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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

family · poetry

Rain

I’m beginning to anticipate
What his response might be —
My mother blamed “the others”
For things we didn’t see,
But my father’s not a blamer
So, when he can’t explain
“It fell down from the sky,” he says,
Like some mysterious rain.

I crawled around the other day
With flashlight in my hand.
Half his hearing aid was missing
And I tried to understand
How these darn things fall apart so much
Half in one room, half another
I would have blamed “the others”
Had I been my mother.

Then Laurel called me from the kitchen
“Wha-T?” I said, but I
Emphasized the “T” too much —
And I can tell you why —
I was getting irritated
At the time that it had cost
Looking for a hearing aid
Half of which was lost.

“Grampa wants you,” she said timidly
And so I went to see
What it was he wanted now
From irritated me
“I found it!” he was saying.
I was surprised at what I saw
The missing piece of hearing aid
Resting in his paw.

“Where’d you find it?” I demanded.
I knew I should happy
But, you know, I wanted answers
And he’d better make them snappy.
“Can you fix it?” he was asking —
Not answering my question
It’s a skill he has in conversation –
Changing the direction

But I was dogged — “Where’d you find it?”
“It fell out of the sky,”
He said, as if that answer
Would satisfy my cry.
He told me again yesterday
When I asked about a pin
He had fastened to his sweatshirt
And I asked where it had been —

Apparently the sky inside
Varies precipitation.
Outside I see it raining rain
Inside, to my frustration,
It yields an odd assortment
Of hearing aids and stuff
That I couldn’t have imagined.
I should be thankful; it’s enough —

The lost hearing aid was found
I’m not still crawling on the ground

Rain


For Peter:

Perhaps another explanation is that a wolverine
Creeps into the house at night, stealthily, unseen
And hides my father’s hearing aids
Tapes them to the ceiling
Whence they fall on Dad, while I am searching, kneeling.

poetry · Writing

Tell Me Something Good

A friend said, “Write a poem,” to help me start writing again.

 

So I pulled up a poem that had been sitting in my draft folder and tried to finish it. It’s not perfect but Brené Brown says that we should have the courage to be imperfect. With a little courage, I give you this —


“Tell me something good,” she said
“Please tell me something cheery.”
The corners of her mouth turned down;
Her eyes were slightly teary.
Teenage girling is the worst —
Well, that’s my working theory.

My mind returned to dark things thought
When I was still a teen
Of feeling that I just don’t fit
Of watching pretties preen
Of wishing I were different
Of people being mean

She said, “Tell me a good story —
A princess-dragon tale
With a female superhero
Who tries so hard and fails
Then with grit and perseverance
She finally prevails.”

I remembered watching her go out
And our lawn just lie
Watching jet trails drawing lines
Across a summer sky;
I imagined an adventure
Where she’s a secret spy

Who, by studying that one small thing —
The white smoke on the blue —
She deciphered secret messages
Most people wouldn’t view
Because they’re too busy doing stuff —
Do I do that? Do you?

The world is sometimes cold and cruel
And difficult to beat
But through stories we see bravery,
Learn ways we can defeat
The demon dogs who hound us
And the challenges we meet

“Tell me something good,” she said.
I thought, and then replied,
“Let’s look at something little —
Autumn leaves or dragonflies —
Let’s find the beauty, make a story.”
And so we walked outside.

family · photography · poetry

Blonde

Me — about 3

My hair was blonde when I was small
But it grew dark as I grew tall
My mother had the same thing too —
Blonde that darkened as she grew

’tis a funny thing — this natural blonde —
Some maintain, and don’t respond
To aging with six shades of brown
But old age gives its hoary crown

To all in silvery grayish white
Tresses giving up the fight
To stay the hue of summer sun
And let winter overrun

Vanity, you try my hair
But you won’t win ’cause I don’t care


In response to Daily Prompt: Rhyme

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Alphabet with a Twist – B

dementia · elderly · family

Barefoot Girl

“Oh, I see you’re a barefoot girl this morning,” my father said, looking at my feet.

I was indeed barefoot, as is often the case when I’m still in my pajamas.

“A barefoot girl with shoes on,” he continued, smiling as he said it.

My daughters are often barefoot in the summer — and he says the same thing to them.

A barefoot girl

“What’s he talking about?” one of them asked once.

“It’s a poem he memorized,” I told them.

I asked him about it — and he dutifully recited two verses:

‘Twas midnight on the ocean,
Not a streetcar was in sight,
The sun was shining brightly
For it had rained all night.

‘Twas a summer’s day in winter
The rain was snowing fast,
As a barefoot girl with shoes on,
Stood sitting on the grass.

