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the blue notebook. [merely-a-thought monday]

why?

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my sweet momma was an optimist.   growing up, she’d wake me up in the morning with a cheery, “good morning, merry sunshine” and she would happily start her day.  she would jot everything on her desk calendar (the kind with the base, two metal rings and sheets for each day that were replenishable yearly.)  for her, everything counted.  she would write down all of it, in her personal shorthand.  to read her calendars now is to see all parts of life – the magical parts and the painful aspects.  but momma? she just had a way of listing to the magical side.

we drove down to florida nine to ten times in the last couple years of her life.  we’d visit and laugh and listen to stories and catch her up on our life.  she was in assisted living then so we would listen carefully if she mentioned something she clearly wanted from the home she and my dad had shared.  her finnish wood carvings, a certain sweater, a jacket, a movie in the entertainment center…all things back home.  we all worked to be sure she was surrounded by things that meant a lot to her.

one day momma started to recollect another of the rich stories she and my dad had experienced on their trip to europe decades earlier.  she spoke of the brand new vw bug they ordered ahead and picked up in germany.  she spoke of roadtripping for six weeks around the countryside.  and she spoke of a red notebook in which she wrote down all her impressions, all their doings, all the adventures during their trip.  she wrote of tender moments and of the simplest of pleasures.  she wrote of what made that trip magical and painful challenges they had.  she didn’t write of the grandiose or the impactful tourist spots.  she wrote of what made that trip theirs and theirs alone, a deeply personal account.  and as she spoke of it, you could feel the presence of my dad by her side.  these were cherished stories and precious time she spent with her beloved husband.  clearly, she pined for this notebook – written memories of that magic.

we went back home that evening to my parent’s house with a mission – find the red notebook.  we started in the office, scouring the desk and the closet, going through bins and boxes, our eyes searching for a red spiral.  defeated in the office, we moved on.  every nook.  every cranny.  we opened every bin and box in the house, rifling through, trying to find it.

we moved on to the garage.  tall filing cabinets stood against the wall (for basements are somewhat inconceivable in florida).  i started pulling out drawers.  david headed for the stacks of plastic bins, piled in another part of the garage.

we kept at it.  determined, but losing some hope.

david opened the last plastic bin, the one on the very bottom of the piles.  he shuffled through the papers in the top; his eyes fell on a brochure.  a travel brochure.  from europe.  his pulse racing, he continued to dig through the bin.

and then he saw it.  a BLUE spiral notebook.  on the front was penned the word EUROPE.

the last time i saw my momma – ever – was the very next morning.  when we left her, she was clutching the blue notebook to her chest, tears in her eyes.

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

 

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“the first dandelion!” [merely-a-thought monday]

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one of the sure signs of spring’s imminent arrival in our town is when boats start populating the harbor again.  big shrink-wrap is removed from cabin cruisers, sailboats and yachts of all sizes and the slips start to fill up, slowly at first and then with abandon.

it was with much glee that, on our hike through the trails in a local forest preserve, i spotted it and called out, “the first dandelion!”  i’m aware that not many people get as excited about dandelions as i do, but, for me, this harbinger of spring – along with gentle beauties like lilacs and tulips and daffodils – is cause for celebration.  it conjures up images of cups of dandelions in water on my counter, having gone from little-kid-fists to my hands.  it makes me think of decades ago, sitting cross-legged in the grass, making necklace chains out of clover.  it brings the hope of a new season, the ever-more-constancy of sun and warmth, the season of flip-flops approaching.

with so much uncertainty on the horizon, the drone of winter’s end is taxing.  we yearn for a blanket of warm sun, a chance to raise our faces from worry to face the sky, to breathe freshly mown grass, to put our hands in the dirt, cleaning away the debris of the harder times, perhaps preparing to plant.

but this is wisconsin and this is life and nothing is really static.  life is fluid as is weather.  four days after we celebrated “the first dandelion!” we drove home through a snowstorm, blowing, wet snow covering the courageous pioneers of spring.  the thing i try to remember, as the grasp of winter holds tight the reins of this new season, is that they are still there.

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

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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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