Peaks and Valleys…

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings; nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn…”  ~John Muir~

Ahhh…the mountains.  As many times as my sis and I have hiked various pathways throughout the majesty of various mountain ranges, our most recent and brief trip into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park strongly illustrated Mr. Muir’s point.  Inclining to the top of Clingman’s Dome was my first solid hike since my heart episode in March.  The altitude and the steep climb were a test of my slow but steady determination to move forward in my journey.  While Pop happily sat below with his coffee, snacks, and people-watching in the early morning mist, we trudged straight up to the view.  Although covered mostly in clouds and smoky mist (as expected in the GSMNP), this was the start to a glorious day and what a way to begin!

There were other paths we explored along our meandering drive throughout the Park.  We took roads less traveled (momma would have loved it); stopped along any place catching our eye, and gleefully explored.  One particular surprise was a glorious chapel in the middle of a secluded section of dense trees; we literally stumbled upon it.  Going inside, I captured a view through the original glass window.  Wilderness through a window…WOW!  If you’ve been in the mountains long enough, you’ve likely experienced the same overwhelming moment while looking out upon nature, smiling, at peace; sublime in the stillness of the soul.  Nothing more is needed.

As the seasons begin to shift and 2019 descends into various holidays and celebrations, may we all take precious moments to simply savor the lessons of mountain peaks and valleys:  expand horizons, reach new heights, keep a sense of wonder, inspire, cherish, and seek the beauty in this journey called life… because it’s true, the best view always comes after a challenging climb.

 

Tears and tissues…

There’s a powerful quote that unexpectedly surfaced this morning as I quietly sobbed about the news of two more mass shootings within hours of each other: “There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not a mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…”  ~Washington Irving~

While tears are literally a body fluid serving to cleanse and lubricate our eyes, more importantly, they are often formed by the crying associated with strong internal emotional responses.  Modern culture is more forgiving of crying because of the known health and mental well-being benefits, but many cultures still consider crying undignified or even unacceptable forms of response.  So why tears and tissues?  Beyond the tragic news this morning, several recent situations have shed powerful personal light on the sacredness of tears.

We often joke in our family about the emotional responses evoked from advertising.  Take those Hallmark commercials (“when you care enough to send the very best”) and most of their movies; they get us every single time.  There are a couple of TV shows stimulating emotional responses because the characters are somehow living out our lives on the little screen.  Daily news events, poetry, short stories, novels, magazine articles, cards, letters, emails, social media, and more…all can awaken and summon unexpected emotional responses through shared human connection.

These days, it’s quite unusual to see my dad cry anytime.  His emotions and responses are fairly stagnant due to his advancing Alzheimer’s.  He’s not easily moved to great JOY or deep sorrow because he takes most news and situations with little-to-no reaction (this is how I know he’s not really processing all life throws his way). Gratefully, his witty sense of humor and teasing are still intact, thus we can “spar” with one another on his good days.  A couple of weeks ago, though, he had an emotional meltdown when the reality of my leaving on a short trip came to pass.  I talked him through the plan with his white board, handed him tissues, hugged him up tight, and did my best to reassure him his “team” would be with him every step of the way in my absence.  His favorite caregiver took over and I gingerly climbed into my vehicle to leave for the airport.  It completely broke my heart to experience this surprising response from him, thus I quietly cried clear across the country on the plane until I fell asleep exhausted (sorry, lady in the seat next to me).

My family knows, in an ironic twist quite outside my comfort zone, I cry more now than ever before in my life.  It’s not unusual for me to wipe tears of JOY or sadness on a daily basis.  This new phenom entered my world exactly three weeks to the day after mom’s passing three years ago, when the reality of losing her physical being (long after losing her mental and emotional being from Alzheimer’s) finally surfaced in a powerful delayed response.  I was quietly participating in the Anglican Evensong service at York Minster Cathedral in York, England.  Our little group was sitting in the beautiful choral loft on the opposite side of the chorus and vicar leading worship.  The dam of emotions suddenly broke and a profound flood of quiet but ugly, messy crying ensued.  My traveling companions vividly recall the bizarre scene of continuing to sing the liturgical responses and helplessly scrambling to find just one tissue, a scarf, or anything to help me stop the continuous flow of fluids.  Once the service ended and I managed to somewhat reign in my quiet sobs, the vicar approached our little group.  He quietly handed me his personal handkerchief along with the invitation to walk with him.  The two of us strolled leisurely along the magnificent handcrafted stone structure with its stunning collection of medieval stained glass, talking about loss and hope in this journey we call life.  The vicar ended our conversation by gently reminding me how “shedding tears as Jesus did is a powerful emotional release when dealing with all this season of your life evokes; simply embrace and celebrate the process in all its forms…” 