More verses are available on the internet, all unattributed, but those are the two he remembers.

Poetry and music get stored in a different part of the brain, I think — one that survives longer unscathed by dementia. It’s fascinating to think about.

Yesterday, he said something about Laurel going to the skating rink when I was taking her to the pool. He pulls up the wrong word often.

I also had a tough time convincing him that R2D2 wasn’t a radar unit. He was working on a crossword puzzle. R2D2 was the clue and he needed a 5-letter word beginning with R.

“R2D2 is a robot, Dad,” I told him.

“Why doesn’t radar work?” he asked, in all seriousness.

“Because it’s a robot. Robot will work there,” I said.

He made his if-you-say-so face and went back to the crossword.

Maybe if I made up a poem about it and had him memorize it, he would remember.

family · poetry

The Wreck of the Eliza

 

An original Sea Shanty

Not the Eliza, but maybe similar

(1) Captain Hopkins had a schooner
Eliza was her name
Come hear the story of her wreck
“tis such a crying shame
She sailed out from Hyannis
In April 1899
Heavy seas when she departed
Though the morrow’s forecast fine

(2) Captain Hopkins had a worthy crew
Of 13 men with him
Many were related,
Brothers, cousins, kin —
Eliza had been prosperous
So the Captain laid aside
Money to soon build a house
For his sons and his bride

(3) Eliza made a quick run
Through Nantucket sound
The Great Round Shoal lightship
They sailed right around
The night was clear, but a relic
Of the Northwest gale that day
Made the seas a little choppy
Still it did not cause delay

(4) Course was set for Great Rip
Also called Nantucket Shoals
Captain Hopkins knew his way
All around these fishing holes
Two men were on watch
When they hit the Rose and Crown
A miscalculated shoal
That brought their lady down

(Chorus)
Hey, there, Cap’n Hopkins!
Climb aboard wi’ me!
But – No-ho, he shouted,
The dory won’t survive this sea

Hey, there, Cap’n Hopkins!
There’s room for all aboard!
But – No-ho, he shouted.
And the pleas were all ignored.

(5) A wave swept o’er Eliza
From her stem to stern
She was broken with one pound
The surf was all a-churn
While some men grabbed the rigging
The dory was prepared
To launch for this emergency
That their lives would be spared

(Chorus)

(6) A wave swept the dory
Right off the deck
Three men fought to right her
And keep her by the wreck
“Come on board,” they shouted
To the remaining crew
Cap’n, he refused to go
And the others followed suit.

(Chorus)

(7) The dory, she was stove in —
Two men rowed, the other bailed
And they stayed right near Eliza
To save the crew, but failed —
The onboard crew refused them
“That dory is too small
Dawn will be here soon
We’ll be seen and save-d all.”

(Chorus)

(8) The men in the dory
Stayed the whole night through
Listening, hoping, praying
To know what they should do
But when dawn’s rays illuminated
Here’s what met their eyes:
The schooner gone to pieces
And nobody survived.

(Chorus)

(9)They rowed that broken dory
Through the Rose and Crown
Bailing water constantly
Till they came in sight of town
And so these three were rescued:
Nickerson, Miller, Doane,
But oh, dear Captain Hopkins –
Why didn’t you come home?

(Chorus)

*****

Based on the true story of my great-grandfather, a fishing boat captain who died at age 37, going down with his schooner, the Eliza.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · poetry

Trolls

I have a little troll who likes to visit me;
The pleasure that he gets from it is more than I can see.
He crawls out nearly monthly, from underneath his rock,
And writes a little comment full of unkind ugly talk.

I’ve tried to just ignore him. I’ve notified police,
And pastors, friends, and family. I’ve asked that he just cease.
He changes names like t-shirts in an effort to conceal
His identity but there’s no doubt — this troll is very real..

Father Thomas, quite by accident, kicked a nest of trolls.
They railed at him (IN ALL CAPS) ne’er retreating to their holes.
They summoned other uglies, who joined the angry mob
In giving Father Thomas quite the hatchet job.

But Thomas preached forgiveness – and his words gave me a chill —
“Forgiveness,” he said wisely, “is an act of your own will.*
You may desire justice, but mercy may be better.
Dismiss the debt that’s owed you and forgive the debtor.”

I wanted to ask Thomas — “Does this apply to trolls
Who threaten and attack you and seem to have no souls?”
I knew what he would answer. At least, I had a guess —
Trolls are really humans. God does not love them less.

Created in God’s image. His breath, their breath — and more,
His mercy for their troll-ness, their awfulness He bore.
So daily now, I pray for him — this troll who visits me —
That from the hate which binds him he would some day be free.

