Sunday, January 20, 2013

Holy kisses

Last night, we began watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” while eating our pizza, knowing Skye would only enjoy the first part of the movie with us. Nearly all the extra-cheesy pizza slices - sausage and pepperoni - had been devoured when he jumped to his feet and quickly covered the length of the ramped hallway that leads to his and Stross's bedroom. He needed to collect his wallet and whatever else he thought he might want in order to enjoy the rest of his night.

A few friends who were home from college had already arrived and a few more college friends were on their way. A van-full - more like our van filled - needed to leave soon if they were to catch the opening moments of whatever movie was scheduled to start prior to 7 p.m. The choice of movie didn't matter. The night's schedule and companionship did. 

While Skye checked his hair in the bathroom mirror and reapplied a smooth-smelling layer of Axe Excite, the remaining three of us - Stross, Mark and me - continued to sit on the floor in our self-assigned spots around a lavender-flowered vinyl table cloth. For more years than I can correctly recount, either that cloth or its purple-and-white checkered cousin has helped protect the plush beige carpeting of The Big Room. It defines the space we use for our Family Friday Pizza Picnic, a weekly communion of breading, sauce and soft drinks. 

Regardless of season The Big Room is always warm. In cold months, the heat of our fireplace permeates memories of paper-strewn Christmases after the boys have slept feet-to-head on our over-sized sectional, sleepovers where other families' sons have joined ours to sleep the same way, movie nights with only the light from our television and the world’s moon shining through a wall of windows, and game nights when the room itself has become home base.   

As Mark leaned against the slate of the fireplace ledge and Stross leaned against the cushioned checkered footrest of the chaise lounge, I watched from the purple footstool. Skye, his prepping complete, strode back to us. He cruised down the contoured angle of the ramp until coming to its platform intersection where - had he turned and continued following it - he could have gone directly to the garage door and the van of waiting friends. Instead, he stepped down and walked toward me on the purple stool. Leaning down, he softly kissed the snow-colored top of my head.

"Mhmmm ... I love you. I will miss you when I'm at college." The sound of his introductory sigh prefaced pure and unguarded emotion.

Drink this moment in, Joy. Do not let it go.

I watched him turn 90-degrees to the left and move to Mark. Leaning down, his lips found the top of Mark's dark-haired head. Mark closed his eyes and consumed the same gift I had received. 

"I love you, Dad. I'll miss you."

Before the words had finished being spoken - before Mark could respond with "I love you, too" - Stross raised his chin and extended the trunk of his body toward the ceiling. He stretched as tall as he could make his body while still seated on the floor. His Cheshire-smile face invited attention, and Skye rewarded him with a pivot his direction and a kiss at the top of his forehead.

"Mhmmm ... I love you, Stross. I'll miss you next year."

While never spoken, I heard the whisper of Dorothy to the Tin Man as Skye brushed his fingers through his brother’s ash-brown hair: “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”   

“I love you, too, Bro-bro,” Stross chirped, adding a satisfied purr. “Hmmmm.”

The sound of Stross’ contentment matched the delicious preface of Skye’s holy kisses. “Mhmmmm. I love you,” he had told us, and then he was gone – out the door and into the driver’s seat, sharing a journey with friends who have already traveled the path he will soon take.

It’s happening – just the way it should and just the way I hoped it would – even if it hurts.

Three kisses.

Holy kisses.

Blessings that hold you close and never let go even when the one who blessed you has gone.

Mhmmmmm … I love him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Burning the Misplaced Pieces of the Past

Not long after Mark and I were engaged, I began to think about our love story, the one we would tell our children. We would share details that make all epic stories come to life: how we met as singing waiters our junior year of college, and how he compelled me to take his drink orders because it was against his moral code - a code I challenged him to find a cogent and systematic thought process to use for his defense. We would also share how he voluntarily bused my tables prior to driving me back to my dorm each weekend night in his white Honda Civic and how we carried take-home containers of chocolate truffe mousse to my room to share. We would even - maybe - confess how he stayed right up to (and even past some nights) the dormitory's visitation hours.

From courtship through engagement, the story of our early romance would convey to our yet unconceived children how our love surpassed all other stories of romance that might have been written for each of us had we not dared to take a chance on dating a type of person we never expected to meet.

I also wanted to safeguard our story from mythology - illusions about our romance or romances we had abandoned along with the romancers who had abandoned us. I wanted our children to know only of our misgivings and mistakes. Our love had not bloomed without rainy days. We had even endured a storm only weeks prior to our engagement. But bloom, it did, even surviving harsh seasons. The hardiest perennials do. Our children would need to know that.

They would need to know that the first bloom appeared about 29 years ago, back when I worried about notes, other love letters written by other suitors, being found by future children. Those scraps of paper outlined stories that should never be told, I believed. Not if Mark and I were to commit ourselves only to each other. We were collaborators of an epic saga, a saga that would birth beautiful children who would know only of the love that bore them.

Therefore, the other love notes had to be burned. No misplaced pieces of our separate pasts should supplant our storyline.

Our tale of love had begun to weave its way from the Chalet Room at Carver's Restaurant, and it deserved a clear path to the lively retirement abode we would choose for our most golden and final years. Our children should never doubt the wisdom we had exercised in our early 20s when we chose to travel a complex but unified path together. "Wisdom" and "early 20s." Could there be such a combination? If so, we needed to affirm it. Protect it. We needed to burn the notes.

Still, what if the relationship that our children would see in the future didn't live as vividly for them as any colorful tales they might freely concoct? Perhaps not having other notes would not matter. Even if evidence did not exist, vividly imagined details could be invented - by them, if not us. What if some mythological storyline - crafted even without the aid of rejected love notes - could unseat our real life story anyway?

Until our children could write the toughest chapters of their own hearts' tales, they could comprehend love. Not really. 

Love - sustaining love - is nurtured through careers and children and broken dreams and dream vacations and experimental vocations and heartaches and midlife crises and ordinary days of non-crises and retirement and, well, things I cannot know of either - not yet anyway. My great love story is far from over, and while I have witnessed other great loves, their endings have not been well documented - not as well as their beginnings. Perhaps endings are so intensely personal, so poignant and full, they cannot be wholly shared. Or maybe the greatest love stories have no endings because they do not end. What a merciful thought.

That is why those other notes - puzzle pieces of unseasoned passion - had to be burned; they were burned, turned into ash that matched the relationships that bore them. Our children cannot resurrect them. Neither can we.

Mark destroyed his on a day and in a manner of his choosing before I had a chance to add mine to his pile. Fitting perhaps, for we had collected them separately; separately they turned into ash.  I am grateful their embers flamed the fire that has warmed us for nearly three decades. Those relationships mattered too.

Today I took out the collection of love letters that survived those years - Mark's cards and hand-written pages to me during our courtship. I read one. Then one more. Still another. I read in search of me and the man I chose to marry. Can we really be found in the words of those love epistles? They are now as mysterious to me as they will be to our children one day when they find them. Hidden in plain sight.

I don't need to read them to recall who I married. According to those love letters, that man does not exist anymore anyway.

Anytime I need to recall the story of my life's great love, I will simply walk into my kitchen at dinner time. He will be standing near the stove, either cooking the evening meal for our family or insisting on helping me do the same. And when our family meal has ended, he'll help me bus our table - plates and glasses into the dishwater, pots and pans washed in the sink. There will be no need for him to drive me home. We will already be there. Our sons have seen that part of our story many times. That might be all they really need to know.    


Note: The poem that sparked my thinking is "His Elderly Father as a Young Man" by Leo Dangel. I would post it here for you to enjoy as well but do want to commit copyright infringement. I encourage you to find it in Home from the Field, © Spoon River Poetry Press, 1997.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Back to Some Beginning

Stross declared his desire to participate in No Shave November using no uncertain terms; nothing I said convinced him to change his mind nor should it have. He's a man of 21. Even though he needs Mark's or my assistance to shave his face, he can - on his own - determine he does not want his face shaved. Therefore, No Shave November meant Stross got to show his cousins his Elvis-style mutton chops during the Thanksgiving holiday. But the month is long gone and so are his over-sized sideburns.

