Distant Cousins

As I grow older, with time passing rapidly and the future pressing in, I feel a need to reconnect with my extended family.  It’s like I want a second chance to know them.  Since my mother and father were both from families of eight children, I have lots of cousins.  One cousin I’ve wanted to spend more time with is Shirley.

When we were young, her family lived in New Jersey.  They would come down to see us at the ‘homeplace’ in North Carolina, where Shirley’s mother and my father, sister and brother, had grown up.  I was raised on that farm, and as a child was so excited when Daddy’s siblings and their families visited.  I’d missed that as I’d grown up and moved away.

Several years ago, Shirley came down for a brief stay.  Although she’s ten years older than me, we got along well and seemed to have common interests.  She had an easy, gracious manner and invited me to visit her and her husband in Toledo, Ohio.  I decided to take that road trip to Michigan that I’d been thinking about and go by Shirley’s.

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After a long, tiring day of driving by myself, she and her husband, Bart, greeted me—along with their vivacious puppy, Greta.  We sat in the cool comfort of their living room, enjoying a leisurely conversation– the way I remembered visits in childhood before life became so hectic.  That evening they drove me around Toledo and took me to their favorite Greek restaurant, eager to show me a good time.

The next morning, Shirley and I sat for hours on her screened porch, drinking coffee and comparing notes on our separate lives.  We soon discovered that our families had labeled us as having traits of our unmarried Aunt Polly.

“Yeah, they called me ‘particular’ and said I was like her,” Shirley told me.

That was an easy conversation for me to imagine.

“I heard the same thing ten years later.  Told me I might not find a husband if I kept being so picky– like Polly.”

We agreed this label was a complement; being like our loving aunt who appreciated art, was an avid reader, and had a creative spirit.

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Polly cooking in the farmhouse kitchen

We finally ended our conversation on the porch to leave for lunch with Shirley’s friend, Kelly at the Toledo Art Gallery.  That afternoon we shopped in Perrysburg.  It was a fun outing with my cousin showing me her favorite spots, seeing her life that I’d only known from a distance.

For the remainder of my visit, we’d launch into a conversation of discovery, each one asking for clarification of a family event.

“I remember y’all visiting at Easter when I was six.  You went ‘uptown’ that Saturday and bought some 45s.  I wanted to be a teenager like you.”  I could hear that record playing over and over, maybe Dell Shannon’s “Runnaway” that was on Billboard’s Top 10 in April of 1961.  Shirley thought that was accurate and remembered how she and her younger sister, Polly—who was actually named after Aunt Polly but less like her than Shirley, thought it was fun to visit us in Sanford.  That surprised me since I thought it would seem so small town to them.

When it was time for me to leave, I hated for our visit to end.  I liked hearing her perspective on life in her family and her impressions of mine.  It was nice to discover how we shared an identity with our Aunt Polly, and now with each other.

If I hadn’t taken the time to include the visit with Shirley, I would’ve missed an opportunity to see how we fit into our Rosser family.  I came away knowing more of myself by having a second chance to know my cousin.

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Connie and Shirley shopping in Perrysburg

What about you?

Is there a family member you’d like a second chance to know?

What steps could you take to make that happen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Mama

Today is Mama’s 94th birthday.  We’ll gather at the nursing home and she’ll see that there’s something special going on: great-grandchildren bringing her balloons, tables covered with bright cloths and vases of flowers, birthday cake and family singing to her.  Thinking about how little she understands now, I’m glad I went in search of her when she could still comprehend.  How excited she was when I told her I’d take my solo journey to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

She and her cousin, Yvonne, traveled there in January of 1943 when they were just 19-yrs-old for training to work in the WWII effort.  They loved telling stories about their escapades during the six months they spent away from rural North Carolina.

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(L to R) Yvonne Gilchrist, Mary Willis, Mary Smith–aka Mama

Since Mama had declined with dementia, she was barely able to join Yvonne in telling their stories.  I needed to go there to explore while there was still time.  Yvonne gave me the details she remembered of their neighborhood and training facility.

I wanted to be in that place and imagine Mama at nineteen.  I’d never thought of myself as being like her.  We didn’t favor in appearance— she was a redhead and freckled and I took after Daddy— with dark hair and skin that tanned.  Moreover, I didn’t think we were alike in our personalities.  She seemed so pragmatic while I tended to be a day dreamer, imaginative.

