Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Building our Community

Last weekend 6 friends went to the Butler Outdoor Extravaganza and took a class to build sailboats. Hopefully by the end of summer we will have 3 Puddle Duck Racers to sail about. I'm looking forward to more fun work days.
It reminded me of many positive childhood memories. Our extended family was really good at collecting and working on joint projects for one another. I remember aunts, grandma, great aunts and cousins gathering to go berry picking or to northeast cherry picking.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Margie had great gardens and in the spring they took the kids to a farm to shovel up the fertilizer. These were events. Always there was great food involved, laughter and hopefully cranking to make homemade ice cream.
Extended family spent many hours helping Dad put an addition on our house. It was hard work but I remember the shared times. I learned so much from those experiences. In addition to using tools, I learned about working together. There probably were tense moments but I don't remember them. I remember feeling good about helping each other and getting a lot done.
As we were working Saturday and these memories flooded my mind, I thought about our friend Robbie's pear trees last year. She had told us they were so full of pears she didn't know what to do with them and didn't get them harvested. DAG! My mommy and aunts and cousins would have made an event out that. We missed it.
I've been thinking since about home projects that friends have expressed feeling overwhelmed about. Could we make an event out of that? It takes trust and a cooperative spirit. But when people really work together on a thing, the work goes faster and we build something more than the project at hand. We lift each other up and we build a stronger community.
Most of us realize that in relation to building a float for the parade, or volunteering together on a project but we tend to draw a line at helping each other up close and personal. We need to be as close as family to do that. Hopefully more friends can be close as family. Our extended family. I think we could all use a little more of that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

IT just IS

In an earlier post I talked about visiting a few local churches and how transforming it has been for me - helping me get over fears of religious bigotry. In reaction to many difficult situations, I have to admit to having stereotyped Christian churches and church people. Despite having grown up in a Christian home and pretty much identified as Christian, I grew to dislike the word "christian" and reacted badly to it. I am thankful that friends have taken me to task on that and encouraged me to face this fear - to recognize this stereotype. I have felt welcomed in a Methodist Church, a Catholic Church and most welcomed in a Presbyterian Church.
The experience has provoked some very pointed and deep discussions about Christianity with some of my dear friends. With great love and concern, I have learned that their motivation revolves around wanting me to be with them in the "next life". Knowing that they view this "next life" as eternal, they must like me a lot. Why would you want to spend eternity with someone you don't like?
So, where am I in this journey? First, my assessment of "religion" of any form is that it is merely a philosophy. A philosophy is difficult to prove right or wrong - especially when much of it is based on what will happen after you die. Your guess is as good as mine. It appears to me, most people are trying to hedge their bets. Who is most convincing in assuring a ticket to the best outcome? What I hear is - "just buy the ticket, silly woman."
And then I think, "Silly woman, who has a ticket, really?" What's for sale?
It's all philosophy. By what standard are you going to live your life?
Do you believe there is a devil? Ahhhh, then, "the devil is in the details." If we are caught up in the "details" of everyone believing in the things we believe - it's a devil!
I believe there is a positive force that we can choose or not choose. To me, that positive force is God - however you see her or him or it. That is the source of all life, all death, all power. That IS the GREAT it IS. And perhaps I am even wrong in calling it positive or negative. IT IS. IT is the force - the energy of all things - IT is everywhere and always and ever will be. We can surrender to it or resist it but IT IS and always WILL BE. Our best hope is to understand that power and how to become one with it. I believe that is what Jesus tried to teach us. And I believe we lost much of his message along the way because humans tried to make it something else. IT just IS.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The garden of the Thankful

Each day stop a moment and count 10 people or things you are thankful to have in your life. If you mostly count material things, try again.
With every passing day I grow more convinced that true joy - joyful people - are most grateful for relationships. They treasure them - nurture them - seek them out - welcome them. Joyful people tend relationships in the same way gardeners tend their gardens. They prune, they fertilize, they water and they weed. And they celebrate every bud, every stage of growth with cultivation as rewarding as the anticipated harvest.
They expect the best but know it doesn't just drop from the sky. Relationships can be tender things. They need care. And the greater the care, the greater the joy.
If you are grateful for things, let them be things that build relationships. Count them and be thankful every day!