Without declaration, I seem to have declared the past two months No Share November and Not Talking December. I have not written anything to share here since mid-October. Not a believer in writer's block, I interpret this reality as a symptom of something else. But what?

I have held too many professional jobs where writing simply had to happen - deadlines be damned – to believe in writer’s block. News releases, articles that complete a newsletter, word blurbs that fill awkward spaces in a magazine layout, letters and memos that outline important details - these can all occur when a writer lacks clever thoughts. He or she must simply strive for lucid elucidation.

(Yes, that phrase is redundant, but I like that adjective-noun pairing today, so deal.)

Putting pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard is a mechanical step that makes things happen. Most writing happens by formula. In fact, all writing can happen by formula. A writer

- decides on an objective for a piece,

- selects an idea or angle to shape the piece,

- chooses some nouns and verbs to shape sentences, and then

- adds phrases capable of moving readers from one sentence to the next.

The process repeats from paragraph to paragraph or bullet point to bullet point until the piece is done. If time allows, a writer or editor can shape it better; if not, a writer will send the piece out trusting her spell checker and editing software didn't fail. The greatest hope is that she didn’t bury or mask her lead.

Masterful writing is something else entirely. To claim writer's block while waiting for something regarded as a masterpiece is the equivalent of waiting for an extra paycheck to arrive just because. The best you can wish for is something that feels insightful to flit through your mind accompanied by words that fit the contours of those thoughts. When such a phenomena happens to me, I try to capture the thoughts as scant notations before they vanish as vapor. It doesn't take much for inspiration to dissipate. Distractions. Tasks weighted with priority. Doubt. Time. Choosing to do something with those notations takes energy and purpose. I have files filled with unfilled purpose.

So what has kept me from writing? I am not waiting on a masterpiece; I do not credit a particular excuse. In fact, in my first draft of this post, I outlined why each excuse lacked worth. But a reader doesn’t care about that. A reader has ample excuses of his or her own to analyze (or not) between missed moments that fall as broken links - disconnections that release opportunities to enrich life.

I have only written this post today because I had to. I forced myself to put finger to keyboard to make something happen. In this new year, I sense an approaching crossroad. I can either continue on a path that has become increasingly isolated or make myself turn onto a road more traveled.

I guess there is one more option. I can forge a new road.

While I have never regarded myself as a trailblazer, I am familiar with feelings inherit to the task of cutting tracks for others to follow. That can be lonely too. Often I have turned around to find that no one has followed. Not right away. Sometimes not at all.

Yet, that does not matter, does it? For I was never lost, never bored, never forsaken.

I guess I am back to some beginning that I wandered from some time ago. It doesn’t matter how long ago my wandering occurred. Indeed, I am not certain I could determine the demarcation. I only wonder where I am to go now and how I might get there. Somehow I need my fingers to lead the way.

There are worse places I could find myself.

I am not lost - just on a road yet known.

At the risk of stating something obvious: I don’t know where I am going. I am, however, confident I will recognize my destination when I get there.

. . .

Friday, October 12, 2012

All in Due Time

I am weak. Ready-to-cry-at-a-minute, afraid-of-the-future, not-able-to-contemplate-scary-outcomes-without-some-worst-case-scenario-planning weak.

At least I was this morning, and I was reminded of the intensity of this condition after visiting my doctor about a persistent yet irregular pain in my left calf. It has bothered me since Monday, the day after our family’s six-hour car ride to the Mississippi River and back. The doctor appointment seemed wise after failed attempts to massage the pain away, stretch the pain away, and deaden the pain away with Aleve. After discovering the left calf and its corresponding ankle measured .5 cm larger than the right one, the doctor employed medical best practices. She sent me immediately to the radiology department in a city 35 miles away for a Dopplar scan to rule out a DVT, deep vein thrombosis.