But for one of my birthdays, she gave me a card that surprised me.  Unlike the usual, carefully chosen Hallmark where she’d underlined and double underlined keywords, this card was different.  On the front was a Victorian era girl walking in a group with a faraway look in her eyes.  Inside the blank card written in Mama’s cursive, she started her birthday greeting with, “To My Dreamer Daughter who is like me.”

I was puzzled by that description of herself and thought I’d missed something.  Part of going to Harrisburg was to try and find who Mama was as a young woman. Once I was there, I walked in the area around Maclay Street where they’d rented a room from the Flute family.  I took pictures of every building that could have been there back in 1943.

 

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Yvonne and Mama–in their eighties, cousins and best friends

 

At sunset, I walked by the river and remembered a comment Mama had often made about that cold January.

“The Susquehanna was frozen solid,” she said, and you could see that for a moment she was transported back in time.  As a child from the South, she would have been warned to stay off any body of water that appeared frozen.

I drove out to Hershey Park and thought of how Mama and Yvonne had gone there to a Big Band concert.  What an exciting and scary time—as Mama had four brothers who were in the war.  It must have been hard for Grandma and Granddaddy Smith to watch their young Mary leaving as well.  How brave of Mama to go, anyway, knowing the pressure she probably felt to help out at home.  She was the middle of the three girls, like me, but her older sister would have never ventured out like that.

I’m adventurous like Mama, I thought, the first time I’d realized what we shared.  My view of Mama had been shaped by her role as our mother, wife of my father, and pragmatist who’d lived through the Great Depression and WWII.  Before all that, she was a girl with dreams, like me.

While I’d gone to Harrisburg in search of Mama, I returned knowing more of myself.

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What about you?

Have you ever gone on a journey to better understand someone?

How did what you find change you?

 

 

 

 

Places in My Path: Antietam

Yesterday’s celebrations of the Fourth of July are now vivid memories: backyard barbecues, American flags, booming fireworks exploding into a rainbow of colors followed by a smoky sulphuric smell.  Underneath all the celebration we honor those who’ve earned our freedom.  I was reminded of that on my solo journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia when I visited Antietam Battlefield.

It was unusual for me to go to a battleground.  I’d never done that of my own choosing, only because my parents made us during a family vacation or because volunteers were needed for our sons’ Boy Scout field trip.

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But when I was in Harper’s Ferry, I overheard two veterans talking about all the battlegrounds they’d visited.  The older man commented, “Antietam, to me, was the most impressive.”  If he felt that way, then surely it deserved my attention.  I’d prayed before the journey that God would bless me through the people and the places in my path—knowing sometimes the place has a message.

I didn’t think much about war when I was a girl.  But that changed once I became the mother of two sons.  When they turned eighteen and had to register with the Selective Service, I was fearful that the draft would be reinstated– remembering my male cousins who’d gone to Vietnam. I’d placed those completed forms in our mailbox and prayed that would never happen again.

Moving through the Antietam Museum, I took my time with each display.  There were Civil War uniforms, small treasures the soldiers carried, and then something that stopped me in my tracks– a snare drum.  The signage said it had been played by a fourteen-year-old soldier who’d led the cadence into battle.  Only fourteen, I thought.  Just a baby.  My younger son had played snare for his high school marching band.  I had fond memories of watching him leading them onto the football field.  How scary it would have been for that boy soldier to march onto the unknown field of war.

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I drove about the grounds of Antietam, watching the late afternoon sun cast a golden light across the broad expanse.  The site appeared deceptively peaceful.  I imagined that young soldier with the troops behind him headed into that infamous cornfield.  It was hard to fathom how in twelve hours a total of 23,000 soldiers were killed—the bloodiest day of war in history.  The bucolic setting before me had been a field strewn with bloody bodies, the smell of iron and gunpowder in the air. I could hear the haunting sounds of groans and cries of the wounded and dying.  I imagined the boy shot down in this foreign place and crying out for his mother.

I said a prayer in the dying light for all the mothers now who worry over their soldier children, both their sons and daughters.  I felt guilty that these parents have this burden to bear while some of us haven’t experienced the costs of war.  My heart was filled with gratitude for our volunteer soldiers, protecting our country and keeping us from the draft.

