Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stream of consciousness

Ok, so I'm just going to let this post meander where it will.  My mind can't manage to stay in position for longer than a single moment. Why?

Because it's hot. Perhaps I've mentioned that a time or two dozen.  But it bears repeating.  I'm sitting here with a fan directly on me, wearing only a tank top and underwear.  Beve just called me out to see the sunset, so out the front door I went.  He was a little surprised to see me in so little.  I just brazened it out, and assumed that no one really looks up onto our patio when they're driving down the street but the heat may have short-circuited something in my brain. 

It was a beautiful sunset.  The sun was a crimson globe on the horizon surrounded by a light rose-colored haze that extended straight across the sky.  There's been a haze over the city all day today, the hot pressure system making everything stagnant, but apparently also making brilliant colors in the twilight.  Even the worst things have possibility of beauty in them...when God is in the picture!

We had to take a break in the middle of the afternoon--went to a movie so we could breathe a little cold air!  We walked in and the air conditioning actually took my breath away, and I should have brought socks. Before we left the theater, my toes were actually freezing in their flipflops.  We saw Public Enemies, at the recommendation of a friend.  I won't be watching it again. All the bullets flying made my head ache.  And I really dislike feeling sympathy for the criminal in movies, though J pointed out that both sides seemed equally difficult to root for in this one.  But that Johnny Depp is one versatile actor.

Tomorrow is Beve's birthday.  The next day mine.  We go south to visit some friends who now live on the water--if it continues to be this hot, I'll be in that water as much as out.  That's a pretty good birthday, if you ask me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heat, flat tires, and a servant's heart

It's too dang hot!  Ever since our trip to Boston last summer, when I got heat stroke, I can't seem to handle the heat well at all.  I become grumpy, irritated, snappish and can't bear the copious amount I sweat.  There was a movie out a couple decades ago about a TV newsroom, and one of the characters got his big break as a weekend anchor for the broadcast.  And that man, whatever his name was, had water pouring off his skin and over his clothes like a broken faucet.  I laughed wildly at the physical comedy of that scene.  But I'm not laughing now, as so much salt water pours off  me that I should really capture it in a rain barrel and take back to the sea.  It's ridiculous to sweat this much and I'm telling you, there's nothing 'glowy' about it.  Maybe I've been a member of Beve's family so long that my interior thermostat is calibrated to their heaters.  Beve's always been a sweater--er, not a sweater, but a sweat-er.  Like all his siblings.

But my hot body (and I'm not saying I have a hot body, if you can tell the difference.  May those words never come from my head about myself or anyone else!!!) is just plain hot, tired and miserable.  Taking it out on those nearest and dearest to me, namely The Beve.  E took herself off to Costa Rica to visit some friends during this heat wave, though I'm sure it's no picnic there either.  She celebrated her birthday on the sandy beach of Taramindo on the Pacific, farther south than she's ever been before.  With great, salt of the earth friends with whom she can be herself, the connections deep and wide between this couple and E, and their parents and us.  It's a microcosm of how villages once worked--generations after generations became friends because their parents had been friends.  And that's what we get to live here some of the time.

Anyway, it's hot.  Did I mention that?  So hot that we turned on a sprinkler and sent Jamaica straight through it to retrieve her tennis ball.  It only took that first throw for her to discover that it was cooler in the spray of the sprinkler than just sitting in the shade.  Both dogs have been panting hard all day, so I actually took the hose and sprayed Jackson, and though he didn't like it at first, he didn't run away but patiently stood under my spray until I gave him a drink.

Then Beve and I drove out to our old neighborhood in Ferndale where Beve had to make a bid on a lawn project.  We drove past the last home we owned before this one, saw a fresh look with new paint, and a air-conditioning unit in the front window (There might have been a spurt of envy in my sweat when I saw that, though I masked it by saying I didn't like the way it looked in the beautiful arch-topped living room window). Beve found the yard he had to bid, spoke at length with the owner, then we finally tried to turn around and head home.  But (drum roll, please!), the car turned funny (that's as scientific as I can get when I'm this hot!), and Beve stopped, got out, and saw that we had an exceedingly flat tire on the pick-up.  So right there, without even pulling over closer to the curb, he went about the business of changing the tire--crawling on the street under the car to get the spare, sweat dripping in his eyes as he bent his arthritic body over the jack.   I basically stood beside him, like a lawn ornament of moral support.

