Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Shall Not Want

Beloved Neva Jane White, who taught me so much more than how to play piano, left this earth four years ago on October 20, 2012.

She left these words, which have a sweet and funny story behind them. When I lived in Italy, and when I lived in Croatia, I would write her letters from time to time. This was before email, and calling cost too much. And I was very much a letter writer.

When I would come home for a visit, I would always see her if possible. And she would always apologize that she had not ever responded to my letters. (She was working full time and was just the kind of person who is very involved in loving the people right in front of her.) She would always say, "But next time, I'm going to write. I will write you a letter, so don't stop writing me, because I love to hear from you."

So I never stopped writing her. And she never stopped not writing back.

Until 2008. I was making a six-week trip to Europe that involved several speaking and teaching responsibilities, and I felt the need for support from friends because I was somewhat overwhelmed by what I would be doing. (And traveling most of that time by myself.)

So I sent out an email to several friends, asking them if they would write me before I left or while I was away, just notes of encouragement, either handwritten (which I would love) or by email if they just couldn't see doing it by hand and mailing it the old-fashioned way. Truth is, though, I longed for something tangible to have with me as I journeyed.

Several friends responded, and I did have both handwritten notes and emailed encouragement accompanying in my travels. And nothing from dear Mrs. White.

Nothing, that is, until I got home. When I was able to visit her, she had a ten-page letter written that she had not been able to send in time that I would have recived it while I was away. So she just saved it  until I got home. And said she hoped the ten pages made up for all the years she never wrote. There were a couple of spots where she had fallen asleep while writing, and her pen had drifted down the page. There was a funny apology for that. There were humorous bits, and hopes for the travels and the groups I would be speaking to.

But mostly it was her sharing scriptures and songs that she had found to be especially encouraging, and that she wanted to share with me. The part in the photo was from a calendar, I believe, a calendar based on Psalm 23, with notes by a certain author that I no longer recall.

The section in the photo is especially poignant, because at this point in her life, she was dealing with several health problems and was in pain quite a bit. Her faith shone through to the very end, and so did her generosity. She had such an abundant supply of love and such a full heart, those around her never were empty.

It was such a delight to receive this from her, and it mattered not at all to me that it had not been part of the travel experience. It is her beloved handwriting on creamy, lovely paper. It is now "something tangible to have with me as I journey" throughout the rest of my life, and I will treasure it forever.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tudor Revival, of Sorts

Yes, that below is a frame of our kitchen window. No, it is not chocolate fudge smeared around the edges. It is something less tasty but much more exciting.

After six-plus years of living here with the idea of giving it a different look, we are--tah-dah!--doing it!

Well, we are paying someone else to do it, to be clear about that. They do the hard work. We get to enjoy the finished product. My beloved does other hard kinds of work to pay them for doing this hard work. I guess my main role is having the idea in the first place, looking at pictures and dreaming for six years to keep the idea alive, or at least resurrectable--and finally choosing colors and consulting with friends to get their opinions before we dove in with final decisions.

Of course it won't look any different on the inside, so I'm kind of enjoying this stage of seeing a little bit of it, at least, through the windows.

Here is that same kitchen window from the outside.

A living room window in progress.

The dining room window coming along.

And for comparision, my office window with the original trim color--which, though I realize someone must have liked at some point, I always have felt was somewhat anemic and didn't do much for the lovely brick colors.

I can hardly wait now to see it all completed. From a young age I fell in love with Tudor style architecture (and Tudor Revival Architecture). Probably partly because of the home of the former Dean and Shakespeare scholar that sat next to the campus building that house the English department, where I spent many hours, both because my dad taught there and because I got an English degree there.

Probably also because of a house in Brownsville, Tennessee, where my grandparents lived. When we were little, my sister and I would play a game of choosing "if you could live in any house on College Street, which one would you pick?" While we each occasionally picked another house, we usually settled on the same two, and "mine" was a home with modernized Tudor architecture.

Our house is not actually built in that style, but its lovely brick, along with the ivy growing around the front, gives is a cottage-y feel and just made it seem possible to give it a Tudor touch.

I'm thinking once it's finished, we'll have to start drinking more hot tea--and reading late medieval British poetry on a regular basis. Anyone have other suggestions?

Friday, July 01, 2016

Abide with Me

We sang this hymn quite often in the church where I grew up. We also sang it in a small women's ensemble during my college years. I've always thought it was beautiful, and it has been coming to mind the past few days since my mother's death on Monday, June 27.

We did not sing it at her funeral, but the reason it keeps coming to my mind is because of its references to the sky and the sense of connection between the human creature contemplating death to the creation that is fallen in change and decay, but also responsive in a sympathetic way to the event of life moving through death to life again.

