Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Chance Encounter

The walk isn't particularly long, but on this day it seemed that way.  A cold wind blew in off the lake.  "This is more than a hint of winter to come," thought Dana.  "This is the real thing!" Small bits of ice pelleted against her face, causing Dana to draw her hood more closely around her. 

Usually she enjoyed walking through the city.  Her favorite route, along Michigan Avenue, allowed her to enjoy the sun's rays unimpeded by the shadows of the skyscrapers.  Millenium park offered a fine view of the flowers and fountains that were hallmarks of the city. 

"Soon the ice rink will be up and running," she thought to herself.  "And the Christmas lights will make the city seem even more festive."

 Dana really couldn't see the lake from this far west, but the wind and the lack of buildings made her aware of its presence.  She never tired of this route but looked forward to it each time she went to the office.  If only she had time to stop and enjoy the park, even for a few brief moments.

But, Dana's train arrived downtown with just enough time for her to make it to the office on time, checking in before she had to begin her day.  She walked briskly, still enjoying the view, not taking any time to dawdle, window-shop or daydream.  Some days she stayed down after work to just linger for awhile, opting for a later train for her return home.

Many mornings, but not always, she happened upon the young woman selling Streetwise, the publication that offered homeless and unemployed persons a way to earn at least a little bit of cash.  Usually Dana was put off by the vendors,at least those who got in her face or blocked her path, practically daring her to pass by without making a purchase.  Often she would cross the street to avoid those more aggressive sales tactics, not really out of a sense of intimidation, but more to avoid the annoyance of the situation.  At least that's what she told herself.

But the young woman who happened to take up "shop" on this particular corner was different.  She caught Dana's eye immediately.  It was true that Dana first noticed the wheelchair, but that wasn't all of it or even most of it.  It was her attitude more than anything.  The way she greeted each person who walked by with "good morning" or "have a nice day."  Her greetings were cheerful and friendly. She never once directly asked people to buy her paper, but just clasped them in her lap discreetly.  

Dana had passed her by several times, not buying, but returning her smile and greeting.  Most days she was posted there, on her regular corner.  Some days she was not.  On those days, Dana thought about her, wondering if everything was alright or if she was experiencing health problems.  Perhaps the weather kept her indoors or maybe she had somewhere else to be. Whatever the case, Dana often caught herself imagining what this person's life might be like.  How did she get downtown?  Did someone bring her?  Did she take the bus?  Thoughts and questions about the woman ran through Dana's mind.  

Whenever the saleswoman was stationed in the usual place, she was the same, always friendly, always smiling:  just waiting, hoping perhaps, that she might make sale or two,  but nevertheless, seeming to enjoy herself regardless of what happened.  Dana felt somehow drawn to her, not out of sympathy or pity, but as a friend.  She wanted to reach out to this young lady.

And so, Dana promised herself that she would patronize this salesperson whenever she had the opportunity. The first time she handed over the dollar, the woman was somewhat taken aback.  "You want a paper?" she asked.  

"Yes, please."  Dana smiled and took the paper from her outstretched hand.

"Thank you.  Enjoy the paper and have a good day," the woman smiled, more broadly now.

Each day on her walk to the office Dana pondered what her day might bring. Angry phone calls, taking complaints and solving problems for an ungrateful customer, bad news in the market, causing people to worry and get upset.  Working with the public always brought its challenges.  Many days, Dana longed to just stay in the park and sit, escaping from the unhappy prospect of answering phones all day.  But lately, she saw things differently.  She had a job that allowed her the pleasure of walking to work, enjoying the views of the city.  She was paid, if not well, at least enough to get by.  Compared to others, Dana led a charmed and sheltered life. That might change at any time, but for now, Dana was content, grateful even.  

She continued walking to work each day and as she approached the corner, she began to remember the woman, pulling a dollar of her purse and hoping.  

"We can all make a difference," Dana thought, "if not in big, important ways, then in small ways, one person at a time.  If a disabled, unemployed young woman could greet each day with a smile, well, then there really is hope after all."

