There is something elemental in the pounding of the surf and the spray of salt-tinged air . . .
that feeds the sheltered spirit. . .
Happy New Year.
I hope you are catching your breath from the frenzy of the holidays and preparing for wonderful things to happen in the new year. If you’d like to preview a few goals before setting your own, please hop over to Molly Greene’s fabulous website where she has enlisted the help of a few writerly sorts in New Year’s goal-setting and general revelry (and when you get a group of writers together you’d better get ready to throw out the hairstyle, swim with marine mammals, move to Belize, and roll with the twists & turns of their imaginations. WooHoo!)
Molly Greene, Author, Blogger, Novelist, Teller of Tales: www.molly-greene.com
From our house to yours, we wish you the happiest of holidays and many blessings for the new year.
I am guest blogging on the lovely Tess Hardwick’s website, Inspiration for Ordinary Life. Tess is the brilliant author of the novel RIVERSONG and her writing is exactly that and more . . . motivational and exquisitely written. It feeds my soul at every visit.
One of Tess’ features is entitled 20 Thursday where guest authors advise their twenty-year-old selves. It has proven a hysterically funny topic for some writers, poignant one for others, and for me was a labor of love to write, not just because I adore the talented Tess, but because the universal topic of transitions is so complex and thought-provoking.
New does not always mean exciting and transitions are rarely seamless. When my daughter had the opportunity to change schools at the delicate turning point between childhood and adolescence, she agonized and I suffered. It was a long summer dreading the adjustment as she struggled with “but what ifs” and I grappled with my memories, those that had imprinted because of the intensity of youthful emotion.
Imprint: the first day of kindergarten. I had on my mother’s creation, a gold poncho with long fringes that brushed my bare arms in the slight breeze as I listened to the school bus rumble its way along our unpaved road. I watched the dirt storm settle behind the back wheels when it stopped, and shot a fearful glance over my shoulder seeking reassurance from my mother’s wave and my brother’s toothy grin. I took that first step, managed the second, seated myself next to a window and pressed my face to the glass, watching the distance from my mother increase as the bus floor vibrated beneath my feet and my poncho clung to my neck.
Changing schools was one of those school-bus-rumbling moments that I did not want for my daughter, but I also accepted the inevitability of knowing that life is a string of those transitions, that she must. She was nervous at the Fall Open House meeting her new teacher. I was trembling.
We were fortunate in our punctuality, her teacher was alone in a classroom that must have seemed enormous in its unfamiliarity to a small girl. I swallowed, managed a smile that probably looked more like a grimace, and propelled us across the threshold. Her teacher, Marcia, was already in motion.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Marcia said. Her voice and movements held an innate grace that brought to mind Hepburn elegance as she bent down next to my daughter to make her height seem less formidable. Marcia asked about her about her hobbies and expectations, offering my daughter glimpses into her own personality to make the acquaintance of a new teacher less frightening.
When I saw my daughter’s smile, I could breathe. When Marcia stood and I felt the full force of that same curiosity and acceptance, I was reassured.
If we arrived early to school that year, she was there and her car was the last one in the parking lot. In spite of a new curriculum and students who in her words “keep me on my toes,” her smile never dimmed. I was fortunate in volunteering, adding my hands to extra tasks while watching her instruct and inspire, awed that she could make The Secret Garden, horticultural genomes, and mathematical areas equally compelling.
I was in the classroom one morning, trying to be unobtrusive while pulling staples from a bulletin board and eavesdropping on Marcia’s presentation of a literary passage. A student read aloud and general comments followed, ones far more astute than what I gleaned.
“Lets talk about that,” Marcia said, spurring more discussion on what the author meant with the word choices. “Do you think the sea really had ‘fingers’?” which opened up the avenue for her to explore the concept of personification in literature.
Excitement bubbled. Theories abounded, both the serious and the ridiculous, but all with an air of empowerment, that they’d been given a bit of knowledge, a gift that exposed them just a little bit more to the vastness of education, added just a little bit more to the tools that they took into the world.
Marcia laughed. I tried to keep my chuckling the silent sort and paused in my task to glance over my shoulder at the students and Marcia.
Experiences change me. I have run through a silent field at sunrise, a mist capturing those first rays and enfolding them around me in a shimmering, divine embrace.
The expression on Marcia’s face was no less moving. She was luminescent. Joy spilled from her, mirrored in every upturned, eager, young face.
In her expression I read a promise: I will give you everything I have and with it, I am restored.
Imprinted. That moment is indelible, captured in my memory, labeled with the term unconditional generosity, and held in that special place that reserves my treasures.
I’d like to say my daughter sailed smoothly through her transition from child to young adult, but that wouldn’t be the whole story. No growth comes without painful stretches. But it was made easier by having Marcia a prominent part of our lives that year.
She taught my child in a manner that I could not, that it was okay to fail; value comes in failing. That it was okay to pour out her artistic spirit; the soul craves creativity. That it was okay to look forward, stand tall with Hollywood grace and unfettered optimism, and share her gifts with the world. The world is richer for it.
How can you thank someone properly who turns transitions into things of such great beauty that you savor them like shiny treasures and cradle the divinity within them?
It’s inequitably simple, but my gratitude for Marcia and for all the teachers that give with unconditional generosity comes from that changed place within me . . . and with it the hope that they are always restored.
In the not too distant past, I was the Birthday Grinch. Neither swayed by multicolored packages nor moved by depths of frosting covering candled, cakey goodness, indifference to the birthday process wasn’t enough, I was adamantly opposed to it. Why mark the passage of another year, another chunk of time lost? I pulled my quilts over my head, blocked out the noise of the tweeters and fandangles, and endured the day.
But that was before my very own CindyLou Who, who coaxed and cajoled, cheered and praised, who showed me by example the necessity of setting aside a day, just one day a year, where I am unabashedly joyful in the celebration of me.
New Year’s resolutions are about personal flaws and plans of attacks for remedy. I’ve given them up. I much prefer CindyLou’s method. So in that spirit, it’s that time of year again to shake the pompoms, lick the frosting, and rejoice.
I’m another year older, another year wiser, and another year grateful:
• For family members; the center of my world, my heart.
• For friends, who lend a shoulder or a laugh, and give generously of their time in tending my soul.
• For purpose, a job I love, and a creative outlet that feeds it all.
• For fuzzy blankets, comfort foods, tickled bellies, warm-hued sunrises, stillness of silences, and the ability to appreciate it all.
Thanks for stopping by and being a part of my world. I appreciate you.
I feel an affinity for the pioneer women of yesteryear. Life prohibited communication from being lengthy, detailed, or effusive. And yet, they found a way to distill love and support into a single focus, a heartfelt gift: a casserole!
1. Brown hamburger and drain. Add tomato soup, Worchestershire sauce, and spices and cook for 5 minutes until well blended. Press into bottom of ungreased 9×9 pan.
2. Cover meat mixture with grated cheese.
3. Microwave vegetables until heated. DRAIN. Layer on meat mixture.
4. Prepare mashed potatoes. Spread on top of vegetables.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 35 minutes or until heated throughout.
Anne Lamott writes in her book BIRD BY BIRD, “We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.” As humans, we are wired for curiosity, exploration, and hunger for new experiences. Look a child in the eye and you can feel it.
Imagination and inquisitiveness led to adventures we sometimes had no business getting into, but would we have walked the same path to adulthood without them?
• Without the input of my older brothers who decided my four-year-old brother was overdue on training for his rodeo career so hoisted him onto the feistiest calf in the field. Little Brother held on tight to the strap, gave a gap-toothed smile and said with devil-may-care abandon, “Let him buck.”
• Without Little Brother’s decision to make the horse trough an excellent home for our western version of water-salamanders, until our pets were discovered when the horses refused to drink. Little Brother had a goodbye ceremony as each one scurried off to the wild, whispering the names he had given them.
• What would Little Brother have become without his forage into entrepreneurship, the most glorious, profitable plan concocted by a seven-year-old? He hoped fisherman journeyed to their next big haul on the busy road a short distance from the house. Capitalizing on the abundant grasshopper crop, he industriously set out to make fine habitats within spare jars, then he trapped our monstrous grasshoppers, segregated them, and displayed them in a red wagon with his sign, “Grasshoppers, $1.”
He sat by the side of road with the grasshoppers eyeing him with buggy gazes and with me eyeballing him just as intently wondering at his absolute confidence in his dream of monetary independence.
Not one car stopped. The grasshoppers lived to eat another crop, but that did not sway Little Brother from his theme of dogged persistence in questioning, “what comes next?”
It formed the basis of the man he is today . . .
He’s my best example of freshness and freedom and I still eyeball him intently with glorious, endless wonder.
