” she said.

So I left her and went back to work.

At the front desk.

Suddenly, I remembered something in my bag. I ran to my staff locker and found it — a new little journal and a good pen.

When she came out, I handed her these two items.

“I know this seems weird,” I said, “but I want you to have these. While you’re sitting and waiting, write your feelings. It may help. Or write down the times and places you need to remember. Or scribble angrily. It’s okay. Putting it down on paper may help.”

She took them and thanked me. I thought she was going to cry again.

The front desk phone rang and I hurried back to answer it.

While talking on the phone, I watched the woman pull on her coat and her pom-pom hat. She waved as she walked out the door.

In that moment I knew why I love this job so much — it’s because I get to meet people like her.

Francesca

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Francesca decided, “Today will be the day that I start taking care of myself.”

She slept in a little that morning. She had put in a 12 hour day the day before at her job on the 99th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower and was just leaving the house around 8:45 when her sister called.

Now she plays her cello every 9-11 at the time of impact. She remembers and she weeps.

Step on the Knots

My partner for the ropes course was a cautious woman. She never fell.

I, on the other hand, plunged — literally falling three times — quickly through each element.

She cautiously walked across the wobbly steps. I just — boom-boom-boom — hastily crossed the bridge.

Wobbly steps

She edged her way across the first tightrope. I grabbed each successive support rope and was across in no time.

Tightrope

On the second tightrope, her cautious approach proved better than mine. I fell (caught by my harness, of course) and bore a bruise on my thigh for weeks afterward as a reminder that it’s important to be a little patient.

And so we made our way through the ropes course, each cheering the other on. I recognized her fear. She recognized my foolish haste.

“I wish I had done the Tarzan rope,” she told me later. It was the one element she had skipped.

Tarzan swing

“I wish I had taken my time on more of it,” I confessed, thinking specifically of a net that I should have crawled across instead of trying to just run across it. It was another of my falls.

Before the fall

The element I keep thinking about, though, was one she helped me cross. It was a rope bridge. At this point, she had already seen me fall multiple times.

“Take your time,” she said, as I climbed down onto it.

“One step at a time,” she said, as she saw me looking too far ahead.

“Step on the knots,” she said, and that advice made all the difference.

I went knot-to-knot across the whole thing, one step at a time, focused not on the far goal, but on where I needed to place my foot next.

Sometimes life can feel so overwhelming.

I don’t know about you, but my life is chock full o’ knots. Some days I want to run past them all and pretend they don’t exist. Some days I just want to sit and do nothing.

But today I will tackle one knot.

And tomorrow another.

Step on the knots. I can do that.

The Bachelor Party

The other day five men came into the sports center together, one of them spinning a shiny new Spalding basketball between his hands.

“Is anyone playing basketball right now?” he asked.

“The gym is available,” I said. “I don’t know if anyone is playing basketball right now though.”

“I think there’s one guy shooting hoops,” my co-worker said.

The guys looked at each other. They looked at what they could see of the facility from the front desk.

Where I work

“You’ve got a rock wall? Can we climb?” one asked.

“Yep,” I said. “It opens in half an hour.”

“How much does it cost?” another asked.

I explained our day pass system and the two different passes they could purchase — $10 for the facility or $15 to include our fitness center.

“Huddle!” one of them said, and they huddled. Right there in the lobby.

“Okay, we’re going to do it,” they said when they broke their huddle.

“Ten dollars or fifteen?” I asked.

“Fifteen. We’re going to do it all,” said the spokesman.

As they stood at the counter filling out the obligatory paperwork — emergency contact information, waiver forms, etc — I learned a little about them. They were all mid-30s. The five of them had lived together in college. This was a bachelor party.

“Let me tell you about what’s available here,” I said as I collected their papers and their money.

I launched into my spiel. “Our fitness center has two levels. The main floor is traditional equipment, free weights, ellipticals, steppers, treadmills. The upper level has things like kettlebells, ropes, those weight bags that people run up and down stairs with, and other machines. We have the rock wall you can see and a bouldering wall in the gym. There are three pools but you probably don’t have your swim suits with you. There’s racquetball, squash –“

One interrupted — “Do you have racquets we can use?”

“Yes, right outside the courts,” I said, and continued, “There are bowling alleys downstairs –“

“Bowling!” I saw a few high fives. “And that’s open?”

