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life lessons. [merely-a-thought monday]

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you have those friends.  the ones you don’t get to talk to or see all the time, but the instant you call or text or, even better, get to be with them, you pick up right where you left off.  sometimes, those calls or visits are really long; there’s so much to catch up on.

susan and i had one of those calls recently.  the conversation ranged across a gigantic prairie of life subjects – from children to lenten service music to food to relationships to age to challenges to direction to joys to disappointments.  there’s always the inevitable “we should talk more often” and “i miss you”; times we realize how much running our crazy worlds past each other matters.  the “tuition” takes just a little bit less of a toll if we can utter the gory details to our friend, divulge our imagined vindication on whatever the “tuition” is, paint a picture – describing in inordinate detail – of each of our chronicles.

linda, infinite in wisdom and groundedness, finds humor and the wise sticking point in situations.  she has been there for me for decades, close by and from afar.  she is a model of loving steadfastness and makes me feel as if she hugged me, even if we are only on the phone.

heidi, another one of those dear people for me, always asks, “what’s the learning?”.  as infuriating as that question can be, it is a perspective-arranger.  it gives you pause for thought and invites another viewpoint.  the thing i may be obsessing on may not be the point after all.

toward the end of our phone call, susan and i laughed about all the things we were ‘learning’.  oh yes, grateful students?  well, maybe not exactly.  but we are pretty enlightened (for the most part) and we kept laughing as susan said, “yeah, all these life lessons are great, but the tuition sucks.”  we hung up with promises to call again soon.  whether or not that happens right away, i know she is right there.

because here’s the thing we can count on – in the midst of the “tuition that sucks” is that our true relationships and the support we receive from them is endless.  the conversation never really stops.  it just hopscotches from one time to the next, a life-thread of lessons shared.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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a clean blackboard. [merely-a-thought monday]

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you wouldn’t know it looking out the window today, but it is spring in wisconsin.  under barney, the old piano in the backyard, green is sprouting up through the mulched-up-leaves and mess leftover from winter.  along the back fence are some reminders that, indeed, there are plants there.  in the front yard, next to the old brick wall, the daylilies are insistent and green shoots  are rising amid the dried beige of fall’s version of ornamental grasses.  spring.  a time of new.  out of the fallow, out of the dark.

yesterday, in the meditation book jonathan gave us, there was this sentence, “please give me a clean blackboard today and help me to do the writing.”  do you remember writing on the blackboard in elementary school?  it was always an honor to have that chance.  the feeling of chalk on your fingertips, eraser dust in your nose.  stretching to reach high enough, that sound when your fingernails scraped the board.  and those days that the teacher chose to use chalk in many colors?  it was nothing shy of pure excitement.  funny how simply colored chalk could change things.

i loved this reading.  the vision in my mind’s eye of a blackboard – or an etch-a-sketch – or one of those magic slates where you can still hear the “pfffffffft” sound in your head as you lift the cellophane off the cardboard pad to clear the picture you drew with the plastic stylus.  a chance to do it over.  draw it again.  live it again.  spring.  green out of beige and brown.  grace.  another chance.  color.  new birth.

as i awake each day this spring, i cannot imagine a more grace-filled thought than please give me a clean blackboard todaypffffffffft!

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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i cleared the path for you. [merely-a-thought monday]

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there have been times when a clear path would have been my choice.  something that was predictable, “normal”, serene.  a path upon which i wouldn’t have to ask a lot of questions about direction.  sense-making would be easy; “right” choices would be obvious.

how many times have i hoped for a sticky note to float down from the heavens above, simple instructions listed like on an ikea bookshelf leaflet.  how many times have i wondered about how to forge through the muddy waters, how to get where i can see but not touch.  a clear path seems maybe too much to ask.  we seek mentors to aid us, to ask tough, blunt questions. expecting candid answers, they help us see.  perhaps we would miss too many lessons – or just too much – along the way were we to have a clear path.  there is no “normal”.

the elderly hiker in the woods approached from the opposite direction.  his hat pulled down over his forehead and his jacket zipped up keeping him warm along the trail, he smiled, inviting a response, and said, “i cleared the path for you.  it’s all clear.”

we laughed and thanked him, but i know we both wished he meant it literally.  in a life sense.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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how ’bout them apples? [merely-a-thought monday]

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everyone does it.  in the middle of conversation.  in the middle of silence.  in the middle of a piece of music.  in the middle of a dance.  you vamp…buying time.

my poppo would vamp through a silence when he couldn’t think of anything else to say by quipping things like, “how ’bout them apples?” or “how do you like them apples?” or “do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?”  he didn’t really expect an answer in particular.  (well, except for the rhubarb question, in which case the standard ‘correct’ answer, accompanied by rolling of eyes and laughter, was always “not if it’s in cans.”)  my dad was a better ponderer than conversationalist.  my sweet momma handled most of the conversations of their over-70-years-together time.  but you could always count on my adorable poppo for this tad bit of random.

my very-excellent-“it’s-fine”-producer ken can pick out my “how ’bout them apples?” notes in a millisecond.  he recognizes them instantly and will say, “thinking note” as i vamp through a thought process heading in some direction or other with a melodic conversation in a piece of music.

some people say, “ummmm.”  others say, “liiiiike….” or “welllll….”  or “okaaaay….”  we each have our own colloquialism, our own phrase that buys time.  it’s all good.  ummm, well, ok, like, as long as we’re having conversation.

but really, how ’bout them apples?