The photos below were taken on the day of her death and then this morning (Friday).

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day,
Earth's joys grow dim, its sorrows pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless--
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

About 5:45 Monday morning. I had not slept much all night and was very hungry. I left my younger brother in the hospital room and went to get something to eat and try to sleep a little before coming back. On the way I saw the sun starting to rise and stopped to take a picture. My mom died at 6:15, shortly after sunrise.

This is from inside the hospital, while I was making phone calls after her death.

We had lunch later at my sister's house, and as my dad, older brother, and I were driving back to my dad's house, we exited the tree-ey neighborhood to this unexpectedly beautiful sight. That is the hospital at the end of the rainbow.

I was driving the car, and my brother was taking pictures. We kept trying to slow down, or stop, or back up, to get good shots of it. And then it turned out he was able to capture the whole rainbow from my dad's own driveway.

Sunset on the evening of her death, from Daddy's back porch.

This morning.

"Heaven's morning breaks...." I could hardly believe I got to see this in the ten minutes or so I was out there today. The rest of the day has just been blue, blue sky with almost no clouds, but this morning it was a cloudscape perfect for the morning sun breaking through to shine on her grave.

Mama always loved nature. When she was older she had to stay in more because of skin cancer concerns and general health issues, but in earlier years she went to Camp Wyldewood thirteen years as both camper and counselor. She spent a summer at Yellowstone Park. She planted all kinds of flowers, digging them up from the side of the road or transplanting shoots given her by friends or her mother. She used to take us fishing (though my sister and I used it as reading time.) She loved to go for rides in the country. We had dogs and cats and chickens and rabbits and goats and I don't know what all when we were growing up.

So it just seems fitting that nature would give us these beautiful moments in the days around her death. Through cloud and sunshine, she is abiding with the the One who changeth not in the mystery of this time, and in the weightlessness of finally resting in peace.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Breath and Heart

Even though our playing it so much used to drive Mama crazy, I'm pretty sure she was the one who taught me to play "Heart and Soul" on the piano. She and I used to play it as a duet, and later my sister and I would play it. What child learns to play piano without learning to play "Heart and Soul"?

Tonight I am thinking more about heart and breath, however, as my mom's heart rate gets slower and her breathing more slow and difficult. It is hard to witness, and yet I would not want to not be here for this time.

Tonight my aunt and I were marveling at the heart, how it works so well most of the time, and how it does everything it does without any of our own power or control. Not one of us creates our own heart or starts it beating.

I heard an author say recently that we are a gift given to ourselves. The idea that we are all about independence and choice and creating our own meaning is an illusion, or perhaps a delusion. We do not bring ourselves into existence, we do not give ourselves the amazing ability to be alive and to experience all the many parts of life that we experience.

Tonight reminded me of something I've been reading from Becoming a Healing Presence, by Albert Rossi, a psychologist. In one part he writes,

Awareness of our breathing opens a door to awareness of the presence of God, the giver of breath, and it is the very voice of God, guiding and encouraging us.

Not everyone believes that. And yet there is something very powerful about simply paying attention to our own breath and the wonder of it, and contemplating ourselves as receivers, as wholly dependent on a force beyond ourselves, outside ourselves, that brought us into existence.

No one, I hope, can witness their mother dying and continue to think of themselves as independent, as self-made, as autonomous, the way Western thinking would have us think. Not one of us would be here without a mother and a father. And our mothers and fathers had mothers and fathers, and on and on and on. Our very breath can remind us of how connected we are to all those who went before us, and for many of us, that means realizing our connection to "the giver of breath."

Other excerpts from the book that strike me as my mother is losing her breath, as her heart moves closer to the end of its physical work, are below. They strike at the heart of neo-gnostic thinking that would divide the physical and spiritual.

Tonight a group of us sang around Mama's hospice bed for 30-45 minutes, hymns from the hymnbook used in the church where we grew up. More than one song spoke of resurrection, that strange Christian belief that has been so much a part of my thinking for so long that to me it seems strange not to believe that breath and heart, spirit and body, will be reunited one day, that we will be alive again together in some new but also very familiar way.

It was hard to leave tonight, wondering if I will hear her breathing again in the morning. But no matter what people may say and think about orthodox Christians these days (or whatever they've said and thought for 2,000 years), I've seen over and over again, and have experienced over and over again, that the words written to the Thessalonians close to 2,000 years ago, are true--that "we do not grieve as others do who have no hope." We have great and beautiful hope.

"Within the heart is the antenna for the voice of God."