One dollar! A small price to pay for a warm and friendly encounter.  It didn't cost  much, but whenever Dana saw the paper lady,  it set her mood for the entire day.  These chance encounters, with their brief exchange, made all the difference.  Attitude is everything. She resolved herself to a better outlook  and a more positive way of life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coffee klatch

"I'll put on the coffee," Penny said the minute Denise walked through the door.  Penny was known for her hospitality, always offering coffee or perhaps a glass of wine, depending on the time of day, of course.

"Great!  I can't believe how cold it got in just one night!" Denise exclaimed, grateful to be coming into Penny's warm, comfortable home and equally grateful for a cup of the hot, strong, black coffee that Penny offered.  

"Thanks!  Oh, that's good."  Denise took a sip of the coffee.

"Here's some of Del's potato chip cookies,"  Penny offered.

"Thanks, but I think I'll pass.  I've been putting on some weight lately and I need to start cutting back again.  So, how've you been?  I can't believe it's been so long since we've gotten together."

"Yeah, I know," Penny replied.  "Ever since we all started working full time..." her voice drifted off.  

It was true.  Once stay-at-home moms who got together regularly, Penny, Denise and the rest of their group didn't see each other much any more.  Everyone had gone back to working full time in order to pay for college or to just keep up with the bills.  And now that their nests were either empty or nearly so, a certain loneliness and longing had crept into their lives.

"I miss the old days," Denise lamented. "We didn't know how good we had it.  Those were the days!  We struggled, but it seemed that we were happier then.  We were free to do what we wanted to do, even if we couldn't afford to do much."  Denise laughed.

Penny chucked too.  "Remember when we saved all those candy wrappers to get into the Sox games for free?  We spent all that money on candy, but we got in the game!"

"Yeah, and froze our butts off in the nosebleed section!  It was fun though, wasn't it?  We had some great times back then.  Remember camping at Potato Creek and how Dennis and Jerry got into a fight about the bikes?  I really thought they were going to duke it out!"

"They had their moments," Penny recalled.  "But through thick and thin they remained best friends.  Just like Emily and Becky."  It was true.  The sons and daughters of Penny and Denise remained close, even though they'd married and moved to differing states.  

"Where does the time go?  And how is it that we don't realize what we have until it's gone?  Well, I guess it's not really gone, but it's not the same.  We hardly see each other any more--just weddings and funerals it seems like.  It was strange that we all met down in Champaign for Kenny's wedding.  A reunion two hours away when we all live in the same town.  Seems like we've kind of gone our separate ways..."

"Well, it doesn't have to be that way.  We still have good times when we get together.  We just need to make the time," Penny said as she refreshed their coffee.

"Time..."  Denise sighed.  "Time...," she repeated, growing increasingly nostalgic.

The friends continued to reminisce while sipping their coffee.  Glancing out the window, they noticed that snow had begun to fall.  Another winter, another page turned on the calendar. Very soon, it would be another year.  The weather outside was cold, but inside things were as they should be. The warmth of their friendship overtook them. Like their children, they were in it through thick and thin.  Times may change, but the friendship remained.  Penny and Denise seemed always able to just pick things up  where they left off the last time. And so they did again.  Another day, another year, another pot of coffee.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Waging Peace

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."
 -  Mother Theresa

I spoke with a man the other day who told me that he is a one issue voter.  The issue?  The war in Iraq.  He explained to me that he believes winning the war is critical in raising the morale of our military.  

"The loss of the war in Vietnam and the poor results of the situation in Somalia, have taken it's toll on our morale," he claimed.  "It is critical that we win this war now, for the sake of our troops and to raise America's standing in the world."   He was a very nice man and I enjoyed our conversation,  warm in spite of our disagreement about this issue.

As a mother of a Marine daughter I see things differently.  As she trains to be deployed to Iraq, I can't help but hope that the tides will turn before she needs to leave.  While I care about her morale to the extent that she does her job well and keeps up her guard, I nevertheless want this occupation to come to a close.  Her safety is of prime concern to me.  I am her mother; she is my child.

My secretary also has a Marine son.  He will be going off to Afghanistan in January, an even more dangerous situation.  He has already been to Iraq, witnessing the death of several close comrades.  Now, he is being re-deployed as all the troops are these days.  Over and over again, these young men and women go off to face the danger--putting their lives on the line in the process.

