Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Strangers


STRANGERS

 

Coming from Texas, I hardly ever meet a stranger—some strange characters, perhaps, but not really strangers. Most Texans whose families have lived here for generations are taught from childhood to treat others as we would want to be treated, so, we don’t meet strangers; we just meet new potential friends.

 
When we stand in line with others at the store, we sometimes share our views of the weather—at the very least. When we stop to help a motorist, we might share our water, our views on the lack of “relief facilities” on the highway, or, more likely, our common complaint about the heat and dry weather. Life’s common core concerns pretty much have Texans covered, so we never really lack the understanding that others have the same problems as we do.

 
Defining a stranger for me connects to someone entirely different from the folks we meet. The strangest one for me is the stranger within. Just recently I heard someone tell a group of people that folks who have addictions have an “emotional and mental age stop”—a cease from the maturing process that allows one to learn from experience and find channels of change. I thought about what was said and read some materials on the changes within the brain that occur both in those who are addicted, those who have some shattering experience—with or without associated grief—those who are already prone to some nervous compulsion (OCD or that type of problem), those who are suffering from some type of guilt, and finally, those whose brains have been affected by damage from some physiological source—stroke or accident damage.

 
I want folks to know right here from the get-go, the business about the brain being “stopped” at certain age or at a certain stage is a stinky pile of male bovine excreta! The documented plasticity of the brain is totally amazing! Even if we have physical brain damage, the brain can recover or at least compensate to be as good as or better than it was before the damage occurred. If we have an addictive “personality” or compulsion, or if we are suddenly confronted with a life altering loss and overwhelmed with grief, or if we have a tendency to look at everything with a negative outlook, we CAN change the way we live and think. ONE tiny little change or even attempt to change can make a huge difference. Every effort is rewarded in one way or another in the brain. Yes, we can have failures, but had failure not been an attempt, we would never have seen the incandescent light bulb! Our brain allows us to attempt, to hope. When we observe even a tiny change in our attitude, we have made progress beyond measure. The brain has developed a new insight that does not simply vanish.

 
When I look back at the past two years in my own life, I see some of the areas that I have not really challenged. I still do not like to be around crowds of people and still have little panic attacks when put on the spot to “participate” in group settings. Sometimes those attacks result in some pretty stupid comments or even actions. Maybe that will change in time or maybe it won’t. It does not really matter as long as I can be comfortable within myself and live with who I am. But thinking about how grief has affected me has caused me to think about how guilt and other problems can affect any of us. Guilt feelings can condemn us to hell and back because we may never be able to change any of the circumstances either of the past or what will happen in the future. I call this trying to live with the “if onlys” and “probably should haves.” For instance, I can’t go back and see to it that my little baby has the hospital care she needed right after birth for her to have a chance to live. That situation is a done deal. And if her death is partly my fault for not demanding better care, then nothing I feel about it can make a difference now. So, all I can do is ask God for peace. If I need forgiveness for my lack of active participation in her care, then THAT forgiveness is assured.

 
Everyone who finds this stranger within can see that we don’t really know ourselves as well as we think we do. We all have a tendency to feel that our problems are ours alone and that those will be with us always! God tells us otherwise. We are told that a day will come when there will be no tears. “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. The rebuke (blame) of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8

 
Won’t it be glorious not to feel guilt or condemnation! A stranger will live within us—already DOES—who will feel unbelievably happy and free! All we have to do in the here and now is take the tiny little steps to building a foundation for changing our thoughts. Little actions, little beliefs, little hopes will allow us to make the eventual changes that will make our lives better. For me, some of the first steps began with buying clothes that I really liked with a little “bling” to them. Then I took a couple of huge steps—two trips, one to the Hill Country with a friend, and then a trip to the East Coast with another friend. And now I have been to Europe with my daughter and have driven—by myself—to see my brother in Arkansas. I used to think that I could only go somewhere if my husband were with me or at least be where he could get to me if I needed him. He was my balance and my safety net. After his death, I could still hear his voice telling me what I should do, but now I listen more carefully to my own inner voice. Oh, Triple A and GPS help me get to places and feel safer on the trips, but to tell the truth, I know a better source of help is with me all the time. I have heavenly access 24/7 and don’t even need a phone to get in touch. And if I get a bit off balance now and then and become obsessive over some neighborhood situation, I ask for help as soon as I realize that my mind is making something out to be more than it is in reality.