We grieve, of course, and we have great and beautiful hope.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Endings and Beginnings and The Last Battle

My mom is in the hospital after a fall and having a combination of health issues. My parents just celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this past Sunday, three days ago. I do not have many words right now but want to share something in the midst of this.

We never know how these things will go; doctors are not gods or purveyors of crystal ball predictions, and thankfully these good doctors helping us do not pretend to be. But in the stream of thoughts going through my mind as I looked at this photo taken in an earlier chapter of life, which my sister posted on Facebook earlier, C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle just came to mind, and I found this quote. It seems especially fitting, given the number of battles my mom has waged in her life and the faith that has sustained her and us through all of them:

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2016


Being able to walk in the mornings is such a blessing. Rain, early appointments, and being out of town have made my walks in the park less than routine, but last week I did make it over one morning.  And one of the wonderful parts of this park is that there are magnolias planted all up and down the streets on either side of the park.

Which means lots of shade to walk in when it's hot. And perfect trees for climbing when young friends are visiting. And the fun of pretending you're in your own little world while walking under the really huge trees, who branches touch the ground and form spacious little rooms where you are hidden from view.

And at this time of year, it means blossoms. Huge, white wonderful blossoms.

And it means the scent of those blossoms. With roses and gardenias, magnolias have the power to make you want nothing other than to stand still and keep your nose near their aromatic selves. At the park there are different varieties of the trees, so the scents are not all the same, but they are all lovely. 

When I lived in Croatia, there was a kind of tree with pretty big pink blossoms. I asked what it was and was told it was a magnolia. I thought that was interesting, because it was not at all like the magnolias over here.

What I didn't realize then was that we do have magnolias like that over here. And that they actually are related. But at that point in my life, all I knew, all i had ever seen, was the southern magnolia.

And as pretty as those pink blossoms are, I must admit that if I could have only one kind of magnolia, I would want the southern magnolia.

There's just nothing else like them.

I have vague memories from childhood of seeing them at this stage and being a little confused, because they reminded me of bananas....

Even the leaves are lovely. They almost look like flowers themselves when you see groups of them silhouetted against the sky this way. 

I read that they are some of the oldest trees, going back to a time before bees existed. That reach back into time seems right to me, because they conjure up for me early memories of my grandparents' house. The one in the front yard of that house was, I suppose, the first magnolia tree I ever knew up close. A wonderful hiding place, a good climbing place, a cool tent of shade on a hot day.

Now I have a whole bunch of them. And they may be old, but they never get old.

I'm thinking I'll have to get over there tomorrow and enjoy that scent again....maybe even celebrate my ever-improving foot by climbing a branch or two.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

On the Street Where You Live

Yesterday in my physical therapy session, I realized I had healed from the sprained ankle that occurred a couple of weeks ago and had set me back. Yesterday the pain was much less, I was able to balance on the injured foot (the same one that had the surgery), and my walking was much more even than it had been since the sprain.

So this morning, for the first time since December, I decided to get up and go for a walk, the way I had begun so many mornings before having that surgery done.

Usually I walk in the park, but this morning that would have meant moving my husband's car to get mine out. And since I'm just not sure I have the coordination yet to manage the clutch with this foot, I decided to just walk up and down our street.

I felt a little disappointed, because the park is so beautiful, and I miss those morning walks.

But I decided to keep my eyes open and enjoy the beauty of a little city street. And  before long, I found myself taking pictures, because here is what I saw, walking less than a mile up and down my own street.

I wonder if squirrels or fairies swing here? So tiny.

So thankful to live on a street with shade from many large--really large--trees.

From a time when those who laid sidewalks were acknowledged for their work,
and I imagine took more pride in it. Most of the street's sidewalks are still intact.

Plenty of these little guys around.

I wasn't expecting to see the moon.....

....and then looked up and even saw stars.

Moss breaking the stereotype, growing on the east side of the tree.

And in the cracks of the bricks...I just love it.

No place like home.

(And nothing like looking at it from across the street to give you a new perspective.
I had never noticed that silver, crooked pipe thing up there by the chimney!)

"the trees still heartrendingly asparkle"
(read in a poem by C.K. Williams)

They aren't exactly sparkling, but the light coming through
is heartrendingly beautiful when you stand there and feel it....

Childhood helicopter memories!

More stars asparkle.

Beautiful vinca.

And the younger, more intense purple.

And the beautiful sight of my own feet walking, and really not struggling too much with it.

While I still look forward to getting back in the routine of walking in the park, one could hardly wish for a more beautiful first morning walk. So much joy comes with being open and noticing what is all around us, rather than so often wishing for things that are not.

I'm reminded of the line in Thornton Wilder's Our Town--
"Does anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"

And, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."