Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Grief

Blessed are those who Understand

The sympathy cards have slowed to a trickle. In the beginning it was a deluge.

Many of the cards said things like this:

Your dad was an amazing man, and I consider myself very lucky to have worked with him.

What a class act!

Don was a wonderful person: friendly, compassionate, smart and extremely generous…

I felt privileged to know him.

Here’s a sampling from his church:

Don and Elinor were two of the first people I met at church and I’ll never forget how welcome they made me feel.

His church will miss him much. I think he held at least every position twice and always took on the most challenging parts.

And a few of the many from the hospital:

He was one of the “Old Guard” at Bassett and embodied all of the wonderful good things of a medical career.

He was the one who recruited me to Cooperstown. He looked after me at work and worked so hard to make sure that our department ran smoothly. I’ll always remember how much he cared about the patients and making my early years there successful.

The more specific people were in what they wrote about my father, the more it touched me. For example, this story made me laugh because it captured his frugality:

Many years ago he asked me (chairman of building and grounds) to help him dig a trench across the driveway from the church house to the manse. If we put in the wires to connect a new manse computer to the one in the secretary office ourselves, we could save a lot of money. Although he was much older than I was, he outworked me with his pick and shovel!

After I graduated from high school I learned that my father had followed each one of his little league players all the way through graduation and had given each one a baseball necktie as a graduation gift. Apparently, he continued that baseball-themed gift-giving pattern into his later years as this person mentioned:

Our son loved baseball and Don often gave him baseball-accented gifts.

The words and stories people shared became a salve for my grieving heart. I read stories of him making housecalls,  of mentoring, of swapping “sappy stories,” of his Red Sox fanaticism, of his sweet tooth.

I also received cards from people who had never met my father but who only knew him through me. People who read this blog but that I never met in person. People I met at Hutchmoot or on other travels. Even people here in Cooperstown who know me through my church or my involvement with the swim team, but never met my father. I was so grateful. I felt so loved.

Two cards that especially touched me were from people who had also recently suffered loss:

Deepest sympathies and equally deep gratitude for all the love and care you shared with your dad. I know firsthand that is a gift that goes both ways and lives in memory always. (from another caregiver whose father had recently died)

We have a wonderful hope of  resurrection, but the grief is still so real right now. (from a grieving spouse)

Blessed are those who understand for God will give them words to ease another’s pain.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, swimming

Blessed are Too and To

The hardest thing about swimming laps is —

1.) Leaving the house. Walking out into the real world is cold.

2.) Getting in the water. If leaving the house is cold, getting into the water is doubly so. Changing in the locker room. Taking a shower.  Walking, dripping wet, out onto the deck. Cold. Really cold. Finally sitting on the edge and sliding into the water.

3.) Counting the laps. I’ll come back to this one.

4.) Leaky goggles. It’s annoying to have one side fill with water so that you swim like Popeye the Sailor — with one eye closed.

I asked Laurel what was the hardest thing about swimming laps. She said, “when you can’t see where the wall is because you’re crying because it hurts so bad knowing you’re not gonna make the interval even though you’re trying so hard and your legs hurt and you can’t move your arms any faster :)” She’s a teenage girl, a little overly dramatic, but speaks from her heart. Swim team workouts are rough.

Back to counting laps, though.

Swimming can be monotonous. It’s also very zen. A lap swimmer — and here I’m talking about the adult lap swimmer who isn’t trying to make the interval and crying and can’t see the wall — can get lost of the rhythm of the thing.

Splash-spalsh-splash-breathe-splash-splash-splash-breathe

I wrote the vast majority of my college papers in the pool. I organized my thoughts, sifted through ideas, tried out sentences, rearranged the words. All the while I was splash-splash-splash-breathing.

Sometimes people would ask me how many yards I did and I would have no idea. I was more worried about words than yards.

When I no longer had papers to write, I tried to count my laps the old fashioned way — with numbers. It was a struggle. I finally settled on my own system: the alphabet plus the Ten Commandments.

You may laugh, but it worked. 36 laps in a 25 yard pool comes out to just over a mile.

Each letter of the alphabet got a whole lap. I would think of words or people that began with that letter. I would pray or think on things that began with that letter. Then I would move on to the next.

I did that for years.

Until, about 15 years ago, life got in the way of my lap-swimming.

Recently, I started lap-swimming again. I was so out of shape that I didn’t try to count laps at first.

The third morning I realized I needed to focus on something other than simply reaching the wall. My mind was overactive, my body tired.

I decided to work on memorizing scripture — Isaiah 61. Each length got a word.