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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when push comes to shove, don’t. [merely-a-thought monday]

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my sweet momma always said that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  although she stood her ground, she rarely pushed back.  well, maybe at my dad…i certainly heard her push back in that relationship.  she was a woman before her time, struggling to be seen and heard…in relationship, in work, in the world.  nevertheless, she lead with kindness and generosity.

recently i surprisingly found myself in a situation where i felt the kind of civility that is needed to accomplish anything was lacking.  instead it was aggressive, pointed, antagonistic.  “when push comes to shove” implies escalation and this, indeed, was the case.  instead of actual conversation, it was a push-shove back-and-forth.  instead of communication, it was a shining example of what-not-to-do.

we drove past a passiton billboard on the way up north that read these words:  when push comes to shove, don’t.  civility is in you.  what does a boorish push or a retorted shove accomplish other than an establishment of immaturity, a driving desire and play for power and an uncooperative non-collaboration?

civility is not that hard.  it should be what we lead with.  respecting others and their place in their world.  we each get the same air to breathe and we each breathe in and out the same way.  instead of escalating to shove or pushing yet harder, how might we fill our lungs with responses of peacefulness, thoughtfulness, fairness, appreciation, intelligent consideration, magnanimity, grace, even reconciliation.  why must push come to shove?  it needn’t.

just don’t.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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voila! [merely-a-thought monday]

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20 rolled his eyes at himself when he told us the story.  he was at the grocery store and was looking at dish soap.  he likes dawn dish soap; it gets the best ratings, he said.  as he is peering at the shelf of containers, he can see that way in the back is a container with just a bit more…the volume of the ones in the front seem lower than this particular one in the back.  so he reaches all the way in, moving aside other dawn bottles now rejected by him and pulls out the one where he can see the soap level just-a-little-bit-higher.  he notes that the plastic bottle is not squished or dented (for obviously that would cause a rise in level) and he triumphantly puts the chosen bottle in his cart.  voila!  “there must be something wrong with me,” he said.

as a person who grew up with soap socks and leftovers i couldn’t disagree more.  of COURSE you look for the highest level of soap in the bottle.  that’s a no-duh.  penny-pinching and making things last as long as possible were unspoken mantras for me; they still are.

my sweet momma kept a soap sock.  for those of you who have no clue what that is:  as a bar of soap gets smaller and smaller it becomes increasingly difficult to use.  never to waste anything, my momma would gather all of her tiny vestiges of soap bars and put them in a clean white sock (generally a sport sock…something a little thicker with a tooth like a washcloth.)  she would tie off the end and voila! there you have it – a washcloth with built-in soap!  a soap sock!

i have inherited this trait from my momma.  i will turn bottles upside down and squeeze the life out of them in order to finish all the product.  days after d has declared a shampoo bottle empty i am still encouraging shampoo out of its depths.  our refrigerator rarely has much extra in it – we buy for what we need and we use it up, even if it ends up as some weird concocted leftover.  growing up i didn’t need the “starving children in ….” speech.  i had dna.

so when 20 told us that he takes three pre-packaged 3 lb bags of potatoes over to the scale and weighs them i listened.  apparently, 3 lbs of potatoes can look like 2 3/4 or 3 1/2 or 4 1/4 lbs.  who knew?  you can bet i’ll be trying that.  more potatoes for the money!   voila!

“there must be something wrong with me,” 20 said.  nah.

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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in your right mind. [merely-a-thought monday]

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i remember thinking that this would be easy to write about when i jotted it down.  in your right mind.  ptom and i had discussion about being in your right mind; michael gerson had written part of a column about being in right mind….surely i would have something of depth to say.

now that this is sitting right in front of me, i find that it’s not so easy to articulate.  or maybe it’s territory that feels too revealing, too human.

the moments when calm finally comes after the storm of anger and you are -again- in your right mind. the moments of blind dire panic of imagined-worst-case-scenario when your right mind eludes you and something else takes over until the adrenalin rush eases up and you can see again.  the moments when absolute white-knuckled-fear precedes the back-to-your-right-mindedness. the moments of really bad choices and the post-choice-angst you feel, the remorse for a period of time you weren’t in your right mind.

and then there are the times when you know…you can feel everything align and you, in your right mind, are able to make a decision, to be rational, to be measured in good intention.  your right mind is calm, cool, collected, more at peace with the reality around you.  your right mind is accepting, forgiving, altruistic in empathy and goodness, benevolent and generous.  your right mind is reasonable.

i have known, at least after-the-fact, the times i wasn’t in my right mind.  they are times for which i, impossibly, wish a do-over, a chance to make all well.  times that range the spectrum from angry words spoken to life decisions made without, well, my right mind.

i suppose ptom is right.  you recognize the moments you leave your right mind.  you ask for forgiveness.  from others, from yourself.  and you move on, a little wiser and maybe more capable of steeling yourself against being somehow out of your right mind.  and michael gerson is also right.  he said, “…in our right minds, we know that life is not a farce but a pilgimage…” “..in our right minds, we know that hope can grow within us…”  “…in our right minds, we know that love is at the heart of all things….”

we are in our right mind; we are not in our right mind.  we live life on the roller coaster of right-mindedness, for we are human and we sometimes are, in the complexities of the moments we live, incapable of mindedness.  so we make mistakes.  we learn.  we grow.  and we try again.

for “…we learn that we are neither devils nor divines.” (maya angelou)

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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