It was a small thing to take the time to visit Antietam.  Walking about the field, I realized this hallowed ground had been in my path to remind me not to forget those who’ve gone before, and to pay tribute to those brave soldiers who now serve.

I join with their mothers in prayer for their safe return to the ground they call home.

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Transported Beyond Cancer

It’s been seventeen years since I heard the words, “You have cancer.”

Now the waiting room, which had always had an acrid smell of chemo drugs, doesn’t make me nauseous.  Before this visit, I didn’t feel anxious like something bad was about to happen.  My sleep has been good, no lying awake at 3:30 a.m. and wondering what the doctor would find.  All of these things were problems the week of my oncology visit, especially the first five years when my triple negative breast cancer was most likely to return.  At that five-year visit, I let out a breath I’d been holding since my diagnosis and gave my oncologist a high five.  I decided to leave cancer behind and go toward the life I wanted.

Along the way, some fellow breast cancer survivors have told me they’re having a hard time, always saying to themselves, “What if it comes back?”

When I was diagnosed, I was shocked because I had no family history of breast cancer.  Later, I learned that was true for the majority.  I told a nurse in my doctor’s office that if they’d said I had heart disease I wouldn’t have been as surprised since there are cardiac problems on both sides of my family.

“Well, it doesn’t mean you won’t have heart disease,” she responded.

All these women are right; I could have cancer again and I could develop heart disease.

But in the meantime, I choose to live my life without fear.

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Choose to Live without Fear

If something develops, didn’t cancer teach me how to face it?  I learned that I can handle one step at the time with the solid support of my faith, family, and friends.  Each day, life is dependable in providing amazing sights for those with eyes wide open, enriching sounds for listening ears, and moments of joy for hearts ready to be touched.

My yearly pilgrimages have reinforced my resolve to live beyond fear.  When I have an idea of where I’ll go, sometimes that critical internal voice casts doubt, saying, “Why would you want to travel there?”  I could be paralyzed by this, afraid of making a bad choice that I’ll regret.  What I’ve learned after thirteen journeys, is that if I choose a destination by listening to my heart and wait to see that my energy follows, that plan lands me in the right place.

Before each trip, I experience a resistance to leaving.  It feels like it takes too much energy and would be easier to remain at home.  Since I’ll travel alone, the success of the trip is all on me.  Part of my hesitance is leaving the people I love— my husband and my mother who’s in a nursing home.  There’s also the pang of leaving my canine, Madison.

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When I take off, the first day will be long and tiring.  I’ll probably hit a wall, frustrated and alone and think to myself, “Why did I do this?”

But once on the other side of this wall, I find myself in the place I’ve been dreaming of and I’m pleased that I followed my intuition.  My journey will take me closer to my authentic self.  I’ll be amazed at how God knew me better than I knew myself when I was ‘called’ to take solo journeys.

Now, seventeen years as a cancer survivor, I’m letting go of worry.  Whether it’s a course of cancer or setting out on a journey, I trust that no matter what comes up, I can navigate with God’s help, the support of family and friends, and the goodness of the people and places in my path.

 

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What About You?

What would you like to do if you weren’t afraid?

How could you take a step toward that goal?

 

 

 

 

Vermonters in My Path

On Monday evening I arrived in Vermont after an easy train ride from NYC.  I chose to start out in White River Junction since the Hotel Coolidge, a historic train hotel, offered Hosteling International beds and was just across the tracks from the Amtrak station.

The next morning, I called the rental car company and learned it would be at least four hours before they’d have a compact vehicle. At home, I never had delays getting a car at the RDU airport.  You should have thought about it being peak summer season in a small town, my critical voice chided. Guess I’ll just spend a little time getting to know this community, I thought and walked over to the Welcome Center.

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The lady who was volunteering, Janet, was a retired elementary teacher.  We had an easy conversation about my solo journeys and our mutual love of reading.  I mentioned that I needed a book, always a precursor to sleep.

“Check our giveaways in the bookcase,” Janet offered. “Jodi Picoult lives nearby in Hanover, New Hampshire.  Might find one of her books in the stack.”

Sure enough, her book, Nineteen Minutes, was there for my taking.  Ironically, it involved a school shooting, one of the things I feared as a school nurse.

Two doors down from the Hotel Coolidge was a knitting store, White River Yarns.  I took in my skein that was hopelessly tangled.

“Oh, we’ve seen a lot worse,” Karen, the owner, told me.  “We can fix that.”

And they did.  For over an hour she and one of her staff patiently worked out the knots.  They included me in the conversation as their regulars came in to make purchases.  When I left, I imagined that if I lived in White River Junction, I’d be part of their circle, spending snowy days in the warmth of their company, ‘knitting the community together’ as the sign said over their door.

I checked with the rental company, sure that my car would be ready.  It wasn’t.  Frustrated, I took my laptop to the hotel lobby where the WiFi was strong. I worked on a story and chatted with Rebecca, the desk clerk. She had a business establishing social media for companies. I told her how I struggled with that, feeling overwhelmed by all the options.  She seemed genuinely interested in helping me and made several suggestions on ways I could be more efficient.

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I dialed the car company one more time and they’d closed for the day.

“That makes me so angry.  They didn’t even call me back,” I told Rebecca.

Outside, the rain that had been a drizzle was now a monsoon.

“Maybe you weren’t supposed to be out there driving in an unfamiliar place,” she said.  “Wouldn’t be safe.”

Her words helped me to settle down.  I prayed each morning of my journeys that God would lead me through the day, blessing me and the people in my path.  Today was how it was supposed to be, I thought.

What I couldn’t see then, was that the next morning I’d have that car and drive to Hanover and explore the setting for Picoult’s novel, eat lunch in lovely Woodstock, then travel west to Button Bay State Park where I’d spend my next three nights by Lake Champlain.  I’d maintain a Facebook friendship with Janet and Rebecca, seeing that area in all seasons through the pictures they posted.

When I left Vermont, I carried with me the beauty of that place and the kindness of the people in my path.

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Sunset on Lake Champlain

What about you?

Have you experienced roadblocks in your travels that turned out to be a path to a better place?

What was your Take Away from that experience?

 

Sunday Suppers

It was almost 9:30 on Friday night when the Amtrak train finally pulled into Penn Station in New York City.  The eleven- hour ride from Durham was my first solo journey by rail.  Our younger son, Ross, was twenty-eight and had lived in Manhattan for five years.  I would spend the weekend with him before I continued my trip on Monday morning to White River Junction, Vermont.

While my husband, David, and I had visited Ross several times in the city, I’d never gone by myself.  I looked forward to our visit but wondered how it would be for him to have his mom staying.  When things became testy with Ross—the typical parent and adult child tension, David was good at defusing the situation with his sarcastic, male humor—which he and Ross shared.  I would remember David’s advice, “Don’t ask too many questions.”

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The crowd of travelers in the tight space of Penn Station was difficult to navigate. It was noisy with frequent announcements of arrivals and departures, fretful children, and a protest group that marched through.  What a relief when I saw Ross. He gave me a hug and kiss and took my heaviest bags.

“Is that the barbecue?” he asked, pointing to the thermal bag hanging from my shoulder.

“Sure is,” I answered.  He’d told me his friend asked if his mom was bringing treats, and when he told her about the barbecue, she said, “Only a mother’s love.”

Ross hailed a cab and we took off for the Upper West Side.  It was a relief to arrive at his second story walk-up in an older building with high ceilings and creaking wooden floors.  He apologized for the small amount of space, especially the tiny bathroom.  My husband and I usually stayed in a nearby hotel when we visited.

“It’s fine,” I told him, “I just like being here with you.”

By staying with him, I was getting to see more of his life—how he spent his days.  We weren’t wasting our precious weekend going back-and-forth to a hotel.

On Saturday morning, he took me to his favorite bagel shop for breakfast then we walked around Central Park.  He showed me the baseball field where he and a friend threw the ball and hit grounders.  When I slowed down to look at something, he got annoyed.

“Mama, in the city you can’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk.  It’s like stopping in the middle of the road in North Carolina.”

I was more careful after that, making sure I paid attention and kept step with my city-wise son.  He didn’t have to remind me again as we walked 55 blocks then took a cab back to his apartment.

 

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Enjoying Central Park with my son

 

I asked him where we could go for dinner that night, ready to treat him to a relaxing meal.

“I’d really like it if we could cook tonight and tomorrow night while you’re here,” he responded.  That evening we’d keep it simple and make barbecue sandwiches.