Lap 1: The Lord

Lap 2: has anointed

Lap 3: me to

Me to. Me to. The words rattled around with familiarity because of #metoo.

The #metoo movement had stirred up memories, memories of experiences that gave me common ground with many women.

But #meto — that involves purpose.

The Lord has anointed me to… Isaiah 61 lists seven things.  I found myself pondering instead, what does the Lord want ME to do?

My life is changed. To care for my father had been my purpose — and it was so fulfilling. I confess to being a little lost now.

Blessed is Too — the common ground we share with others through experience.

Blessed also is To — as in an infinitive verb suggesting purpose.

Like a college paper, I’ll use the pool to sort through my thoughts and figure things out.

First I have to leave the house, though — and sometimes that’s the hardest part of swimming laps.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge

Blessed are those who Stretch

I once had a pastor who loved to talk about stretching.

Not like downward dog yoga stretching, more like standing-on-tiptoes-and-reaching-a-book-off-the-top-shelf stretching.

Stretching, as in, moving beyond what you thought was possible.

He was generally talking about being uncomfortable in a situation and choosing to do the right thing. That stretches a person.

Or hardships. Those are stretching experiences — when we don’t allow them to make us brittle.

I was thinking about stretching the other day at a swim meet while watching swimmers coming into the wall. The person who won the race — often by a mere fraction of a second — was the one who reached the longest and fastest, stretching their fingers to touch the pad first.

Regular stretching can lead to increased flexibility.

An interesting thing about flexibility is that of all the types of fitness, it takes the longest to gain, but it also stays with a person the longest. A person can build up cardio ability relatively quickly, but, when aerobic exercise is abandoned, cardio gains leave fairly quickly. Flexibility, on the other hand, can take months to years of consistent stretching to improve, but that increased flexibility also lasts a loooooong time.

The other day I read this:

When the monasteries of the Middle Ages lost their fervor, the last observance that ceased to be properly carried out was the choral office. (Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer)

Regularly-practiced liturgy sticks.

And yet, liturgy is certainly NOT flexibility.

Liturgy is like the roots of a tree that stretch down, down, down to water in the driest of seasons.

Flexibility is like the tree branches reaching up, up, up, reaching for the sun and sky and rain, moving with the wind.

Blessed are those who stretch both up and down. They gain both flexibility and roots.

*****

Side note: this piece has sat in my draft folder for, um, I don’t know how long. Part of me wants to finish strong — finish these darn beatitudes that sounded like such a good idea at the time, but now feel like a weight.

Golly, it’s been a tough few months!

Perhaps, sometimes, finishing strong simply means finishing. I stare at my drafts and don’t know how to finish them.

I’ll be that girl crawling across the finish line —

So forgive the upcoming half-written beatitudes.

I’m crawling.

But, dog-gone it, I’m going to finish.

It’s a stretching experience, I suppose.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, family, Life

Blessed are those with Open Hands

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my hands clenched and guarding my heart. I’m sure it’s stress, but it doesn’t change the little exercise I go through — opening my hands wide and spreading my fingers, willing them to stay open while I fall back asleep.

Open hands feel vulnerable. I have to be very intentional about it.


My son Sam went to British Columbia for school and adventure. Adventures like climbing sheer rock faces.

I had to ask him to stop sending photographs. I could handle ones like this:

But not ones like this:

Once he called me and said, “Mom! The coolest thing happened this weekend while I was climbing!”

“What?” I asked, thinking it would be a wildlife sighting or a beautiful vista.

“”I fell!!” he said.

My heart stopped. I felt my stomach squeeze.

“It was so cool!” he continued. “The rope caught me!”

“Don’t tell me stories like that,” I said.

Really. I can’t handle them.

But while Sam was out there, I learned to pray with open hands. I could do nothing to change what would happen — just pray.

And let go.

It felt very vulnerable.


I emptied a drawer in my mother’s dresser a month or so ago.

It was still filled with her things and the smell of my mother overwhelmed me when I pulled the drawer open. I don’t know that I can accurately describe what that smell is. Powder? Tussy deodorant? Sachets? Tissue?

I pressed my lips into a grim line and dumped the contents of the drawer into a large tote.

Then I did the same with another drawer.

And another.

Nearly four years after my mother died, I finally emptied her dresser.

When my sister came to visit, I pulled the tote downstairs for her to sort through.

Letting go of my mother’s things felt vulnerable. But right.


I’m worrier by nature.

And a breath-holder in stressful situations.

I don’t like change.

My tendency is to hold on.

Tight.

But…

Blessed are those with open hands, for they shall know peace.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Cooperstown

Blessed are the Nameless

Early in the year I began researching the Alfred Corning Clark Gymnasium, a building in Cooperstown where I spent many happy hours as a youth. In 1986, the new Clark Sports Center, located on the outskirts of town, opened and replaced my beloved gym. The old building was converted to offices for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I went in once for a meeting with a Hall of Fame person. He saw me looking around, trying to orient myself to where I was in the old building.

“I think we’re sitting in the girls’ locker room,” he said.

I think he was right.

But I digress.

Research, I have discovered, is like wandering through an extensive cave system with people waiting at various junctures throughout. Each person has a story. If I listen, and follow their story, I may not end up where I was originally headed, but I always end up somewhere interesting.

So…

I started researching Alfred Corning Clark. It seemed the logical first step.

Research today is a far cry from research when I was in college. While I still miss the old card catalog at the library, where my fingers walked through names and topics, now I often sit in the comfort of my living room, while my father is reading out loud or doing a word-find, and type search terms in various sites. It’s pretty amazing how much is available.

Well, Alfred Corning Clark led me to Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark. In the old newspapers, that’s how they refer to her.  Even as a widow. When she remarried, her new name was Mrs. Henry Codman Potter.

Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark

Somewhere along the line, though, in the vast web of local history, I ran across a man named Strong Comstock. I confess, I liked his name. I could picture a young mother giving birth to a sickly child and naming him Strong, willing him to live up to that name. Or a woman giving birth to such a robust baby that the name was obvious — Strong. However, neither of those theories was correct. Strong Comstock’s first name was a family name. It had been passed down through generations, mostly as a middle name. “Strong” became a family name when Nathan Comstock married Bethiah Strong in the early 18th century.

I jotted down his name, just like I’ve jotted down other names that I find interesting.

Once I encountered a young woman named Orchestra Stevens, born in 1800, died in 1822. I really want to know why her parents, Josiah and Mary, named her Orchestra. Did they love music? Did they dream of hearing an orchestra? She was the fifth of nine children, the rest of whom have more mundane names — Lucy, Betsey, Catharine, Josiah, etc. Some day I’ll pursue her story.

In the old newspapers Strong Comstock’s wife is called Mrs. Strong Comstock. Not even her obituary revealed her name, though it told me a lot more about her.

She died in Cooperstown in 1894. Two weeks later Strong Comstock moved from Cooperstown to Danbury, Connecticut.

I didn’t learn Mrs. Strong Comstock’s name until I searched her husband on Ancestry. She was Mary Jane Atwood.

Ah, the opaque cloak of a husband’s name.

Which brings me back to Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark.

As I researched, I found places where she had signed her name — Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark. I read any number of accounts of good, generous things she had done — all credited to Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark.

It wasn’t really a question of knowing her name. I already knew it. I’ve walked past this plaque a thousand times:

“Erected for the benefit of the citizens of the Village of Cooperstown by Elizabeth Scriven Clark and given to the village by Robert Sterling Clark”

It’s on the library building —

She did indeed build the building for the people of Cooperstown.

Her son, Robert, gave it to the village in a purge of all things Cooperstown. I don’t think that negates the generosity of the gift, though. It certainly doesn’t explain the plaque.

Nicholas Fox Weber, author of The Clarks of Cooperstown, made Robert Sterling Clark seem almost spiteful in the wording of the plaque, “Sterling saw to it that the … library would be named for their mother, while making it clear which of her sons had funded it.”

I prefer to think better of him, and of the plaque. I think he gave the village a building — a generous act — and he gave his mother her name. The greater gift was to her.

Thomas Merton wrote an essay called “Ishi: A Meditation” about the Yahi tribe in California, a tribe that was totally wiped out by white people. The last surviving member of the tribe, a member referred to as Ishi, died without ever revealing his true name.

In the end, no one ever found a single name of the vanished community. Not even Ishi’s. For Ishi simply means MAN.

Blessed are the Nameless
for they shall receive names
and they shall be known.

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Life

Blessed are the Laborers

One of my summer projects involves research at one of the research libraries in town.

The other day, I told Bud I was going to make a quick stop at the research library. Two hours later, when I realized how much time had passed, I hurriedly got up to leave. Joe the librarian asked me if I had found what I was looking for.

I laughed.

“There’s always so much more,” I said.

True about research.

True about life.

Nothing about research feels like work to me. But this research IS work-related.