I was to drive directly there (“but don’t break any speed limits”) and then to wait for confirmation that the radiologist and my doctor had discussed the results. Should I have a blood clot in my leg, I might need to check into the hospital.

My results were negative, yet from 8:45 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. I wasn’t positive they would be, so I began making plans. The worst-case-scenario kind. Not actually the absolute worst, but the kind where someone could pick up Mark (because we only have one operating vehicle and I had it), bring me clothes and toiletries, inform our youngest why we can’t be at his senior year homecoming events, and help figure out how to care for Stross. I didn’t get that last one fleshed out satisfactorily. Too many details – medical supplies, cath schedule, ostomy care, accessible transportation (remember, I had our van), and ways to occupy his time.

I have had to formulate plans on the move in this manner before – many times before – but I have not had to do it when I’ve been the patient.

When I finally reached my sister by phone, I knew that connecting her with Mark – should the need arise – meant they could complete my planning without assistance. Still, my run-thru felt lacking.

Mark and I work best under pressure and when in proximity of one another. We had not been afforded that luxury. Plus, I was operating on less sleep than normal. One more thing: We no longer had adequate respite in place for Stross. Long story. The point of that story is this: Mark and I, once again, are the only living human beings who know “The Care and Feeding of Stross from A to Z.” Relatives are not even up to speed. Mark and I know it is important to not grow tired of this endless need to find and train members for our support team, but we have been doing it for more than two decades. After I-have-lost-count-of-how-many respite workers and caregivers; we have grown tired of it. We just have.

A friend has volunteered to learn – a genuine offer – but we have not made time for her orientation. She has a busy life. A family. A career. We will get to that someday. We promise.

Stross is more independent that he ever has been, even if not fully independent. He will never be fully independent.

Yes, we are still young and need to think of ourselves.

Yes, we know there are many good options.

Yes, we know what those options are.

Yes, we know others can take care of him, and he will be fine – even thrive.

Yes, we even know that one day it will not be us taking care of him at all, but such a time has not arrived.

We won’t wait for a worst-case-scenario, but we won’t needlessly rush when quality of life is at stake, either. Too many factors are in the air. Politicians using waiver programs in political warfare. Fluctuating finances. Uncertainty about plans that our parents, our siblings, and our other son are making about their respective futures.

As with today, negative results can mean a positive outcome.

That’s what happened this time. Thankfully.

At my doctor’s instruction, I am being more intentional tonight about rest-ice-elevation-Aleve, and more aware about a possible relationship to sciatica. The calf pain will resolve. I know my parental pain will resurface and need to be addressed as intentionally as the calf pain; it will likely present as a moment of weakness.

All in due time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Missing the Point of Fire Point

As the days of this year have grown colder and filled with fewer hours of daylight, I have felt an undeniable pull to Northeast Iowa, particularly the limestone bluffs that shape the majesty of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. I wanted to stand, once again, on a overlook that never fails to make me feel connected to a greater sense of life and my smaller-than-minute place within it: Fire Point at Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Effigy Mounds is a protected burial site regarded as the sacred resting place of Native Americans who made this gorgeous land their home more than 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. These woodland people are known as Effigy Moundbuilders, as their culture seemed centered around the construction of burial mounds whose shapes and contents remain largely mysterious. I have been fascinated by these ancient land formations crafted by ancient people since my first visits to the mounds as a child. I visited on school field trips and with my parents and sister.

In 2007 I took Mark and our boys there; our hike marked the first time I was able to stand at Fire Point with them. My sense of triumph as a mother was born of accomplishment despite adversity. People with wheelchairs do not typically hike the paths at Effigy Mounds to enjoy the view from Fire Point. Instead, they take satisfaction in the scenery along a beautiful boardwalk built near the edge of the Yellow River Forest.