On Sunday, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in record heat for mid-July.  I managed not to be hit by ‘stepping out of my lane’ and into the path of the fast-moving bikers.

On our way home, we stopped to buy groceries for one of Ross’s favorite meals: Biltmore pecan chicken, wild rice, and green beans.

We worked quietly in the sparsely appointed bachelor’s kitchen.  He cut the ends off the beans while I blended the butter and mustard for the chicken.

“When I was in a relationship, we’d always cook on Sunday evenings,” he said and reached for a sauté pan.  I knew the girl he was referring to, one he’d broken up with some time ago.  He drizzled some olive oil and continued, “Because Sunday night is family.”

I let his words sit there, feeling love for my son as we cooked together.

Remembering back to Sunday nights long ago, I was cooking in our kitchen when Ross and his brother, Brooks, came in from church youth group.  We sat down to supper and shared the meal that was a sweet ending to our weekend together.

I’m glad I traveled here to see that my son remembers, too.

 

What about you?

Is there someone you need to visit?

How would it change the dynamics if you were with them without sharing the time with others?

 

 

 

Color’s Calling

The gray days of early February were weighing me down.  Being used to moderate winters in North Carolina, I’d had about all I could take of sub-freezing days and the sun hiding out behind depressing clouds.  At that time, I was in a group of women who were learning to knit scarves.  When my mood continued to plummet along with the temperature, I had a strong urge to escape to the yarn store.

I instinctively found the section of turquoise yarn that ranged from solid bulky skeins to variegated finger weights.  For a long while, I stood in front of the bins absorbing the colors.  It was as if I was infusing a medication that immediately brightened my spirit.

Never had I been so aware of needing color.

Years before, my husband and I traveled to the Caribbean.  I fell in love with those tropical, turquoise waters feeling like I’d found the place my soul had been searching for.  Standing in front of the yarn I was back on that shore.

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On my first journey to Sedona, the landscape was the opposite of tropical. Those cool colors were replaced by the warm earth tones of red rocks and bright sun that had a grounding effect on me.  My life had been a dizzying whirl of eight months of cancer treatment and a stressful job— one I would paint a sad blue.

Standing on the warm rocks of Sedona, made me feel I had stepped into Psalm 40:2, that God had given me that firm, safe place.  I needed the stability of earth, of the dust from which we came.

Later when I traveled to Colorado Springs for an April journey, I felt the sturdy red rocks giving me that same warm security.

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Standing secure in The Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs.

When I traveled to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, I stayed at Colter Bay and felt nourished by the snow-covered Tetons that were mirrored in the lake—a double beauty to behold.  Taking my morning walks next to the lake, I drank in that site that was dotted with boats of primary colors—like the crayons of school children.

I journeyed to upstate New York in search of beautiful sunsets.  There I stayed at Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel at Cape Vincent, the place where the St. Lawrence River flows into Lake Ontario, a setting of famed sunsets.  I’d realized that I’d been too busy most of my life to watch the setting sun.  Observing the progression of the day giving into the night, it was as if I was watching a watercolorist applying her cotton candy pinks and swirls of lavender to the canvas dome overhead.  That living color produced a joyful finale.

Now I trust the call to color, listening to what my spirit is telling me that I need.  Especially when my cares weigh me down and life slips into tedium, I’ve found that the amazing hues in nature restore my sense of wonder, my belief in the goodness of God, who created us with the need for color to restore our souls.

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What about you?

Do you realize the need for a certain color in your life?

What are ways to provide that infusion of energy?

 

Lavender Field Morning

The Pelindaba Lavender Farm stretched before me like a landscape canvas; foreground with rows of lavender, mid ground with a lake dotted by white triangular sails of small boats maneuvered by summer campers, and background of snow-covered Mt. Baker stretching majestically to the northeast.  I walked the perimeter in the cool morning air that was fragrant with the sweet smell of lavender, a healing balm that reminded me, take care of yourself.

When I’d planned my Solo Journey to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State, I was excited that I’d be there during their Lavender Festival.   My husband had a struggling pot of lavender on our patio back in North Carolina, but it didn’t appear to be winning the fight against the harsh July sun.  Here in the cool, moist air on Puget Sound, the plants flourished.  “David, you’d love this lavender,” I said, as I thought of my husband, wishing he could feast his eyes on the purple clumps in varying stages of growth.  Some plants were partially open and others that received the most direct light, fully open and a brighter purple.  I watched the sun cast a spotlight on alternating sections of the field as the clouds passed in front of its path.