*****

Father Thomas is Thomas McKenzie, an Anglican priest who blogs at thomasmckenzie.com. An audio of his sermon on forgiveness can be found here: Making Change, Part Five of Five

*What he actually said was, “This is just Christian ethical consideration for what you do in the event of trespass… Forgiveness relieves the tension in the ‘mercy versus justice’ option.”

A to Z Blogging Challenge

Old

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me…

Jenny Joseph

Three “old” poems — one for my grandmother, one for my mother, and one for me.

Grammie

When I am old, I shall buy a piano
And rest my fingers lightly on the keys, curved just so.
I’ll retrain them to move the way they did when I was a girl,
The time I accompanied my brother, Nichol,
While he played his violin for Calvin Coolidge.
I’ll play hymns on the upright

And sing along
With the nobody in the room.
And I will drink dessert wine
Even though I am a Baptist
One glass every night before bed
Because my doctor said I could.

SCN_0070

SCN_0071When I am old, I shall plant a garden
Not of practical vegetables like green beans and carrots,
But a banquet for the eyes.
Flowers,
A sumptuous spread of colors
That changes from week to week,
Crocuses, daffodils, bachelor buttons, and poppies.
I shall plant it close to the road
IMG_0494For the passers-by to feast upon
If they but take their time.
But to those who drive too fast,
I will shake my fist
And shout –
“Slow down!
You’re missing the best part of life!”

IMG_8576When I am old, I will pump iron.
I’ll pull my kettle bells out of the closet
And swing them.

I’ll do squats and lunges,
Deadlifts, presses,
Russian twists,
And Turkish get-ups.
My body may wear the softness of a slowed metabolism
But underneath I will be strong –
Strong enough to arm-wrestle with my children
And laugh at the absurdity of the thing
But still occasionally win.

Faith · prayer

Resurrection Branches

OsterpostkarteI was delighted to learn that the pussywillow is waved on Palm Sunday in many Eastern and Slavic churches.

“The Pussy Willow is also our Easter symbol,” said Father Czeslaw Krysa, rector of St. Casimir’s Church in Buffalo, in a 2013 article. He said that it is “one of the most prominent Easter symbols, because of the fact out of this dry, kind of twig all of a sudden bursts forth this beautiful flower of life, and it is the first bush that blooms.”

They call them “resurrection branches.”

Reading about them reminded me of a poem/prayer that I wrote back in January.

Oh Lord
I need a pick-me-up
For I am feeling down
Outside the snow is glittering, cold,
Inside my heart is brown
And dry and brittle, mostly dead,
Like last month’s Christmas tree
Weeping prickly needles
Which need be swept by me

IMG_8480I know You can’t restore the tree
To vibrant verdant green
— Well, yes, You could
And yes, You did
When Aaron’s rod was seen
Budding,
Blossoming,
Bearing fruit
— Can You do that with me?
Of course, You can —
but would You, Lord?
Miraculously use me?

For, Lord, You know I have this fear
I’m one of the eleven
Sticks that stayed quite dead and brown
Not bearing fruit for heaven

I fear I too am dead inside —
Like Lazarus, I stink —
Roll back the stone –
Call out my name –
Pull me from this brink

Of hopelessness
Of deadfulness —
I need to be made new
Please water me
Sunshine me
And let me grow in You.

Today the rocks and stones and pussywillows are crying out “Hosanna!”

poetry

Cold Morning

i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the glittering icy brilliance of snow
and the pink-streaked watercolor dawn;
for the bare branches of trees whose tiniest twigs
point upward,
upward,
upward,
reminding me there is more.

thank you for the take-my-breath-away cold
that freezes in my throat,
and for the merino warmth of my scarf, hat, mittens, socks.
the bitterest cold helps me to appreciate
the snuggliest warmth.

this, this is a privilege
that my southern neighbors rarely know —
the nip on my nose,
the tears frozen in my eyes,
the soft flakes that land
(and sometimes melt)
on upturned chilly cheeks

thank You God for winter —
for leaned-on shovels
and salt-sprinkled sidewalks;
for glacial ground
where grass breaks instead of bends;
for barren landscapes
that belie the promise
of new Life
and Spring.

thank You God for most this amazing day.
may the ears of my ears awaken to hear
and the eyes of my eyes open to see.

may the tastebuds of my tongue
rejoice in snowflakes that land there,
outstretched and waiting,
as i am
for You

IMG_5220[1]I woke up this morning with the words of e e cummings’ poem “i thank You God for most this amazing” running through my head, but winter in New York has no “greenly leaping spirits of trees.” Instead, we have snow forecast.  Still, I’m thankful.