During a recent lunch with a friend of mine, we commented on the fact we’ve both cried enough tears in the past year to possibly resolve a saltwater shortage.  (Fun fact:  Research shows humans make 15 to 30 gallons of tears each year on a normal basis).  Often times, and in both our cases, the physical aspect of our tears clears the way and helps us gracefully move forward in hope.

I have a wonderful friend who enthusiastically collects and carries bandannas with him each day.  Because of him, I’m always on the lookout for unique designs to gift to him, knowing if I needed one at any time, he would have one for me.  Yes; you guessed it; he recently gifted me with one, thus starting my own collection by emotional default.

So here’s hoping my friends, we remember to embrace the sacredness of our tears on our journeys…and please find a little comfort in knowing I’m making it a mission to have a tissue or bandanna ready to give you when your flood of tears flows.  🙂

Let it be; yesterday, today, and tomorrow…

“Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…”

“There are places I’ll remember, All my life, though some have changed; some forever, not for better; some have gone, and some remain…in my life, I’ve loved them all…”

“All you need is love; all you need is love; all you need is love, love; love is all you need…”

“Hear comes the sun (doo doo doo doo); here comes the sun, and I say; it’s all right…”

“The long and winding road that leads to your door; will never disappear.  I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here; lead me to your door…”

For all her classical voice training, opera, choral work, and more, Momma loved the music, and most especially the lyrics, of the Beatles.  A powerful early memory of mine is sitting next to her on the piano bench after she practiced some aria or solo piece while she picked her way through the latest Beatles’ tunes.  Though we never had much conversation about the group or their massive body of work, she made it clear her respect and admiration ran fathoms deep.

Once I began formal piano training, my reward for required daily practicing was mom sitting next to me on the bench teaching me how to play and sing a Beatles’ tune.  As my younger sis beat on pots and pans (she liked percussion after all), mom gingerly chorded notes on the piano with me, never missing a word of the lyrics, and often reminding me how glorious it was to “whisper words of wisdom…let it be.” 

Sitting in the dark cinema quietly humming my way through the Yesterday movie this afternoon, her abiding admiration and powerful respect was felt anew for their profound musical contribution.  If she were here, she would have sung her way through the entire film, reminiscing and reflecting through each song.

So, on what would have been your 77th birthday today, thanks Momma, for embracing so many amazing musical genres and avenues while doing your best to always encourage me to “whisper words of wisdom; let it be…”

The longest day…

Summer Solstice…the longest day of the calendar year when there is the most light available to us. Following this Solstice, the days gradually shorten and the nights lengthen.  Did you know the word “Solstice” is derived from Latin meaning “standing still” (Sol + systere)?  Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the Solstices; likewise western civilization celebrates the first day of summer (called Midsummer–see Shakespeare) as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Our day started about 4:58 am with Pop standing at my bedroom door asking if he missed coffee time.  The steady rains of the last night had ceased and daylight was dawning with the sun just starting to peek into his half-open blinds on his east window (my fault for not closing the blackout curtain there last night).  Startled, I jumped down, checked the clock, and softly padded to my doorway toward him.  I assured him it was early and the coffee would not start for another hour.  I walked him across the house back to his room to settle him back into his comfy bed, sitting in his recliner nearby until I knew he was fast asleep.  Unfortunately, I was wide awake…coffee and quiet time for me…

Ironically, the first thing popping up on my social media feed a little later was an update and positive message from the Alzheimer’s Association.  The organization annually uses the longest day of the year to shed more light on ALZ in hopes of raising awareness about this terminally mind-altering, life-changing, longest goodbye. Today, a favorite Fred Rogers observation surfaced once again:  “Some days, doing the ‘best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect–on any front–and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else…” 

As a caregiver wrestling this relentless foe, I frequently find myself unexpectedly trudging deep in the trench with daddy at times.  While it’s the primary goal each day to simple encourage him while gently assisting him, he unknowingly and gracefully spends just as much time helping me cope with this process by using his wit and wisdom, his laugh, and his smile.

So on this longest day of the year, we chose to seek a little spiritual growth, natural sustenance, and healing tonight by taking a short drive to a favorite lake spot down the road from our home. We stood outside wearing our purple Life Is Good shirts with the sun shining through the trees and the breeze lightly touching our faces as we ate ridiculously large bowls of homemade ice cream.  As written before, daddy sticks to his philosophy to “take what you’re given with grace and dignity and move on.”  It’s his profoundly simple way of dealing, growing, and healing from all of life’s challenges every single day…most especially on the longest day of the year.

Note:  If you or someone you love is in need of assistance, please check out their website @ alz.org  for more insight. 

Pop’s grace and gravy…

Momma called it “skatin’ on the grease.”  Granny referred to it as “fine-fried southern cuisine.”  It’s the only thing daddy wanted today.  Chicken Fried Steak (as we call it in Texas) or, for you other folks, country fried steak; nothing but this would do for him today.  And on HIS day, what daddy wants, daddy gets.

Prep started early this morning and no thought was given to calories, cholesterol, colons, or cardiac situations.  Seasoned iron skillets greased with Crisco or butter covered the stove top.  Freshly pounded steak cutlets covered in buttermilk soaked in a dish.  Ingredients and seasonings for the expected side dishes of freshly snapped green beans, mashed potatoes (skins off, please), sliced homegrown tomatoes, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and, of course, cream gravy were at-the-ready .  Oh dear; the gravy.  Will the gravy even be the right consistency this time?  Maybe? Please??  Somehow a chocolate cream pie had to miraculously appear as well, because really, what’s a meal like this without pie?!  Mercy, how in Heaven’s name did my Nanny Folsom, Granny B, and/or Momma create such a feast so flawlessly after teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, or ushering during worship service?

This is the type of Sunday dinner I attempt about once a year, and usually, if I’m being completely honest, on a Sunday I’m NOT sitting in a pew.  It takes no less than three iron skillets (the biscuits must bake in one) and more dishes and utensils than I have in most of my kitchen drawers these days.  The cleanup alone is exhausting, y’all!  But oh my stars…it’s a staple southern culinary delight indeed when all is said and done, invoking powerful memories of meals past and conversations nearly forgotten.

Everything was just about completed when daddy appeared by my side.  He somehow sensed it was time to make the gravy, and doing what daddy still does best, jumped in with dignity and grace to save the gravy.

We sat together at the round table with our cloth napkins in our laps (it’s Sunday, y’all) savoring each morsel.  His talked about his dad, Pop Sam Sr., his uncles from both sides of the family, and trips with his parents and Momma on the road and flying. Daddy can name all the cars and planes he owned but has no idea what medications he takes each day or what day of the week it is.  Daddy can identify dog breeds and AKC standards for each dog, but cannot find his phone, wallet, hat, or inhaler.  Daddy will make his bed every single morning but cannot find his stack of clean towels to use on his labeled bathroom shelf.  Thankfully, Daddy can belly laugh and do Tai Chi and dispense wisdom and tell stories.  And make no mistake, Daddy can still create a mean skillet of homemade gravy; today, that’s a scrumptious condiment to a complicated situation.  Gratefully, today, on HIS day, his yummy cream gravy soaked our meal and our souls, once again allowing grace and clarity to briefly shine in stunning brilliance…

PS:  Happy Father’s Day to all you dads!  It’s been noted before how anyone can be a father, but it takes a special man indeed to be a dad…so grateful and thankful for the example of my dad (Pop Sam) and the extraordinary man (St. M) who our two little women call dad! 

Flying high…

It’s no secret my dad loves flying.  He was a pilot of his own plane for many years, flying various locations to work sites on business or on adventures with family and friends.  He also proudly served in the Texas Civil Air Patrol, piloting multiple search-and-rescue missions through the years before turning in his wings (and boasts even today he can still fit into his required uniform).

Not long after his official Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he asked me one evening to take him once again to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, specifically the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport, a companion facility to the original museum on the National Mall.  These days, what daddy wants (when he remembers), daddy gets, so we headed north to visit and stay with family outside the beltway, spending an entire day at the museum.  While you were not with us to experience this day through his eyes firsthand, some others unexpectedly were…and what a treasured flying-high memory for all.

