TIME FOR LETTING GO: PART ONE

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TIME FOR LETTING GO:  PART ONE

It’s peak season for maternal nostalgia.

It’s back to school time.  And I’m not talking about the partially-feigned sadness moms like me exhibit for the first fourteen or so of their children’s back-to-school years.

I admit it was mostly relief when the magic school bus showed up in our driveway like clockwork at 7:50-ish Monday through Friday.  God bless that bus, and the Superwomen drivers who commandeered it, safely shuttling my children back and forth for years.

I’m talking about when the children drive themselves away—to faraway lands where universities lie, not six miles down the road where the preschool-through-high school, all-under-the-same-big-roof school where our two younger boys spent their at-home school years.  My husband’s firstborn son lives just 100 miles down another road with his delightful wife, two-year old daughter and soon-to-be-born son.

This faraway land for Jude, my first-born son happens to be all of 70 miles away from our home.  Still, it is worlds away from where we once inhabited the same home, slept under the same roof each night and had dinner at the same table every evening.

**

We had our last first day of school this week.  Wasn’t it just last year, or perhaps the year before, when this was the scene outside our front door?

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Joel, my second-born son drove himself those six miles today, just as he did last year.  The magic school bus hasn’t been in our driveway for several years now.  If he chooses a post-secondary institution in a faraway land next year, the wound will re-open.

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I will survive.  Again.  After all, this is what we groom our children for during the first 18 years.  They are welcome to live in my basement, but I’d really rather they don’t, at least not forever.  The time comes when our goal of making them independent is met, so we should be happy, right?

 

**

When I was pregnant the first time, I recall secretly worshipping any woman who had already endured childbirth.  For surviving this rite of passage, she was a goddess in my mind.  Knowing full well I would have to endure the pain, I still somehow denied the inevitable.  How did she do it?  How could any woman do it? How will I do it?  There’s no way I can do it. Then I did it.  I had no choice.

Then, as I prepared to send that baby off to college, I secretly worshipped any woman who had already endured this separation.  For surviving this rite of passage, she was a goddess in my mind. Again, denying the inevitable, I asked the same questions:   How did she do it?  How could any mother do it?  There’s no way I can do it.  Then I did it.  I had no choice.

Four days ago, he left again.  This makes the third year.  It was easier, but the day was blue.  He we go again.  There he went again.

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Joel followed him those 70 miles down the road with the big stuff in his little truck.

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They made it to the university, and Joel made it back.

I don’t recall giving a flip about how my parents felt when I left for college.  Granted, I was the fifth of seven children, so it was likely old hat for them.  It meant one less hungry mouth in the house, but still, I know they missed each of us.  Perhaps a little less acutely each time, but each of us had our own niche that we filled, and then vacated in our family of nine.

**

As I write, Gail is going through it again.  Wyatt, her third child, is moving into the dorm at the same university with my son.  She has two older daughters from her first marriage who are 33 and 31, and her two younger children are 18 and 17.  This is her first son, and her husband’s first experience with a child moving away.

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Her last child will be a senior next year, and, like me, she will have the empty nest the year after that.

**

Suzanne, the youngest sister, the expert on so many things Gail and I have never experienced, has lived in an empty nest for three years now.  Her only child, Julia, happens to be at the same university.

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There was no official departure picture, as she has lived there all summer.  We only staged this to match the others.

The cousins, as I write, are together at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.  Another cousin—my brother’s oldest child—is there too.  Another cousin graduated from there last year, and Gail’s oldest daughter graduated from there as well 11 years ago.

**

Six hundred is a conservative estimate for Gail’s CD collection.  Ever since they came into production, she has been collecting them.  Her tastes are mostly in country and rock, peppered with a little bit of everything else.

I recall perusing her behemoth collection 25-plus years ago when we lived in the same town.  She had the coolest bands, artists and soundtracks.  One artist jumped out at me because of his name:  Jude Cole.  That name sounded ultra-cool to me, and I tucked it away.  “That would be a great name for a boy someday,” I thought.  But that was pre-husband, pre-“he could be the one” days.  Still, I didn’t forget the name.

Seven years later, I had a baby boy, and we named him Jude.  My husband had a favorite teacher by that name, and he liked the name, too.

I have one of Jude Cole’s songs on my iPod.  Just at the right moment during my run the day before Jude left, it played:  “It’s time for letting go.”

Again. So we did.  All three of us.

**

A dear friend—as I write—is moving her first child into his dorm room further down the road for his first year.  I know it has weighed heavy on her for months; I know because I remember those months of carrying around that anvil of heaviness, dreading the departure day in months, weeks, and then just days away when it’s time for letting go the first year.  I told her there is nothing I can say or do that will prepare her for this.  No wise words, no gestures, nothing that will deaden the pain; lift the weight.  The rite of passage must be passed through.  Through, not around, not under or over, but through. 

Another dear friend whose mother has been ill for months made the decision with her siblings to place their mother in hospice care.  They, too, know it’s time for letting go.  I told her the same thing just yesterday:  my heart breaks for you, but nothing I can say or do will prepare her for losing her mother.  She, too, must pass through this.  She lost her dad when she was 17, so she knows the pain already. Still, there are no magic words.  She understands.  She knows her dad is with her, and her mother will be, too.

**

I survived childbirth twice.  I survived losing my parents.  I survived my firstborn leaving for college—again.  So have so many other women.  So many others will continue to survive all three rites of passage.  And their dads will survive the departure too.

If you are struggling in the process of going through any of these, or perhaps facing the pain in the near future, we are with you.  The girls of The Sister Lode have made it through, just like thousands—millions—of other women.  You will too.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZANNE–BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZANNE—BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

She doesn’t remember, but I remember clearly that Suzanne said: “I wish for my birthday that everyone would bring me toilet tissue.”

It was perhaps six years ago on Easter Sunday.  She hosted dinner for our siblings and all the offspring, so there were likely twenty-plus people in her home.  She stepped into the  bathroom off the kitchen to change the toilet paper—again—and I heard her say it.

The ding-ding-ding of the great idea bell sounded in my head, and the light bulb lit up too.  “We can make that happen,” I thought to myself, but didn’t say a word to her.

That was Easter Sunday in the spring, and Suzanne’s birthday is August 16th, a few days from today.  She claims it as her day before she had to share it with Madonna when she became famous, and she had seven years of that day to herself before Elvis died on the same day.

I mentioned the idea to Gail, and she too, thought it was brilliant.  We let it rest for several months.  Then, in perhaps mid-July, we started making plans to make her wish come true.

Be careful what you wish for.

