finding things to love

When you never stay too long in one place, you learn to grow roots quickly, like an invasive plant. You learn to seek out the things that make the place unique, and the things that make it feel like home. It’s not that hard really. I look in some standard places: work, church, the streets I walk daily with the dogs.

Work and church anchor me to place, even when as an introvert I skip coffee hour. (Plays well with friends, yes, but not so much strangers.) Work interactions make friends of strangers, and work gives my day structure and purpose.

Making a home requires an open heart, and that’s not a comfortable place to be. I love the physical stuff of Louisville – rocky cliffs, Derby hats, Tudor condos, cooked sushi – knowing that one day I will likely leave these things behind. I’ll leave the people, too; even social media can’t put me at the table, drink in hand, with friends who have meant so much in the moment. And so leaving my heart open to place and to people makes me vulnerable. And even in the moment, I anticipate the loss. Perhaps I am just crying out, along with creation, crying out for perfect and permanent home.

I’ve already found a score of things to love about Louisville. But the mention of Texas bluebonnets or the scent of mesquite smoke will always send a shiver through me as I remember another home, not long ago in my rear view mirror.

advent

(Easter Banners. Photo: ©Church of the Advent)

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waiting to bring life out of death

Louisville, waiting expectantly

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Louisville, Easter Sunday

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Like a prayer

This post is for baby Eli.

Elijah Roger:IMG_0188 firstborn of Betsy, a young friend who has battled a brain tumor since she was ten – born via C-section, to reduce stress and the chance of complication – welcomed to this world by loving parents, grandparents and a universe of friends – facing serious surgery before he’s even two weeks old.

On Eli’s birth day, I said to Fred, “we should pray for Eli and Betsy.” We pray for ourselves and others each night at the dinner table. I’m not sure that we affect God’s action in the world, but I’m convinced our prayers affect action in our hearts. Nevertheless, our prayers are short and to the point.

Fred suggested, “we should delegate our prayers.”  Others are better at it than we are. Let’s ask them to pray for Eli. We give money to worthy causes. We lend a hand. And when we can’t pray, or when it feels insufficient, we write. Sometimes the writing – both the act and the result – becomes our prayer.

This post is my prayer for baby Eli. I wish the world was more welcoming to you, little one. Love is all you need – and sometimes it’s all you get.

Hold on tight, Eli. I hope you have a long and amazing ride.

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rest in peace

Barbara lost her mother on Sunday, my birthday. She told me on Thursday that she was having her mother evaluated for hospice care, and three days later her mom was gone.

People Tree, Columbia MD

People Tree, Columbia MD

I called my parents that day – my father at the patio home they share and my mom on the cell in her temporary room in the nursing wing – but never reached them. That’s the first birthday my parents have missed.

They didn’t really miss it. They sent a check a month earlier. But I think I’ve seen the last of carefully chosen Talbott’s blouses for work, or Chico’s knits for the weekend. No more books about Downton Abbey or the latest Ian McEwan novel. No more personal we know what our daughter likes sort of gifts.

When I thanked my mom for the check, a month before my birthday, she asked, “did you have a big cake?”

Julie lost her mother two weeks ago. I had seen her husband’s Facebook pictures of the frozen Maine coast before hearing the news, and had wondered why she and David went north from Texas in February this year.

Andi lost her mother last year after a long and painful fight with ALS. She celebrated her mother’s life with joy and the knowledge that she lives on eternally, but I’m sure there is a hole in her heart, nevertheless. Does she feel it when she’s alone in the kitchen with a cup of tea, soft snow falling outside?

Dyana lost her grandmother last November, and heard the quiet after, like the calm after the hurricane. “As if nothing had happened at all,” she writes.

I recently learned that at the end of life, those who are dying sometimes see and speak to already-deceased family members, something professional care-givers differentiate from hallucinating. It is as if someone has come to escort them through death  — and beyond death.

Do I still need proof?

Someone has come to escort them through death — and beyond.

Dyana’s grandmother spoke to her brothers and sisters. She called for them to take her. She went willingly with them.

Who will come for me?

Faith tells me that when I die I will look into the face of God. Perhaps my mother will take my hand and lead me there. Perhaps, though she has now forgotten my birthday, then she will remember every moment we shared.

Perhaps it takes a hand to hold, a human hand, to walk this path. To hear God’s voice calling my name, like my mother calling me home from play in the New Jersey twilight. Home to dinner. To family gathered around the table. Home to where all is forgiven, and all is made whole again and nothing is lost. Home at last.

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tapping the maples

IMG_4171_2_2For a play day in the Louisville area, take in the Maple Syrup Festival at Sugarbush farm in Indiana. We ventured half an hour north in the early spring chill last weekend. Here’s what we found:

  • Sap boiling in a caldron over an open fireIMG_4179
  • Boys branding logs with the maple leaf
  • Tractor-drawn hay wagon rides for all ages
  • Tree tapping demonstrations     (try it!)
  • An old-fashioned merry-go-round, ball toss, and knock-your-partner-off-the-log games
  • Alpacas, goats, and rescue dogs
  • Craftspeople with baskets, pottery, rugs, silver, and reenactment gear
  • And naturally, every kind of maple product imaginable. We tried maple barbecue chicken, maple cotton candy, maple cream, and Grade B maple syrup — thick and caramel-like.