“Yes,” I said, laughing. I loved their excitement.

They headed for the gym first and played a little basketball. Over the next few hours, though, we heard shouts, hurrahs, and bursts of uproarious laughter coming from various parts of the building. We watched them try the rock wall before heading into the fitness center.

When they left before closing, I asked how their day had been.

“Great! Best $15 I’ve ever spent one!” one said.

“We did it all,” said another. “Basketball, bowling, ping-pong –“

“Oh! I forgot to tell you about ping-pong!” I said.

“It’s okay. We found it,” he said.

“And had a great time,” another added.

Their delight became my delight. I still smile when I think about that group of men playing, laughing, having fun, enjoying the time spent together.

I’ve reflected back on this many times. Why did I find it so gratifying? I think it’s because the world has become a meaner place over the last few years. Our laughter is usually at someone else’s expense. Camaraderie tends to devolve into bickering. We don’t listen. We don’t enjoy time together. Everything feels like jockeying for position.

So when two Olympic high jumpers agreed to tie for Gold, it’s an anomaly.

And when five guys, from different places and different walks of life, enjoy each other’s company for a full afternoon, it fills my cup.

Leaning Into Me

1979

Fifteen months ago, I started seeing a therapist.

I remember at Hutchmoot, in one of those first years, a musician/artist talked about his therapist and then said, “Everyone needs a therapist.” There was a smattering of laughter, so he said, “I really mean it. It’s one of the best things I ever did.”

Once, when someone told me they had started therapy, I asked, “What’s it like?”

“It’s like having a paid friend. One that you can say anything to,” was the response.

That’s a pretty apt description.

My therapist’s name is Rachel.

I apologize a lot to her. “I’m sorry that I blather so much,” I say.

“It’s okay,” she replies.

“I forgot where I was going with this,” I say. “I ramble too much, don’t I?”

“Tell me more,” she replies.

One day, she said, “What would you say to young Sally?”

I stopped blathering and rambling and tried to think. Later that evening, I wrote a poem — and promptly forgot about it. That’s how I am these days — scattered and forgetful.

But each morning, I get up and try again. I begin the day with reading. It’s funny how the themes circle around. The same thoughts emerge from vastly different places.

I began the year pondering a quote by Howard Thurman:

I see you where you are, striving and struggling,
and in the light of the highest possibility of personality,
I deal with you there.

This morning, I read this in J. Phillip Newell’s Christ of the Celts:

“Alexander Scott, the nineteenth century Celtic teacher, uses the analogy of a plant suffering from blight. If such a plant were shown to botanists, even if the botanists had never seen that type of plant before, they would define it in terms of its essential life features. They would identify the plant with reference to its healthy properties of height and color and scent. They would not define it in terms of its blight. Rather they would say that the blight is foreign to the plant, that it is attacking the plant.”

I am so blighted. So very blighted.

Who am I in the light of the highest possibility of my personality? Who am I in my healthiest sense of my existence?

I went back and re-read that poem I wrote.

What would I say to young Sally? I would tell her that she is seen — and that even the blights can shape us.

Here’s my poem. Sorry for my blathering. I forgot where I was going with this.


I see you.
I see the dreams you’ve set aside
Over and over
For better dreams
No — for better realities

Because who could have imagined
You would be happy spending
So many years of
Reading
Aloud

And singing silly songs
Not just With Larry
But with Philipowensamhelenjacobkarlmary
(I don’t think Laurel liked to sing
Or read, for that matter)

Of listening
And probing
For children’s dreams
So they might become the realities
That I missed

Once upon a time
I wanted to be a veterinarian
Because dogs and horses
Were so much safer
Than people

Then I wanted to make music
-al instruments
Because everyone knows
You can’t make a living making music

And linguistics –
To study languages
And understand their structures
“Anatomy of Language”
Sounds fascinating to me

But is that even a class?
Human anatomy is a much easier
Class to find
And I would have taken it
In my last dream of being
A physical therapist

But I married
And became a mom

Yes, 
I see that young woman
Who couldn’t stand on her own
And didn’t have someone to say,
Follow
Pursue
Be

Instead I had someone who said, “Come.”

And I went

I see you, and the dreams you’ve set aside
I see the rich reality you’ve lived
I see it all and, yes, I feel some pride —
For what is Christ but to give and give

Up dreams for something better, something good