It's not that I could even be more of a help.  True confession time now:  I've never changed a tire by myself.  I've had a couple of flat tires over the 36 years I've been driving, but never actually had to do the job.  I know the mechanics of it, release spare, find jack, raise jack, loosen lugs, fit new tire in place, tighten lugs, lower jack, re-tighten lugs, check for appropriate tire pressure for the ride home, put equipment away.  Off we go.  But I've never done the work myself.  Doubt I could now.  My left arm has trouble lifting a glass at times, let alone having the strength to loosen and tighten those bolts holding the tire in place.  I remember one weekend trip I took with 3 college roommates out to the ocean (all the way from the landlocked Palouse).  On the way back, on a lonely stretch of road with nary a house in sight, nor many cars even, we blew out a tire.  These four college women sat around that little Honda, trying to read the manual, trying to make the directions make sense.  And it was not a successful attempt.  Fortunately, four 20-year-old women aren't easily overlooked, and the first car that passed (what am I saying? It was the only car that passed!) stopped up the highway and turned around to help us.  Or actually, to do the work without our help.  Our main contribution, as I recall, was just comic relief.

Tonight, Beve didn't even need me to be comic relief.  I just stood with him, watched him efficiently do the job, sweating profusely (him legitimately, me--well, I told you I sweat when I haven't worked up a sweat!).  "It was an adventure," Beve said as we finally drove home. "But isn't it sad that this world has come to a place where we don't help each other?"  It is sad, I agreed.  Our parents raised us and our siblings to give a hand in a time of need, to go the extra mile for a stranger.  My dad, Mr. Boy Scouts of America, expected us to serve those around us.  And Beve lives the Great Samaritan instinctively.  It would be an anathema to him to walk past without offering his services.  Just last night we stopped at Costco on our way home from a wonderful time with friends we rarely see (he's the pastor at the church E attended at WSU), and as we were walking out to our car, a woman was struggling to put a table saw in the back of her rig by herself.  Beve handed me the muffins he'd been carrying, and he took his giant-sized, servant's heart over and lifted that saw into her pick-up.  This was after he'd spent a couple hours at a Nursing Home in town, visiting one of his elderly lawn care customers, a woman we've been mowing for since Daughter & Dad Lawn Care began back in 2002. (That's the royal we, of course.  I've mowed a lawn or two, but that's about it!)

My point is, and I do have one, honest I do, that I have a whole bucket list of things I'll probably never do.  Changing a tire is one of them.  Beve agreed that I probably wouldn't be able to do it any more.  I missed that window, due to disability.  But there's that bigger bucket list, the one Beve lives out instinctively:  Recognizing needs, being open and willing to meet those needs--sometimes before they're even expressed.  Who will I minister to?  Maybe this is the bucket list that would change lives--at least change mine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The lazy way out

I've spent the day ripping stitches from the quilt I'm close to finishing.  A more tedious job is hard to imagine, especially in the heat.  I'm kind of leaning sideways over the quilt, so that I won't expire from having this blanket on my lap.  As I pull out the threads, I'm thinking of words.  Words which, with the addition of a prefix, mean exactly the opposite--comfortable and uncomfortable, for instance. Do and undo.  But then there's the word ravel.  With its 'opposite', unravel, which have exactly the same meaning.  Why is this?   What is the etymology of ravel that caused this mutation? Really, what's the point of putting the 'un' in front of ravel, if ravel will do the job exactly the same? I do admit, though, that I tend not to use the word ravel at all, only unravel, since what the definition--undo, take apart, separate threads--leans toward the 'un,' if that makes sense.

I'm also thinking (I mean, I have to use my mind for something while I work--otherwise I'm sure the heat will melt it entirely) of all the words and phrases I instinctively correct when I hear them misused.  I and me, for example.  Whenever I hear someone say, 'Me and Charlie are going swimming,' I correct it intermally--unless it's one of my children speaking. Then I correct it aloud, not caring if I embarrass them. But people also use I wrong. 'They invited Charlie and I to go swimming,' sounds more proper but is every bit as wrong as using 'me' in the first sentence.  It can really make me crazy at times, all this editing of conversation I do in my head.
There's the improper phrasology of this sentence: 'It needs washed.'  Either end 'wash' with a gerund (which is the grammatical word for 'ing' endings) or insert 'to be' after needs.