As our children prepare to deploy, my secretary and I are witness not only to their training but to the paperwork that must be completed before they go.  Life insurance policies are double checked, making sure that beneficiaries are valid and in place.  Emergency contact numbers are checked and rechecked in case news needs to be reported.  Power of attorney is arranged to act on our children's behalf regarding their bank accounts and  any personal effects that may need to be returned home. Nothing becomes more unsettling than getting these affairs in order.  All i's need to be dotted and all t's crossed long before that dreaded date of deployment is reached. Yes, we parents dread that date, but our Marines' resolve is strong.  This is their duty.  They take it seriously; they are committed, strong, well-trained.  Parents are more ambivalent.  It is difficult to put our feelings, our experience of all of this, into mere words.  There really are no words, after all.

As a parent, I am both proud and worried.  While my daughter signed on for this, I did not.  Putting on a brave face,  I do my best to support her, but I don't think war, particularly this war, is the answer.  I can't see how we can be better off by losing so many of our fine sons and daughters.  And I don't want her to be one of the casualties, so anonymous in the non-reporting of them in the evening news.  We hear much more about sports and celebrities than we do of these brave young men and women.  Why is that?  I can't remember the last time I heard a news report regarding the war.  

I have no doubt that our troops are heroes.  Would that they were treated with more reverence. Perhaps just that one step would help improve morale.  I know they have a job to do and they do it willingly.  But as for me, I pray, not just for her safety but for the safety of all.  They are all my children, in a way.  The brotherhood of the service, the brotherhood of mankind.   May we begin to see things differently and begin to wage peace instead of war.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Looking for the Good

People aren't perfect.  Of that much we can be certain.  Try as they will, it is impossible, in this life anyway, to obtain the pinnacle of perfection.  And, how does one even define perfection?  Is there a single, overarching definition that works for everyone?  Or, is perfection relative, a subjective judgment by either the person himself or an outside observer?  Who makes that decision, that judgment?

Both my career and my volunteer work involve working with the public.  That makes things very complicated. Each individual person has his or her own opinions on  what is important and how things should be done.  In the end, someone needs to decide, making the choices about policies, in order to move things forward.  In my job, that person is me.   As administrator of the program, I make the final call.  The buck stops on my desk.

In order to make well-informed decisions, I make the effort to consult with my co-workers as well as my constituency, the families enrolled in my program. It becomes difficult to sort through the various expectations, hopes, visions, and, yes, opinions, of those with whom I consult.  Usually a wide range of thought exists on any particular idea or project.  Bringing people to consensus, rallying people in support of the decision, becomes difficult.   In any given situation, about half of the people are truly happy with the decision being made.

Sometimes this situation tests both my resolve and my satisfaction of a job well done.  I might second guess the decision, not because it was made in error, but because of pressure from the dissenting faction.  There are times when their point is well taken.  But, due to circumstances, the best decision may not be the most popular.  It is during those times that I might be more apt to be close minded, perhaps even tending toward anger or judgment of those around me.  But, when I take the time to listen, and look for the good in each person I meet, I can more confidently move in the right direction.

People aren't perfect, but they are very good.  We are all just trying our best, working toward the perfection that is impossible to reach.  Looking for the good in others makes it easier for all of us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Diversity is a Strength

As some of you know, I volunteer for one of the presidential campaigns.  Each Tuesday morning I go to the headquarters and I answer phones, taking calls from people all over the country who may be looking for information or who want to leave a comment or suggestion.  It has been my pleasure to speak with some very wonderful, caring people over the course of this long campaign season.  Other people have not been so wonderful.  In their anger and fear, they lash out at me--"killing the messenger" so to speak.  I do my best to keep my composure and be helpful as I listen to their rant or attempt to get a word in, hoping to answer their initial question.  I sometimes get demeaned or cursed at and that is where I draw the line.  At that point I  bring the conversation to a close, always thanking the person for taking the time to call.

