Sunday, June 29, 2008

Roads to Happiness

I read with interest in my little book that there are seven roads to happiness that are never closed. I really like being happy, but life does not always hand us up unlimited and all pervasive happiness, so these seven secrets have turned out to be useful. I'm finding that the more I can work these into my life, the happier I am. The hardest one is song. I know that humming and singing and good music lifts the spirits --I know because my daughter Emily has done just that since she was very little, and she is perhaps the happiest of us all. But singing doesn't bubble up from within me. I would describe my inner self as a large place with tall trees and fresh breezes. It is quiet there and I like it that way, so I don't sing alot, I walk among the trees. I do know, however, that when the dark voices are crowding into my head, I need to sing.

Gratitude and thanksgiving are supposedly separate, but they seem pretty close to me. There is much to be thankful for. There was a song in my youth that went, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone..." and how true it is. When I twist my ankle, I realize how wonderful it is to walk unhindered. When my tooth was in constant pain a few weeks back, I wondered at the miracle of chewing and drinking cold water under normal conditions. When the 9th grade Biology class dissected a cow's eye in January, I was amazed at the beauty and complexity, and grateful for my precious sight. Most recently, my mother has come to live with me. She has forgotten many things, and people too-- past and present-- and it has reminded me that I truly cherish the memories that I have of March 25, 1979 when David asked me to marry him and February 23, 2008 when I met my cousin Dennis and many moments, hours and days in between.
It is important for me to remember that faithfulness in little things brings happiness. It's easy for me pass over the little things and hop on to the "big" things. Mother Theresa agrees that doing little things with great love is where it's at. Tonight I gave my mother a foot massage. Last night I did too. The goal is to heal her feet which were flaking off skin when she came on Thursday. This is a little thing. I am not commanding a submarine or teaching a classroom and managing a state's sewage issues. I'm rubbing my mother's feet. How shall I do this? As one more task to cross off my list? Or as an opportunity to communicate love, to give her some pleasure, some security, some warm touch. It is a moment between us, and taking time to put love into it brings me great happiness.
Thoughtfulness in the home is one I have had to consciously learn. This one's hard for me because I love to accomplish things. I like my lists, and moving from one item to the next can be very satisfying. For me. For the rest of the people who live with me, it can be an aching burden. They would rather have my thoughtfulness. I missed my sister's birthday last Tuesday, because I was busy. It did not make me happy when the bank teller said to her on Friday as we set up a checking account together, "Happy Birthday, Linda," and I'm sure it did not make her happy to have no warm phone call, or thoughtful message come to her mailbox. My daughter Rachel has written this point painfully on my heart: "Write me a message when you send me something!" Take the time to think what means something to someone else, I have to remind myself, it brings them happiness, which comes back to you.
It get easier now. Having a low emotional pain threshold, I value contentment. I can be happy with very little. I don't need expensive anything. I don't need big gifts - a jar of rock is very fine. I'm satisfied with a few clothes I can find at the thrift store, a few good books, and a couple excellent friends, my husband being one of them. I'm satisfied to learn something new and be useful in some way every day. Having my hands in the soil, making a meal that I can share with someone, sewing a quilt from old flannel shirts is enough for me. Contentment is most definately a road to happiness that is never closed.
Ahhh. Now I have arrived at my favorite: the beauties of nature. Nature offers up unending subjects for happiness. The loons are back from the ocean for such a brief time in the summer and they treat us to music so hauntingly beautiful that I cannot get enough. Their mating plummage is elegant, and their habits fascinating. Great joy. One day last week I did my morning walk alone, and was startled by a loon calling high up. Could it be? Where was he? I searched the sky and found him coming from some unknown location, also alone, and on his way to some body of water. I wanted to go with him. I wanted to lift off Lawrence Hill and be pulled along in his wake. "Take me with you," I cried after him.
But this spring the aromas of the flowers has captured my heart. First the spring beauties, those tiny pink striped flowers that bloom in the woods in May. Put your nose down to them, and this beautiful aroma comes to greet you. "Lord, I want to smell good like them, make my life a wonderful aroma" I prayed. After the spring beauties came the lilacs and the lily of the valleys. Then the honeysuckle and wild roses, and now the peonies and milkweed. It is absolutely captivating. Not everything in nature smells good, but some are given a special grace that is so pleasing. I'm trying to gather all these things up, and I find there are too many to hold, so many opportunities for happiness, that I wonder, today, that I can ever be fearful, or frustrated, or frantic. Those moments will come again, I'm sure, but now I know that there are seven fern-strewn roads to happiness that are always open.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Just try and analyze why something “grabs” you; it’s hard to do, and harder to put into words. A friend of mine said something about being protective of her ferns several months ago, long before the unfurling of the ostrich fern, and it spun me off into a reverie on ferns. She didn’t explain her thoughts or feelings, but it hit something within nevertheless. I began to really take in what to me is much more than background filler in the woods.

David and I have a whole bank of ostrich ferns that live just down the road from us, and we watch eagerly for the emergence of the fiddleheads in the spring. It’s not about snipping them as the first spring tonic; it’s about an elegant arrival. I worry, in fact, when I am picking them for supper, that I will take too many and the bank will not be filled with green praise as it should be, and it will be my fault. I snap my hand basket as full as I dare and take it home in glee and half regret, wondering if I have done harm. Two weeks later they have all come up, unfurled and the bank is full again. My place among them has been completely hidden, and I am amazed -so many, so full of living green, so fine and handsome and feather-like, covering the body of the bird of spring. Vivaldi must have been written his best season with these in mind.

At camp, in the hills of northwestern Massachusetts live the prettiest stand of cinnamon ferns I know of. Cinnamon ferns grow in a circle around a central spire of seed that resembles a cinnamon stick. And, the fern bunches often grown in a circle as well, so it is a community of family groups of ferns each dancing around it’s own beautiful offspring. The order and design and what it seems to point toward charms me.

Ferns are shade lovers, and as we walk up the valley on a Sabbath afternoon, we gasp at the delicacy of the maiden hair fern. They hang like waterfalls off their semi-circle stalk and bounce in the slightest breeze. Touch them and they barely feel like anything – hardly there and yet, oh, so beautiful. And green.

My friend who is so protective of her ferns, enjoys the color green the most. I would not think to say that green is my favorite color. But I know that green is necessary to my soul; it is the color of life and of growth. I feed on green, drinking it in like wine, especially when the sun shines through it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Twenty Eight Years in Learning How to Love

This morning first thing, David rolled over in bed and whispered “Happy Anniversary.” I had been awake already and thinking about it. “Thinking about it” conjures up images of accuracy and rationality and that’s not how it is. The thoughts I’m talking about that slog slowly through my head just after waking are half mixed with sleep, and yet there is clarity and trueness that comes then and evaporates like morning mist when I move to a vertical position and walk about. So I prefer to lay still for as long as I can, finding out the most important things in my heart and trying to stiffen them up and put them into a firmer setting that will stick tight when I get up. David was there this morning when this was in process and I’m glad. “What did I say first thing this morning?” I ask him as he takes a shower at noon. In the intervening time we’ve had a morning walk, pancakes from the griddle, and Emily has packed up and left for the summer. Important thoughts are gone, I’ve forgotten again.

It was something about marriage, what I’ve learned, what I’m sorry about, and it was important. He does not remember it all, but in the talking about it, something is jogged. A ha. Yesterday we walked along the bike trail that sidles up beside the Pemigewasset River down to the Basin in the White Mountains to enjoy the light dancing in the clear moving water above a granite river bed. There was a group of us walking at various speeds and along the way in conversation we learned that a couple we know is having trouble in their marriage. It could have been us a few years ago. How well I remember the excruciating and nearly hopeless pain of a failing relationship. But I love David--always have, always will--and thankfully he loves me too, and we were not willing to give up. Together, we prayed and worked and a way opened for us that led up and out.

What I’ve learned has come it bits and pieces that require assembly without a diagram to help out. This morning’s revelation was about how marriage is designed around the pattern of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus loves and honors the Father, the Holy Spirit loves and brings honor to Jesus and there is this abundant circle of love and honor, all built around self-giving. Maybe that is what the wedding band is supposed to mean. Love and life bubbles out of these Three unbidden and unborrowed, and They work in a unity of purpose – right now, to rescue humanity. How slowly I have come to self-giving love, and to honoring. How slowly I have come to an acceptance that our marriage needs the focus of one purpose, stubbornly setting in my heels to the idea. I was certain that it would lead to my demise as an individual. But I have found the opposite; I’ve grown more as an individual when I gave up on maintaining my individuality with militancy. And here’s where I come to regrets and apologies, because I can clearly see that as our union has come to resemble this original pattern, there has been rich peace and a harmony of action and love that has grown up thickly and flowed over and into the margins like a happy vine. The blessing has overtaken and filled in the hole made from the ripping out of the old ways. I look back with sorrow on my self-centeredness that dominated and damaged our love and our life.

Yesterday David and Emily and I sang for church. “Here is love, vast as the ocean/Lovingkindness as the flood/when the Prince of Life, our Ransom/Shed for us His precious blood….On the mount of crucifixion/Fountains opened deep and wide/through the floodgates of God’s mercy/Flowed a vast and gracious tide…” I found a book by John Bunyon on the same topic as these word, and first heard this song within about a week. The message was that there is a lot of love out there available. I wanted to tap into it. I wanted it in me. I’ve been on a search for love for years, not following a straight line either. One would think, “You have God, you have your husband, you got it all.” But it’s not so simple as that, even if it is very close to true. It has not been so much about them, as about me – my capacity to receive love, my capacity to believe myself lovable, my capacity to know what love is. And how are these capacities developed if they do not exist innately? Shall I dig a bigger hole in my heart? All I can think to do is ask, and so I ask to understand more and have my capacity enlarged. The answer is not long in coming, demonstrated to me in a person brought closer. My heart is enlarging, my mind is exercised on the lessons to be learned.

So David, twenty eight years into our living lesson on learning to love, we are still on the path and growing stronger, better, and more peaceful as we go. Our children are grown and mostly gone with all of our relationships remaining in tact. You have taught school for 30 years, we have a small house and a small plot of land and are out of debt. These are our accomplishments. We have come full circle again, back to when we met, and we have each other exclusively again. All the things I fell in love with about you, are still active and I am still in love with you. I am happy and content. My only wish is to learn to love you better. We’ve got time, I hope.

Long Goodbyes

I sit here this morning anticipating good-byes. This is the way I seem to do it – try to get through the difficult part of separation ahead of time, before it happens, and privately too so that when the time comes, I can handle the emotion of it and not embarrass myself by crying.
In the family that I grew up in, you said goodbye, shut the door and drove off -all within a minute or less. Emotions were not acknowledged or shared, and there was no weeping, no outward sign of anything but the ordinary. Holding one another in a long embrace was unthinkable. I don’t believe that we were a hard- hearted bunch -- afraid of emotion maybe, certainly unaccustomed to outward expressions of love. I had to find my own path and somewhere along the way I developed this other way - of anticipating the loss, and privately letting my heart do its work ahead of time. But still, when the moment of goodbye arrives, the old habit of shutting down often takes over -my voice disappears and I retreat inside myself shutting the door behind me, peering out my inner windows as they drive away.
Today, June 6, 2008 is one of those days. An empty barn and pasture await us in just a few hours. The fencing will hold in only memories of a long legged girl cantering a flea-bitten gray Arab up the road bare-back; then Sunday our long legged girl herself, drives off and leaves behind a bedroom and home empty of her sunny spirit and helpful hands. And the house will be quiet again.

I generally like quiet, but the empty-quiet left in the wake of separation is painful and it takes a few days to adjust. You would think that I’d be used to it by now. It has been a long series of goodbyes, this business of kids flapping out of the nest. They have come back and gone again, and come and gone, and come and gone. But then, one time everything tells you that they are gone and will be mostly visitors from now on, taking their lives beyond you. The familiarity of living together is over.
When the kids were young and I was home with them, David would sometimes have to leave on a trip. I dreaded the being left behind -the screen door banging on the door jam, then silence, or the car engine noise fading. “What if he never comes back?” was my inner terror. I could imagine no more hideous happening, and was swallowed up by nightmares of car accidents and funerals. Before a trip, I would distance myself from him, hoping to reduce the pain. It didn’t work, and it took a long time to reconnect emotionally when he got back. There was a lot of childish thinking rooted in a big insecurity inside my head. What brought the most relief was to forgive him for leaving me, which sounds silly also. David has stayed, thankfully for twenty eight years now and somewhere along the way, I learned to trust both him and that I would be alright no matter what happened, no matter what loss I would sustain, no matter who left me. I gradually learned to accept feelings as a natural part of my inner being and believe that it’s not the end of the world if others see me cry even though I would prefer that they don’t.

There is more. The learning is not over. My cousin Dennis is teaching me another thing or two. He specializes in long good-byes. It might go something like this. The work or the meal, or the event is over, and we stand and talk, and the conversation comes slower and slower. There is something else on our minds. It is about leaving, separation, the driving away, and it is dreaded. Somehow we want to say something else, something that might not fit. It’s something about “next time” and “soon” and something about the love between us. Intruding into the center is a need to affirm that the bond, the love, will not be broken with the parting.

David’s folks also specialize in long goodbyes, and I believe that all these things are happening within as well, but they are tender heart things, and there is a risk of a tear or a quavering voice, of looking weak, and that might break our image of controlled togetherness. Somehow we just never step over the line. There is the polite hug, the appropriate words that poke at it, but never fully embrace the reality: we love each other, we need each other’s love. And we drift into this semi-painful, stifling and unreal goodbye that stretches out endlessly. Until Dennis, I could never really picture what it would be like to let out what is longing to get out, nor could I imagine how it would turn out or if it would bring relief or not. I’ve had a chance to find out.
Into this unknown zone, Dennis comes, ignoring all the warning signs. To my utter shock he says what’s on his mind. If he needs to get back out of his car to do it, he does. He gives the long embrace, he speaks those powerful words. He does it, and I stand frozen in the moment. He is direct and honest and I think, brave. I am slightly surprised that I do not self destruct. Nor do I melt down to nothing and disappear. When he finally does drive off, the air is clear, and the silence left behind is warm, the emptiness has a slight glow. I find I am his understudy in these matters.

What would my family look like if I would have learned to do this years ago? Why not, for pity’s sake, speak words of love and affection? Why not? I am becoming convinced that love cannot be broken by time and space. Why am I surprised? After all, the scriptures say, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God….” Finally I’m beginning to grasp this, and I am glad it’s not too late. This time Emily will leave and I will stay with it. I will tell her that I love her and that I’ll miss her. I will hug her tightly for as long as she wants. Tears may fall, but so be it. And we will take as long as it takes.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Building a Transition

It is the end of an era. Ten years ago we were the ones preparing a place suitable for a horse. Deconstructing the barn down the road, moving it in pieces, and reconstructing it on our property consumed a chunk of the summer. This past week, the deconstructing and reconstructing process has taken place in someone else's barn, for my daughter's horse, who will inspect his new living arrangements on Friday of this week. We were moving a partition and building a transition in our lives, mine much less then hers, and yet for us both, parenting is over. We worked together as adults, doing what has to be done in order to continue on the path being revealed. For her, Friday will be the day. For me, Sunday will be the day - and our emotions will be in sympathy. Pray for us. We need strength.