 
Finally, let me just assert that I don’t plan on being “stuck” at any stage or plateau of emotional or psychological development. That part of my brain that gives me free will may see me revert back to fear and timidity once in a while, but overall, I can make the changes in my life that I want—even small changes. I can learn to love the stranger who lives within me, the one who wants me to be free and happy with life.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where the Wind Blows


Carla Beard and I decided to challenge each other to write something on the same topic each week--no word limit or minimum. This was my first attempt to get myself back into the habit of writing. I will leave it to her to post her devotional about wind.

Where the Wind Blows

Comfort is nearly always found in the familiar; and if one thing is familiar to Texans, it would be the wind! From the gentlest breezes in autumn piling up dry leaves on the ground to the roaring gales of storm winds howling overhead during the spring, the winds are a constant. Whether cooling breezes off the lakes in the summer or wintery blasts carrying ice shards through the air, the wind is an accepted factor of living. Hummingbirds, butterflies, or flying seed pods of milk weed and dandelion, all these take turns tumbling with the vagaries of the winds. Dust brought from the flat lands of the Texas Panhandle coat the plains of Central Texas, while the pollution of the larger cities is whisked from the air by that same broom so that the wind is both a charming house keeper and a drying blast sucking up the moisture needed for growth in the fields. No amount of contempt will allow a Texan to take the wind for granted, no matter how familiar its patterns might seem.

Assigning the wind a personality purely based on a skewed perspective, most of mankind alternately consider the wind either a foe or an indentured servant. Modern Don Quixotes have built windmills in the form of wind farms to harness the forces seemingly ever present; yet despite whacking birds and drying some of the moisture from the air, these wind turbines have no more real effect on the winds than the sails of the schooners on the high seas had back when men were more helplessly dependent in their scuttling over the face of the deep. The wind is not some insidious power against which injustice can be claimed—despite the hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes; it simply moves across the face of the earth from corner to corner. However much man may attempt to change one form of energy into another, he may never really change or hold back that which God has put into play in His creation. Unlike the Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the waters, man’s tracks on the seas—just like his tracks through the skies--are washed away as quickly as the next wave or the next current of air. Something about the wind provides perspective like nothing else. Even in Texas, our size, our worth, all our imaginings compare as nothing when that sudden sound “as a mighty rushing wind” fills our hearts and minds.

When our most creative minds attempt to paint the wind or describe its effects, they may portray a whisper among the flowers and grasses or the swaying or twisting of trees to some degree of bending acquiesce. The mood of a narrative may be brought unforgettably to mind with the description of wind and its effects upon the landscape. Belligerent resistance to wind, as in Wuthering Heights, or protective escape from its grip quite often remind a reader of experiences common to anyone able to participate in what is referred to as weather. Just like the house in Wuthering Heights, which had to be strong to stand against the wind, the Bronté characters who loved the moors had to be strong and independent. But that same wind twisted trees and characters alike over time. When a non-fictional wind blows--the Chinook stirring from the southwest of Canada or the Zephyr blowing across Texas, those in the paths of these winds either must submit or resist—or at the very least, take cover!

Just like many other powers seen and felt but never truly understood—among them light, love, dreams, and even sleep—the wind seems surely eternal and immutable. Hardly does the wind ever cease its movements. In fact, that sudden calm before the storm or a lull in the wind generally creates a discomforting expectation among man and beast alike. Perhaps some ingrained sense warns that only a divine intervention can constrain a compulsion created for constant movement. But truly the wind will cease to blow one day for a time “for four angels will hold the four winds of the earth that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” Like any of the creative acts of God, the sudden observable beginning or cessation among the elements of nature becomes a sign to mankind.  Unsettling possibilities of the unfamiliar need not be cause for concern, however, because the Creator knows the end from the beginning—for man and for all of creation—not just in Texas, but to the ends of the earth.

What color the wind? What message to send?
Directed power? Who measures its hour?
Lifting wings as the cardinal sings, Fairy skirting to leafy wings,
Scooping out cliffs grain by grain, Moving mists or driving rain,
Sweeping mountains or dusty plain, Driving waves over the main—
By no man’s bridle or harness ridden—
Only to His voice wind is bidden—
Questions unnecessary, time erased with a spirit unfearing—
Wild winds carry the Word of His sudden appearing!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Losing Things in My Old Age

Wow! It took re-installing AOL to get back to my blog, but it is worth the slower computing time if I am going to slowly--or not so slowly--forget how to get into things. Now I can write down my sign in and password in my little white book so it won't get lost.

Memories, whether good, bad, or warped by age or perspective, are worth keeping around. We seem to learn more when we have some kind of associations with our past or with some kind of past. For instance, I think back now on the trip to Scotland, London, and Paris that Jennifer Ostand and I took in March. The best memories are of her delight in seeing some of the things she has always wanted to see. If we missed some experiences for whatever reason, we still were able to enjoy one another's company. That alone was worth the entire trip.

Eventually I will write down some of the impressions I had of Edinburgh, the Highlands, the castles, churches, graveyards, museums, and the people we met. Paris, not surprisingly, was another story altogether! Why I was surprised by the size and quality of life there is probably caused by my lack of understanding how the French look at their homeland.

If one thing stood out about our trip more than any other, it is SIZE. Living in Texas, we drove home from DFW airport on freeways that were spread out among green belts of fields, livestock, housing projects, large or small homes, and just acres of room. In our travels we saw nothing that was not nailed down or fenced in or otherwise restricted in size or permanence. Of course, things in Europe have a history. The buildings have been there for centuries. The only thing America has by comparison are the Spanish missions. Ours in a young country. I cannot really ever imagine NOT needing wheels to get from one place to another in our state. Even last year when I went to the East Coast and enjoyed the history of Williamsburg and Jamestown, nothing was all that restricted by borders of encroaching civilization. America is just big in the most immense sense. I think her heart is similar. Maybe our hearts have developed along with our expansion of borders, but whatever the reason, our country has not become a narrow strip of scenery and history. We are still learning how to develop our corner of the world.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Our Grandmother Pollard


Our Grandmother Pollard

My children grew up thinking that there was only one GREAT grandmother in their lives: Grandmother Pollard. Oh, there was at least two grandmothers they knew and three great-great grandmothers that they had met, but Grandmother Pollard was always the only person they knew who was just called Grandmother. She loved the title and our niece and nephew and even my sister-in-law called her Grandmother. She was happy to be a grandmother to just about anyone who needed one.

Everyone NEEDS a grandmother. Mine just happened to be the best in Clay County, Texas. I knew she was the best around partly because Granddad Pollard loved her so much. Whenever he needed her to go chase sheep or otherwise do something a little odd, she was willing to try. I never saw her drive a tractor, but I can imagine that she would have tried if Granddad had asked her to. But my memory of her pretty much claims her spot in the kitchen and in the garden or even in the cellar during storms. Back before the old farm house had indoor plumbing, Grandmother would fill up an old number 10 washtub and have me take a bath on Saturday night before we were to go to church the next day. She taught a class of young kids my age at the Methodist Church. She always seemed to have something special to keep them coming back to class. If nothing else, she bragged on them for knowing scriptures that she had asked them to read.

When I was a child, all birthday parties that I ever had were organized by Grandmother Pollard. She also saw to it that my brother and I had a new Easter “outfit” for that Sunday, as well. My mom did not approve of shorts, so Grandmother Pollard had GRANDDAD take me to Alcorn’s in Henrietta to buy my first short set—a sailor suit that had shorts. I actually got to wear it since Granddad had bought it for me. Grandmother knew how to get around my mother and her ideas of what was acceptable for little girls.

Grandmother also liked to organize groups of women so that they could enjoy each other and learn something at the same time. She had book clubs, Home Demonstration club, the Methodist Ladies’ club, and assorted community clubs that met in her home or in the homes of one of her friends. She got Granddad to organize the local Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association so that those in Clay County who had sheep could combine forces to hire shearers each year and find better breeding stock as well as find better markets for their wool. My grandparents also provided lambs for the young teens that needed projects for their FFA or 4H animals.

Grandmother always seemed to know what was needed in our community and found ways of filling the need. One year she had me going with her from house to house as we raised money for the March of Dimes. She said that she never worried about going up to someone’s porch with me because I seemed to know every dog in town! A year or so later she took me with her while she volunteered for the Red Cross in Wichita Falls. Back then they still used bottles for blood donations. We did not donate any blood, but we certainly got the bottles ready.

Grandmother Pollard thought my husband was a grand guy and wanted to be sure that I fed him well and kept him happy. She told me that a man who provided for his family, who did not drink or leave us at home alone, and who played with his children was worth every effort to keep happy. When we needed her to come and stay with our two children when the last baby was born, she was so excited that she packed without putting any underwear in her suitcase. To this day, all of the family laugh and tell each other to be sure and not to pull a Grandmother Pollard when we pack our suitcases!

Finally, when I think how freely she loved all of us and how she made us all feel so special as individuals, I know why I have tried to be like her when I hold my grandchildren. I want them to know that I will always love them—just as she always loved me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Reckoning the Ages


Reckoning the Ages

 
In my bookcase are two volumes titled The NEW Century Dictionary. The first copyright date is 1927 and the last is 1944. One would assume that each edition might have included new words that came into being from the first copyright date. Be that as it may, I suspect that those who published these books might have used words quite unlike those used today. Certainly, the authors would find the speech and vocabulary of today quite confusing. It would not be enough to say that the word gay no longer means happy. No, those writers of 1944 would find that new words exist and continue to appear with increasing regularity.
 

While our language is only a small measure of the changes in our world, the relationships we have had in the past in our families have faced changes that seem just as startling to me. When I became a grandparent, I suddenly remembered my own with a particular and poignant vividness. Oh, how I miss their simplicity and their love! I can only hope that my grandchildren can enjoy being grandchildren as much as we did in our day.
 

All of my grandparents were born in the early 1900s, and my in-laws and my own parents were born from 1910 to 1928. So their childhoods and upbringing were quite current with that two-volume dictionary. In fact, my grandparents,my parents, and in-laws saw World War II as well as the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Living through those days left an indelible impression upon all of my family. But that impression has only faded to the extent that my memory has lapsed because I still remember the stories and the admonitions to make do with what we had and not waste whatever we used.
 

My paternal grandmother taught me how to embroider and to make a cake using apple butter or jams from the cellar. Sugar was rationed during the time she was cooking most of her meals on the farm, and she had to make do with whatever she had to sweeten a special cake for her family. She also embroidered simple designs on all of her pillow cases so that anyone staying the night with the family thought that “Mrs. Astor” had no better place to sleep. She served cake, made a lovely bed, and fed her guests from her garden. She was not a pioneer woman, but her mother before her was the epitome of pioneer. Grandmother learned from one of the best. Great-grandmother used her husband’s tobacco sacks to piece together quilt tops that were made from leftover scraps of flour sacks. When she wasn’t having babies, she cared for the pigs and chickens and milked a cow. She churned her own butter and made pound cakes with real pounds of ingredients. And when she was not feeding the hired hands or relatives, she took off on her horse and delivered babies as a midwife.
 

The men in our family were good providers; the women made what they provided work to the last inch of usefulness. When I think about the examples set by my grandmothers, I realize that I am as different from them as the old dictionary is to the language of this day. We still serve our children and grandchildren and do our best to lead by example, but our world is changing so very quickly that the children may never understand what it means to grow their own food or sew their own clothes or even to provide a restful place for their families. My grandparents did these things as a matter of course—by default of the times in which they lived. Today I try to adapt my commitments to the grandchildren in much the same way as my grandparents adapted to their world—one word, on love at a time.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Rose Moss Bed

This past Saturday I worked on the yard, planting flowers and a few tomato and pepper plants. The daffy-dorks, as Hanan calls them, have just about finished doing all they can do for one spring. The pretty yellow bells have rung until they are wilted and ready to be cut back a bit. The green leaves will look fine until it is time to dig them out of the ground and store the bulbs. And the dahlias have shot up some strange looking stems under the cedar tree where the sunshine hits them every morning. But one area was still waiting for the weather to change a few degrees warmer. In that area was where I planned to plant rose moss--and Lewis' ashes.

Lewis once said that he regretted that he had lived his entire life on this old hill. He grew up here and then stayed after we married. We never lived any other place; and he died right here in his bedroom. And now what little remains after cremation is stirred into the soil to be mingled with the rose moss seeds. He loved my  flower beds out in front of the house under the cedar tree, so if he has to stay here, at least it will be in a pretty bed of moss. If it should work out that this place is still in the family when I die, maybe the children will let my ashes mingle with his in the same flower bed. We made beautiful memories together. Maybe we could be the foundation for something else beautiful as well.


Monday, December 24, 2012

AS IF...and Then



AS IF…and Then

Nothing quite hits a person between the eyes the way a loss does. I suppose it does not have to be the loss of a person that one loves—it could be the loss of a job, a silly thing, some ideal, or just about anything that we cherish. But in my case, this has been the loss of my husband. Someone said that the loss of our mate leaves a hole shaped like that person, and truly, I believe it because a huge part of what I consider to be “me” has disappeared. The hole shaped like Lewis is large and the edges of the hole are still pretty raw. Eventually the edges may not be as painful, but until then, I am just having trouble with the “as ifs” in my life.

I have to act—or at least I try to act—as if anything matters. But nothing except the children, a few friends, a random stranger or two—these are the only ones that matter. And I have trouble even making myself want to be around anyone. Yet I am still as lonesome as the last flycatcher heading south. I try to make myself find something to do each day. The cat gets me up every morning—whether or not I want to does not matter to him. The dog follows me from room to room as if to be sure that I don’t need something he can do for me. I wonder about that.  My friend Nan says that he senses my moods and knows that I need something. Maybe that is true. I still try, but I catch myself thinking: as if it matters!

I have lost two jobs in my lifetime. We lost a two-day old baby daughter, and then we had a miscarriage. Lewis lost his job—he called it being fired, and I guess it was, but basically the company finished out its agreement with Darr Equipment and let all the older men like Lewis go the day the agreement ended. He suffered terribly for a long time because of the way that they let him go and the fact that it was not his choice to leave. I hurt for him, but I had to keep telling him that it was probably for the best. These losses all hurt, but it seemed we held on to each other and had hugs, reassurances, and whatever we needed just because we loved each other. It is not the same now; he is not here to hold me when I cry.

He didn’t tell me not to cry. And danged if I don’t do a pretty good job of it once in a while. He came to our daughter in a dream and told her that I would be ok. I think he felt that way before he died. He seemed reassured for some reason when he found out that I would still be working with students as an editor and tutor. It wasn’t like I needed to go to work, but teaching keeps me from just sitting down and holding my hands like some little old lady. But keeping busy or reading, playing on the computer, or whatever I do toward keeping the house clean and orderly does not really serve to help me heal—or it does not seem to in my way of looking at things.

All the things I do bring me back to the “as ifs” in my attitude. As if it matters if I work or not, as if it matters if the house is clean, as if it matters if I go to services and sing with others: these are some of the tiny little things that don’t amount to a hill of beans. I try to eat decent food; I try to be sure that my clothes are clean; I try to talk to others with a cheerful attitude. But I feel as if I were on auto-pilot. I go through the motions and then see myself from a distance, as if I were not really there at all.

Folks who have been where I am—more or less—have told me that this experience—and that term irks me for some reason since “experience” has always seemed more like a choice—will take time. Healing takes time, they tell me. Yes, I have had some injuries and a pretty difficult healing from a surgery. But this does not even seem to compare. The pain stays with me in the background, welling up to grab me by the jaws and in my throat every once in a while about the time that I think I might be “getting better.” Getting better in this case means that I am not bawling and tearing up every time I am around someone. Getting better means I can take a deep breath and wait for the pain to subside while I duck my head and hold on to a better thought.

Sometimes I wish I had something that could keep my interest—something I could look forward to in anticipation. I thought that going to Scotland and Paris might be interesting, but now I just want something common—a good flower garden, a new roof, maybe a reorganizing of the junk in the storage and work sheds. I don’t mind getting dirty to keep me busy. I just don’t want to feel useless and empty—alone with the “as ifs” of life. I can’t have him back; I have to wait and go to him. And then maybe that damned hole will be filled with the love we had all those years.