The list of such phrasing, such word choices, such grammatical errors, is endless.  Appallingly endless.  I'm sure, however, some of my faithful readers have noticed a time or two that I break plenty of rules when I write.  But here's the thing: I know it.  I know that I use hyphens to create words that aren't actually words, that I write with fragments and partial sentences.  But one of my fundamental beliefs in writing (or speaking) is that one must know the rules in order to break the rules.  And when such breakage occurs it's done purposely, to create a point, to set a phrase or word or idea apart.  Ripping out stitches in language, so that what is re-sewn is better, more appealing, pleasing to God and people.

I could have left these sloppy stitches, been satisfied with a haphazard job that's almost right.  But that would be taking the lazy way out. But that's not good enough.  In sewing or in language.  Sure, it'd save me time, thread and more heat on this already blisteringly hot summer day.  But "whatever you do, whether in word (speech/writing) or in deed (quilting, or whatever), do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A glass wall

In the interest of transparency, here's my confession:
It (still) feels like there's some sort of wall between me and my emotions, me and the world, me and God (excuse the poor grammar--I always say one should learn the rules, stick to the rules--so that one can purposely break them for effect).  In other words, I'm walled inside a glass cube, and though I can see out, I can't hear, or touch the glories of creation, nor taste that the Lord is Good.  Everything feels muted...and I don't know how to break down that wall.  In fact, I'm not certain I'm even capable of it on my own.  Only God can do this for me.  God, whose ways I know and trust, who I believe is there, seems silent.  Perhaps the operative word is "seems" but somehow that 'seems' makes me feel a distance that might not actually be there.  Or myabe He's just beyond this erected wall, just waiting for me to reach out.  But all the build-up of physical pain, professional disappointment, worldly uselessness paralyzes me. 

Do I trust Him anyway? Do I go about my life in faith that He is at work, is bent on shattering this glass wall?  Has purpose and intention in the apparent silence?  Sometimes I that I mean.  But other times I just sit here, doing nothing--REALLY doing nothing.

I want to trust Him, want to feel the corresponding lightness (even when I'm in intense physical discomfort) that comes with full awareness of His Spirit within.  I've lived in that fullness before, I know the joy of such favor.  Am I selfish to want it always?

It's been said that Mother Teresa, who spoke of an early visitation from the Lord that sent her to India, that pushed her into her Nobel-Prize winning, gospel-bent life of service to the poor, spent the last 50 years of her life with looming doubts.  Dwelling in the silence, living more in Holy absence rather than Holy Presence.  Yet she never wavered in her devotion, in her mission, never gave in (at least externally and actively) to those looming doubts.  The doubts weren't the last word of her days or her life.  She was too busy practicing Matthew 25: caring for the sick, feeding the starving, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned.  And God, I KNOW, counts it as righteousness, honors her obedience.  Satan's master plan--as much as it depended on her life--was thwarted!

This is the kind of life I want: to obey, to practice His presence, to do for the least of 'these', no matter how silent God is.  No matter how long the silence lasts.

This, then, in my only failing.  Not the silence, not the glass wall, but my paying more attention to that wall, to that silence, than I do to "putting on Christ!"  I don't--I shouldn't--need His voice to know His words, to obey His Word.

Forgive me, Lord.  Move me, give me courage and strength to act, to speak where you ask, what you ask.  To simply live the gospel intentionally, watching for Your backside, if that's the only glimpse I get.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Whispers in the wind

I can really tell it's summer--a whole lot less time is spent inside at the computer than outside in the sun, the garden, out of town.  My youngest sister is visiting this week, here for a respite from the pressures of weddings (to plan and sew for--she made her daughter's wedding dress, the vests for the groom and his henchmen, a bridesmaid dress (or two) for her other daughter), a poor demented mother to care for, a fulltime job and being chief cok and bottlewasher for a farm family, various community commitments.  Not to mention living with rheumatoid arthritis.  She packs more into single days than I do into most weeks. Once the dust settled after her daughter's wedding, I told her she had to come here, sit on the patio, drink wine and sleep as long as she wants.