The overwhelming impression that I get from all of this is that many people are angry, worried and/or scared.  Of what, I can't rightfully say.   But of something--some nebulous and unspoken force that lurks in the dark, waiting to jump out and attack.  It saddens me that people feel like this and yet I understand it to a degree.  The world is different now. There are several real problems that need to be addressed.   It's a global economy that drives the market, but still the United States that sets the tone and our economy is floundering.  Dangerous countries condemn us in our democracy.  Wars are waged throughout the world, in which two of them our troops are directly involved.  Global warming and climate change bring their own very real challenges as does the energy crisis. Add to this the constancy of the 24 hour news cycle and I can understand that people may feel overwhelmed.  The media is always looking for a story, the more sensational the better, it seems. Yes, there are some real threats.  But, pundits and commentators play up our fears and prejudices, not to our advantage, in ways that were impossible just several years ago.  While I understand the reasons for them, I don't feel that fear and anger are helpful in facing these challenges.  In truth, the world has always been a dangerous place for some. 

I think my overwhelming sentiment is a feeling of sadness regarding all of this.  I'm sad that people are so unhappy and insecure--that they have such a lack of trust in people who they believe are different from them.  I'm saddened by the angry outbursts directed at me, a stranger just volunteering some of her time.  I don't understand why we can't disagree without being disagreeable and attempt to work toward solutions without being divisive.  To me, America's strength lies in her diversity--diversity of population and diversity of ideas.  It takes all of us to make democracy work, but I don't see how this can be accomplished if our intention is to always be on the offensive.  Stirring up hate isn't productive.  In my opinion, this works directly against the American spirit that has always put us on top.   

In spite of some tense, unsettling moments, I feel honored and privileged to talk to so many people across our great country.  It is wonderful when people take time to be engaged in the electoral process--true democracy at work.  People genuinely care about our future and that, I believe, bodes very well for our nation.  People will always disagree, but when we do, let us do it without being disagreeable.  History has shown that in working together we can find solutions to the problems that face us, no matter how difficult.  If we take the time to look for similarities rather than differences, we may find that people are not really that different after all.  We share many of the same dreams, values and hopes.  Let us take time to play on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Surprise Visit

The call came unexpectedly.  I was in the midst of reading Twilight when the phone rang.  My eldest daughter, the other Harry Potter fan in the family, had recommended it to me as a pretty good young adult novel.  And it is!  I was enjoying it when my reverie was interrupted by the demanding ring of the phone.  What an annoyance!  But, in checking the caller I.D. I decided to answer it because it was my son,  Jeff, calling.

Jeff had traveled to Portland, Oregon this weekend to attend the wedding of a friend from college.  While traveling, he sometimes he calls to chat, killing time while waiting in the gate to board a flight.  I suspected that this was the case, and I was happy to hear from him and  to help relieve his boredom for at least a few minutes.

There was something in his tone that told me this was not that kind of call.  He had something more on his mind.  Turns out, he was supposed to fly home the next morning, but changed his flight so that he didn't have to find a hotel room and he could be back in time for work on Monday.  As a result of the change, he had a two hour lay over, in Chicago!  Yes!  We could go to the airport to see him.

He wanted to do dinner, but all of the restaurants (with the exception of a couple of carry out vendors) at O'Hare are inside the security check stations.  Well, since my husband and I weren't flying, that wouldn't work.  You have to have boarding passes (which we didn't) or be escorting little kids (which we weren't) or be a military family (which we are but that didn't apply here since Jeff isn't the Marine) to get past the security forces guarding entry to the gates.  What to do?  Maybe we wouldn't be able to eat dinner together after all, but we could still meet up with him and visit for awhile.

I went online to see if there were any options that might be open to us.  There are restaurants outside security in Terminal 5, which is the international terminal located in a separate building.  That wouldn't work; we only had 2 hours and that included Jeff going back through security again.  

I found a phone number that I thought might be helpful, but I kept getting connected to 311, the City of Chicago's help line.  They didn't know what I was talking about.  Investigating further, I found another number listed for "guest advocacy" or some such title.  Aha!  They were able to tell me that we could go to the O'Hare Hilton and there was a restaurant there.  Good!  I called Jeff back and we set our plans:  meet him at baggage claim, head to the hotel, eat and then back to the airport.

It took awhile for us to find our way to the Hilton. The signs aren't much help with this, we found.  But once we got there, we were able to enjoy a good, if expensive, meal.  We talked about all kinds of things, checking up on the details of our daily lives.  Jeff is doing well.  He seems happy, fulfilled.

One hour. It was all we had. One hour to connect, eat and see for ourselves that Jeff was healthy and happy.  It wasn't much.  But when you see your child only a few times each year, it was something wonderful. One hour of joy and pleasure.  An unexpected bonus in an otherwise routine Sunday afternoon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dreaming and Hoping

Today I am filled with hope!  It is a beautiful, cool Friday morning.  Yes, it's expected to rain later in the day, but even that doesn't dampen my spirits (pun intended.)  Today things just seem right.  Perhaps it was the Tarot reading by Frank last night that brightens my mood.  Things are looking up!  Success is in the cards, literally and figuratively.

When I feel  down, I need to remind myself that everything passes in due time.  There is no situation or mood that is permanent.  Nothing lasts forever.  Thoughts like these become mantras of hope as I dream of better times to come.  And this seems like one of those better times, in spite of the economy and the stack of bills awaiting my attention and eventual payment.  And in spite of being separated by time and space from my family.  And in spite of still being stuck--same job, same place, same problems.  But wait!  The sun will still rise another day!  There is hope!

I look forward to new possibilities, dreams with the potential of being realized.  An exciting challenge always fires me up and gets me moving!  I'm at my best when starting new projects and initiatives--planning and plotting in order to get them up and running.  Once a project is begun, I lenjoy letting other people take over.  By then, I've lost some interest in the whole thing.

 Maybe I should have become an inventor!  Then, in creating something new, I could move on to the next idea, bringing it into fruition. A never ending process of creativity!  There are many careers, I think, that work like this:  scientist, adventurer, even archeologist!  Or what about artist, composer, or writer?  It's true--these jobs are "discovery" personified!  Keep moving forward!  What a way to live!

And then I think, "Maybe that's what we are all called to do?"  To keep moving forward, being fresh and creative where ever we find ourselves.  "Bloom where you are planted."  Something to think about.  It does offer the promise of new possibilities--dreams that bring hope, maybe even happiness.   I suppose I can continue on, as long as there is the promise of another day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Owe, I Owe...!

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for--in order to get the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it." - Ellen Goodman

The above quote today reminds me of that old parody of the Seven Dwarfs song--"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go!"  To tell the truth, that could be my theme song. Yes, I admit it. I don't work for altruistic reasons like "making a difference"  or "changing the world." My altruistic tendencies are better served in my volunteerism.  No, I work for strictly practical reasons--to help pay the bills!  I'm not a romantic when it comes to my career. If I were debt-free (dream on!) I would gladly and happily retire in order to pursue the activities that I find life-giving and meaningful.

Don't get me wrong. My career has its rewarding and heart-warming moments.  Considering that I work for a non-profit organization, my salary isn't terrible, just lower-end middle class.  If I had to make it on my own it might be difficult, but as a second-income it's not bad.  I began working to help save for college and in that regard it worked:  my eldest two children have their education paid for in full.  They have no enormous student loans hanging over their heads and for that, I'm grateful.  I'm glad that I have been able to contribute to both their education and their freedom from educational debt.

But now, well, tuitions have been paid and my work seems less rewarding. Now it's just to pay bills, many of them for things that I don't need and no longer seem to want.  My desire becomes to simplify my life--not to collect more things but to give some away, to de-clutter both my inner and outer worlds of unnecessary "junk."  Perhaps I will just open the door to people looking for bargains, allowing them to make me an offer on whatever they see!  Not only would this relieve me of the chore of packing things up and throwing things away, but I might make a buck or two to boot!

And yet, as nice as it would be to retire, to simplify, to begin enjoying all that life has to offer in the way of opportunity and freedom, I can't think of a single way that this might help to pay the bills.  In the last couple of years, we have taken on new debt in order to make needed improvements on our old house.  The lenders expect these loans to be paid, in spite of the failing economy and the high cost of living.

And so it's off to work each day for an indefinite number of years.  My challenge has become to find new causes that can benefit from the spoils of my salary.   I contribute to my favorite charities and to my choice of presidential candidates.  I raised my church offering to help cover their ministies and outreach programs.  I help to pay for my granddaughter's preschool tuition.  I can send the occasional care package to Amy in Japan and sometimes help Jeff with his travel expenses.  

And so it seems that my earlier comment is not completely true:  I do work for altruistic reasons, at least in part.  I need a sense of purpose for what I do--good reasons beyond "making money" in order to pay my creditors.  I long to contribute to the causes and purposes of real people who are trying to make their own difference in this world.  In small ways, I  help support others who may be struggling, often though no fault of their own.   

