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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Unit

There are - and stay with me on this - two set of sisters, a mother and two daughters, and an aunt and two nieces in four people known as "The Unit." The name came to us after what seemed like an exhaustive attempt to find a title suitable for the four of us.

We were/are what we consider unique. The Unit comprises 2 1/2 generations, sort of, and we can mix and mingle in any number of combinations while together, and still have all of us included. We'd celebrated  several New Years by hiking to waterfalls, or eating hearth baked bread while we explored Flat Rock NC, or sweating it out on a broken down train stalled in the countryside of France on an overnight jaunt from Madrid to Paris. We've whitewater rafted to celebrate making it through chemo, and stood side by side at funerals, so a name befitting our  relationship was needed.

It was in the dark caves and tunnels of Gibraltar where I feared we might lose each other, that I, as the matriarch of the group, could be heard whisper shouting, "We must stay together. We must move as a unit." I heard a little giggling from the far reaches of a tunnel, then a shout out of, "The Unit! That's it. That's the name for us!" And so, The Unit we became.

The Unit is a somewhat exclusive group. We don't really mean to be, but we are. We're bonded by love and birth in an ageless gathering of women. Me and my daughters and sister, they and their sister and mother and aunt. We are bound. We have expanded our numbers in an honorary fashion with marriages and births, but, I guess until you wear the Red Shoes you may not be fully a member.

They're at least a decade old now, those Red Shoes, but, like us, they're classics. They been shared around among all four of us when only Red Shoes will do. Those Red Shoes have been on dates, and in weddings, and have been to church, but mostly they're pulled out when there needs to be an extra punch in our step. The inquiry goes out periodically among the four of us as to who has the Red Shoes and "can I have them for" ... well whatever the special occasion might be.

The Red Shoes have been shared freely within The Unit ... so freely that I'd almost forgotten about them, until my sister pulled them out for a 2017 Eclipse party. It seems those shoes were raved over all anew. When my sister told me recently that the New York crowd had loved the red shoes, I'd asked, "the old red shoes?"

Yes! But not the old red shoes. THE Red Shoes. Still in action, still making a statement. Still raising us all a little higher with their high-rise, open heels and that classy peep toe. Kinda' like The Unit, doing that raising up of each other with class and style. We rock.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Grace through Maybe

"Maybe! She said maybe!" My young children danced around the living room shouting over and over, "Maybe! She said maybe!" I'd grunted a maybe from a deep, heavy nap on the couch. My son and daughter, about 5 and 3 at the time, had leaned in close to me where I could feel their sweet breath on my face, and whispered, "Mom, can we ..." Well, that part I don't remember, but it was a request for something my kids loved for me to agree to. Swimming, chocolate chip cookies, a trip to the playground, I don't know exactly. But what I do know is that "maybe" set joy in their hearts and set them to jumping up and down with excitement. A simply "maybe." It's become an "inside story," and family members of all ages still get the same thrill when I utter "maybe." She said maybe! It's followed me for 29 years, so far.

I've personally disregarded a maybe as being too vague, and allowing for too big a chance of "probably not." I like things as definite as I can get them, even if it means waiting to the last minute to pull out a firm yes or no.

That was until yesterday. In the shower. Again, in the shower. I don't know why my most profound awarenesses and God moments can be tracked back to the shower, but they can. Perhaps it's the life giving water rushing over my body, the warmth, the seclusion from the rest of the world where my thoughts can be their loudest, and their most quiet. A place where mental cleansing accompanies physical cleansing.

Regardless, so it was there that the power of maybe came pressing into me. In my father's final days locked down in immobility, it fell to me to tend to his hospice medications. There was the one mediation that would cause him great relief, but which also signaled acceptance that his breath was no longer his own. A medication that eased the body's struggle between this world and the next. Those of us who were with him put on the proverbial encouraging, assuring, and happy face, but sadly, I've always felt his eyes told me he knew.

With each dose, even as I offered assurance that this would ease his breath and help him rest, I felt his eyes asked me "why." I felt his luminous eyes, still full of the quick soul that was his, ask me "why," and plead "No. No. Not this." My soul was crushed, and yet I continued, knowing ...

And then, these two years later of my carrying that weight of his deep, pleading eyes, came the words through the muted world of the shower, "Maybe his eyes weren't pleading with you to stop, or accusing you of forcing him out. Maybe his eyes were saying he understood. Maybe he was saying thank you, Rhonda."

Those words, prefaced with that powerfully hopeful word maybe gave me a new hope and new relief I'd previously dared not even approach, or ever thought to approach. Maybe? Really? Maybe? I cried that word over and over and over. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe flowed over me like the cascading water. Like that oil flowing over Aaron's beard. Then maybe became probably, and probably became Yes. And Yes became Grace. Oh, wondrous Grace. A rite of passage into Grace through maybe.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sustentations after Sixty

A list of "Firsts after Fifty" came to be as a celebration of seeing my fiftieth birthday. That day could have been one of despair over aging out of a generation of vigor and contribution and into a phase of possible disregard and decline. But, I chose to fully celebrate being in my fifties, knowing that many people never get to experience that phase of life, and knowing that it was no small thing that I had survived to see it.

That list served me well as a reminder of newness of experience even as I aged. I drove a stick shift in Spain, went white water rafting, built a house, lived as a vagabond on the kindness of friends and family, became a grandmother, started a non-profit ... all sorts of things.

Then, the Big 60 approached. Of course, "Firsts after Fifty" includes firsts after sixty, but I felt I needed an appropriate identifier for special markings of this new decade of life. Especially since the last couple of years of my fifties had left me feeling like I was orbiting on the outer edges of validation and visibility in the world. My goal became seeking out places to be and work and live and serve that valued my age and experience. I defined this as following a call to where I could give and receive the best of life. Following a call elsewhere, however, meant exiting familiar and comfortable settings, but ones where my gifts and wisdom were not seen, and where I felt I was seen as an aging woman with little to offer.

Though there was a degree of terror involved in letting go of the familiar, doing so allowed me to be free to seek out new experiences. I've been granted the opportunity to develop the life that taps into what I feel are my best gifts and offerings to the world.

In return, I'm finding I am receiving gifts that nurture and sustain me in the ways I most need. I've led my first "Beyond Just Tryin' to Live" retreat at my family's mountain cabin, and have a flurry of ideas for future retreats. I've spoken French in France for the first real time in my life, leading the way where English failed for me and my travel companions, and been complimented, by French speakers, on my accent. Even my quirky mouth was complimented as being quite suited to the language. I'm finishing up a devotional book that's been 12 years in the making, and a realization has come to me that I am being sustained and expanded in new ways that go deep within my soul. I name this "Sustentations after Sixty."

Sustentation is a word I'd not known until my sister helped me find it in a synonym search of any number of words related to affirmation. Sustentation means "maintenance in being or activity; the sustaining of life; provision with means or funds for upkeep; and, means of sustaining life, sustenance." All these seem quite fitting for what I find I'm receiving in this new path I'm taking as I receive sustentation from friends, family, strangers, husband, and from God. I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Spell Check is a Man

The frustration I feel with spell check/autocorrect has recently been exacerbated when it occurred to me that this function is surely the product of a male mind. Oh, the horror I've experienced when discovering my innocuous little text has become something lurid and suggestive without my permission! Bread becomes breast. Time becomes tongue. Texting becomes some a fight with some sort of cyber Rorschach Inkblot Test. I promise you, my swipes are not intended to convey subliminal Freudian slips, or veiled subconscious desires.

There were times that I have chuckled with the presumptive corrections. When my children were in the throes of the intensity of their high school experience, a text about their high school, Grissom, became gruesome.  There have been times that one substituted word certainly sufficed or even over-excelled in conveying a message. But, for the most part it's an aggravation or an embarrassment of the most supreme sense.

Lightweight is overridden for Lamborghini. And - abs. Organized - orgasm, or orgy (take your pick). 

And sometimes autocorrect doesn't "listen" to me and make the correction I request! Such a man ...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dance of Life

They stood facing each other, holding hands. The lights were dim, the room was quiet. A few people milled in and out, quietly checking in and taking care of tasks. But the couple didn't notice the comings and goings, aware only of each other and what was before them. I sat in the corner of the room, waiting for the moments I could offer help or encouragement, and, as I watched them, their pose reminded me of what I had seen as I watched them speak their wedding vows to one another. And still, looking at them four years later, I saw commitment. And love. They rocked gently back and forth, the movement became almost a dance, swaying slowly and reminiscent of their wedding celebration.

But, at the expected time, the gentleness ended. The contractions began again. Her knees buckled. Her head dropped onto his chest. She moaned and cried. He stood steady, giving her assurance and presence.

The labor seemed interminable and was relentless for 72 hours. She never wavered. I have no more respect for anyone than I have for her. And him. He didn't leave her side.

The interminable seemed suddenly soon. Push. Push. Push. Their child arrived. A son. A tiny new life in this great big world. He has parents who will nurture and care. Oh, that all children would know that. Blessed be this child. Blessed be mother and father. Blessed be the God of all creation. Blessed be love. Blessed be life.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Racism in the South ... and the North, and the East, and the West

The southwest United States was before me. That wondrous open sky, stark and blue and beautiful provided a backdrop for snow capped mountain peaks. The cracked windshield of the borrowed ranch Jeep I was driving added to the authenticity of my experience. Even though just a visitor in this part of the country, I could understand the draw and desire to claim a part of this land. There is something Divine here, something that draws the soul to the mightiness of creation here in the mountains and deserts.

At the high, dry altitude, it felt good to be free of some of the heat and humidity of my home in the south, that area defined by the Mason Dixon Line, where one of my young daughters had once exclaimed upon stepping out our front door, "It's soggy out here!" I found myself thinking on further distinctions between southeast and southwest United States and it wasn't lost on me that many people flee, oppose, disdain, and caricature the southeast with one big word ... and it's not "humidity." The word would be "racism."