Gail sent out mass emails, and if we were even on Facebook then, we probably posted it unbeknownst to her; I don’t remember.  We spread it by word-of-mouth, with the admonition that A: it was to be kept secret from her, and B: there must be a card or note attached that read be careful what you wish for.

She was still living in the small town where our parents lived; she moved to my small city only six months ago.  She worked in one of the two banks there, and she knew everyone in town.  Gail had lived there as well some years prior, but, being Gail, she still knew everyone.  She got the word spread around town, and we sat back and waited.

It was a success.  Fortunately, her boss had a sense of humor, as multiple rolls of toilet tissue were carried in the door that day by customers and non-customers alike.

Multiple, soft packages were showing up addressed to her in the post office, and the postmistress was a bit confounded, but fully appreciated the humor when she found out the story.

There was personalized toilet tissue, toilet tissue with pictures, toilet tissue with jokes, as well as the standard garden-variety toilet tissue.

Still, she didn’t remember making that wish.

Be careful what you wish for.

At the end of the day, she ended up with over 300 rolls of toilet tissue.  She loved it.  Who wouldn’t love 300-plus rolls of toilet tissue, especially if you had storage space, which she did.

**

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZANNE—Love, Cancer.

Several years later on her birthday, it wasn’t so funny.

The generation before mine remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  My generation remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the devastating new on September 11th, 2001.

I remember where I was and what I was doing on August 16th, 2012 when Suzanne called to tell me it was cancer.  I was pulling into the driveway of a rural home health patient.  There was no way the strong, healthy and invincible Suzanne could have cancer.  I tried to collect myself and go in.  I was visibly shaken, but the kind gentleman and his family knew something was wrong.  They listened while I explained to them, and then I managed to get on with my business.

Suzanne tells me it was all business for her from that point.  She blocked out the ugly word and plowed forward with the doctor outlining the treatment plan with her husband beside her for support.  She continues to plow through the aftermath.

Suzanne is one of the strongest women I know.  As noted in Lessons From My Sister (July 30th), she passed the five year mark, and aside from the scar, there is no visible trace.

Suzanne, and all of us, wished for healing, and she got it.

**

I had the entire day yesterday to spend cleaning, sorting and purging useless stuff out of my house.  It had been too long.  Again, from the July 30th post, recall that Suzanne has inspired me to get rid of the useless stuff.   As I nodded off the night before, I sent up a little prayer, asking for bountiful energy to complete the herculean task of letting go.

Be careful what you wish for.

I woke with boundless energy, and tackled the house, but I wanted to work in every room at the same time.  I wanted to spin like a whirling dervish, getting all the work done in minutes instead of hours, so that I could move on to the basement, the garage, my car, the laundry, etc.  I found my attention splintered, so much that I had to sit for a bit and collect myself.  One task at a time.

I thought about this post I was writing, and wished I had more pictures of Suzanne in her younger years.  I had looked through a box of old pictures Friday evening, and found only one that was marginally suitable.

I did move on to the shelves in the garage, and there was a shoebox there that Suzanne had given me several months ago when she moved, but I had not addressed it since then.  I couldn’t even remember what was in it.  I took it down and took a peek inside.

Be careful what you wish for.

Inside was the mother lode.  It was a box full of pictures that Suzanne had taken from Mom and Dad’s home, and didn’t know what to do with it.  She entrusted it to me to share with the rest of our siblings.

I had to put the brakes on my sorting/cleaning/purging efforts, which were now in high gear.  I had to sit for awhile and take a trip back.  These pictures were gold.  Mom was so good about labeling pictures, and these two are the perfect additions to this post:

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Happy Birthday Suzanne, 42 and 41 years later.

**

Name this tune, again it is from the same artist in the July 30th post:

“You get what you want, but it’s not what you need.”

In my several-hundred song iPod, I heard this one Friday morning as I ran.  It is the same message; the same reason the age-old adage has stayed around.

A wise woman once told me that instead of wishing for a specific outcome, we should pinpoint the exact feelings we are seeking to find in that outcome.

I am a runner with no desire to complete a marathon, but I know many runners do.  A runner friend of mine held on to that goal for years, but finally admitted with a sense of defeat that he knew, for health reasons, that it would not be possible.   His friends in his running circle had all completed one, and he felt utter disappointment in himself for not reaching this goal.

I asked him if he would have had that same goal if his friends had not met his goal.  He thought for a minute, then looked at me for a moment without speaking.  After a bit, he said, in an introspective tone of voice:

“I never thought about it that way.  I guess I was holding myself up in comparison to them. If it were only me, I don’t think I would have cared so much.”

Getting to the heart of the matter; the real meat of the goal should be our first step.  If it is not the best thing for us in terms of positive growth, perhaps you should re-examine it.   Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

Life is too short to waste time on something we don’t really want.

**

Don’t get me wrong, goals are good things.  Wishes are good things.  I am simply suggesting you step back and look at it as an outsider.  If it is indeed what you want, then proceed full steam ahead, and Godspeed to you.  Make your wish and say your prayers, appeal to the universe or whatever force you seek to enlist.

Your wish for a bigger bank account or a smaller stomach, or whatever it is should be accompanied by your best efforts.  I believe God/The Universe/The Force treats anyone with a wish much like we should treat our children with their homework.  We should expect them to give their all in their homework efforts, and then we can help them if they still need it.

We need to do our homework too.  We need to make the wish and do the work.  We need to put our backbone where our wishbone is.

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May God/The Universe/The Force be with you.

**

Recall from last week’s post that fair only comes once year, so we seized the opportunity last night to savor it in our small city, complete with a demolition derby.

 

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On Wednesday, August 16th, I wish for my dear sister Suzanne to have the best birthday yet.  I may even throw in a package of toilet paper with her gift.

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Suzanne and me, circa 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY SISTER’S DAY

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HAPPY SISTER’S DAY

Typically, I don’t bat an eye at any specially designated day that is invented by someone trying to separate me—or anyone else—from time or money.

National Sister’s Day, however, is one I have decided to pay homage to.  However, Gail and Suzanne, you won’t get any gifts from me, not even a card.  You will get something better.

Let me first extend my heartfelt, genuine sympathy to any reader who is mourning the loss of their sister, and who may feel compounded grief from the observation of this day—without their sister.

It must be what I feel on and around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.   I wish those two days were wiped off the calendar.

They should be.  In my egocentric, the-world-should-revolve-around-me mind, nobody should be able to celebrate them if I can’t celebrate them.  When I am ambushed by the Mother’s Day Card display, or the ads for Father’s Day gifts, I roll my eyes and give a strong, glottal teenage-girl “uh.”

Not fair.

But fair, as we all know, comes only once a year, and it may have already left your town.