And so, the clothes and the car are purchased so that I can go to work--looking professional all the way.  And I leave the dogs in an empty, but updated, house that needs to be paid for.  My guitar needs dusting, my piano tuning and my laundry and dishes pile up.  I'll get to them eventually.  While this doesn't feel like "real" life,  it is what I am required to do right now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Missing the Marathon.

This past Sunday was the Chicago Marathon. For the last couple of years my son, Jeff, has been in town to run the race.  This year, other travel plans have taken the priority and he was unable to make the trip into town.  I missed seeing him and I missed getting up at the crack of dawn to drive downtown and see the race.
The drive into the city is a relatively easy one on Sunday mornings.  There is no real rush hour on that morning--the day when many people are still sleeping in, perhaps recovering from Saturday's activities.  Seeing the sun just beginning to rise over the lake is inspirational  Its rays slowly wash over the skyscrapers, giving one the feeling that the city itself is awakening to the start of a new day.  

The downtown area is fairly deserted, but less so than it would be if there were no race to run.  It isn't until reaching State Street that the population increases as spectators begin to mill around, staking their claim to the best vantage points for seeing the runners rush past.  The atmosphere sparkles with excitement; spectators are an important piece in the puzzle as they applaud, cheer and encourage the runners. Some have horns or bells; others bring drums, signs and flags.  Colors, sights and sounds combine to create a festive atmosphere. It truly is exciting to be a part of it all!

And so I missed it--the early morning sleepiness of the city, the excitement and anticipation that define the event, even the hustle and bustle of working my way through the crowds gathered at the finish line.  Yes, I would go again to mill among these strangers who truly feel like friends that I have not yet met.  Something like a marathon creates that feeling, the sense of comraderie caused by people coming together for a common cause.

I briefly considered going down for the race this year in spite of the fact that Jeff wasn't running, but I decided against it.  As much as I may have enjoyed it, his participation is what made this event my own as I watched for him in the group.  It wouldn't be the same without that--the chance to look for that one special runner and experience the thrill of spotting him amongst the other runners.  As much as I missed being there, my attendance would have felt empty somehow, a shallow reminder of past years.  Missing the race is one thing, but I didn't need to be reminded that I missed seeing Jeff most of all.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Opportunity for Change

Yesterday I literally watched as the stock market plunged.  The numbers fluctuated in mid-afternoon, but in the last hour of trading they rapidly took a downward turn. Each update was worst than the last until, at last, the closing bell stopped any further plummeting.

This morning the world markets are reacting with panic.  As the United States goes, so goes the world, it seems.  Yes, things look grim for investments and banking.  A total freeze of funds seems imminent.  No liquidity equals no loans, putting the economy into a stand still.

I am not a huge investor, but my retirement fund has surely taken a hit!  The trickle down effect is what worries me most:  will there be a run on banks?  Will food and housing become even more expensive and scarce?  And, on a personal note, will my lender call my loan due in full at the end of the 5 year term, or will I still be able to roll it over as promised at the outset, when the economy was still thriving?  On top of that, real estate taxes are due and I am tapped out!  Where will that money come from?  Out of our minimal savings, I suppose.

And yet, in spite of all of that, I feel strangely optimistic.  It seems clear that an economy built on a house of cards would eventually fall.  It was overdue for a correction of some sort.  I have been reading articles for years that predicted this; what were the investors reading?  It makes me wonder why everyone seems so surprised, the same way people seemed surprised about the World Trade Center attacks.  The Reader's Digest had an article years before claiming that a second attack was inevitable giving the failure of the first one to bring down the towers.  If the Reader's Digest can get it right, why can't our intelligence agencies.  Hmm...again, I wonder about who reads what and who knows what.  Is anybody watching?  Maybe that is the scariest part. They're watching, but doing little, or so it sometimes seems.