What a glorious place to take my morning walk.

I thought of a line from a favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

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“Morning by Morning New Mercies I see”

I remembered two years earlier when I was informed I needed treatment of the lymphedema in my left arm.  It had been six years since my diagnosis of breast cancer and the lymph node removal that caused the swelling.   I was angry that cancer was interfering with my life again.  The initial lymphedema treatment involved daily massage and wrapping.  I felt the treatment would take too much time out of my cherished summer break from my position as a school nurse.

The day after I heard about needing that treatment, I took my solo journey to a Catholic retreat center, Sea of Peace, on Edisto Island, South Carolina.  There I had individual sessions with Sharon, the spiritual lay leader who operated the center.   After I lamented to her about the issue with my arm, she posed the question to me, “Don’t you think you deserve care?”

After my week at Sea of Peace, I decided to go through with the treatment.  I was assigned to Dorie, who had a calm manner and had special certification in Vodder massage used for the lymphatic system.  She gently performed the manual drainage to reduce the bogged lymph and then bandaged my arm from my shoulder to my fingers, mummifying that arm.  I became more aware of areas in my body where there was fluid build up.  I noticed the ache in the back of my left shoulder disappeared after Dorie rerouted the trapped lymph to a working port.

I didn’t realize how much lymphedema had impacted me until I received the treatment.

Each morning before Dorie massaged my arm, she coated her hands in lavender lotion.  It had just enough scent to be pleasing and not overwhelming.  Every since that time, the fragrance of lavender had been a healing balm.

I traveled across the country to arrive in this field of lavender.  From here I see the tender purple stalks, en masse, their essential oils providing soothing relief to people in many places.  I’m grateful for the tender mercies of wise counsel from Sharon and Dorie’s therapeutic hands, both providing care and reminding me that I deserve it.

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What about you?

In what ways do you need to take care of yourself?

How could you allow time for that?

 

Interior Mansion

“This doesn’t look like the picture on the website,” I said to myself when I pulled into the hostel, my heart sinking.  The nondescript, white frame house needed paint and renovation.  What will it be like here, I wondered and thought of the next three days.

From the exterior, this hostel was less impressive than the ones I’d stayed in on Martha’s Vineyard and the San Juan Islands.  Doubt was creeping in.  Then, that still small voice of counsel came to me, “Don’t compare.  Just accept this place for what it has to offer.”

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Wonder what you’ll teach me here, God, I thought.

I followed the manager on her tour of the facility.   There were guests in the living area with huge backpacks, folks who were taking a break from the Appalachian Trail that was close by.

Outside, there were two men and a woman– probably in their late twenties, dressed in bathing suits, packing inner tubes into the back of their SUV.  Must be heading for the  river, I thought, since the Shenandoah and Potomac converged in Harper’s Ferry.  That evening, I met one of the men in the hostel kitchen.  He sat at the table while I stood nearby at the counter and prepared my dinner.  He was friendly and told me he and the other two traveling companions lived in the New York City area.

“I’m actually a Youth Pastor, and those kids were getting to me,” he said.  He wore a tank top and his upper arm was covered in tattoos– crosses and scripture.

“Yeah, working with teenagers is very challenging,” I responded.  “I’m a middle school nurse and I definitely have times of feeling burned out.”

He told me about taking them on a retreat and one pulling a stupid prank that sent them to the ER.

“Sounds typical,”  I responded.  “Kids that age look up to you.  I’m sure you’re making a difference in their lives.”

The next day, I rode my bike along the C & O Canal Tow Path and visited a train museum.  The volunteer, a retired railroad worker, explained the exhibit with such passion.  Later our conversation moved to dealing with dementia– his wife and my mother.

That night at the hostel, I saw the Youth Pastor who smiled and said he’d had a relaxing day on the river—the water refreshing him.

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A family with three young children came in with sushi and a birthday cake to celebrate the youngest child turning six.  The mother’s head was shaved.  I felt like I’d been ‘gut-punched,’ immediately assuming she had cancer, recalling my shock when I was told I had cancer.

Later, when we talked, she explained that she took her three kids out of New York City each summer to section hike the Appalachian Trail.  Her husband met them along the way.  She’d shaved her head to make it easier.

“I think you’re very brave to hike with your children,” I told her.  “Especially being the only parent. ”

She asked me how I started taking my journeys.  When I responded they had followed a toxic job and breast cancer, she looked concerned.

“I have a friend with breast cancer.  And I’m so afraid I’ll have it,” she told me.  “How did you handle it?”

We talked for a while and I told her about my treatment and how much I’d depended on God, and how it had eventually made me stronger.  When we ended our conversation, she took my hand and said, “You are very brave.”

When I left the hostel, I remembered how I’d initially judged it by it’s exterior.  But after three days, I saw that the interior of it was a mansion, with rich conversations and colorful people that weren’t in need of fixing up.

What about You?

Have you had an experience where your initial impression was totally changed by what you later discovered?

How did that alter how you approach new situations?

 

 

 

Flying Horses

I stood at the edge of the crowd of adoring family and friends cheering on the riders of the Flying Horses Carousel at Oak Bluffs.  My coworker from Boston, had told me that when she was a child, her family came here every summer.  It was a popular spot on Martha’s Vineyard.  I could just see her in little-girl-braids, sitting atop one of the horses that remained stationary while the carousel went round-and- round.  She, like the other riders, would have reached out and tried to grasp one of the lucky brass rings to earn a free ride.

Before my trip, my friend told me, “You have to try for a ring, Connie.”

But I held back and remained an observer of the oldest operating platform carousel in the United States.                                                      shutterstock_553055869

Now I asked myself, “Why didn’t I get on and ride?”  After going all that distance, my first solo trip to Massachusetts, why did I stop short of my goal?

That fourth journey had taken a lot of initiative, especially planning my transportation: by air to Logan, then charter bus to Woods Hole, followed by ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and shuttle bus to the hostel.  By that day at Oak Bluffs, I had explored most of the island, so why didn’t I just hop on that carousel?  Was I afraid that as a fifty-two-year old woman I would look foolish?  Could I have felt like I failed if I didn’t capture a brass ring— kind of like missing a grounder when I played softball that summer after high school?

Not trying for a ring didn’t ruin my trip.  There’d been many enriching experiences since my arrival on the island.  I’d gotten to know the international community of travelers at my first hostel.  One day I started with coffee at the Clay Cliffs of Aquinnah and ended watching the sunset in the fishing village of Menemsha.                                                                fullsizeoutput_1a3

So why did I still feel something was missing?  I think I knew.

The carousel represented half-lived experiences.

Looking back on my life, before my breast cancer diagnosis at forty-five, I often fell into the role of an observer.  Perhaps as the second-born child, I had gotten used to letting my older sister go first and take the risks.  That pattern continued into my adulthood—as I was seldom the first to raise my hand and volunteer.  But when chemo made my hair fall out and I had to do work presentations in my itchy wig, I couldn’t retreat.  All I could do was step forward.  While I didn’t like having cancer, or a toxic job, I was grateful that God helped me through that time and worked inside of me to give me greater boldness.  Sometimes that happens when you feel you have nothing to lose.

What if I’d let myself go and approached that carousel ride like I was a child?  I would have had a whole-body experience.  The muscles in my outstretched hand would have either felt the ring or grasped the air.  My legs would recall the climb onto that historic horse, touching the real horsehair mane, and looking into their dazzling glass eyes.  My face would remember the cool breeze as we circled around to the happy tunes of the Wurlitzer Band Organ.  I would have been part of that community of riders that dated back to the late 1800s, sharing the joy of a whimsical orbit on the back of a still horse.  And whether or not I captured a ring– I would have felt the satisfaction of knowing I’d been fully engaged.  That I’d been a participant, not an observer.

I wish I’d had the boldness that day at the carousel that I’d had during cancer.  Now, I think this regret is a reminder to go ahead and live life fully.  Don’t hold back.

And if I take a trip again to Oak Bluffs, I plan to hop up on that carousel horse and

fly like nobody’s watching.’

 

http://carouselhistory.com/envira/marthas-vineyard-flying-horses-1876-dare/

What about you?

Are there situations where you’d like to move from being an observer to a participant?

What would help you make this change?