**

Today, as I write this, those who choose to are observing National Sister’s Day.  According to several online sources, its beginnings are traced back to 2011, when the first Sunday of August was designated as Sister’s Day.   I was not able to find any concise report on how it started, or who started it.

Nevertheless, social media—and other forms as well—are promoting it as a day to be observed.  So for worse or better–as it has become in our country–if social media reports it, then it is noticed.

I, for one, am observing it.  I have two great reasons to do so.

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The sun smiles down on Gail and me, and the moon is smiling upon Suzanne and me.

**

I will not see either of my sisters today, but I will call them to let them know how glad I am they are my sisters.

* I will tell them how much fun I have with them when we travel, or when we get together for any reason.

* I will tell them I couldn’t have hand-picked two finer sisters if it were up to me to choose.

*I will tell them I cherish all the memories we made as children, and especially as adults.

*I will tell them how much I appreciate that they accept me for who I am; faults, foibles, foolishness and all.

*I will tell them that I couldn’t have survived the loss of our parents without them.

*I will tell them that I love them.

They likely know all this already, but I need to tell them again.

**

My mother had three sisters, and no brothers.  She had a unique relationship with each of them because of a series of events in her young life.   Her older sister, Jeanne, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma—cancer in both retinas—at 18 months of age.   This was in the mid 1930’s.  Her eyes were removed, and she was not expected to live a long and full life, yet she did.

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She went The Kansas School For The Blind in Kansas City, so she was gone most of the time.   Their mother passed away when our mother was eight, which would have made Jeanne about 11.  Their father remarried a wonderful woman named Madeline when Mom was a teenager, who became the only grandmother we ever knew because our dad was an only child, and his mother died when he was eight as well.

In the last few years, I found out just how excited Mom was to have a new mother.   She wrote in a journal as an adult, reflecting back on her excitement about her dad’s new wife.  She was so impatient at the prospect of getting another brother or sister, and she started a rumor that she was indeed getting one.  That fact had yet to be established, but Mom yearned for a sister.

She got two more.  Reitha arrived when she was 17, and Sharon came two years later.

They became our cool, younger aunts, only 10 and 12 years older than me.  They would often make the 3-hour trip to our farm from Wichita.  Jeanne sometimes came along, sometimes she rode the bus part of the way, and we would pick her up.

Jeanne, against medical predictions, went on to marry, have two sons, become a medical transcriptionist at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Wichita, maintain an active social life and play the organ like nobody’s business.  She passed away at the age of 71.  Her husband continues to live alone in Wichita.  He is blind too, but lives independently with a little help.

Reitha and Sharon would first bring their boyfriends to the farm, then husbands, and finally husbands and children.

In my mind, as a child, my mother’s singular role was that of a mother to the seven of us; it has occurred to me only as an adult that she, too, treasured sisterhood.

Mom remained close to Jeanne until she died.  Reitha, Sharon and Mom were as close as they could be with three hours between them, and they worked together to take care of their mother until she passed six days before Mom and Dad.

We have honored that bond Mom had with her sisters; they are pictured below with one of our brothers several years ago at my home for an Independence Day celebration.  (My 2nd favorite holiday, if you recall.)  Left-right:  Reitha, David, Sharon.

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I realize I am a fortunate woman to have a close relationship with both of my sisters, and for them to be close to each other as well.

I realize this may be more of an exception than a rule for many sisters.  I know several sisters who, at best, despise each other.

I realize many of you have a sister or sisters whom you are not close to.  Perhaps you simply don’t keep in touch.  Perhaps you don’t get along well.  Or, worst of all, perhaps you are at odds, and choose to remain estranged.

In keeping with my mother’s last wish, I feel I have a job to do.  On this day created to observe the joys of sisterhood, I feel that perhaps, I need to try to be that Instrument of Peace that she so kindly asked me to be (see Peace, Sister posted on 7/16/17).

Perhaps you have no desire to ever speak to your sister again.  Perhaps you feel she wronged you past the point of reconciliation.  Perhaps you wronged her, and you simply don’t know where to start.

Or, perhaps you have no idea what came between you and her, and has kept you apart.  Perhaps she has no idea either.  Perhaps you are both waiting for the other to start the peace process.

Worst of all, perhaps you hold a grudge, and have no desire to let it go.  As ugly as a grudge can be, it may have become a part of you, and letting go in order to work toward peace would be, well, work.  It may be easier to just hang on to it, as wicked as it may be.

But here’s the thing about grudges.  They are toxic.  Grudges grant precious real estate in your brain to someone else, rent free.  They hurt you more than the person they are against.  It is as if you are drinking the poison, and expecting them to be poisoned.   Further, they may not even have any idea why you are carrying a grudge against them.

Worse yet for you, they may not care.  Perhaps they did at one point, but gave up hope.  Remember from several of my previous posts that giving up hope when it involves changing another person is a good thing.

In the event that you are thinking, I should reach out to her, but I don’t know what to say, you are in luck.

Because my profession as a speech-language pathologist involves helping someone who is struggling to find words to do just that, I am going to give you a free session, no strings attached.

Because I am a wordsmith with the written word, I am offering below a bounty of words, phrases and sentences to say to your sister, just in case, like my patients, your words are hard to find:

*Can we talk?

*I’m sorry.

*I have forgiven you.

*I was wrong.

*There are two sides to every story.  I will listen to yours if you listen to mine. 

*I think we are looking at this in two very different ways.

*I know we may never be as close as we once were, but I think we can make this better.

*I know I have changed, and that may be hard for you.

*I don’t want us to end our sister relationship because of this.

*I don’t want to feel like this forever. 

*We don’t have to try to be friends, but we need to try to get rid of these bad feelings between us. 

*Let’s agree to disagree.

**

If you need to make peace with your sister, please think about doing it today, or as soon as possible.  Help me honor my mother’s wish by allowing me to be an Instrument of Peace, or at least a catalyst.   Just pick up the 500-lb. phone already, and call her.  Or email her.   Text her.  Send her a snail mail card or letter.   Send her this post.

And if the shoe fits, remember the lyric from that great 70’s song I referred to a few posts ago:  There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.

My wish for you is that you have a sister or sisters to share the love with today.  Just be sure to let her/them know.

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Gail, Suzanne, me; circa (about) 1974.

 

This post is dedicated to Reitha, Sharon, Marilyn, Tracy, Denise, Gwenna, Sue and Tisha, and anyone else whose sister is smiling down from Above.

 

 

 

Lessons From My Sister–And The Sea Creatures

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LESSONS FROM MY SISTER—AND THE SEA CREATURES

I sat sweltering and sweating, but savoring the sun and steam at the beach with Suzanne and her daughter, Julia.  The waves rolled in, crashed, ebbed and flowed, high-tided and low-tided, drug in seaweed, reflected the sun and the moon and then did it all over again.   All the while, the sea creatures did their thing too.  And then did it all over again.

