Moving Ahead

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Well it certainly looks as if I am greeting 1949 with a good attitude! I am stepping confidently into that new year. I am trying to enter 2017 with as good an attitude, despite the great challenges facing the United States. Certainly despair, hopelessness and a bad attitude are terrible companions on the journey.

May every person around the world I have met during this first six months of this writing have the strength, hope, and courage that you need to meet the new year. I look forward to what each of you brings to my life through your writing and photography. I can’t wait to see what you will bring in the months to come.

Happy 2017. The year I will turn 70!

Exploring the Limits

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When I was three, my mother put a board down on the sidewalk and told me I could go down the street to the board and no farther. You can see here that my reaction was to walk back and forth along the board. I have always been interested in exploring the limits.

We all are limited both by society, culture or our environment. We also, though, limit ourselves in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we are not conscious of the ways we constrain ourselves. I wrote some months ago about beginning to go to the gym so that I could be back in my body after many years away.

At 69, my body did have some inherent limitations. I had not been particularly active for a long time, and my muscles, tendons and ligaments had either gone flaccid(my muscles) or shortened(my ligaments.) I couldn’t throw myself into a strength routine designed for 20 year olds.¬† I had to go at the pace my body could handle, not at some mythical “get strong quick” rate. I had to ease up when a shoulder squeaked or a knee complained. I had to learn about actual limits.

But it turns out I was also limited by my own sense of my physical capability. Now, two years after beginning personal training(a necessity for me to avoid injury) I am stronger than I thought possible. I can push dumbbells overhead, slam ropes on the ground and shove medicine balls into a wall. Do I resemble the 20 year olds? Not at all. But I am slowly adding weight and repetitions to my routines. Every six weeks, my workout is a little harder. I have no idea what the limit will be in my strength building. I remain open to listening to my body and my trainer and seeing what happens.

Really Listening to Children

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Lately everywhere I go I see adults dragging children around while talking on their cellphones. Sometimes the child is in a stroller, sometimes in a shopping cart, sometimes across the table in a fast food restaurant. The child is there, often talking, and the adult is either talking on the phone, texting on the phone, or looking at the phone.

In this photo,¬† I am four years old and I have the undivided attention of two family friends. They are taking me seriously. They are each focusing their gaze on me as I talk and they listen. I understood, without being explicitly told, that I mattered. I grew up assuming that what I had to say was important. It might not be well received later in my life–and often it wasn’t–but I held and still hold the conviction that my voice matters.

Children are little for a very short time, no matter how endless it seems when we are mothers to small children. They chatter nonstop, and we often wish for a little silence from them. Ironically enough, when they are older, we long to hear them say anything to us besides the monosyllabic responses of “fine,” “no,” and the extended sentence of “you wouldn’t understand.”

Listen whenever you have a chance. It can be life changing for a child. It was for me.

Learning New Words

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I have always been fascinated with learning new words. After many years in academe, following many years in university, I don’t run into many new words. So when I taught, I treasured hearing new contemporary words. Sometimes, the words weren’t new to me, just to my students. I remember years ago telling my community college students¬† to “holler” if they needed help. One student said, “Did you just say “holler?” He thought I was very up to date, while I had been using that word since at least 1955!

I use words which are strange to my grandchildren, but they think they are very old-fashioned, not excitingly new. I say things like “neato,” “kiddo,” “cool beans,” and “way to go,” placing my vocabulary back in the “olden days.”

So imagine my delight when reading another blog I enjoy I encountered the word “woke.” Now I have seen it a couple of times in the past week. What a great addition to the lexicon. It says so much in four letters. It sums up what I often want to say to people and seems to be the timely equivalent to the archaic,”what hay truck did you just roll off of?”

Thanks to my international diverse younger blog friends who are enriching my vocabulary. “Thanks a heap.”

Predictable is Underrated!

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Today three generations in our family went to see the movie “Sing.” The plot was absolutely predictable, so I don’t have to worry about a spoiler alert. (Unless you have never seen a happy kids movie before. In which case, this is a spoiler alert.) The basic plot involves a singing contest staged by a koala bear to save his theater from foreclosure.(If you don’t like anthropomorphized cartoon animals, avoid this film.) There is a motley crew of underappreciated singing animals who come together to save the theater. Of course there is a disaster when it looks like all is lost. IT ISN’T.

American culture is fixated on the new, the unpredictable, the cutting edge, the never-before-seen. Sometimes what we all need is a totally predictable, happy ending movie to restore our hope in things. All five of us, aged 7 to 69, left smiling, laughing and repeating, “That was a great movie.”

Hooray for predictability!

Peace and Grace to All

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Our tree is a kind of record of the years, filled with my daughter’s dough ornaments, ones I sewed for her when she was little, and a few from my husband’s childhood. I especially treasure the angel tree topper, bought long ago at a bazaar.

Whatever tradition you follow or invent as you go along, I wish you peace. We certainly all need it. Keeping our eyes focused on what lies ahead, may we keep our lives upright, not swayed by endless contradictory, dis-regulating tweets. Amen.

 

“Walk In The Light”

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This year Hanukkah and Christmas land on the same weekend. We are getting a double dose of light. We certainly need it. Sometimes when we are driving, the road is so dark we have to put our headlights on high beam to see our way forward. This seems like a “high beam” time in the United States, and I am grateful that two religious observances stressing light are being celebrated together.

It is easy to get discouraged by bad news or chaotic pronouncements. It is tempting to look into the darkness and begin to despair. But both of these faith traditions ask us to stay light focused. In this photo I seem to be struck dumb by the lights shining in the room and off the tinsel. Awe seems an appropriate response to overwhelming light.

May you find peace tonight whatever tradition you follow. Remember to walk in the light.

My First Christmas 1947

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Unlike so many pictures of babies, the one featured on this Christmas card shows me in a particularly thoughtful mood. I love the way the light is shining on the bassinet and my hand is resting on the paw of my stuffed kitten. I have that wonderful slouched position of someone who has just mastered sitting up but has to balance her head’s weight against that of her body.

Lost in thought in 1947, lost in thought tonight as I look back over many, many Christmases. Our country is going through some tough times. Inflammatory rhetoric fills the news. In 1947 the country was taking a deep breath after a long siege of war in the Pacific and in Europe. But we had unleashed the bomb, and our lives had become more perilous than most of us knew.

I have spent my whole life with the specter of nuclear war as a back drop. I mourn the reality that my grandchildren are now hearing talk of intensifying that threat. Tonight I pray for peace. I pray that cooler heads will prevail. I pray that we can lay down our weapons and spend our money studying peace.

Amen.

 

 

 

“Little Things Mean a Lot”

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I treasure my collection of miniature Nativity sets. Because they are small and relatively inexpensive, friends buy them for me when they travel. I have sets from Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Ecuador and Peru. I enjoy the many different cultures’ visions of the Christ child’s birth. Here the birth is attended by llamas! I also love the hands that enclose the scene, reminding me of a song I sang once “he’s got the whole world in His hands.”

The fireplace mantel has room for the assortment. It’s a gentle reminder that in my tradition Jesus came for all people, not just the privileged.

 

“Such was his intention”

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In the reading for today, the fourth Sunday in Advent, I heard a wonderful phrase in the Gospel from Matthew. The account tells of Joseph learning that Mary is pregnant. He intends to separate from her, since the baby isn’t his. “Such was his intention,” the text states. Unfortunately for his plans, he is given a different message. While I think that angels look nothing like this image, I do think the depiction of Joseph represents his situation pretty realistically. He really had other plans!

Whatever your faith, and whatever texts you read in your tradition, I think we can all recognize those times when we had “an intention” and life sent us in a different direction. I intended to have several children: I had one. I intended to always be in a two parent household: I spent 11 years as a single parent. I intended to remain close friends with someone: she raged at me and stopped speaking.

Now I hold my intentions a little more lightly. We really don’t have complete control over our lives. We need flexibility to deal with the reality that we meet. We don’t have to spend time in the “if only” unless we decide to spend all our time looking back. And sometimes reality is much better than our “best intentions.” After all, when I finished the Gregg summer school course, I intended to never type again. And then they invented computer keyboards!