And yet, while our financial future seems grim, the sun still shines, offering its warm and comforting rays. Where there's life, there's hope.  The world goes on, albeit differently.  Perhaps we are called to live our lives more simply, worrying more about each other and our living planet earth than we do about ourselves. Nothing brings people together like hard times.  As Eastern spirituality understands, crisis does, in fact, bring opportunity.  We are given the opportunity to do things differently, to correct the mis-steps of our past.  Creative ideas will bring solutions.  Individualism and greed may have to give way to a sense of sacrificing on behalf of the community.  Are we up to the task?  I hope so; I believe that we can get through these times by working together.  

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Life is Good: Bucket List Ideas!

It doesn't take much to make me feel hopeful. My mood brightens upon hearing the voice of one of my kids on the other end of the phone line.  If the mail carrier brings something other than junk or bills---a  magazine or card or maybe even a letter, well, she's made my day!  I break into a smile when I open an email from a friend or family member.

Today is one of those days. The sun is shining brightly and the air feels crisp and clean.  Traffic moved quickly on the way in to work, always a plus for a rush-hour commuter.  So it feels like a good morning, in spite of any problems that may be lurking on the horizon.  And, let's face it, there is always something.  That's the nature of life--ups and downs, twists and turns occur on a regular basis, making life unpredictable and, ultimately, more interesting--at least to me.  I don't wish for a steady but flat-lined existence. Rather, I long for adventure of some sort.  Perhaps it is time for me to compile my own "bucket list" of things to do before I leave this earth. What would it include...hmm?  I wonder?  

Here are a few of the things that I would hope to experience, not necessarily in this order, and not necessarily under my control:

Witness the wedding of my son, Jeff.
Witness the wedding of my daughter, Amy.
See both Amy and Jeff become parents.
Take my grandchildren on a trip to Disneyworld.
See the Grand Canyon.
Read all of the books on my bookshelf.
Write at least one book that gets published.
Have a successful vegetable garden.
Join a bike club.
Begin roller blading.
See Maine in autumn and eat lobster.
Swim in the Pacific Ocean.
Do another backpacking trip in the mountains.  (yes, really!)
Learn to kayak.
Participate in the breast cancer 3-day walk.
Open a spirituality or retreat center.
Learn a foreign language.  (working on Spanish now with minimal success)
Take another  painting class.
Play my guitar and piano on a regular basis.
Take a cooking class.
Travel long-distance by train.
Repaint every room in my house.
Paint a mural.
Bake the perfect apple pie.
Reunite with at least one long-lost friend.
Work a potter's wheel.
Write a song.
Re-join my church choir.
Act in local theatre.
Join a museum or zoo.
Pick up my knitting and learn new patterns.
See every state in the U.S.
Go on another cruise.
Learn to play a violin--the most beautiful of instruments.
Lose weight and keep it off for good!

to be continued...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Okay, it's not the deluge that we experienced a couple of weekends ago, but it's still making me a bit nervous. There are puddles forming around the house and just the slightest bit of water finding it's way into my basement library.  My books are getting all wrinkly from the moisture and tiny bits of mold and mildew are starting to form.  Not to mention the damage to the new paint job and carpeting that my husband put in after my oldest daughter abandoned this room for the warmer, dryer second floor.  I grabbed some towels and began placing strategically at the base of the offending wall, hoping that they will absorb any and all creeping rivulets of water.

While our house is over 140 years old, we haven't had many serious episodes of flooding.  The foundation is about 2 feet thick so it helps, I believe, to keep the water at bay.  We still need to replace the gutters, though, that we took down when we re-sided the house.  The run-off from the roof is the real problem; it pools around the foundation and when the ground is saturated it sneaks in to the house somehow.  During our latest flood, water even started seeping up through a couple of small cracks in our laundry room floor.  Eek!  We bailed like mad that day!

It's true. Once I've had a bad experience with weather I become traumatized by the hint of a repeat performance. While post traumatic stress disorder technically refers to battle-related stressors, I reserve the right to broaden that term to include anything that raises either goose bumps or blood pressure of the victim who can't help but relive the past trauma even while in the present.