If you see a lemonade stand, if a youngster taps on your door selling Christmas paper, if you’re eyeball to eyeball with a grasshopper in a glass jar and you have a spare dollar on you, contribute.
It will renew your sense of curiosity and exploration, and you’ll be glad of a chance to feed the dream. (Just please remind said youngster to stay off the cattle.)
Election Day was earlier this week. I listened to the onslaught of ads, read through the propositions, consulted with those knowledgeable about the issues, and voted after careful consideration. We vote by ballot in our county so I followed the instructions to properly seal the envelope, located the appropriate drop site, took the short drive downtown and added my choices to those of my community neighbors on how we’d like our government run.
After many years repeating this same process, tucking that envelope into the drop box was still an emotional experience. A sense of profound gratitude overcame me that I am allowed the privilege of having my simple mark mean so much in the world I live in when others have no voice, no choice, and no hope of changing their futures.
That privilege does not come unfettered.
Our family has multiple military members. My stepfather served in the Army during WWII in the North African campaign. He didn’t talk much about the events, didn’t brag about battles fought or his rank in the company, but when he did offer a story there was a quality in his voice, in his eyes, that spoke more abundantly about the haunting of his experiences than long narratives. He was sixteen when he joined up, forging the paperwork to allow him entrance into service. He was not an innocent for long.
My stepfather was an infantryman, assigned to a tank with a handful of young men, assembled by chance and formed into a unit closer than most families by duty, purpose, and fear. In confines close enough to identify his immediate brother-in-arm by the smell of individual sweat, they shared tight space, meals, letters from home, and their hope that they would all get home to resume their interrupted lives. He was sixteen, undergoing the most intense experience of his limited viewpoint. Those men were his life.
He told the tale of being on the run from enemy fire, of days spent at high adrenaline not knowing which breath would be his last. They were confined to their tanks, ordered not to exit as the convoy made slow progress. Nature sometimes has other ideas and the pain of an overly full bladder has its own persuasions. The men agreed, pulled aside, and two of them, my stepfather included, made their way outside to take care of necessities.
As my stepfather and his friend made their way back, enemies targeted. Their tank, the insulating world he’d built against the horrific scenario he’d been dropped into, holding the men who’d helped him stay sane with card games and gentle ribbing, received fire. The tank burst into flames.
He and his remaining friend literally ran three days to get away from enemy lines and regain his company.
He never did outrun the experience.
I, too, was an active duty military member. I know the feeling of standing in uniform when the national anthem plays, when the feeling of connection stretches across the generations and the act of raising a hand honors fallen compatriots and pledges an affirmation to stand for beliefs and their continuation. I can tell you that military members pray that the price of their convictions, to protect what they hold dear, does not involve their lives. I can tell you that they’ll pay the price willingly if it does.
I volunteered for deployment. There are a handful of transitions in life that are so monumentally significant that they define you. I know the exact moment that I stepped into adulthood.
It was night. The lights were dim and the air was crisp within the bay, flavored with generator fuel and medicinal alcohol. We were the welcome committee for a contingency of wounded, not knowing what to expect, but with adrenaline coursing through our veins and our skills primed.
They pushed a multitude of young men into the bay in rapid-fire release until the area was filled with the cries of the wounded. My eyes shifted to a young man as he looked about with a gaze that appeared sightless. He had bare cheeks and widened eyes and looked like a boy I’d find cruising the local high school, not one wearing a shredded uniform. A chaplain rushed to his side, held his hand and leaned in to whisper. The boy’s eyes held mine. They weren’t sightless.
Instead, they’d seen too much.
I know the exact moment that I stepped into adulthood, when I held the eyes of that boy and realized, my world was not a safe, insular bubble, but that boys and girls like these put themselves on the line to give those back home the appearance that it was.
I have not been the same. And I still pray for that boy.
I have a habit that embarrasses my family. When I’m in the community and my paths cross with a military member in uniform, I approach him or her, hold out my hand and say, “Thank you for your service.” I’ve never had a man or woman turn away from that handshake and occasionally I see an expression of gratitude cross their faces, but the gesture isn’t about them.
It’s for me.
To express the deep gratitude I feel for living in a country where I matter and knowing what I believe in is important enough for the sacrifice.
God bless our veterans. Today and always.
I’m fortunate to have two apple trees in my back yard and the cool summer was prime apple growing conditions for a prosperous fall crop. When that first apple falls, I gather my cookbooks and dive into recipes flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon.