My Lucky Day

today it seems to me there are signs and wonders coming thick and fast…

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hang-him-at-dawnAll I can say is sometimes you just get lucky. Me, I got lucky three times in a 24-hour period, and each time it was because I put myself out there, either by picking up the phone or by walking instead of riding to run the day’s errands.

The first time was on Sunday morning when I used my feet instead of a car to cover the two miles downtown and back. Just as I was passing the doughnut shop, I spotted a 12-year-old boy striding along with his father. They were both laughing and the dad had his arm slung affectionately around the boy’s neck when suddenly he stopped them both mid-stride and kissed the child smack on the side of his head.

Seeing that would have made my day all by itself, but I got lucky again just a few hours later when I made myself call the cable company to see about locking in a good rate.

“Your wiring is extremely old!” exclaimed the customer service rep.

 …AND, you need a better router,” she added. 

“I can actually send a technician out tomorrow, would that work?” She said he would be here for several hours, she and no, there would be no charge (!) And didn’t that technician sure enough come, the very next day. He slapped a ladder up to the side of the house, descended into the Land of Lost Things that is our basement and in general worked here for three solid hours, leaving me at day’s end with a signal strong enough to let me Facebook with the folks on the International Space Station.

Then the last piece of luck came along the next morning when, headed into the city on business, I left my car on its perimeter to save on parking costs, then took a taxi the rest of the way.

My driver was a woman in her 60s with dreadlocks and a big wide smile, whose cab was filled with the most wonderful music, to which she was singing along. Finally, I just had to ask: “What IS this?”

She tilted the rearview mirror so she could see my face. “Caribbean music!” she said laughingly. “The music of Haiti!“ And then she gave a five-minute tutorial, with examples, on the difference between her Haitian French, called “Creole,” and the French that is spoken in Paris.

I loved the lesson. “But I have to know,” I said then. “Who is this singing? “

“Oh!” she said. “My friend and I made this CD. My voice is the deeper one,“ she added, and resumed her singing by way of demonstration.  

When we reached my destination, she picked up a worn Bible from its place on the passenger seat. “This was our text,” she said. “It’s from the Book of Acts, Chapter 20,” she said and showed me the passage, all in French. “Take a picture of it with your phone!” 

So I did take a picture, and once I got home, I  looked up the English for this piece of Scripture that in part  has God saying, “I will show wonders in the Heavens above and signs on the earth below.”

“Isn’t that the truth!” I thought, because today it seems to me there are signs and wonders coming thick and fast all around us – and all we really need is the eyes to see them.

Payback

The other day I drove 100 miles with  four feet of my scarf sticking out of the car and dragging along the ground. AND, it was 32 degrees and sleeting.

Sigh. Such a pretty scarf too: I got so I was very vain, wearing it.

I had closed it in the car door though I didn’t know it ‘til we got to our destination. It was frozen solid, like a brick, only sort of bent.

Old Dave thought it was the funniest thing in the world. I think he saw it as payback, because when I say I was driving I was really only helping him drive, which I admit I do, since he’s so aggressive a driver, passing this driver, nosing right up under their petticoats of that one. I used to read, or nap, or treat him to my own brand of fascinating chatter as we drove. Now I seem to  be so vigilant I can’t do anything but ‘help him’ steer. It’s like this anniversary card I just bought to give him where they even got the name right. As you can see, the front says “Dave didn’t have to watch where he was going…” Then when you open it up it reads “Because his wife was an excellent back seat driver.” 

back seat driving

Just look at that woman sitting behind him. Of course I don’t look like a bit like her – not me! But the weird thing is, she does look a lot like my mom when she got her bossy hat on. Hmmm, what was it that Oscar Wilde said? “Every woman becomes like her mother. That is her tragedy. No man does. That’s his”? (Good old Oscar Wilde: so epigrammatic always – and so RIGHT!)

Call the Darkness Light

night skyThe  solstice is past, but the days are still so short  many of us are traveling to and from work in darkness even now. I think this was the first year I really “got” why so many people deck their houses with  lights – sometimes even before they’ve polished off the Thanksgiving turkey.

They don’t do it because they feel ‘hurried into’ the season by retailers. They do it to lift their spirits.

So this year I tried doing it too, and wonder of wonders, stringing little lights did indeed help me beat back that shudder of dread I feel when the darkness comes to cloak us.

In the classic Isaac Asimov/Robert Silverberg story Nightfall, the action takes place on a planet whose sky holds as many as six suns at a time, where, at 2,000 year intervals, a mysterious event occurs that causes the land to be enveloped in darkness for the first time in anyone’s memory.

And yes, one ‘fringe’ religious sect teaches that it’s God’s judgment that brings the dark, along with the subsequent appearance of these fearsome things called ‘stars’ that rain down fire to destroy all of civilization. Few believe this though, because each time, the conflagration destroys all records.  

The reader learns only as the story unfolds that it’s the people who are responsible, because as creatures who have never in their lives experienced darkness, they panic and set the awful fires themselves, for the light.

All during December I wondered why this tale kept coming into my mind. Only in the last few days did I see it is because that same kind of wild and unreasoning fear lives also in me.