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We made it to the beach again—safely.  Just as Suzanne said we would.   Our plane didn’t crash—just as she said it wouldn’t.  I need to listen to my little sister more.    I need to look up to her more.

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There were three kind strangers behind me in the airport who picked up my things as they fell out of my bag and caught up to me to give them back.

These should have been my first three clues.

My carry-on bag was obviously overstuffed, and losing its contents.  I struggled to carry it in my arms as I wheeled my suitcase along, so I tried to strap it to the handle of my wheeled bag.

Suzanne glided along smoothly, with her light load, consisting of a (smaller) wheeled suitcase, and a small, over-the-shoulder carry-on.  Julia had an equally small wheeled bag, and a small backpack on her back.

I had seven books packed in there.  I had snacks.  I had my jewelry holder.  I had water, which, of course, had to be drank before security.  I had my Kindle.  I had other stuff.  Too much stuff—obviously.

**

Jettison:  to throw or drop something from an aircraft or ship; to throw away as no longer useful.

I am a self-proclaimed word nerd; I wear the badge proudly.  This particular word was the word-of-the-day not long ago on my calendar, and it quickly came to mind.  As I walked through the airport with this ridiculous load in tow, this word wouldn’t leave my mind.

I watched my little sister advancing easily along toward our gate.  Her 21 year-old daughter did the same.  I, however, struggled.  I, however, signed up for this.  I didn’t expect their help.  I did expect Suzanne to tell me I didn’t need all this stuff.  She did, and she was right.

Unlike Gail and me, Suzanne is a minimalist.  Gail and I strive to be more like her, but so far, it’s not working.

When Suzanne moved to my small city about six months ago, she jettisoned many of her possessions.  She sold or gave away much of what she owned, and started over—minimally.  Gail and I have been collecting stuff, and living in our homes 20 and 21 years respectively.  We want to be like Suzanne when we grow up.

Perhaps it is her minimal nature.  Perhaps it is her experience with cancer that made her realize she doesn’t need stuff. Perhaps it is both.

Perhaps she feels at one with the sea because the sea offers that same lesson to anyone willing to listen.  All one really needs on the sea is a minimal amount of clothing.  The creatures of the sea also offer that same lesson.   They may or may not carry a shell on their back, and sometimes they shed that.

…but the sea does not change.”  These lyrics were the first to come through my earbuds after I turned on my iPod (name that 80’s tune, if you can) as I started my morning run on the third of our four mornings there.

I don’t believe in “coincidences,” so I will take it as something meaningful.

I should have left the iPod in the room and listened to the crashing waves, because I can listen to music any other day.  These precious few days here are the only ones I can tune in to the ocean.  Ocean music trumps 80’s music—or any music for that matter, but, like so many other habits, I rely upon my daily patterns, this one with music to get me running.

Another habit I engage in during my daily run at home is the mental lamentation of my left knee pain.  I know the point as I take off down the driveway when it starts, I know the downhills hurt more and the uphills hurt less, and I focus on the exact spot inside my knee where the pain resides.

Except today.  I wasn’t in that daily groove like I am at home, so I didn’t think about it.  And there were no hills on the beach.

And it didn’t hurt nearly as much.

The sea does not change, but I did.

I know the power of the brain.  My day job is in the field of brain rehabilitation.  I know how habits are formed.  I know how patterns in the brain are made.  And I know they can be changed, starting with conscious awareness of them, followed by simply thinking differently about them, then ultimately acting differently.

I have some nasty habits, some patterns that should have been turned around long ago; some that should never have been started in the first place.

So I started looking around here on the seashore.  There before me was a wealth of learning opportunities, lessons from the sea and its creatures waiting to be learned.  In the spirit of keeping my 51 year-old brain in better shape than my left knee, I am always up for taking in new information, no matter how or where I can find it.

SEA TURTLES:  I didn’t see any sea turtles, but I know at least one had been there, and more would soon proliferate there.   A female Loggerhead Sea Turtle had crawled ashore and buried her eggs in the night, and returned to the sea.  The rule on the beach is that sea turtle nests are not to be disturbed—under penalty of law.   The nests are roped off, monitored, sponsored, studied and revered.

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When the buried eggs hatch, they climb out of the nest and go toward the light.  Hopefully, this light is the moon reflecting on the sea, and they crawl back in.   To minimize the chance that they will go toward artificial light instead of the sea, beachfront property owners are urged to keep their lights down because the baby turtles will not survive long if they go the wrong way.

Following the true light is a survival matter.  So it is with humans too, but we can survive longer than the sea turtles in the darkness if we choose to follow that.  Except that the darkness is the wrong way, and too often we don’t listen to those forces that try to guide us into the right light.

SEAHORSES:  I have long had a fascination with seahorses.  Julia does too.

In my work with the brain—and as a word nerd, I latch on to the cool words that describe its structures and functions.  Hippocampus is one such word.   It is the structure largely responsible for memory.  It is shaped like, and named after the seahorse, as hippocampus is the species name of the seahorse.

The male seahorse takes it upon himself to gestate and give birth.  Having been the star of Act One in the delivery room twice, I have a respect for him that is beyond words.

Both seahorse sexes shake it up a little bit and swim vertically as well horizontally.  I like any person or creature who goes against the grain, and I try to examine the grains of every social fabric before I go with it or against it.  Even if everyone else is doing it, it might not be right for me.

Seahorses aren’t easily found on this beach, and we weren’t lucky enough to find one. Julia, however, did find one on a trip to Mexico with her mother four years ago, and she has been fascinated ever since.   To commemorate this creature and this trip, I found this necklace in a cool little shop called Landing Company.

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In celebration of Suzanne’s five-year cancer survival, she deserved her own special piece of jewelry.  With the capable, kind and personalized attention from the amazing jewelry lady Dawn, we were able to find the perfect necklace in Landing Company, something Suzanne truly wanted—and she doesn’t want for much.  It was a beautiful silver image of her favorite sea creature:

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THE MERMAID:  Don’t bother telling Suzanne they are not real, because she has chosen to believe they are.  She has a new-found fascination with this mythical (real?) creature, and to show her just how happy I am to still have her with us, I put it on my tab with the seahorse necklace.

The mermaid is noted to have powers of telepathy and immortality.  Suzanne has always had an intuition that I cannot explain.  Before she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer five years ago, she consulted several doctors.  An ENT and a radiologist pronounced her without cancer, but nevertheless, she persisted.  She knew something wasn’t right, and she moved on to a doctor who found the problem, and began treatment.  Now, five years after she visibly exercised her power of telepathy, her powers of immortality have commenced.