These two ginormous hangars at the Udvar-Hazy are filled to capacity with thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the Space Shuttle, Discovery (I know you’re impressed; I was paying attention, huh?!).  As we entered through security, Pop insisted on navigating the museum chronologically so he could share his knowledge and insight as an aviation history lesson; he was the teacher and I was his sole pupil…for about 5 minutes.

You see, as we stood in front of a Wright Brothers glider and Pop waxed eloquently on the profound contributions this team made in 1903 and beyond, I noticed a mom and her four children scooching closer to listen and absorb.  This little group continued to follow his path along all the early flight experiments and exhibits while dad talked about “how failure forces us revisit, reflect, and improve on our hunches.” 

As we entered the age of WWI and WWII (and picked up dad with a group of five elementary-age girls), the aircraft were divided among the various service organizations, their important missions, and successes.  We stopped at length in front of the Enola Gay, when the world entered into the atomic age in August of 1945.  This B-29 Superfortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from the island of Tinian to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, thus forever changing the course of world history.  POP KNOWS ALL ABOUT THIS PLANE and he left no detail to chance!  You see, dad grew up across the street from the sister of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets (later Brigadier General), the pilot of this infamous mission.  Pop spent many childhood hours visiting, questioning, and listening to Tibbets’ stories, later talking with him at airshows around the country…but back to the museum.  It was about this time I noticed an even larger group gathered around us…a museum docent with a senior citizen group of six and then nine middle-school-age guys.  Dad continued sharing vast knowledge, answering questions presented to him on aviation, and talking like the flying expert he is.  About four hours later, Pop stopped, looked at me, and asked if we could sit down for a snack.  The docent gave him a museum hat and said, “you’re hired.”  The mom, dad, and children cheered in thanks.  The middle school guys each shook his hand and thanked him personally with one commenting, “you’re the BEST part of this trip today, and by the way, you look great to obviously be 90-something!” (Pop’s not even 80 yet 🙂 )

After so much complex medical news, decisions, changes, and more in recent weeks, this day was balm for both our souls, a truly JOYfilled experience where daddy’s older more powerful memories allowed him to share his wealth of expertise with others.  The pictures portray his passion and purpose along with his will to positively carry on in spite of deepening memory loss.

Pop miraculously understands how little things in life are to be celebrated, and for just a few hours on this random day, he bravely once again stood out among the stars.  As daddy himself often says, “eras have a way of ending all over the place.” Here’s hoping we find more ways to continue sparking his powerful memories and take what we’re given with grace and dignity “as off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high, into the sun…”     

 

Momisms…

My momma always told me the best sermon is a great example, thus she and daddy (for better, or worse sometimes) taught us daily by their example.  My sister and I know we “chose our parents wisely,” because in the midst of everyday life, there were daily lessons by their poignant example.

As I watch moms today in the grocery store, at the park, and everywhere else in the community, it stuns me how moms must be as wise as Solomon, as smart as Socrates, as unconditionally loving as Mother Teresa, and as disciplined as an Olympic Athlete.  My mom demonstrated daily who she was and lived by the legacy she created with southern sass, grit, humor, and backbone.  She shaped our character, expected integrity, and encouraged us to dream big for the future while finding a passion within to independently support ourselves (because we grew up in a progressive household knowing it was our sole responsibility to take care of ourselves…no matter what).  We learned to control our attitude and effort because “those two things are in our constant control.”  And just like her classroom setting, mom set the bar extremely high for us, but provided a loving cushion when we stumbled along the way.  Our mom was our first and most important teacher, advocate, and disciplinarian; she set the rules and we followed them…mostly…(sorry about riding the laundry basket down the stairs).

While mom’s physical voice is now silent, the echos of her lessons and expectations ring strong inside my soul.  I’m humbly grateful and thankful for the example of my mom.  I was so busy growing up and then raising two little women of my own, I often forgot she was growing older; mom was always smart enough to hold on, and then brave enough to let go on her journey.  Thanks, momma, for demonstrating the courage, hope, JOY, and unconditional love so I could one day be a mom to the two extraordinary miracles who shower my world in JOY!  I miss you so…and Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms!