Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Thorns



He who wants a rose must respect the thorn. —Persian Proverb
 
 


I’ve been drinking this tea lately- roasted dandelion root tea. My dad called it “dirt tea” because it tastes a little ... earthy. It’s supposed to be good for cleansing the liver; my dad was drinking it daily after his cancer diagnosis and he lived a lot longer than his doctors thought he would. So, I drink it too. I’m not sick, and a recent blood panel shows my liver in great health but I’m really trying to be health-conscious. If Bill had thought about his health when he was my age, he might have lived longer so I’m learning from his example-of-what-not-to-do.
 
I’ve been reading the labels on the tea bags while waiting for my water to boil, and I’ll be honest- usually the sayings on tea bags are so corny. Clichés I’ve heard my whole life, they lose meaning for me the more oft-repeated they are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about regrets and mistakes and mortality and these bits of tea bag wisdom are really resonating with me. I don’t have the sort of personality that is comfortable heeding the warnings of others. I’ve always wanted to experience life on my own terms, firsthand and bloody. 

My mom tells this story of me when I was a little girl- maybe two or three years old, playing around the stove, and I reach out to touch the oven door. Mom’s been baking and she tells me “it’s hot”. I reach out again, and she tells me not to touch it or I’ll burn myself. According to the story, I glared right in her face and leaned over and laid my cheek against the hot oven door until it burned bright red.
 
This pretty much characterizes how I like to live life. I’ve gotten a little smarter and I now understand that hot things will burn my face off and sharp things will cut me open; but I’ve still got that rebellious little girl inside me who will glare at you when you tell her what do with her life. 

Give me thorns, and I will happily slice my soul open to receive them.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Expectations

Not everyone gets to be what they want all the time


I’ve been thinking about this and wondering what it means to me. I think I have this vision of myself, of what sort of person I am: I think I’m smart, and funny, and spiritual, and open minded, and inclusive. 

Am I really all those things? Ask me and I’ll tell you that I am. It makes me wonder what other people think about themselves, and how accurate our vision of ourselves really is. I recently wrote a life sketch about my dad to read at his funeral service. I really struggled to find the best words to describe him, as this was the one opportunity I had to speak publicly about his nature and his legacy as a dad and a husband.

I know my dad thought of himself as a total badass. And most people who knew him when he was younger, or who only saw him at work, saw that too. But he was also loving and kind, and intensely loyal to his family. And I don’t know if he saw that about himself. I wonder if he knew that there was a big, soft, teddy-bear of a man inside his badass shell. 

That shell was created to protect him, to guard him from life and those who would hurt him. The shell was made up of a bad attitude, bad choices, and a pit bull of a personality. If you’ve ever owned a pit bull, you’ll know that underneath the hair-raising growl and terrifying demeanor is a sweet, loyal, protective creature. That’s how I think of my dad.

I don’t know if my dad got to be what he wanted. I know he wanted a family, and to be loved by them. I know he wanted to provide- to go to work and earn his way in life and be productive. Did he know he was accomplishing those things, every day that he was able? I don’t think he was tremendously self-aware, so I wonder if he knew what an amazing job he was doing at his life. 

When I think about what I want to be in life, I’m reminded of this saying: “Not everyone gets to be what they want all the time”. I don’t remember where I heard it, but it makes me think about the need to take a good, hard look at myself. Am I being the person I want to be? Am I living up to my own expectations? To God’s? To my family’s? I’ve never cared much about what other people think of me, so it’s hard to worry about whether I’m living up to everyone else’s expectations; but there are a few people who count and it’s a struggle for me to consider what they think of me. 

When my life sketch is being written out, what will be said about me? I hope no one talks about how messy I keep my house, or how my night stand is overflowing with candy wrappers and soda cans.

If I don’t get to be what I want all the time, how will I handle that? What will I do when my expectations out of life are not met? When I am disappointed by people or circumstances? My hope is that people will be able to say that I handled that with some sense of grace. 


I guess I’d better start working on that, so people will want to say it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A time before


Somewhere in a corner of our hearts we are always 20  -- Lilac Girls

 

When I read this I immediately rankled. This can’t be true, can it? If it is true, it means that we go through our later years feeling as though the best times of our lives are behind us, that we yearn and long for a time of naïveté, a time of before.

I’m in a sad time of my life right now- I’ve just lost my father to cancer. Do I yearn for a time before? A family photo when everyone was healthy? A time when I wasn’t constantly worried about getting the phone call? An outing, while he still had the energy to walk and to laugh? When he still had a sparkle in his eye?

Yeah, I yearn for that time. I yearn for missed opportunities and book store dates and family dinners.

I’m trying to remember me at 20... where was I? What was important to me? Did I know I was having experiences that would make older me look back at and think, "Ah, those were the best times"?

I married Colin the year I was 20. I had a fun-but-going-nowhere job as a dispatcher. I drank too much alcohol. I had amazing friends that I saw regularly. I would have classified myself as happy, if someone had asked me back then.

But looking back I now know that I was just on the verge of life. Real life. Money problems and job instability and a dead husband and depression and a deep and upsetting lack of surety about my future.

Now, today, I’m steeped in real life. I’ve lost three family members in the space of 3 weeks. Mortality is making itself a nearly-tangible presence in my head. I have concerns- the tax bill and mortgage rates and my loved ones and health care. Real life concerns, things that me at 20 had no idea about.

Do I yearn for that time? That time of blissful ignorance, before real life kicked me in my soul? Not even a little bit.

Give me pain and death and sadness. Give me rage and unbridled passion. Give me everything the world has to offer- the dirty, raw parts and the parts so filled with beauty that it sets an unbearable aching in my heart.

Me at 20? She taught me things. She gave me experiences that would shape the person I’m about to become. She knew stuff, important stuff that helped her then, and helps me now. But you can keep her, in the past where she belongs. Because in that secret little corner of my heart, I am exactly who I am right now.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Aunt Janet

I married into a large family- my husband has lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. I don’t know most of them very well; they're scattered around between California, Arizona, and Tennessee (and possibly other places - I honestly need a chart to figure out some of the extended family) and we don't see each other often enough.

We lost one of those aunts the day after Christmas. Aunt Janet was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I had heard quite a lot about her and her husband before I ever met her. Steve stayed with them one summer when he was young and has fond memories of that time and his connection with them both, and with their daughters.

I liked Aunt Janet and Uncle Wes straight off- partly because of the memories Steve shared but also because of the kindness they showed me. Uncle Wes was very ill by the time I met him and that time of their lives was probably so hard on Aunt Janet. Even so, she made me feel like I belonged in the family. I had an opportunity to talk with her during a family reunion and she listened to me with such genuine interest that I loved her immediately. She made me feel special every time I saw her. 

Unfortunately for me, I only saw her a few times. When I heard that she passed away, my first incredibly selfish thought was that I wished I’d had more time to get to know her. I attended her funeral service this past weekend and through the memories shared by her daughter and others, I was able to see a little more of Aunt Janet. She was indeed kind; she was also loving, and is known in her family and community as someone always willing to help others. 

One of her daughters gave a talk and described an occasion where Aunt Janet was loading boxes with food out of her own cupboard; big boxes, filled with food. When questioned by her young daughter, Janet remarked that one need not look very far to see someone whose need was greater than their own. Not only was Janet loving, she also taught those around her about charity and compassion as those boxes were anonymously delivered to families whose need was greater than Janet’s.

I heard so many people describing Janet as someone who would immediately and quietly fill a need. Someone who loved others and showed kindness to those around her. Someone who had endured so much, and used those trials to strengthen herself and her faith. Someone who had hope and a strength of character. 

When I think of Aunt Janet, I think of someone who inspires others to be their best self; to learn from trials; to not give up on hope and faith when life is bleak. I am saddened that I will not have a chance in this life to get to know her better; but I am grateful to be part of her eternal family and see her again on the other side of the veil.

I was able to get a few photos at the service.

 
In St. David, the family digs the grave in the cemetery. This group of shovels waits for eager hands to put them to work. The grave is dug the day before the service, and then it's filled in after the casket is lowered into it.
 
 
Everybody helps. Men in their suits and ties; children as soon as they are big enough to hold shovel; ladies in dresses and fancy shoes.

 
There's something remarkably touching about seeing the family gather round and shovel. This foot belongs to my daughter. She worked alongside the rest of the family as several people took turns filling the grave (and occasionally her shoe). Seeing her there, covered in sweat and dirt, doing her part to honour Aunt Janet made my heart swell with both pride and sadness. In the few days we were together, we did so much: we played games, we laughed and had silly moments; we got dirty together and we mourned an aunt, a sister, a mother, a role model, and a beautiful soul.

 
Thinking of Aunt Janet these past couple of years without Uncle Wes makes my heart break. For the rest of us still labouring at life, my heart also breaks.

 
 
As Aunt Janet and Uncle Wes are together again, so are the rest of us. Scattered around though we may be we share a bond of love, faith, and the knowledge that families are eternal. We are separated by time, distance, and mortality but we will meet again and oh, what a joyous reunion that will be.
 


Sunday, January 7, 2018

A poem for Bill

A friend of mine wrote this poem about my dad. He had never met Bill, but was inspired to write these words that so beautifully capture the essence of my dad, and I’m sure of many dads around the world.

A son of God.
A noble spirit.
A humble patron.
What did he add to the creation of this world?  What did he accomplish for 4.5 billion years before he ended up in this fleeting trial of humanity?

He is valued, deeply, passionately, by a Father in Heaven who called him Son.
His contributions here may have been small, but they were profound and touched lives in meaningful ways. A man of gifts and a man of means, he connected with his daughter and offered his most precious gift: Time.

Perhaps you did not notice there was nobility on his brow?  Maybe you did not know that he comes from a Royal Lineage?

His circumstance in this realm may have been humble, but make no mistake that this man was a Son of God, a Prince with an eternal purpose.

Flaws and shortcomings molded his character and failure at times was his friend, yet on he goes to a new step in fulfilling the measure of his mandate.

Let us rejoice that he accomplished so much and that he is headed toward greater things.  His love for you does not die.  His care for you cannot be stricken.

Let's use that love to inspire us to become bigger than we are.

The best part of his legacy is found in you.  Let it shine forth!

-From a friend

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