*****

Helen calls me about once a week to tell me that she loves her job. She’s a nurse and works as a care coordinator. Mind you — I don’t think she ever called to tell me that she loved her job when she worked as a floor nurse in a hospital. But she’s found her niche and it’s very fulfilling.

*****

My father loved his work. He used to leave the house about 7 AM and get home after 6 PM. And then be on call. Or get calls when he wasn’t on call. And make house-calls. Or calls at the nursing home. Plus reserve duty one weekend each month.

He worked hard.

Honestly, I don’t remember ever hearing him complain about it.

I do, however, remember how special it was if he took time off from his workday to see me win an award at school — that one time I won an award. In fourth grade. For spelling.

But I knew my father loved his work AND his family. I never questioned it. His job was meaningful to him and impacted others.

*****

I married a man who loved to work. Until last October Bud worked as a dosimetrist, creating treatment plans for people who needed radiation therapy. Often he would stay late or go back to the hospital after dinner to finish up plans for patients who needed to start treatment soon. When he left that job to help me take care of my father, he tackled all the outside work around my parents’ house, much of it having been neglected for years. The property has never looked so good.

2015 before Bud
2019 after Bud — even the sky looks better

He takes great pride in the work he has done here. People notice it often and compliment him.

*****

Blessed are those who have found work that is fulfilling. 

*****

If you have a job you hate, I can relate. My three worst jobs:

1.) In college I signed on with a temporary agency and once worked for a week at a local factory. I stood at the end of a conveyor belt, caught syringes, and packed them in a box. My heart went out to the people on either side of me who caught syringes as a full-time job. The factory was loud. The work was thankless.

2.) I sold Tupperware for a time. Actually, I gave away Tupperware for a time. I felt so guilty at the exorbitant prices I couldn’t do it. I’m pretty sure I lost money on this venture, but ended up with a whole bunch of Tupperware.

3.) I took a secretarial job at a lumberyard in Cheyenne. The work may not have been bad, but the workplace was awful. At lunch on my second day, I drove to the hospital where Bud worked.

“I don’t want to go back,” I said, bursting into tears.

“Then don’t, ” he replied.

So I didn’t.

It turns out that 12 hours of crass and suggestive language in the office was my limit.

*****

Blessed are those who work at unfulfilling jobs.
Your story isn’t over yet.
Do your work heartily.*
Keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities.
Let that hope keep you going.

 

*Colossians 2:23-24

Posted in A to Z Blogging Challenge, Life

Blessed are the Kitschy (or Kind)

Blessed are the kitschy
whose art is low-brow
whose writing is cheesy
who can stare at a lava lamp for hours
and whose kitchen clock is a cat with a wagging tail
and eyes that flit back-and-forth, back-and-forth

Blessed are the kitschy
for they are the salt of the earth —
Without them
life would be bland


The field where the cows have grazed the past few summers is planted in corn this year.

2017
2019

Nobody plowed the field or did anything to prepare it. In the spring and early summer, I kept watching for the cows, hoping they would bring them, not knowing the field had been sown with corn until it started to grow.

I said something to a friend whose husband had been a dairy farmer. “I didn’t know they could do that. I thought they had to get the field ready before they planted on it.”

She shook her head and frowned. “It drives my husband crazy to see those fields.”

There must be something fundamentally wrong with doing things that way, but I don’t know what that something is.

All summer, though, I’ve watched the corn grow and grow and grow. It seems to be doing okay.

When I started thinking about a “K” post, the first thing that came to mind was Kindness in a reap-what-you-sow beatitude.

Blessed are the kind, for those who sow kindness shall reap kindness.

The song from The Fantasticks — “Plant a Radish” — started running through my head.

Plant a radish, get a radish
Never any doubt
That’s why I like vegetables
You know what you’re about

Except, as usual, I started playing with the words —

Plant a kindness, get a kindness
Maybe you’ll get two
That’s why being neighborly
Is always good for you

I reread my words and thought, So cheesy. Ix-nay that.

Yes, I have my moments of thinking in pig-latin.

One of those most freeing things I heard at a Hutchmoot was when author N. D. Wilson said, “It’s okay to be cheesy if you’re on your way to being good.”

I don’t know if I’m on my way to being good, but I yam what I yam.

And if someone doesn’t like the way I write, they certainly don’t have to read it.

But, then, if you happen to have a Billy Bass hanging on your wall singing “Take Me to the River” or a garden gnome in front of your house. Or if you like reading Amish-vampire-romance novels, I’m not going to judge you.

And you may like when someone bursts out into a song from an old musical.

Kitschy and kindness may even go together.

Like corn seed on an unprepared field.

You never know.