Over the past six months, we have had many ‘systems’ problems in our house, as first the washing machine died, then the dryer, then the fridge. The shower pan in the upstairs bathroom also failed so that for days on end water dripped down into the room below it.

We fixed all these problems, but not before I had expended a world of energy whining about them.

Sometime in there, social media allowed a faraway friend to take note of all this and sit down and send me this message:

Terry, I am sorry to hear about your refrigerator and the discomfort you have been having. I know just how bad it has been for you. We have seen similar things happen here. Our bathtub legs fell off while one of the girls was in the tub, the bathroom sink got clogged up and one of the refrigerator doors broke so for over a month our food was constantly spoiling.

“Thank God things are back to normal now – somewhat, LOL! The roof is still leaking but God is on that too. Remember, you are in my prayers.”

With what shame did my cheeks burn as I read this note from a woman who, virtually alone, raised up her own three children, sent them off to college, and then took in three teenaged girls to whom she has given love and care in full measure.  

The one who was in the tub when its legs broke off was pregnant when she came into her family and is expecting her baby this month, a fact that only gladdens my friend’s heart, because – as she will tell you – God is on that too.

And there it all is in a nutshell: One camp of people sees the approaching dark and panics, while the other just calls it sweet night and waits in trust for the light’s return. I think in this new year I’m going to try moving from that sad first camp into the second.

 

 

On Death and Acceptance

Last month I wrote a column about the way we all used to tan so madly, all heedless of the consequences.  It was a humorous piece, or so I thought – until, this email about skin cancer arrived from a reader:

“Parents and middle-aged adults can quip about how fun it was to tan, or do all the stupid things we did as kids and then ask coyly how we made it this far. The answer is that those who didn’t make it aren’t here to write an article.”

Her words led me through many long corridors of regret and ended by bringing me to this memory: of an essay someone wrote for a class I once taught in which he described the final days of his robust 40-something son, who died of this disease, leaving his own young family to live on without him. The slightly shortened piece appears here below:

Our son’s death was a sledge-blow, but from the gentle way he told us of his diagnosis until those final days he lived his time with grace.

He had no illusions about his illness. He recognized that this sudden ambush attack by a cancer of unknown origin had made his body a battleground.

Doctors hoped he would have a few weeks of relative ease, and though his body lost the battle in a matter of days, his spirit remained undaunted. 

“It’s a good day to die,” he told us on one of those days. “‘I have just seen my beautiful place and I want to go there.’

We knew he would, because anything he ever wanted he worked for, and he was working for this.

There were important papers to be gotten together which would require his signature. If we worked all night, we saw that we just might have them ready. We asked him if he could hold on and he said, “I will wait.”

On the road home that night, we received a call from his sister, herself an RN who had been in constant attendance. She said we should come back. Then our son insisted she hand him the phone  and his voice came clear through the night:

“Mom. Dad. Don’t rush back. Don’t do any more work. We’ve said our good-byes. Remember when the children came in? Have you ever seen such a day?  I love them! And I know you love me. Good-bye!”

We cried.

Then his sister had the phone again.  We talked it over there in the dark and decided maybe it wasn’t yet ‘a good day to die.’ So we kept on, collected what we needed, and gave it to the lawyer who worked all night. The next morning we presented the papers to Scott. Propped up with pillows, he signed them with a barely legible signature.

He and his mother talked for the last time. Then he smiled at her and said, ‘Night ‘night, Mom,’ reminding her that, as in childhood, he felt loved and unafraid as he went to sleep.

When it was my turn, I told him I only wished I could have been as good a father as he was. He asked me to kiss him. As I bent down to his bed, he squeezed my hand, smiled, and said, ‘On the mouth, Dad.’

Then something wonderful happened: As we held each other, a great clear aura of love filled the room. There seemed to be no furniture, nothing physical at all, and I saw that all the love he would have shown had he lived was now here, to be felt and used by us all.

 That love has already bound our family closer together, given us more understanding and more consideration. As John Lennon wrote, ‘All you need is love.’  Love is here for us all. Believe it , feel it, use it and add to it from your own stores.”

My thanks go here both to the wise reader who led me back to this story and to the brave grieving father who first set it down.

Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God

This poem has been much in my mind lately. My life is changing… Or no, it’s that I am changing inside my life, so  much so that I wonder how the waters up on the surface can appear so placid. Much that seemed crucial now seems the opposite and vice versa.

Maybe change like this is happening in all of us all the time. I just know I haven’t felt so much internal tumult since those three times that a new life was slowly stitching itself together inside my body.

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

I’m Not the Pope

Pope John the XXIII

When I joined the Fewer Than 12 Items line at the supermarket recently, the woman directly ahead of me turned and made the  ‘After You’ sign with her hands. “Go ahead,” she said. “You have only one item and I have 12.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” I said smilingly back, and we both turned to watch as the sales associate rang up the purchases of the man in front of her, a process that took a while, what with the weighing of his produce and the waiting while he dug out his reusable bags.