Yet I had wanted both my sons – the one who moves using his legs and the one who moves using his wheelchair – to see Fire Point, and because the National Park Service found a way to accommodate the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act while preserving the integrity of this sacred land, our family’s Fire Point hike had been possible. The park service had provided us with a gate opener that year, along with a detailed map to a maintenance road where we could park at the top of the bluff. From there, we easily joined a well-maintained part of the trail much closer to our destination. Mark and I had then alternated between pushing or pulling Stross in his wheelchair. We shoved through cedar chips and over twigs and patches of small rocks until we reached the vista of Fire Point.

I wanted, maybe even needed, that sense of familial accomplishment again. So much of life has felt overwhelming in recent months that I hoped to find spiritual renewal atop a bluff where I had sensed it before. Our family has often thrived despite unexpected adversity. The controlled adversity of a hike to Fire Point held the promise of renewed hope. I had wanted to get there so badly, that seeing a friend’s Facebook photo of a fall hike she had taken to a strikingly similar Mississippi bluff brought me to tears when I saw it last week. I simply could not let more fall weather disappear before taking my family back to Fire Point.

The weekends of our fall calendar have been full of high school events significant to our youngest son, now in his final year of high school. Of course I wanted to take him on the trip. I wanted to squeeze in yet one more fall memory for the four of us before he moves away and makes another city his second home, but he explained why that couldn’t be – at least not this fall. Maybe in the spring, he offered.

I needed to go this fall. I needed to refresh and renew during a time of decay. So this past Sunday, the remaining three of us awoke at sunrise with a plan to head to the river and then be back before sunset. The sky was a crisp, brilliant blue; the air temperature was unseasonably cool yet refreshing. The drive was absolutely beautiful with autumn colors painted on forested hillsides, through water-shaped coulees and across rolling fields in various stages of harvest. I was happy.

After stopping at various farmer’s markets and food stands along the way, we made it to Effigy Mounds. We did not make it to Fire Point.

Since our visit in 2007, the park service modified the visitation policy for persons with disabilities who wanted access to Fire Point. A ranger explained that it was now necessary to call ahead to request a personal escort. That ranger then would be required to accompany us on our hike. This new provision had become necessary after a group traveling with a recreational vehicle had used the access point but neglected to park their vehicle. Instead, they had driven on the hiking trail with their RV and had gotten stuck somewhere on the grounds of the sacred site.

Because we had not called ahead, no ranger was available.

Mark broke the news to me without awareness of its devastating impact. While he and Stross began exploring the visitor’s center, I remained near the entrance. I asked the ranger at the desk if what Mark had told me was true. He affirmed it, and repeated his offer to Mark to schedule a future date for our family; yet I needed that day.

Weary of life as I have recently known it, I wanted the empowerment of a redo. I needed Mark and me to conquer something challenging together. I needed our family to again prove that limitations were not always insurmountable, and I wanted to rest at a vantage point that native peoples had stood and looked across thousands of years before I breathed life.

I wanted to see the majestic Mississippi River from Fire Point; but that would not be. I soon became inconsolable.

Other people were returning from hikes while new groups began fresh climbs. No other wheelchair was in sight. Stross was chattering about Native Americans and making plans to tell his history professor about what he saw on our trip and asking me how much he could spend in the gift shop and telling Mark that his Boy Scout meeting time had been changed for that evening and wheeling in circles of excitement about the raptor demonstration taking place in the center’s auditorium and wondering aloud about the one set of small mounds just outside the center that he could get to and asking when we were going to head out on the boardwalk and if that walk could count as his exercise for the day.

It was all too much for me. It was all so identical to what my days are normally like. I had wanted something more. I had wanted something I was told I could not have that day, but I had planned for that day to be different.

Why had we gotten up so early and driven so far? Why had I been so happy moments earlier but near despondent now? Why did I have to be reminded that my life’s opportunities would forever be tied to my oldest son’s circumstances? Why was I still dealing with a brand of disappointment that was 21 years old on a day I had planned for personal renewal?

And why didn’t Mark automatically give my disappointment a voice? We used to communicate with one glance and instantly take residence in the same emotional space. Now I had to fight for words when I didn’t want to open my mouth. Speaking meant truth telling. Truth telling brought tears. Tears betrayed me to my son – and my husband.

Maybe what I had really wanted was to run away for just a bit. Mark offered that.

“I’ll stay here with Stross while you hike to Fire Point,” he said.

Sob. “No, I don’t want to be there without you.”

“Stross can wait in the car and be perfectly content watching a movie. We can probably be there and back in an hour,” he offered next.

“No!” I cried and then got angry. “I will not leave my son alone in a car. I can’t believe you even suggested it. No.”

Mark had known that wasn’t really an option. Stross cannot get out of our van independently, nor can he make wise decisions should a stranger knock on his van’s door. Mark just wanted to fix things and make them better.

“If you really want to get up there, I’ll try to help you push Stross up to Fire Point. The ranger said the first half-mile is the steepest.” Mark’s voice was reluctantly accommodating.

Now Stross was paying attention. “No!” he practically shouted and began to rally a mature pout. Then, embarrassed to potentially be the focus of attention on a tenuous trek, he proclaimed with great force, “I don’t want to go. You can’t make me.”

Stross is a 21-year-old man in a wheelchair yet in possession of a child’s mind. We can try to make him do things he does not want to, but we should not. I know that.

It was my turn to pout. I again said, “no.”

Mark was frustrated with my behavior more than Stross’. “Joy, it just won’t work today.”

We all waited for me to speak through tears.

“I know,” I said, then turned from them both. “Just leave me alone for a bit.”

Mark now had two children in his charge: one easily distracted and eager to continue the excitement of the day and one crushed by life’s relentless inequity.

I would like to report on some new epiphany birthed by this disappointment or hope that my grownup meltdown on Sunday held a redemptive power equivalent to my desired spiritual renewal. Nothing. I have nothing to report or proclaim.

There is this: I was still crying when I awoke Monday. My husband held me while I cried and offered to call Effigy Mounds to make reservations for a visit to Fire Point on Tuesday, or to find someone to serve as respite for Stross while he and I made the trek alone. It is supposed to rain on Tuesday. I don’t want to stand on Fire Point, crying in the rain.

More than that: I don’t want to be reduced to tears because I am unexpectedly reminded that life doesn’t always turn out as planned. I thought I had learned that lesson decades ago.

Is it spiritual renewal I am in search of or a life reset button? I have never wanted to hit reset before; I don’t really think that’s what it is now.

I have walked where ancient people once walked; I have yet to go where they dared to go, but I will get there in time.

What my life is remains a mystery. I can only hope for ample time during a brilliant autumn to enjoy beautiful scenery with the ones I love most. That happened on Sunday. What more should I want?

. . .

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Independence Paradox

Walking past my neighbor's home today I stopped to say "hi," because I had not done it in a few days. Mrs. F, a new widow, is nearly 90 years of age with eyesight regarded as legally blind. She is still quite able, however, and extremely determined to prove how capable she is.

Mr. F enjoyed most of the spring with her, yet by summer he knew he wasn’t well. He kept his awareness from her as long as possible – until a couple of weeks before his death. He left about a month before summer turned to fall. Now, as days of daylight grow shorter, I wonder how much colder her life will seem when winter arrives.

I pushed the doorbell three times in rapid succession and rapped on the door in a unique rhythm. Mrs. F smiled broadly, as she usually does upon recognizing my friendly tap and physical form, and she wondered aloud where I had been.

"We have had some busy days," I said and then filled her in on activities Mark and I had enjoyed in support of our children and also events we had attended for work and pleasure.

"I had hoped nothing was wrong," she said.

"No, nothing wrong.” Then, recognizing how she had come to rely on my attentiveness, I offered an apology for not having stopped by sooner. “Is there anything you need from the grocery store? I plan to go later," I asked.

“Yes,” she said. She did need some things, but someone else was going to help with that. “She hasn’t called yet, though, so I don’t know.”

“Well, what if I call to check before I get ready to go to the store? That will give you time to check and even time to get a list ready,” I offered.

“That will be fine. I really only need a few things,” she said. “Thank you.”

I got a call within the hour. She had cancelled her other offer and wanted to know if mine was still open. “Certainly. I’ll pick you up at 4 p.m.”

“Oh, that will work great,” she said.

“I’ll see you then,” I assured.

At 4:02 p.m., her front door opened before my van had come to a stop. I got out to assist, but then waited. If she needed my help – closing the door, locking the door with her key, finding secure footing for each step – I would notice. I finally asked if she would appreciate help just to be certain.

“I’ll be fine,” she reassured. “I have this bar to grab that Mr. F put here for me.”

She grabbed that bar as if holding his hand. He had facilitated her independence then and now – at least for a while more.

The ride to the store was full of small talk about autumn: the leaves in her yard she was proud she had managed to rake earlier in the day, the foliage of trees in colors she can see, the children playing outside the local daycare who were enjoying one of the last warm days of the year.

The aisles of the store were comforting and familiar even if the placement of her desired products had become a mystery. She only needed to locate two items: bread and margarine. “I have become a big fan of toast,” she said. My list was three times as long, allowing for more time to be out, more time to recognize people’s voices, and more time to be seen. More time, also, to feel alive on one of the last warm days of the year.

Well-wishers added to a sense of well being.

“Why, hello.” “I was so sorry to learn about your husband.” “So good to see you out.” “How are you?”

Mrs. F smiled throughout. She kept her tears glistening inside her eyelids. She kept pushing her cart through open spaces, allowing me to take the lead as we moved through the store.

Returning home, she exited the van while I carried her two items to the door. I waited as she felt for the opening in the key lock and then made two unsuccessful attempts to insert her key. “Just a little higher,” I suggested. She opted to keep her left index finger on the opening while sliding her house key under that finger and into the slot with the aid of her right hand. “Success!” I exclaimed on her behalf, and then handed her purchases to her – all $3.19 worth.

After a bit more small talk, I opened the door to leave. She followed in order to lock the door behind me.

“Oh, wait,” she said. “Before you go, can you open this bottle of pills?”

“Certainly.” I obliged and opened.

“How did you do that? Will you show me?” Of course, I would.

“Feel these grips on either side of the cap? Just squeeze those and turn. Wah-la.”

Her face lighted. “My goodness. That was easy.”

“Why don’t you do it before I go just to be sure you don’t have questions.”

She easily opened it herself, and then, embarrassed, apologized for even asking. I reassured her that the demonstration had been my pleasure and she should not hesitate to ask for assistance again should the need arise. Then I left.

Mrs. F is doing well. She misses her husband of more than 60 years dearly, but she is doing well.

Independence. We aspire to it. We work to achieve it. We hang onto it in all ways possible.

I have learned the most valuable lessons about independence from my oldest son.

One tenet in particular: Independence is a paradox. It can only be achieved with the help of others.

Countries achieve independence when patriots fight – together.

Children exercise independence after learning skills from parents, friends and educators who have done their best work – together.

People remain independent through the help of others who support their goals and are willing to provide assistance as needed. The goals are accomplished together.

Independence comes through acceptance of our interdependence. It just does.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sweater Weather

Vintage challenges in modern attire.
yet not ready.

Dresssers poised to help.
Some holding out timeless attire.
Some failing at fit.
Fashion does not matter.

Warmth, suitability, dependability.
Covering for all ages – all time – is the need.

Not easy, but easier
to closet dressers away.
Seasons past.
Times changed.
Treasures tucked into memory trunks
to make room for what can be worn now.

Staples remain.
Faithful favorites who always fit,
always accentuate the positive
while deflecting attention from the trouble spots.
And with style.

Keep the classics.
Pass on ill fitting.
Discard the worn.
Live within the means.

Dressers poised to help.
Covering for all ages – all time – is the need.
Warmth, suitability, dependability.
Not just during sweater weather,
but all seasons.

. . .