Time For A Change

 

 

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  It is a time of change, of new beginnings.  As a child, it meant  the return to school, reunion with friends, relief from the oppressive summer heat. I loved the smells, the sounds, the feel of autumn.  The rustle of wind through the falling leaves, the smell of apples cooking, the taste of pumpkin pies, the calls of the geese migrating south, the chill in the air.  I loved it all.

But this is an autumn like no other.  We are in the grip of a deadly and relentless pandemic on the threshold of flu season.  Within seven short months (can that be true?) we have lost over 200,000 lives to coronavirus in the US and ar eapproaching 1 million worldwide.  Over that same period, we have weathered devastating hurricanes, floods, and riots.  Fires still rage over much of the West coast. Unemployment is at unprecedented levels and we are in a contentious political battle for the presidency.  This is  uncharted territory.

We’re all in this together; we hear this a lot. And we seem to agree on this.  But we don’t agree on how to get out the situation we find ourselves in.  The popular response seems to be to blame each other for our problems.  It  has become a national pastime. We need only to channel surf or go on social media to find a rabid champion for our cause.   No insult, no accusation is off limits.  We wear our stubborn allegiance  like a badge of honor. Vicious name-calling, unheard of a decade ago, is embedded in the national dialog. Common courtesy no longer unifies us; we are drifting into dangerous waters.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I railed about the corrupt and self-seeking motives of a certain political group, and threw in a few unflattering slurs for good measure. Surely she agreed with my position, after all, she is my friend, an intelligent and thoughtful person. But as her smile stiffened to a grimace,  it was clear she didn’t agree.  At. All. To my chagrin,  not only had my insensitive, and face it, tasteless,  comment threatened a friendship, it  had made meaningful discourse on the topic impossible.  Worse, I wasn’t presenting a reasoned argument, only popular opinions, not even my own.

I am not proud of this behavior.  I need to change.  Uncomfortable as it is,  I need to listen respectfully to the other point of view if I want peace in my family, with my friends, in my community.

But why listen to my opponent?  Why entertain her point of view, when she probably won’t listen to mine.  And even so, I’m just one person among millions.  Perhaps true, but more importantly, being that self-righteous, intolerant person just does not serve me well.  I don’t like how it feels.

And who knows, if a few people become open to listenIng and a few more listen to those people and a few more……

Wait!  Isn’t that how the virus spreads?

 

 

 

 

HOPE IS NOT QUARANTINED

In the early days of the pandemic, it was easier to stay hopeful.  After all, surely it would soon be over.  But as the days, weeks, months drag by, as our problems compound, it’s easy to become discouraged. But as Emily Dickinson reminds me in her beautiful poem, “Hope Is The Thing With Featuers,” hope is an inside job.

On the footpath where I walk in the mornings, people have begun leaving messages of hope painted on colorful stones.  As I walk by, my spirits are lifted by these small thoughtful gestures.  And they remind me  of all the goodness and beauty in my life. Hope is always there. I just have to look for it

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
                          Emily Dickinson, 1891

The beautiful photo was provided by my good friend Carlton, a master photographer.

The Road Ends

I wonder if anyone really truly believes this.   So easy to buy into the lie that life is like a racetrack, a seemingly endless series of laps, a delusion
fueled by a culture that worships youth and marginalizes its elders.

 

I remember rolling my eyes when my mother and her friends launched into a  litany of aches, pains and  funeral reviews. I vowed I would never allow my world to shrink so small, become so focused on myself.  I would be involved with life – would have far more important things to think about.

But to my chagrin, I find myself actively participating in these conversations with my friends nowadays. It is, after all, what is happening to us.  One more thing to add to my list of things I vowed I would never do.

What I hadn’t counted on about growing old is that nothing  stays the
same for very long.  Some days are full of hope and good fortune.  I am brimming over with gratitude for my friends, my family, my reasonably good health.  Other days it takes all the strength I can summon to put one foot in front of the other, to stay the course.

If we haven’t learned life lessons along the way, if we don’t have friends and loved ones around us, if we don’t have creative outlets that give us joy, God help us.  Because the older we get, the larger the challenges, the bigger the losses, the less we control.

Living a successful old age is hard work, in my opinion.  I need all the resources I can muster.   But no matter what my situation,  I am in charge of the path I take.  I always have choices.

And in the final analysis, it’s  not that the road ends, it’s where it ends that matters.

 

 

 

 

FRIENDS FOR LIFE

 

Years before Millennials coined BFF (text-talk for Best Friends Forever), we were Friends For Life. (FFL).  We were in primary school together.

No one knows you like those you grow up with. Posturing is pointless around these folks. They always knew whether you were clumsy or a basketball star, could or shouldn’t sing, nerdy or poor at math, pretty and popular or not so much… whatever you were. And they still know.

If you think time stops when you visit your college roommate, try re-connecting with your third-grade nemesis who played Mary in the Christmas pageant while you sweltered under a scratchy sheep costume. Or your senior classmate elected “Miss Popularity” while you were voted “Most Likely to Travel.” Or the Football Sweetheart beaming on the arm of the football captain at the Prom while you slinked in accompanied by a truculent cousin. You’ll pick up exactly where you left off, like it or not.

Having now achieved  a certain age, I have come to treasure these friendships, even though I lived far away from them for many years. All is forgiven now — well almost all.  So after the obligatory family news updates, the “do you remember’s” take over. “Do you remember the time the home-ec teacher ripped out all our aprons and made us start over the week before finals? Or the time Becky stole secret photographs of her sister and sold them to neighborhood boys?  Or the summer that June and Vicky drove twenty miles every Wednesday night to meet their boyfriends while their mothers thought they were at vacation bible school? Or the day Wanda backed her daddy’s car all the way home from the lake trying to run back the miles on the odometer? Or the time Jane burned her tongue trying to smoke cornsilk? Or how we used to “Dive and Duck” under the desks for bomb drills?  And so it goes until we’re all hoarse from laughing.  There is just nothing else like it.

But there is more here than nostalgia.  Our bond was created by an accident of birth that consigned us to the same zip code for our most formative years. We weren’t friends because we chose each other.  We were friends because we knew each other. Our parents knew each other.  In most cases, our grandparents knew each other.  Many of us were cousins. We went to the same churches.  We stood in line together for school vaccinations, we rode the same school-bus, went to the same Saturday afternoon movies.  We had crushes on the same cute boys, cheered the football team together and wore the same ugly gym suits. Community was a given. We absorbed it like the summer heat. Even when we didn’t like each other, we belonged together. And we still do.

I have many beautiful friendships that came later in life. They have enriched, supported and inspired me. They are no less cherished, but they are different.  They did not spring from what I will call generational community.   By definition, generational communities accept and take responsibility for their members. We found a place for Linda on our softball team even though she never hit the ball. When Sandy’s ill-tempered little dog Princess died, we cried together. And today, if Sarah needs a ride to the clinic, even though we may cringe at her political views, one of us is there.

These days we choose our friends.  People we work with, who share our hobbies, political views, churches, professional organizations.  But we may live for years next door to families we wouldn’t recognize at the grocery store.   And I think we are poorer for it.   If I don’t know my neighbor, I can’t help my neighbor; my neighbor cannot help me.  If I hide  behind a cloak of anonymity, does anyone really know who I am? Do I?

All of my friends have been and continue to be teachers in my life. But my first grade friends were my first teachers.  They taught me the meaning of community. And the lessons we learned together in our first community have supported and united us through the hills and gullies of our lives.  That’s why we’re Friends for Life.  

 

 

 

About time.

“Nobody sees a flower – really 

      it is so small it takes time –

      we haven’t time –

      and to see takes time,

      like to have a friend takes time.”

                                                                                          Georgia O’Keefe

Not so long ago, time stretched ahead in an endless ribbon winding out of sight to unlimited possibility and opportunity.  There would always be time.  To do more, have more,  be more.  Or ..to change course.  

But the paths were one-way, constantly bifurcating.  With each decision well reasoned or impetuous, other paths and their tributaries were lost to view.   Still, there was more time, surely.  

Then inevitably, imperceptibly, my  path narrowed and led me here.  Now the path ahead is straighter.  There will be fewer opportunities, fewer choices.  Each moment counts.

 It’s time to take time.