The festival runs the last weekend in February and the first in March. www.LMSugarbush.com

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Role Reversal

I’m at that age where my parents need more help from me, though they’d never ask. I find I need to talk about power of attorney and advance directives, money and death, awkward at best. Worse, maybe, than the pre-teen sex talks. But I’m no longer on the receiving end; I play the parent now. And I’m finding it hard to handle.molly

My parents belong to what many call the “greatest generation,” the ones who grew up during the depression and fought in WWII. Their Western Pennsylvania roots go deep into those coal veined hills.  My dad, now fighting a recurrence of cancer, has returned home to die. (I’m beginning to think that’s not as morbid as it sounded when he first said it, ten years ago. I am older now, too.) My mom, who has developed a mild dementia, lives much of the time in that hallowed past. She offers prompts, and I picture thick ice halting barge traffic on the Allegheny, and city lights sparkling off the Ohio River as she rides the night train home from the city to the north hills. I imagine her grandmother feeding the stranger who begs at the kitchen door, and her grandfather laying pennies on the tracks for passing trains to flatten. He doesn’t talk much about his life, but I also picture my father reading the telegram with the news that his only brother, a gunner on the “No Regrets,” was shot  down over Cognac, France, December 31, 1943.

Playing the parent forces me to face death head-on. And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, one reinforced by my work at Hosparus, is to ask for help.

Sometimes death pounces with no notice, but I seem to have been given time to linger over the details, to ponder the care alternatives. What is best for mom and dad? What is best for me, for my family? And how do I reconcile the two? Child turns to parent; I play the parent now. I am thankful for the resources at my disposal, and pray for the choices I have made.

Here are several resources:

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization                                                                Hosparus online Wills Planner for your own end-of-life preparation                                    End of life care for cancer patients (from the National Cancer Institute at NIH)                Advance Directives (by state)

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gimme shelter

MaddyshelbyVirginia Smith cried the day we chose Maddy over all the other dogs at the Animal Protective League. We were two months married and wanted a dog to round out our family when we visited pound dogs at Severance Mall in Cleveland. But that Sunday afternoon they had only puppies, and we didn’t want a wild-eyed, needle-toothed puppy to housebreak. We worked full-time and were already busy adjusting to this new life we had chosen in this city on the north coast. A kitchen floor covered with newspaper and a small creature squealing at midnight for his mother might just overwhelm us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVirginia Smith invited us to come by the main facility later in the week and meet a lovely, six-month Dane mix who might be perfect for us. “Sweet and only oh-so-high,” she said as she motioned mid-thigh.

We didn’t know then that black dogs were often left for last. Or they didn’t find homes at all. Ditto the big breeds. In the city pound, big black dogs often walked the last mile.

From all the dogs yipping for attention, we chose three to meet outside the cagsnowes: Oreo, a black lab with a bit of white; Sebastian, his blonde counterpart; and Paddy. Paddy, the oh-so-high black Dane had a white map of Africa on her chest.

We met with the dogs on leads in the hallway. Oreo and Sebastian, flushed with freedom, flew back and forth as far as the lead would allow. Paddy, a taller, thinner version of the two labs, seemed unsure. But when I knelt by her, she laid her long legs across my lap and looked up with a dark, calm gaze. Virginia Smith passed as we were meeting with the Labs. She didn’t see us with the Dane. But when she saw Paddy’s name on our application at the front counter, she cried. The not-so-small Dane came home with us later that week.

Paddy became Maddy, a name suggested by a student in a class Fred was teaching. When he asked for suggestions, one student said, “name the dog for home.” So we named her Madison, for the home in Northern Virginia where we met.

Maddy took nothing for granted. When we left her alone, she ate clothing and tore apart sofa cushions. She bounded through snow banks in winter, and through a glass table top in the living room while barking at a passing dog. We commissioned an iron fence maker to fashion a Dane-proof lion cage, and she broke teeth trying to escape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe grew into nearly a hundred pounds of love and anxiety. Young men stopped their cars to admire her as I walked her through the neighborhood. We gave this crazy girl a home filled with love and care for nearly twelve years.

Black dogs are the last adopted. Maddy has been gone for five years, but I think she’d be pleased to know about our most recent addition. Dory is a scruffy black terrier. She lacks the map of Africa, but does have a white chest, as well as white paws and a tip on her tail. She’s small where Maddy was tall. Dory (née Dorothy) belonged to a hoarder, then spent two months in the shelter. When we met her, she didn’t lay paws across our legs. Rather, we picked her up and held her to try to calm her shaking. When we put her down, she retreated to the far side of the room by the door. She didn’t warm up to us and didn’t ask to go home with us. But after two weeks of deliberation, we took her home anyway.IMG_3941

Today, not even a week into her new life, she bows before hound dog Jack to entice him to play. She dances when she sees us and begs to sleep in our bed. Like Maddy, she already knows we are her pack.

I don’t know if Maddy and Dory – and Jack and Shelby and all the rest – ever forget where they’ve come from. I don’t know if they ever forget abuse or the chaos of the shelter or life on the streets. But I do know that they recognize love when they see it, and love makes them a home.

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