A close friend lives on the other side of the United States from me and together we form a book club. Yes, a two person book club. We talk for half an hour every week and have done so for a number of years. We alternate choosing books and feel free to abandon one if neither of us can stand to finish it.
Right now we are reading the book pictured above written in 2002 by a Canadian woman who worked at the time at Romero House Community in Toronto settling refugees. I found the reference to her book in a fairly lightweight book about gratitude. Every time that author quoted Leddy, I found what Leddy had written was worth a closer read. So my friend and I each acquired a used copy of the book.
Leddy challenges what she sees as a North American refusal to be satisfied with the present moment. She says that we live in a consumer culture and that its effects run much deeper than most of us realize. She says that the constant advertising blitz we live in constantly tells us that we need “more,” “better,” and “improved.” While many of us believe we resist the pull to buy a new car every year, she thinks that we are being influenced at a profound level. She calls this state “perpetual dissatisfaction,” and writes that it permeates North American culture. It leads us to want more in every aspect of our lives, not only materially but also in other ways. We judge everything around us as not being good enough, whether it is our church, our marriage, our family or our very selves.
“Radical Gratitude” challenges me at a deeply personal level. Anyone wanting to be stirred to confront the miasma of “perpetual dissatisfaction” all around us would benefit from reading the book.
54 years ago, I wrote a personal essay to accompany my application to Radcliffe College, now subsumed into Harvard University. At the time, girls applied to Radcliffe and boys to Harvard. Our classes were held jointly and our degrees were awarded by Harvard. Even at 17 I had difficulty trying to condense my achievements and hopes into a brief essay.
Now, as my 50th college reunion is next summer, I received the second of what I expect to be a series of gentle reminders to fill out the questionnaire mailed to me at the beginning of June. It sat unopened until I sat down to write this post, assuming–correctly–that I would be hard pressed to know how to respond to the queries.
For instance, “What do you consider your most important accomplishment of the past fifty years?” Or alternatively, “Looking back, have you done with your life what you thought you were going to do?” And, by the way, try to say it with “reasonable brevity!”
I have dutifully read our class reports which are issued every five years. As you might guess, given the alumni, they have been full of glowing achievements, awards, titles, fellowships, charitable board service and the like. I found myself as insecure reading them as I had felt when I first arrived, by train, at college at 18. But now we are mostly retired. Some have died. Some have dementia. Some have lost spouses and children.
What do I expect to read when I pick up the 50th annual report? Can I embrace the last fifty years free of comparison to the submissions of my classmates? Can I find a truthful way to answer the question? Where do I begin?
Saturday I was waiting to turn left into the grocery store parking lot. I had arrived too late to trip the green arrow, so I had a plain green light as did traffic coming from the other direction. It seemed prudent to wait so I wouldn’t hit an oncoming car. Apparently, the car behind me had a different perception of the situation. He honked loudly at me. I guess his need to get to the store was more important than my need to avoid a collision!
Today on the way to get my computer fixed, I passed what I knew must be a fatal single car collision. Four lanes(out of five)of the freeway were closed and there was a tarp over the car. I have no idea what made the mother driving the car speed off the highway, hit a wooden barrier, flip her car and kill her 6 year old little boy. But I see single car fatalities too often here, and later it usually says “speed was a factor.” No one needs to be in that much of a rush. The consequences are tragic.
So I am that old lady driving more cautiously than you think I need to. I am actually waiting when it says “No turn on red” even when you think I shouldn’t be. I am waiting for pedestrians in crosswalks even when you think I should run them over.(I got honked at in just that situation two weeks ago.) I am slowing down when kids are playing in the street even if they shouldn’t be. On the other hand, I bet my auto insurance rates are lower than yours.
Here one section of our fence holds a very verdant honeysuckle vine. The hummingbirds love the flowers, and it is nice to spot them from our deck. This fence was built by my husband to match some picket fence already present when we bought the house. Despite it being the an historic occasion for cynicism, I love white picket fencing and specifically asked him to build this portion. He figured out how to do it, only having to buy the fence finials that matched existing ones.
I hope you notice that this whole series of garden posts is a long expression of gratitude for my husband. He has made of our back yard a veritable garden of Eden.
I always wanted a waterfall, stream or fountain in the back yard, and last year we installed this water feature. With three slabs of Columbia River basalt acting as the bubblers, the fountain runs on a timer from 7am until 7pm. Its gentle noise is like the small brook that ran at the bottom of my childhood home.
In the photo you can also see some of the abundant cardinal flowers which populate the yard. They are favorites of bees and butterflies and add bright color highlights to the shade under the nearby dogwood. The plastic pipe arch is part of the covering system to prevent squirrels eating the strawberries grown under it. The wire fencing keeps the dog in her part of the yard.
Just think. I could have artfully cropped this photo to show only the fountain. This way you get a whole tour of the corner!
I originally bought these flowers because the cover of the seed packet looked appealing. I knew nothing about Four O’Clocks, as they are called, at the time. Much to my delight, they have thrived in my annual bed for the past five years. They burst forth with cheerful blooms, but only in the last afternoon. They sleep in through the morning when the zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers are blazing away.
I laugh because they seem to awaken about the same time that I hit my late afternoon slump. I am a morning and late night person, but the late afternoon and I have trouble getting along. I usually taught my seminars either from 8-11 am or or 11-2pm. All went well during these time slots. Once, despite my warnings, the Dean scheduled a class of mine from 2-5pm. Art students loved this time slot, but it was deadly for me. In fact, it was the only semester during my many years of teaching that I received negative reviews about my “interest in the subject matter.” After that one time, I was never again asked to teach in the afternoon.
So the Four O’Clocks stand in stark contrast to my torpor at 4pm. Fortunately, they continue blooming into the evening. I am able to sit outside on the porch swing after dinner and enjoy their gorgeous display.
The singer Guy Clark had a wonderful song that went “there’s only two things that money can’t buy—true love and home grown tomatoes.” I agree completely and fortunately with my husband I get both!
Each year he is tempted to put tomato plants into the ground in late May, but remembers that here early planting doesn’t mean early fruit. It just risks early plant death. So he waits until the old Italian men at church tell him it’s time. Come to think of it, we are just as old. Anyway, he seeks their advice and plants accordingly. The tomatoes are just starting to really come on. Too many to eat out of hand, no matter how hard we try.
My husband loves tomato and peanut butter sandwiches. He made the mistake of telling one of those fore mentioned Italian men about this. “A” replied that it was such a sin that he needed to go to Confession! I guess he missed the tomato rule book.
He cuts up all the excess ones and freezes them in little bags. All year he thaws a bag at a time and fries them along side his eggs and bacon. By late September you can guess the contents of our freezer— blueberries and tomatoes.