Just minutes after that thought, I entered the National Park Service Bent's Old Fort just east of Pueblo, Colorado in La Junta, and my whole concept of racism and the south changed. The fort is along the Arkansas River, which you may or may not know was formerly the border between the United States and Mexico. Today, the Fort stands well reconstructed. Peacocks and chickens roam the grounds, donkeys make their way back up from the river to check out who's come to visit. It's a bucolic representation of what was at times a bucolic place in history. A merriest of trading posts and forts on the Santa Fe Trail, it had a bit of European attention to formality and beauty.

And then ...

As so often happens in histories of forts and castles and ships  -  and industries and cities and nations and schools - came the moment in the video of the introduction of dominance, injustice, and wars against the native people, all leading to containment and elimination imposed on the natives by the incoming.

So, yes, the south has struggled with racism and hatred and injustice. But, so has the southwest. Randomly, I thought on the kindhearted mid-west United States, and I remembered some of what I've read of the oppression of the immigrants to Chicago and other urban areas in the beginning stages of industrialization and meat processing in the US. And the Northwest United States, the fresh and glorious Northwest? What comes to mind as I'm still at Bent's Old Fort is the Chinese labor brought in to work the gold mines and build the railroads in the 1800's. Cheap labor. Generally no opportunity for advancement, and generally no hope of return to China. Riots. Discrimination. As if grasping for hope against hope, my thoughts turned to the Northeast United States, surely free of prejudice and oppression. But, sadly, no. From the very foundations of the United States of America there has been dominance of one people over another.

It may be accurate to say that no region of the United States is without a serious, complexion changing blemish with regards to human relations. It may be accurate that no part of the world or of world history is free of those blemishes and outrageous acts against humanity, whether that humanity be the same or different.

But, neither is any region or era of history completely that. Always there are people who not only act against the injustices, but live completely free from any desire for oppression or dominance. It's true. Today in the south, and the north, and the east, and the west there are people of all races and religions living, laughing, loving, and working together with no thought of the race or religion of the other. In the south there are white women and children sitting in a restaurant with a corner full of Middle Eastern men, speaking loudly their Arabic language and robustly cheering a soccer game. I know. I was there. In Alabama.

And such it is that much of what I can claim I know comes from "being there," traveling and meeting people and hearing their stories, watching their passions. It also comes from reading books and accounts of history, and visiting museums. The startling weapon room at Alcazar in Segovia Spain, and the Naval Museum in Halifax come to mind immediately, as do the National Parks of the United States, and the Smithsonian Museum of American History. All have helped tell tales that are inspiring as well as disturbing. A visit to the National Museum of Prisoners of War in Andersonville GA fuels my passion that we have to take the best from the worst, learn from it, and try our darndest to repeat the best. We must.

The honest truth is that I live in the south. I have a love hate relationship with the warmth and humidity. With the struggle for edifying human relations. But, I also have a love for all the people who call this same place home. Many have that same love. Please be a part of that small many with me. Wherever it is you call home.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Photographic Autobiographies

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good tale as much as most people, a well spun story or fantastical adventure, or a thriller with just enough thrill to kind of tingle the back of my neck. But when having to choose just one genre of literature, I invariably choose biographies. Or autobiographies. I've often said that there are so many inspiring, death defying, injustice challenging, riveting life stories out there that I find myself less and less intrigued by fiction. I'd rather spend my time walking along side someone in their real life experiences. I want to gobble up all the fortitude I can muster from someone who's gone down a path that causes me to re-evaluate what I consider to be so darned important or challenging in my own life.

Biographies that influence me are often stories like Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt), from whom I recognized I'd rather be the oppressed than the oppressor, and Christy (Catherine Marshall) that stretch of a biography that draws upon the experience of the author's mother as a teenaged "Christy" who traveled into the dark recesses of Appalachia to learn from a young student that we ain't got no right to not like anybody that God Himself has created. Or, Nelson Madela's Long Walk to Freedom which requires no further explanation.

In a similar way, I see photographs. Sure, I like posed studio photos that capture the best of everybody in the shot, but they've started feeling a bit contrived to me, all a bit the same except for the subjects, and maybe a bit fictitious. Those photos are controlled, staged, one step out of real life drama and experience. According to me.

These days, many people have the means to provide the world with impromptu visual offerings of their life and experiences. I like seeing photographs of families, individuals, groups, friends, or strangers all caught spontaneously in a moment that matters. These moments tell a story of being somewhere, living and breathing and seeing and smelling and hearing and laughing or crying ... not thinking about the pose, not creating a fictional setting.

And now, added to the mix, we've got the infamous "selfie." As I gazed upon a particular selfie recently, it occurred to me that selfies get a bad rap. This person was sharing with me a part of a real life experience. I was getting to journey along with them just as I would in an autobiography. This selfie happened mostly because this happened to be a solitary "journier," a sole person with no one else to capture them in that moment that mattered. Artists have long provided much appreciated self portraits, interpretations of themselves. Now we are merely offering and receiving digital self portraits.

Henceforth, therefore, I shall appreciate the selfie, photo bombers and all. I shall remember what value there is in the moment shared, whether it be one person or a group who doesn't want to have to leave anyone out of the picture. Just as I might choose not to read certain autobiographies, I might choose not to enjoy certain selfies, and still, I am pleased that my new awareness is that Selfies = Photographic Autobiographies.