May these powers live long, and may she continue to inspire all of us with her powers that, like the mermaid for her, are very real.

 

CRABS:  One of our favorite restaurants in this beach town is Crabby Bill’s.  Seafood is a local specialty—of course—and this spot is our favorite. I am not a crab eater, but there is a lesson to be learned from crabs.

In a bucket of crabs being harvested, if one tries to crawl out, the others will pull it back down.  No wonder they are called crabs.

Don’t hang out with crabs.   They will try to drag you down to their level.

Our host at Crabby Bill’s was Ed.  Our dad’s name was Ed.  He even has the same sweet smile that our dad had.

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We also found an old friend there from last year.  Gregg was the host we mentioned in my first blog post, and of course, he remembered us.  Gail was the one who hugged him upon his introduction last year, but he remembered us too.

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Now, because I don’t want any of you to suffer the fate that the next creature can deliver, I must bring you down for a moment.  I promise I will bring you back up.

SEAGULLS:  Recognize them for the beautiful creatures of God and Nature that they are, but beyond that, be careful.  They are takers.  They may charm and woo you with their natural beauty, but don’t be fooled:  They are there to take.  And when you give them—even a little, they will stay for more, because they already know your weakness.  They know they can get something for nothing from you, so don’t even give a little.

Leave them to their own devices and vices, because they are not going to change.  Give up hope, as I mentioned in my last post.  Give up hope on changing a creature who only knows how to take.  Bless them and send them on their way.

Shoo.

**

We missed Gail terribly.  She was with us last year in this beach haven, and even though we thoroughly enjoyed Suzanne’s daughter as proxy, there is no one like our sister Gail.  She is the spark plug that ignites our fires inside and outside.

People remembered us.  Even before we checked in to our hotel Friday night, one of our favorite restauranteurs greeted us heartily when we stopped in for a late dinner.

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Gail was not able to join us, as she had recently returned from a trip to Michigan to see one of her older daughters.  Suzanne and I, however, kept her spirit and her memory alive here.

We were able to reach out—without Gail–and make a few new friends.  Fred B. happened to be sweeping his driveway as we walked by his house.  He lives adjacent to our resort, close to the beach walkway.  We were staring, slack-jawed at this perfect little house, perfectly located by the beach.  His house has been in his family since the 1930’s, and he has lived in it since he arrived in the 1940’s.

We are so jealous, but a house like this couldn’t belong to a nicer man.

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Dawn at  Landing Company, and Terri Anne at The Tervis Store are now counted among our friends there, too.

**

The sea does not change, but after spending this trip with Suzanne and her daughter, I am motivated to change.  Suzanne’s spirit of minimalism is admirable and I want to be like her when I grow up.  So I am starting small, but starting nonetheless.  Despite the purchases I made that, perhaps I didn’t really need, I am trying to jettison other possessions at home.   I am trying harder to recognize the patterns of thought in my brain that lead me to repeat the same futile actions over and over yet again.

Next time I’m preparing for a trip, Suzanne has volunteered to pack for me.  She said she will be able to fit it all in a Zip-lock bag.

Like the sea creatures, we shouldn’t need all this stuff.

Like Suzanne, we should all celebrate every day of this life we are granted, because, unlike Suzanne, we are not immortal.

**

This post is dedicated to Suzanne the Survivor, and to Denise who is fighting the fight right now.  Denise, let’s plan a trip to Florida in five years—and maybe even before.

 

 

 

 

 

PEACE, SISTER

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This post was written in January, as I was preparing to launch my blog.   (Clearly, it took me a bit longer than that.)  There will be no post next Sunday night, as one of my sisters and I are taking the trip we postponed as described below.  Of course, there will be a post about this trip when I get back—Thanks for visiting my blog!

PEACE, SISTER

If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never understand how a person can inflict harm, pain, injury and/or death upon any other human being in the name of peace, in the name of war, or in the name of their god.

Another mass shooting occurred in a major airport in our country just a few days ago, a day after I was scheduled to arrive in a nearby major airport—with one of my sisters.  We had already postponed the trip due to an ice storm here, and bad weather there.

In the name of my kind of peace, I am writing about this awful reality.  I didn’t mean to make it so heavy so soon, but it begged to be written, so here it is.  I promised to keep these posts optimistic, so I will bring you back up before the end.

**

Our mother used to ask “Why can’t people just get along?”  Good question, Mom.  Let’s dissect it.

Because we are human.  Because we are flawed.  Because we are inclined to believe we are always right, and the other guy is always wrong.  Because we are in agony inside.  Because we think the other guy needs to make peace.  Because we don’t all define peace in the same way.  Because we can’t see past our own perceptions.  Because we choose to see the darkness instead of the light.  Because hurt people hurt people.   Just because.

What in the world can we do to keep this madness from happening again in this crazy world?  We feel helpless, we feel paralyzed with fear, but that gets us nowhere.

FEAR:  False Evidence Appearing Real.  I found that acronym and its meaning written somewhere in Mom’s handwriting after she was gone.  I had seen it before, apparently it was one of her favorites; she wrote down what she liked.    It’s a good one.  Fear is paralyzing in itself, and it gets us nowhere.  And there is usually no good reason for it.  Like when I am flying.

Mom loved to write.  Not books or poetry or anything long, but she would write quotes, quips, and letters.  None, however, were more memorable than The Letter.

The Letter Mom left was a masterpiece, a directive; a treasure. She kindly asked us, after telling us this would be the last time she would try to tell us what to do, to live lives of peace.  She was specific about her request; she left it in no uncertain terms, no easy ways out; no loopholes.  (I’ve looked hard, there are none.)  She asked us in front of 500 people, leaving it with a note to be read at her funeral.  She asked us to live our lives by the Prayer of Saint Francis, commonly known as the Prayer for Peace.

Saint Francis was clearly a Christian, and while he is most commonly associated with the Catholic Church, he is revered and honored by many Protestant churches as well.  He is known as the patron saint of animals, and many churches observe his feast day of October 4th with a ceremony to bless animals.

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Please know that I respect any religious views, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  A major tenet of all world religions is kindness toward other humans, and this prayer exemplifies that very principle.   I am biased, I know, but I feel the core of this prayer is a universal message that needs to be heard, whether you are a Christian or not, a believer or an atheist.

Saint Francis was a living, breathing, imperfect human being who struggled like we all do, but also in a unique way that most of us likely never will.  He was born into a wealthy family who prospered in the textile trade.  He lived in Assisi, France from 1181-1226 A.D.  He chose to give up his riches, privilege and a life of comfort in order to lead the life that led him to write the following prayer.

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“Make me an instrument of your peace.”  It begins.  Note that it doesn’t ask for peace to be delivered on a platter to the person praying it, it asks for them to be a vessel, a tool, a worker bee.  It goes on to cover every possibility, every eventuality that any human could encounter, any situation whereby one may expected to be this instrument of peace in a situation that needs it.  It actually asks for work to be heaped upon the person praying it.

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”  We were never allowed to use the “H” word in our house, not in reference to a person.  We could hate their actions, but we couldn’t hate them.  She was grooming us for this task even then.

“Where there is injury, pardon.”  Mom loved the sitcom “Happy Days,” we all did.  Especially Fonzie, who could never say he was ‘sorry.’  He would drag the ‘s’ out, starting with “I’m ssss…,” but he could never completely say he was sorry; couldn’t utter that word.  For most of us—myself included, saying “sorry” is hard work.  Harder than that, is forgiving the person who cannot say they are sorry, even when they know they should—like Fonzie.  Hardest of all is forgiving the person who doesn’t even know they wronged you.

As a writer, I keep a prayer journal.  I try to write daily, petitioning for my own needs, as well as for so many hurting people.  In my imperfect efforts, I try—as much as it hurts—to pray for those whom I feel have wronged me.  It is hard, so hard that I can only write their initials.  There are seven sets of initials I write each time.  Not long ago, I looked back over those seven sets of initials, representing seven separate hurts I carry around.  I realized that if all seven could see their initials there, and know why they are there, five of them would likely say “What did I ever do to you?”  Some may even have the gall to say “You hurt me, I didn’t hurt you.”

Most of us, I feel, carry around such hurts, and the person who inflicted the pain on us has no idea, no sense that they did anything wrong.

Did they?  Or did I?  All I know is I need peace inside when I think of them, and I clearly don’t have it.   Dave Mason’s 70’s song comes to mind:  “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy.  There’s only you and me, and we just disagree.” 

Forgiving them, forgiving myself and moving on is the pardon this prayer speaks of.

“Where there is doubt, faith.”  Mom had an undeterred, rock-solid faith in God.  All she had to do for this one was set her example for us to see in her every action, every word, every deed, and every thought, when we were able to read them.  We usually couldn’t.  She remained a mystery in a good way.

Where there is despair, hope.”  None of my siblings remember her saying it, but I do.  One of her best quotes—I think—is this: “Since I gave up hope, I feel so much better.”  In her infinite wisdom, I believe she was speaking of giving up hope only when it involved changing another person.  The kind of hope she wanted us to bring is the kind that shows people that faith in God can chase away the dark clouds that hang over all of us from time to time, sometimes hanging over some people too long for them to dispel them by themselves.

Where there is darkness, light.”  I lived in several basement apartments in college.  Sunlight was a precious commodity in the little windows where it managed to seep in at certain times of the day.  After that, no matter where I lived, I maximized the sunlight through the windows.  I never shut the blinds during the day.  As I write this, I am just now realizing that perhaps my mother’s example in our childhood home set this tone for me. She pulled the curtains only when someone was lying sick in the living room—which became a temporary hospice room–in order to provide them the most comfort.  The curtains, where we had them, were always light colored.   We lived on a farm, so we didn’t have any peeping neighbors to worry about.   She always tried to live in the light.  Again, she was plotting.

“Where there is sadness, joy.”  At the expense of her own potential joy, Mom strived to bring joy to others.  She didn’t care about her own first, instead, she knew that if she brought it to others, then this would bring her the ultimate joy.  I continue to reap what she sowed, I find the seeds of joy she planted in small and large things in so many aspects of my life.  It is now my job to continue to harvest them, and most importantly, replant them for others.

**

“Oh divine master, grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

**

And there you have it.  A perfect prescription for living peace in everything you do, think, feel and say.  A tall order, I might add.  Since she put it in writing, and made sure it was read in front of everyone at their funeral, we really can’t break this contract, even though we didn’t agree to it; didn’t sign it.

Every day, I try to live by these words.  Gail gave all the females in the family a bracelet with this prayer engraved on it, and I wear it nearly every day as a reminder.   Most days I fail, some days I fail miserably.  But I keep trying.  I must give it my best.  If you’re not already doing it, I hope you will take these words and let them seep in, and then let them be the words you try to live by, too.

That was Mom’s wish in The Letter.  If we all follow Mom’s order, then perhaps her question would no longer have to be asked.

Along with The Letter, Mom left each of us a prayer card with this prayer on it.  We learned from her friend that she wrote The Letter about ten years before she died, and likely prepared the envelope with the seven cards in it at that time.   It’s the last gift—and the most meaningful gift she gave me to carry, and to carry on without her.

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The original letter sits in a safe deposit box in a bank vault.  While it was read to 500 people at their funeral, it remains a valuable and personal treasure for the seven of us, her “Magnificent Seven,” as she called us.  Therefore, to honor this privacy, it will not be shared.

Instead, please know that my parents were incredible Instruments of Peace.  To honor that, we chose to have this prayer engraved on the back of their headstone.  Any act of peace—small or great—is a tribute to them, and to all of humanity.  We are all in this together.

It bears mentioning that Dad’s middle name was Francis.  And, our current pope–Pope Francis–chose his name in honor of Saint Francis.

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Peace, sister.  Peace, brother.  Peace, everyone.

 

 

SWHEAT GIRLS PART TWO: NOTHING IS SURE BUT SISTERHOOD–AND THIS BRAND NEW TATTOO

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WELCOME BACK TO THE SISTER LODE!

This week I am honoring not only my sisters, but a special pair of sisters who have been an integral part of my life for many years.  Thanks for joining us!

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Left to right:  Tana, me, Amy

**

I wish I would have rolled that word around in my mouth a little longer back then, like a piece of hard candy.  I wish I would have realized its bitterness before I uttered it, before it had to be swallowed all these years later.  Now, it tastes more sour than sweet.

NEVER.

As in, “I am NEVER going to get a tattoo.”

I don’t know how many people I likely uttered it to in the last, oh, say, 30 years or so.  Probably at least several, because I thought it many, many, many times.

Life has a strange way of turning us into liars, even when we don’t want to lie.  Especially when we so desperately wanted to hang on to the truth as we once knew it.

The truth, however, is that the truth about ourselves changes.  It changes with us as we grow, as we evolve into that better person we are now today, different from the person we were yesterday.

And this is a good thing.  This is a thing to be honored at all costs.

**

Eight hours ago, I waved the big driveway wave as my dear friends drove away.   They were here for six days, and those six days raced by like six hours.  The other half of the group left before sunrise yesterday; we bade adieu before bed two nights ago.   Back to Phoenix they went.

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These two groups consist of two dear sisters and their families.  These two women have been in my life since 1984 when I was a mere 18 years old, and they were 12 and 8.

I was their babysitter. Now, their children are older than they were when I met them.  I wasn’t so much a babysitter as a household manager and a companion.  They lived with their farmer father during the summers, and their mother in Phoenix for the school year.  Their dad was a busy man who covered a lot of ground—farm ground– and he needed help with his daughters during his busy season.

And so it began.

We have pictures from their visits from the last 20-plus years; one such picture shows both me and the older sister pregnant with our now-almost 17 year old sons.   And here’s one from several years after that, with my sons flanking hers:

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Then, in just a few blinks of an eye, here they are again:

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They haven’t missed a year.  Their children, they tell me, start asking weeks ahead:  “How soon until we leave?”

We do essentially nothing.  We drink coffee until noon, work on a puzzle, talk, eat and then swim in our small above-ground pool.  We may enjoy a cold libation or two.   For the 4th of July, however, we become more festive.  We shoot fireworks, go fishing, and the boys hunt bullfrogs— as they are preparing to do above, and cook them for all of us to eat.  We have an annual water balloon fight.  We simply have fun, because, if you remember from my first post, fun is generally under-rated and under-exercised.

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And, of course, we do a puzzle.

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The girls and I love to bake; their mothers don’t.  This year, it was fresh cherry pie with cherries from our backyard tree, raisin cream pie and baklava.

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They enjoy my siblings as well; we stopped to see Suzanne at work.

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Gail passed through on her way to Michigan to see her daughter, taking her younger daughter along.  Those two sisters got to enjoy each other’s company, something they don’t always get to do.

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There are four children and one husband between them.  They are the houseguests extraordinaire.  They don’t stink after a few days, as the saying may suggest.  They are beloved by my husband and boys as well.  They know and love my siblings.  They keep the wheat separated from the chaff.  They make me laugh.  They make me cry.  They made me get another tattoo with them.

**

Tana and Amy have stuck together through thin and thick.  Through their parents’ divorce.  Through the loss of their beloved stepfather.  Through a divorce each. Through infertility, adoptions, the loss of one child’s father, estrangements, life and all it had to throw at them.  Through it all, they kept coming to see me.

Every summer, they join us for the 4th of July.  Every summer, since 1984, we have enjoyed jigsaw puzzles together.  Last summer, I was touched and honored by Tana’s idea:  “Let’s get matching tattoos of a puzzle piece with the American flag.  You have to get a border piece, because you have always held us together.”

And so we did.

This year, to celebrate our wheat farm-girl heritage, we had the same idea separately, from a thousand miles apart:  “Let’s get wheat tattoos.”

And so we did.

A single stem of wheat, with the writing of our choice woven into the stem.  Tana’s simply says “home,” because she will always think of The Wheat State as home.  Amy’s says “ad astra per aspera,” which is the motto on the Kansas state flag.   It’s Latin for “to the stars through difficulties.”  Mine, because I saw this on an antique poster long ago and have always loved it, says “swheat girl.”   Imagine that.  It is in my own handwriting.  My father likely would have rolled his eyes and laughed at this on earth, but I feel him beaming with honor and approval from above.

Each of these are small, meaningful, tastefully and discreetly placed.  That is all you need to know.

Through these difficulties, these “swheat” girls will always have a home in my home as long as they wish to come.   May they continue as long as we are all able.

**

So now I have these tattoos.  I swore I never would.  Never say never.  Greater than that, I am thinking about how I judged—and still judge– others for things besides their tattoos; other actions I have no right to pass judgment on.  Few of us ever have the right to do that.  Few of us ever have all the information.  Few of us can prove a spotless record and the authority that allows us to determine when others are doing something “wrong.”  And the definition of “wrong,” as we think we know it, may change over time, or from situation to situation.   Or our definition may be different from theirs.   I strive to make every day Non-Judgment Day.  It will be a lifelong effort for me, but I am trying.

**

In those early weeks and months after my parents died, I know my actions reflected my state of mind.  Unlike tattoos, however, this grief was hidden deep inside, invisible to anyone who didn’t know what was going on in my life.  I was likely–in alternate and unequal measures–sad, angry, flippant, depressed, crying, laughing, unaware, grouchy, sullen, short-tempered and any other emotion imaginable.  I likely treated people poorly in my efforts to make it through the day—or the moment.  If someone had treated me like that, I likely would have judged them—without having all the facts.

Now, when I encounter a grouchy waitress or an unkind stranger, I think, perhaps, “maybe her parents just died.”

I have a friend who has multiple tattoos.  She wants more.  She swore she never would.  Then, her college-age daughter died of cancer.  She pays tribute to her in this way.  It is one way she honors her daughter’s memory, and that, even though she once thought it was, will never be wrong.  Ever.

This post was hard for me to write.  It was hard to expose this part of myself.  Most of you don’t know me, but if you do, this may surprise you.  I was a wallflower for many years.  Now, I realize, I have become a wildflower.

“I never would have thought Kathleen would get tattooed.”  I hear your thoughts.  I still hear them in my head, too.  But, in order to honor that truth I spoke of in the beginning of this post, I got them.  And I am writing about them.  They are meaningful to me, just as other’s tattoos are meaningful to them.  They are art for the body, and art is a good and necessary thing—no matter what form it takes.

It’s more fun here on the wildflower side.  There was nothing wrong with life as a wallflower, but it was time.  Time to listen to the little voice that begged for expression through writing, my other favorite art forms and through the tattoos.

It is highly unlikely that my sisters will ever decide to take the tattoo plunge, and that’s the right thing for them.  They have supported my decision, and I am grateful for that.

**

No regrets, my friends.  This is as sure as sisterhood—and the tattoos.

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Once again, Happy Independence Day.  Keep it alive every day by separating the wheat from the chaff, and honoring the truth about who you are deep inside–even if it changes.

Special thanks to Brandon, our go-to guy for tattoos. Let me know if you need his expertise.  And, without the one-and-only Edgar Hake, I would have never met these “swheat” girls.

 

SWHEAT GIRLS: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

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SWHEAT GIRLS:  SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF

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No trip is shorter or more meaningful in our family history and heritage than the one Suzanne and I took today.  It is a mere 72 miles from my home; I could drive it with my eyes closed.   Suzanne moved to my small city about six months ago, so we enjoyed the ride together. Gail wasn’t able to meet us there from her home several hours west of the farm.  So we persisted—without her.

Today, we drove to our family farm to partake of the annual wheat harvest.  I have only missed one harvest in my life; even a quick ride in the combine and/or the truck constitutes a visit.

That one harvest I missed was in 1991.  I was spending the year in suburban Philadelphia, fulfilling a one-year contract as a nanny for a couple with a 2-year old girl and a 4 year-old boy.

I was between degrees, and leading a gypsy lifestyle.  No real job, no real money, no real boyfriend, so I set out on an adventure.  (That “no real boyfriend” became a real boyfriend when I got back, and eventually my husband.  The story may or may not be covered in a future post.  Stay tuned.)

Mom, in her trademark thoughtful style, knew I was missing harvest, so she sent me a card with several heads of wheat tucked inside.  The kids and their mother were unimpressed, but the chemist father was intrigued.  He sat on the patio with a head of this wheat, examining, feeling and dissecting it.  After about 20 thoughtful minutes of inspection, he appeared to have a revelation:

“So this is what they mean when they say ‘separate the wheat from the chaff.’”

**

Therein lies the challenge. Keeping the good stuff, and letting the rest go.  And I don’t mean literally, as in what Suzanne is doing in the picture below:

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**

Most of us—myself included—carry around too much chaff.  We hang on to useless, dirty, compostable refuse.  We think we need it—and I’m not talking about material stuff, although that describes me, too.   I’m talking about worries, concerns, stresses, hurts, regrets, sorrows, anger, illusions, fears and despair; you get the idea.  We don’t need any of it, but we cling on like a life raft.  Without them, we fear, we will sink.  We won’t know how to function.  They propel us forward, but only into a life of more misery; more of the same.  We hang on because we have always hung on.  Because it is now a habit.  Because we don’t think we have a choice.  Because we don’t even realize we are hanging on.

**

At the time of our parents’ deaths, our older sister Gail was owner and sole proprietor of a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town.  She toiled long hours with little sleep for many years, churning out donuts and other sinfully delicious pastries.  The glazed donuts were always the best sellers.

I used to get so mad at myself if I made too many glazed donuts, or not enough glazed donuts, because they sell the best and I never knew how many I should make.” 

Life changed for all of us after that day.  We were hanging close and comforting each other in the days and weeks after.  We took the time to open up and talk, trying to find ways to ease the pain.

“Now, I don’t care anymore about the ******* glazed donuts!”  You have to know Gail to understand the full emphasis of the expletive.

The metaphor was obvious.  In our heightened state of awareness, we realized, at that moment, that we still cared about other, equally unimportant glazed donuts.  We had just been given a hard-earned gift, a tool of insight that would allow us to measure any stress against the one we were all surviving.  In this comparison, every stress was as inconsequential as a glazed donut.

“It’s just a glazed donut.  Let it go.”  This became our mission statement.  It still is.

**

Harvest is the climax of the agricultural year.  The wheat that was planted nine months ago is ripe, and ready to determine the financial course of the next year.  Some years, it’s a make-or-break proposition.  It can be wiped out by hail, hammered down by high winds, flooded, frozen, or rendered nearly worthless by the Wheat Gods who determine the price.

Dad used to say that the farmer is the only businessman who doesn’t get to set the price for his product.  Dad was a very wise man.  Mother Nature and Uncle Sam are often ruthless relatives to deal with in one’s farming family.

On purpose, I didn’t marry a farmer.  Neither did my sisters.  One of our four brothers, as well as his two young sons inhabit our now 5th-generation farm.  They, along with help from our youngest brother who also farms with his father-in-law, are capable stewards of the land that is part of our family heritage, and will continue to build our farm family legacy as my two nephews have shown a keen interest to continue down this path.

I am so grateful.

The home I grew up in is set to come down later this summer.  Mold overtook it, and my brother, his wife and their three children built a new home close to it.  The house that built me will always be in my heart, even after it no longer stands.  Sticks and stones they are, but if they could, the walls would speak of sheltering this family of nine for four decades.  They would speak of a family history warm with love, respect and kindness between the seven children and two parents who inhabited it for all those years.  We had enough but not much extra in terms of material things.  We always had enough love.

Always.

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**

Suzanne and I arrived in the harvest field mid-afternoon, and stayed for several hours—long enough to ride in the combine with our nephew, and for a trip to the elevator with our brother.

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The air hung still in unlikely Kansas style, with nary a breeze.  The dust wafted straight up in small clouds and hung lazily.  The sun beat down hot and hard when it came out, and I loved it all.  I sweated, got dusty, dirty, scratched, greasy, stinky and fulfilled.  And, when it was all over, I truly felt like a swheat girl.

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Traversing the hills is part of the adventure.  Hugging the right side of the road as the peak of the hill approaches is non-negotiable.  The vista from the top is beautiful, but until you get there, you must assume there is a truck or a combine coming at you from the opposite direction.  And, chances are that whatever you are driving, you are no match for either of those behemoth farm machines.

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The roads often fork in this part of The Wheat State.  Should you go left, or should you go right?  Should you turn around?  Or should you just sit and think about it?  Sometimes the road more traveled appears to be the safe choice as below.

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Or, sometimes it’s a 50/50 proposition.

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So many decisions in life.  Separate the worthless from the valuable, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff and the glazed donuts from the important matters.  Get rid of the chaff, just like the combine so effortlessly does.

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After harvest” was the answer I frequently got from Dad when I asked him if I could have something—whatever material thing I thought I needed before harvest.  It always depended upon the success/failure of each year’s cash crop.  Imagine one paycheck a year, with no guarantee how big it would or should be, or if it would even arrive at all.  Such is life on the farm.  I learned to simultaneously respect and fear harvest, to love and loathe it at the same time.  I am so glad my brothers and their families love it.  Keeping our farm in the family is priceless, and I am forever grateful to them.

For myself, I decided to leave it behind.  I swore I wouldn’t marry a farmer, and I didn’t.  I never fell in love with one either, so who knows.  But I never want to miss harvest.  It is the culmination of one year of my brothers’ work, the annual peak of my farm-girl heritage.  It is what our economic lives revolved around for my first 18 years.

More importantly, harvest is a symbol.  It is the golden wheat, and I continue to learn to leave the dirty and useless chaff behind.  The glazed donuts are no longer a part of my life either.   Gail opened my eyes in her forceful, meaningful, expletive-rich statement, and I took it to heart.

Today, in the center of The Wheat State, Suzanne and I celebrate all that—as well as a golden day with each other.   And, of course, with Gail and her donuts—or lack thereof–in spirit. 19554420_1759936490687934_7965154539688390526_n[1]

 

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Thank you for reading my blog.  My second-favorite holiday is approaching in two days, and I wish a safe and Happy Independence Day to all of  you.  Greater than that, may you make every day Independence Day as you leave the chaff–and the glazed donuts behind.