Monday, May 16, 2011


If there was one wish I could have granted for myself and the world, I think it might be to be fearless. When I think of fearless, I don't mean rushing out to slay dragons, I mean having no need to slay a dragon because the dragon does not fear me and I do not fear the dragon. Fearless, for me, means peaceful.
I believe it is fear that separates us. It's fear that drives anger and war. It's fear that keeps us from taking risks that could lead to big things. We lock our houses out of fear. We don't help a stranger out of fear. We don't talk to people because we fear.
Fear works well to alienate us from one another.
I've wondered often why bullies become bullies - why some people become mean spirited - why some people grow difficult to work with. I think it's fear. They are driven by fear of something and it is probably deeply rooted in childhood. They shove the fear deep inside and then it comes out in irrational behavior. I imagine them as a child and wonder what trauma's they endured to condition them this way. What a sad thing!
I enjoy working with dogs - especially young rescues. I know that there is a point that they cannot recover from past conditioning - they cannot overcome acting out of fear. By the age of 2, if they act out in some aggressive way or cower when there is no obvious need, it will not get better over time. If I cannot help them get over fears, fear will grow into bad behavior.
People are the same. While they may comprehend that their behavior is not accepted by most, they simply work harder to justify it. They learn to create bigger and bigger stories. They learn how to tap into our emotional triggers. It may be God, or a danger, or painting themselves as victims/martyrs for a cause. They can be very charismatic and very convincing for those who do not see all that they do.
But eventually they fall apart. These are the people who in their 50's and beyond wind up spending countless wasted hours alone or with few around them to hear their stories. Sadly, the few who stay, are victimized in some way. The mean old man beats his live in girlfriend or wife. Fear keeps her there or some odd sense of being able to save him somehow. The old woman gets a few church people to rally to her aid and keep her afloat without one questioning why she does not help herself. And why is she not spending some of those countless hours in front of the TV helping anyone else? They have internalized the many stories she has told of how she has been a victim and they overlook the irrational ways she acts. But for how long? How sad for all!
Well - I can't leave this on a sad and sorry note. What do we do about these difficult people? I say, be kind to them but keep a safe distance. They will bite you. Let them dig into their deep caves and don't go in with them. They will bite you.
Go out into the world and be fearless. Learn which dogs/people are beyond your reach. If they can learn to overcome fear, they will come to you. If not, they are best left in the cave on their own where they feel safe. If you go into the cave, they will deal with you on their terms. That is not a good thing. Stay in the light!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Mother's Day

I only knew her less than 8 years. She's been gone nearly 45 and I still grieve.
I imagine sometimes magically stepping back - a time traveler or somehow able to see through a looking glass - and watching her. How I would soak in everything about her - those things that are vague memories - how she walked - how she talked - the sound of her laugh - the kinds of things she found funny.
I've been told that I am much like her. And when I look at this picture, I think it might be true. I've always wanted to be like her and loved that Great Aunt Hazel, in her elder years, thought I was my mummy and called me 'Jeanne'.
I don't remember ever hearing her play the guitar or the bass but I remember that she played the piano. She played the bass in the Cranberry High School Orchestra where she also played basketball - the days of a six woman team. My Aunt Dorothy, her older sister, said she could play any instrument - could do anything she set her mind to - and was smartest in the family. I think Aunt Dorothy idolized her as I still do.
She was a tomboy, I'm told and was a bit of a daredevil. I've tried to look close at her knees in the picture above. I can recall asking her about black spots on one of her knees. Well....she had taken her brothers bike, which she wasn't supposed to do. And she got going too fast down a hill and crashed at the bottom - got cinders in her knee - and was afraid to tell her mother. The cinders healed over in her knee.
Perhaps part of my radical spirit came from her.
I remember her as a strong, quiet, caring woman. We went to the Franklin Library regularly together. I could choose a book from the children's area and she chose books - not just for herself, but to deliver to Grace - an older cousin I remember she often visited who had polio.
She was our Brownie Scout leader, served in the Ladies Auxiliary at the Sandycreek Fire Hall and was active in the Congress Hill Church of God.
Perhaps some of my community spirit came from her.
I had no idea in those days just how ill she was, though I do remember her in the hospital from time to time. Still, I felt her strong and active.
As a child, I simply had no understanding of it. I think that was the way she meant it to be for those around her. She did not see herself as weakened - would not. I remember her coming home from the hospital and in bed once. Dad had taken my brother, little Mikey, and I to the Atlantic station where they gave us really cool new "Super balls". I was so excited to show Mummy and set about bouncing the ball around her in the bedroom. Knowing she should rest, Dad started whisking us out. "No!," she said, "let them stay." And we played around her in the room.
I believe it was not long after that she had a most serious talk with me. We sat alone at the little kitchen table; she in her pink quilted robe. It was probably about this time in 1966. She showed me a picture of a heart and explained what doctors were about to do. Many times I had laid my head on her chest and heard the bumm bump shsssss of her leaking valve. She explained that the doctors were going to fix that. She explained that it was very dangerous.  But that day never came.
Just weeks later, she collapsed while giving little Mikey a bath. Everett, my Dad's cousin, was there and while he and Dad tried to save her, Mikey and I stood holding hands. He was 4. I was not yet 8. Not long before that night, the preacher had given a sermon about faith and praying in Jesus name. And so, with all the understanding and belief of a 7 year old, I held Mikey's hand and said we had to pray. We were children. The preacher said, if we prayed with the faith of a child and in Jesus name... And so we did.
In the days, months, even years that followed, I refused to believe my mother was gone. Dad tried to help me understand but even seeing her in the casket, I refused to believe it. 45 years later, it is still difficult to accept. And the day I turned 30 - the age she was when she died - I fell to my knees with the impact of how young she was and how little I had accomplished in comparison.
When I have imagined having a day to see her, I've tried to picture what day I might choose if only allowed one. While I miss my mummy, I also remember the many mothers who were there for me - many of them gone as well - both Grandmothers, Aunt Elaine and Aunt Ruth. So, what if it was a day when they were all together?
I see them all in a field, out on Pone Lane, picking berries together, kids in tow. The women in my extended family were close as girlfriends. They were strong, creative, hard working women. They loved, they laughed and they supported each other. I would want to see them all together and watch them all. If I could, I would stop and talk with them. Would I marvel at their youth or at their wisdom as I watch?
At 50 something, I still see my mother at 30 as being wiser. In the last picture I have of her there is a far away look in her eyes. Was she seeing something more that night in April 1966? Did she know more than I can know now? I like to believe that some day, some how, I will know.
What has carried me to this day is that I had many mothers. There was the first who gave me life and those formulative years of values. But, I had a large extended family. Both Grandmothers were there for me. Aunt Elaine, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Margie, Aunt Flocie, Great Aunt Dorothy, Great Aunt Hazel, Aunt Dorothy.... And I had a step-mother who did the best she could in a deep shadow.
For far too many years I felt sorry for the loss. This mother's day, I am thankful for what I have had.
I am my mother's daughter. Those early formulative years had a significant impact on me. I have hung onto the best of what I remember of my mother and desire to have those same qualities. I see none of her failings – certainly she had some – but they are not mine to own. How lucky I am to remember a perfect mother!
I have had many mothers. These were women who loved and honored my mother and thus cared for me. I probably had more puberty talks than most girls because they were each afraid none would tell me. How lucky I am to have had such strong, caring women that mothered me!
Happy Mothers day with all my heart to each and every one!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Where were you that day?

Millions of us are remembering where we were that day - 911 - how we heard the news - what we felt in those dreadful hours and days that followed.
Like millions of others, I was at work and got a call. Then another in our department got a call and another. As the company videographer, soon I was asked if there was still a cable TV connection in the auditorium and could I get it up and running. Just a few of us gathered to try to understand why a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers and were stunned to watch a second plane hit the other - live - right before our eyes. Within minutes the auditorium was packed. And the tragedy continued to unfold.
I live only a few blocks from work and decided to walk home at noon. It was a perfectly beautiful fall day - now cloaked in an ominous silence. Across the river there was no traffic on Route 322 - NONE. There was no sound of traffic on nearby streets. There were no dogs barking. There were no people anywhere. Silence! Until I neared my home. Then I began to hear the sound of the television broadcast from my neighbor's house. She was hard of hearing - had her windows open - and the broadcast was blaring.
We all grieved for the senseless killing. We all feared for the evil that may be yet to come. It changed our world into one of greater suspicion. Our nation was unified in a need for justice. We went to war.
Yesterday the man responsible for the 911 attacks was killed - 10 years later. Thousands of men and women lost their lives in this struggle. He created fear that has cost the world great freedom of movement. He was an evil man.
I cannot celebrate the killing of this man though I have shared the need for justice to be served. I do not wish to see the blood filled room in which he died. I do not share the need to decide who was right or wrong or should take credit. I grieve.
I grieve that these are the conditions of our world. I grieve that a religious cause created such a man and his followers. I fear that other religious people could create similar men and similar followers. I grieve that in the face of evil, any of us can be driven to want blood. I grieve that evil can inspire any of us to celebrate the spilling of blood.
I long for peace. I long for the safe return of all our troops who bravely serve believing they are preserving our freedom. I long for freedom in the world that can only come from peace. "When will we ever learn."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Focus Shift

In film and video I love to see shots that shift focus. These are shots where something is in sharp focus with surroundings out of focus, then, without moving the camera, the focus shifts to something else in the picture.
It's fun to do when the conditions are right. It requires setting the camera up with a narrow depth of field, planning the shift, then perfectly shifting the focus from one object to the other so the focus lands just right at the end of the shot. It takes practice.
All the same things are in the picture but our attention is moved - shifted - from one thing to another.
Oftentimes in life our depth of field is very narrow - especially when dealing with a crisis or a perceived crisis. We focus sharply on the problems but everything else is far out of focus. We see one tree in the vast forest around us. We see this day and cannot imagine different days in the future.
Some people live their lives in that narrow depth of field only acting on those things in sharp focus in that moment. There is no tomorrow with consequences from today. There is only a focus on "me" and all else, everyone else, is out of focus. The focus never changes.
Most of us feel uncomfortable in that kind of depth. When we become sharply focused on crisis or pity me or "me, me, me" it isn't a happy place. And when we see it in others, they are not happy people. It's an energy drain, not only for them, but also for those nearby.
So, how does a focus shift happen? It takes practice and effort. First, we have to realize that there are a lot of things in the picture that we're not seeing clearly. That's been a real struggle for me sometimes. It's something I have to keep practicing but here is what I have learned. Immerse yourself in positive thoughts. The only way to change what is around you, is to change how you are thinking. Shift focus.
That is really challenging when faced with a large crisis. At times, I've felt frozen - stuck in quicksand. I was so focused on the problem, I couldn't see an answer and my energy was drained to a point, I could hardly act on potential solutions. Focus shift.
I started waking up every morning and going to sleep every night recounting what is in my life that I am thankful about. I began reading positive things like "Live Now: Touch Today!" by Tambra Warner Sabatini. I began to connect more with positive people and carefully distance negative people.
I'm not advocating ignoring problems. But what I have found is that shifting focus to the positive, gives me energy to solve problems. And as the days pass, the problems are fewer and less dramatic. Everyday I suddenly have a flash - it's almost a surprise - 'I'm happy,' I think to myself. And I smile at myself - Why is that a surprise? Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?