I glance nervously out the window yet again.  Is it my imagination or is it getting brighter?  I don't know, there are still plenty of grey clouds in the sky.  Well, if I keep myself busy enough I can just forget about it for now.  Out of sight and out of mind until I return home this afternoon.  Then I will muster up the courage to take a look at the situation first-hand. Maybe I will need to replace the towels and get out the shop vac--sucking up the water and then spraying with mold retardant.  For now it's a problem that I keep bandaging up over and over again.  Eventually I will have to treat the real cause instead of just the symptom.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Let's Change the World Through Writing

It's hard to stay positive when things around you keep falling apart.  I can't help but worry about the economy, especially since my retirement fund has dwindled down to nothing.  And about the war in Iraq, especially since my daughter is deploying there.  And about jobs, especially since I work for a non-profit organization that relies on donations.  The status of my career seems completely out of my control--something that feels new and scary.  Three staff positions have been eliminated; who will be next in line?

Once a breath of fresh air, now the cooler, grayer days seem a fitting metaphor for the problems of life. While I usually enjoy these early October days, these last  few have done nothing but bring me down.  There is too much blaming and too few solutions... too much fear mongering and too little hope...too much bad news and too many sleepless nights. I lie awake thinking about my children and grandchildren.  What will their futures bring?

Yes, change is needed--desperately!

Things seem bleakest during the dark of night, but daylight brings only modest comfort. Meditation and prayer seems to help. There is solace in the silence that allows God to speak.  Are my questions worthy of answers?  Sometimes God's voice is hard to discern.

One activity that seems to calm me most is writing. By being creative, I feel as if I'm contributing something meaningful.  I send cards, I compose my letters and I write my blog.  It helps, not only to write, but to read what others have written.  

 So, while I apologize for the recurring gloominess of my blogs, I will continue posting.  It takes me away from the news and it becomes therapy, a kind of creative balance, a symbiosis that  counters the weight of the world against the lightness of the spirit.  I hope my fellow writers will continue as well.   Perhaps, together, we can bring about the tipping point that turns the tide toward fresh ideas and new hope.  May the gloominess be only temporary.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Paying Tribute to Nathaniel Taylor, Jr.

A police officer was murdered last weekend as he attempted to serve a warrant.  Nathaniel Taylor, Jr.'s funeral will be here at St. Bede this morning.  I came to work early because the streets will be closed and parking will be scarce.  Hundreds of police officers from various departments are expected to fill our church and campus.  They offer tribute to this brother of theirs who paid the ultimate price while serving on our behalf.

I didn't know Officer Taylor, but from what I've read and heard, he was quite a guy.  I know that his families--including both relatives and police brethren--will give him a hero's send-off.  A great number of hours went into the planning.  Clergy and police and musicians, sound technicians, typists and printers, all working together.

It is right that it is gray and rainy, as if God himself is mourning.  I think about Taylor's family, his wife and young daughter.  Wives, especially, are always aware of the danger.  My secretary's husband is a Chicago P.D. Sargeant, and she tells me about her feelings.  

"You kind of get used to it," she says.  "But not really.  Every siren, every call, brings it back."  Would that her husband always be safe.  

One call, one unexpected moment while doing the duty to which he'd sworn.  And now, our streets have one less hero, making us less safe today than we were a week ago.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Nothing says "autumn" like October.  Yes, it's really here.  The warm late days of September have past. The wind has picked up and shifted, bringing the cool crisp air that one expects on a fall day.  It's inevitable now; one can end September on a warm note, but the last days of October will bring falling leaves, foreshadowing the winter days to come.

The heat went on last night.  Sweaters are cleaned, folded and waiting to be worn.  Flannel pajamas replace their lighter, sheerer brethren.  Winter jackets are on notice; soon, they too will be called into service.

Pumpkins and gourds line the tables of farmer's markets.  Corn stalks stand at attention, awaiting purchase.  Bales of hay are at the ready.  Wide varieties of apples make colorful, bushel-filled displays.  Cider, both warm and cold, is offered to the browsing shopper.

The harvest moon hangs low, illuminating the earth with golden splendor.  Images of witches, ghosts and goblins fill the stores.  Black and orange are heralded as the colors of the season, along with the gold, red and earth-toned fashions available for purchase.

It is a thoughtful time of year, this harvest season.  Even in difficult times, things somehow seem right, at least with Mother Nature.  Seasons keep coming and going, offering the promise of hope.  Winter, with all of her challenges, will come.  The earth becomes purified and readied by its freezing.  And then, the renewal of spring gradually drifts toward summer.

 This is life! This is creation in all it's goodness!  And it is very good, indeed.