Thanksgiving This Year

Autumn candle

This year was a milestone for me—I turned 60 and it was the first birthday that my mother was not able to celebrate with me, call me, or sign her name with my father’s to my card. When she passed away in late summer of 2017, I had no idea of how her passing would change me. I learned very quickly it was a hurt for which I had no words or experience.

I was excited about my 60th birthday and had planned a party (theme: Honey, I’m Grown) months in advance. As the June date drew nearer, I became apprehensive about how I would feel on that day, and wondered if in the middle of the celebration, I would realize that it was not a good idea. But that didn’t happen. Continue reading

Winter Walking through Grief

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This afternoon I did something I seldom do when it is cold outside—I went for a walk in my neighborhood. The snow crept in overnight, and when I got up this morning the lawn was blanket of white, and the intersection near my house had the fresh tire tracks of the early risers on their way to work.

I had planned to walk today but when I first saw the snow, I was resistant and did not want to go through the routine of bundling up so that I could walk. So I put it off, one hour, then another, until it was noon. And then I remembered what I learned during my retreat last month. Continue reading

Thoughts on Friendship and the novel The Hate U Give

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I finished The Hate U Give, written by Angie Thomas, two days ago and I am still mulling over the many themes in this novel. The protagonist, Starr Carter, spends her days in two worlds, the poor neighborhood she calls home and the suburban high school she attends. Her life, already full of challenges by the time she is 16, is upended when she witnesses the murder of her best friend.

I immersed myself into her world and its characters and I did not want to leave until I was done. The conflicts Starr must face, internal and external, forced me to consider my experiences attending predominately white schools and my role in social justice activism.

There are many themes here but the one I want to focus on is central to The Hate U Give; it is friendship. On page 265, Starr talks to her mother about a friendship that has gone awry. I know the page number because this was the one page I bookmarked right away so that I could come back to it. Starr ponders her mother’s advice and the friend with whom she is at odds, and asks herself, “Our friendship is based on memories. What do we have now?”

That question stood out because I have wondered if memories are really enough to sustain a relationship, at least a close one. When I think of my deepest relationships outside of my family, there are some similarities. Some began because we went to the same school, church, or worked at the same company. One might say proximity played a role because the relationships began because we saw each other often, almost daily, if you think of school or work, and we got to know one another. But it takes more than proximity to become friends. I’ve always been a little amused by people who think that someone they work with is a friend just because they see them in the office every day. It reminds me of a story a friend told me a long time ago; there was someone he often shared a ride with but he later realized that they were not really close, they were simply going in the same direction.

If being in the same place does not make us friends, then what does? I believe shared experiences, an open heart, and a willingness to learn from each other are essential to becoming friends. I might connect with someone right away because I like something about him or her, but attraction is not friendship, or at least it might not be.

My deepest friendships have generally been a surprise; I seldom saw it coming at the first meeting. It is like a gumbo or a stew. In the beginning it seems to be a collection of ingredients, a mishmash of conversations, events, and revelations, with the occasional misunderstanding that needs to be sorted out. Only over time does the flavor deepen, getting richer and more nuanced as we let things warm up.

The murder of Starr’s friend makes her question what it means to be a friend, to be loyal, and to stand up for what you believe. Starr has a big decision to make—retreat and be silent about what she knows, or open her mouth and speak the truth despite the inevitable negative consequences and challenges to her safety and relationships. I have had one or two friendships made closer by how someone supported me in a difficult situation, but not all have required that for me to know that the friendship was special. Very often, it was because of experiences, now memories, which we share.

In the most longstanding friendships, we not only have the old memories to go back to, but we create new ones by going through life together, or talking about what we are going through—the good, the bad, and the crazy. A memory may not be enough to sustain a friendship that has gone sour, but it can be the roux in the pot that holds it together when we cannot see each other as often as we’d like.

This book made the 2017 National Book Award Longlist and is a New York Times bestseller. I hope you’ll read The Hate U Give, consider what it says about social justice and friendship, and share it with others. It’s a YA (young adult) novel, which might cause some to pass over it. Don’t—the writing is excellent and Thomas tells a great story full of characters you will recognize, if your world is as open as it could be. If not, then read it to understand another side to the many issues which are being debated and legislated these days.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day – Treasures

This is for mothers everywhere, and for those who have poured their love, patience, and wisdom into the life of another person, whether it is your own child or someone who needed a gift that you were able and willing to provide.

Despite going to Catholic grade school and college, there was a verse in the bible that eluded me for most of my life, until a few years ago. It seems it would have been brought to my attention in religion class, Sunday school, or perhaps recited during the month of May. (I loved the month of May, with its songs that celebrated Mary. Those songs were among the most joyous of the ones I remember from grade school.) I stumbled on these verses during my own reading, and it was like that piece of sidewalk that juts up unevenly from the path and forces you to slow down and pay attention.

In Luke 2:19, after the birth of Jesus, it reads:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2:51 says:

“But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Mary’s reaction came after she watched her 12-year-old son as he listened, questioned, and learned from the teachers in the temple. Even when Jesus was young, his mother realized there was something special about her child. She may have sensed that his path was not going to be easy, and that everything he was doing as a child would prepare him for the challenges ahead.

By the time I read these words my daughter was already an adult, and I knew what it meant to know that your child would have to go through prickly thickets in the midst of sunny meadows. But what really struck me was how my own mother, also named Mary, must have known the same thing about me. Surely there were times when she just watched, observed, being aware of what might be ahead, but allowing me to go my own way. That had to be hard at times, but she did it. I am grateful for her guidance and quiet wisdom.

On this day I want to thank all mothers who have to sort this out—when to step in, and when to intercede and step back—knowing that you cannot completely prevent a loved one’s suffering, but you can love them through it.

Happy Mother’s Day

 

Valentine’s Day, AWP17, and Mornings

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I celebrate this day because I was brought up on the idea that love extends outside our front doors, goes in the neighborhood, schools, and the world around us. And the world needs an extra hug, wink, or a blown kiss right now. So don’t worry about not having a date, or the box of chocolates, don’t rush out and buy gifts. Just send a little love and hope out today. That will be enough, trust me.

I went to Washington, D.C. to Continue reading

My Favorite Love Poem

 

Last week I was walking along the St. Joe River; it was early morning and the day was not yet too hot. My walks are restorative and invigorating and I always come away with ideas, things about which I would like to write, or a general plan for what I want to do when I get back home.

Some mornings I prefer to walk in silence, with only the sound of the occasional passing car, a cyclist alerting me, “On the left!” or the squawking geese that make their home on the river’s banks. This morning I listened to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast. Gretchen is a happiness and habits expert; you may have read her books, The Happiness Project or Better Than Before. Her podcasts, which she hosts with her sister Elizabeth Craft, share tips on how to create habits that foster happiness. They also take listener calls.

A woman called in because she wanted suggestions for a reading for her upcoming wedding and she was willing to take ideas from Gretchen or her listeners. Her request took me back to my wedding 10 years ago. I was excited because as I planned the wedding, I remembered a poem that I had always loved. I shared it with Tony before we were married, decided to use it in the ceremony, and asked my father to read it for us.

I don’t know what reading or poem the listener will use for her ceremony—I hope she finds something that she will remember for all the days of her marriage. I wanted to share the poem I selected with you. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) wrote the poem; he was a poet, lyricist, and wrote short stories and novels. He was a black man, born in Dayton, Ohio and unfortunately, died much too young. Here is his poem, Invitation to Love.

 

Invitation to Love

Come when the nights are bright with stars

Or when the moon is mellow;

Come when the sun his golden bars

Drops on the hayfield yellow.

Come in the twilight soft and gray,

Come in the night or come in the day,

Come , O love, when’er you may,

And you are welcome, welcome.

 

You are sweet, O love, dear love

You are soft as the nesting dove.

Come to my heart and bring it rest

As the bird flies home to its welcomenest.

 

Come when my heart is full of grief

Or when my heart is merry;

Come with the falling of the leaf

Or with the redd’ning cherry.

Come when the year’s first blossom blows

Come when the summer gleams and glows;

Come with the winter’s drifting snows,

And you are welcome, welcome.

 

– Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

 

 

Who Is Your Family?

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I just spent an amazing weekend with my sisters. I call them my sisters even though I grew up as the only girl in a family with my four brothers. Maria is my cousin; I used to babysit her and we also played together; I went to her track meets. Tina and I met at summer camp when I was in grade school, became friends and have stayed close for decades even though we never went to the same schools, never lived in the same neighborhood and since college, have not always lived in the same city. Marie and Yolanda are my sisters-in-law, married to two of my brothers who are twins. I may not have had a sister in the home when I was younger, but I have been blessed with women who have come and stayed in my life.

We were so busy with each other, talking, eating, walking the streets of St. Joseph near Silver Beach, we did not watch TV, or listen to news. The only updates we were interested in were the ones pertaining to our own lives. And the laughter – how we laughed! My husband said that at one point while he was in the family room, he heard the roar of our laughter, first one voice, then another, and it just continued to roll. He knew we were having a good time, and he also knew not to ask what had driven us to laugh like that.

On Sunday, after we enjoyed a sendoff feast, a low country shrimp boil, steaming with red potatoes, sausage, and corn, along with cornbread and lemonade, I tidied up the house and settled in. There wasn’t much to clean up, because this kind of family leaves each other better off. While they were here, my family chopped vegetables for meals, cleaned and dried dishes, and tossed towels in baskets to be washed. When it was time to leave, we hugged our goodbyes and said, “I love you.”

And then I turned on the news and saw a line about Orlando. Another assault, more evidence of the lack of regard some on the planet have for the bodies and hearts of others. Another sign that some confused, lonely, or maybe vengeful people lack an understanding of what it is to walk in love with one another, or do not respect the truth that we are all worthy of love. This morning it took a while to get started, I felt off, disoriented, stunned. Each assault like this seems to creep a bit closer to my spirit, and today I am at a loss about how to stop them. Looking for answers, I went to campus for a walk, intending to listen to music or a podcast. But the noise in my head was too much, I could only be silent, walk, sit on a stone ledge to gather my thoughts, and then walk some more.

People who do not own guns are considering whether or not this is the time to purchase one. I shudder at that thought but it is a choice some have already made, and others will now do the same. Some who are concerned are arming themselves through activism, others with prayer. Those are the approaches that appeal to me. I grieves me to consider the family, friends, and neighbors who will no longer be able to see their loved ones because of the murders in Orlando, and the loss of lives because of rage, despair and intolerance is happening across our country. I pray that the injured and those who lost someone through violence have family to love them through this hard time, and I appreciate my sister-family for being here with me this weekend all the more. Peace and blessings, Ramona

 

Roadside Assistance

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I live in northern Indiana and often drive to Cincinnati, which is a four-hour drive through cornfields and around Indianapolis before the hills and trees of the southern Ohio valley come into view. Earlier this week I was about an hour away from home (I will always call Cincinnati home, even though I have not lived there for years) when the warning lights flashed on the dashboard. First I heard a beep, the check engine light lit up, followed by a funny-looking icon. My car, although it is reliable, is old and I thought about stopping to see what was going on. But the lights went off and so I drove a few more miles.

Then they flickered again. I decided not to risk a forced stop on the highway, took the next exit and pulled into a parking lot near a bank. Something in me said to find a space with no cars nearby, just in case I needed a tow. It was a warm day, a late morning on a busy street, so I was not worried about my safety or the weather.

I have had this car for over 21 years and driven it more than 244,000 miles. Maybe it was time to accept that I would finally have to dip into savings and get a new car. But I did not want to. I check the oil, get it serviced, anything to keep it running. Even after all of those miles, I believed that there was more life in the car if I took care of it.

A quick look at the owner’s manual convinced me that it was a minor problem that could be resolved once I got to Cincinnati, now about 60 miles away. I settled back into my seat and put the key in the ignition, eager to continue on. I turned the key; nothing happened. I turned the key again—no click, no engine starting, the only response was the sound of jostling keys. My car had given out, after all I had done to keep it running.

I have had friendships like this, ones that seemed to fade away even after I tried to keep them alive. I find myself wondering whether it is worth it to keep jumpstarting them or if I should let them go. It could be age; over time I have become more thoughtful and intentional about my relationships. Some friendships are closer, because of years of shared experiences and being there for each other. A few are stronger after a temporary distance, because we came back together, talked and decided not to take the relationship for granted.

But a couple are not going as well. My interests have shifted, perhaps that is part of it. My tolerance for certain behaviors has definitely changed. Things I might have overlooked when I was younger or for which I made excuses, they now make me tired. I am figuring out how much more effort I want to put into these types of friendships. I do not bail out on people easily, but sometimes space is needed, or my acceptance that the relationship may have run its course.

Resigned to the fact that my car needed more than a jump, I called AAA to arrange for a tow to Cincinnati and a couple of hours later, I sat in the service department, handed them the keys and left my car. I was certain that this was it; I would have to buy a new car. Somehow, I could not help thinking that maybe there was something else I should have done to avoid the breakdown. But then again, I always checked the oil, used the right gas, drove safely—what more could I have done?

The next day the dealer called to tell me that car could be fixed. They had to order a part and some belts, but they would have it ready in a day or so. I was relieved. I can drive this car a few more miles, or months, maybe years. I don’t know; I will have to take it one road trip at a time.

I thought about my friendships. I could let some slip away from lack of attention. I could decide that the effort required to be in them exceeds the mutual benefit of trying to maintain them. Or I can remember the memorable trips we have taken through life, the easy, flat roads where we coasted along, the hills and valleys that were harder to navigate but still a part of our journey. I can give it another shot, trying to be more patient, less sensitive or irritated. I might accept that I have done all I can or want to do, and let that be enough.

I have spent so much time in these relationships, depended on my friends to help me make my way through life, and at other times I have been the one to lead the way, to carry them through a tough spot. Tossing aside an important friendship without trying to fix things would be foolish. I have been down this road before; I know the difference between when to let go and when to check if all that is needed is a little repair.