Finally he was gone and this nice woman was next – but instead of unloading her items on the belt she turned to me once again. “Go!” she said again, standing back as if to let me pass in front of her. “You need to go, I can tell. I have an instinct.”

“No, really,” I said. “I mean, my day is no busier than yours.  It’s not like I’m the Pope.”

“The Pope! I wouldn’t give my place to the Pope!” she laughed.

“You don’t like the Pope?” I asked, worried that I had wandered into a dicey realm.

“It isn’t that. It’s more that… well, you know. Popes, Presidents: they get all kinds of breaks.”

This was true, as I knew from my junior high boyfriend, who has worked protecting both Popes and Presidents. They don’t even carry any money.

She went on. “So see I like to do what I can for …”

“For the little guy? Regular schlubs like us?”

“Exactly,” she said.  “Now go ahead of me.”

So… I went ahead of her.

And she didn’t even seem to mind that I turned out to be carrying over one shoulder my own silky reusable bag, which I use to put my items in as I shop, to save the trouble of using one of the store’s wire baskets. Thus, like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat, I drew forth a packaged salad, a bottle of water, and a pint-sized container from the aisle of bins where you can scoop out your own nuts, grains and seeds.

“What’s this?” asked the cashier holding up the small container.

“Oh I’m sorry!” I said. “It’s Red Wheat Bran. That’s what the bin it came from said.” He stopped and drew out a booklet and began laboriously hunting through columns of small print for it for the Wheat Bran code number. “I guess I was rushing so much I forgot to label it. I’m scheduled to meet someone in the eating area at the front of the store,” I added lamely.

“See? I was right!” said the woman, now behind me. “I told you I have an instinct! You did need to go first!”

I thought about this exchange for the whole rest of that day, and what we mean when we use the word ‘need.’

I guess maybe I did sort of ‘ need’ to get through the line fast and meet my party. But what I needed even more was to meet someone like this, people who keep their her fine antennae tuned outward, toward others, rather than inward, toward themselves, ever aware of what they might do to help. Those people are our real spiritual leaders in my book.

Now and at The Hour…

mom 6 mos pregnant

my mother, with her firstborn Nan inside her

Do most people believe in ghosts? I think they do, if by ‘ghost’ we mean that sudden sensed presence of one now departed. In fact, show me the person who claims never to have had this experience; never to have ‘heard from’ such a one.

I know I did, once. Only once, but I ‘heard’ all right. It happened about three months after I lost my mother, who died very suddenly, right before my eyes.

She was 80 and I was 38 and still a child myself in some ways. All I knew was that living my life without her seemed impossible; she was still that much of a parent to me.

She had a pragmatic kind of sense that she expressed with a wonderful bluntness.

Take the time I called to tell her we’d be welcoming a 19-year-old Austrian girl into our home to help care for our baby while the older children were in school, she laughed right out loud.

“Great! Now you’ll have FOUR kids!” she said, and come to think of it she was right about that. I felt such tenderness for this sweet young woman, so far from her home in the Alps, that my ‘office hours’ as a listening mom never ended. A full 90 minutes after I was supposed to be at church for choir practice, say, I’d still be sitting on the front hall stairs with one of them, whether the seven-year-old, or the nine-year-old, or the 19-year-old, listening, listening, car keys dangling in one hand – ‘til it got so late I knew the only lights on at church would be the outdoor ones illuminating the steeple.

She was pretty frail by then and she could hardly see, but she weighed in on things just the same.

“An aging actor in the White House?” was one tart remark from the spring of 1980.

Another: “Cookies IN the ice cream? Isn’t that going a bit far?”

Every week I would drive the 20 miles to my childhood home to see her and if I was ever delayed because of a deadline she’d be equally frank.

“Just write anything!” she would cheerily say on those occasions, even knowing that the wonky, stay-up-all-night-doing-homework daughter she had raised could never do a thing like that.

She loved to laugh. here she is the day she came home from the hospital with a broken hip that would keep her out of work for a month. Still smiling, as you can see.

mom nan '67 mom broken hip

Twenty years after, with Nan beside her

Eventually, she moved to a wonderful assisted living facility in my town – and brought her renegade ways with her: Once during a fire drill there, with sirens blasting, she buttonholed her best pal Alice, who was obediently caning her way toward the elevator. “Never mind that nonsense!” Mom told her with a wink. “Come, we’ll hide in my room here, and have some sherry!”

Ah, she was something. And what a hole her passing left in my life. In the weeks after it, I listened for her on every frequency I could think of. Where WAS she?

I heard nothing for months. And then I had this dream:

In it, she and I were descending a wide flight of stairs; kind of sprinting down them, in fact, with that galloping rhythm you develop when you do that.

I suddenly realized what was happening. “Mom you’re RUNNING!” I said.

“I know, isn’t it great? I’m not old anymore!” she said back.

And that was the dream. It lasted maybe two seconds.

Still, it comforted me.

And in these weeks with so much stirring and returning to life, the thoughts of powers beyond our ken? Well, those thoughts comfort me still.

Nan says goodbye to Mom

and twenty years after that, as Nan looks upon her face one final time