Instead we've been shopping.  We've hit every fabric store in town, and now she's sitting at my machine, sewing strips together.  This is apparently as relaxing as sleeping for her.  We went down to my favorite park  this noon, took a sack lunch of burritoes from my favorite local taco joint, and sat watching the sailboats and ducks on Bellingham Bay.  She loves salt water, tides, the smell of marine air.  The land-locked Palouse has beautiful skies, gorgeous rolling hills, the wide Snake river, but it's dusty and golden this time of year, with hot temperatures, and barely a breeze.  Our city, on the other hand, is perched between mountains and Puget Sound and a calm, peaceful retreat for RE this week.  As I write this she's sitting at my sewing machine, creating a breath-takingly beautiful quilt.  She's working hard, but tells me she loves it.  I hope  so; I hope she's resting.  I hope the stress of her life is floating away on the wind off the bay.  I hope she goes home ready to face the endless burdens of her life.

In the next month our calendar is filled with visits of loved ones near and far.  So I expect my blogging will continue to take a hit.  It's what summer does to schedules.  Back in the olden days when I was writing, I knew that the moment the kids dropped their empty backpacks on their bedroom floors at the end of the school year, I'd be lucky to write a page until they slung those backpacks, bulging with new supplies and hopes, onto their shoulders for the start of the next grade.  I had high hopes that this rhythm would change once they grew up, is still crazy in the summer, and I still have trouble sitting down in peace.

But I'll take it.  I'll take the conversations, the activities, the visits from family and friends near and far.  All these people are precious and of immense value.  Sure, some folks have made different choices for their lives than I have, have chosen paths that seem impossible to me.  But the conversations we have--like the unexpected phone conversation I had today with a beloved old friend whom I first got to know in a hot summer, just like this one, where we spent every day painting curbs in my home town (it took about 10 seconds and we were picking up a conversation we'd left 30 years ago), I'd forgotten how much I love this man, this old, quirky friend!!!--stretch me, change me, thrust me into a place where I know God is present and between us.  In every encounter, whether easy or difficult, there's the possibility of eternity, and this I cherish.  So let the party continue, and let me lean in to hear His whisper in the wind.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Following after

Beve and I are out in Sequim, firmly settled in to 5th Avenure, the retirement complex where Grampie and Thyrza live. They no longer drive, so every time we come to visit, we offer to take them on any errands they have.  After our requisite trip to Costco to fill our car with gas, we headed to the east end of town where Grampie's favorite store stands.  On our way, we saw a man with labradoodle puppies for sale.  Beve stepped on the brake and pivoted the car so that we could cuddle adorable balls of brown curls for a few minutes.  You know how some women are about babies?  Always cooing over them, itching to get their hands on them, and deep in their wombs long for them--even if they've already raised a couple, three or four of their own?  Well, that's how I am about puppies.  Even as Beve was parking the car, I was saying, "Oh no, oh no..." my feet already racing to nuzzle those puppies.  I'm telling you if I had 700$ on me, I'd be trying to figure out how to bring that sweet littlest female home. The owner, seeking the larger "SUCKER" written across my forehead, gave me his phone number, and I keep pulling it out of my pocket and might even have that number firmly memorized (360-460-6608)...But since Grampie and Thyrza were waiting in the car (perhaps growing dehydrated by the long wait), we handed back the doodle-do's and drove on to Grampie's default destination:

Staples.  Seriously, there's always a reason to go to Staples.  I'm telling you the man should do their advertising.  Today, he wanted the four of us to get our picture taken right next to his favorite copy-machine, then have the photo copied for all his friends and family. I thought you might like the original, rather than the pink-tinted copy he raved over.  Ah Grampie.  The clerks and technicians at Staples know him so well, they call him by name, and Beve asked about having Grampie's memorial service right there in the well-lit aisles.

Then we returned to 5th Avenue, where we had just enough time for a second afternoon nap (kind of like second breakfast for hobbits), then it was hustle behind the walkers down the hall for dinner, at 5 pm exactly--and heaven forbid we not be in our seats when service starts.  Pork tenderloin medallions, as Thyrza told me several times.  Grampe introduced Beve to a couple people--the same men Beve's met every trip for the last 8 years (well, at least all those who haven't died, as residents here seem to be in the habit of doing).  Saw a few old friends, listened to the same stories and even those we haven't met before guessed that Beve is his father's son.

And he really is, his father's son, that is.  When I watch Grampie's "S" shape (bent back, bent knees), I see what Beve will look like in the future.  When I watch him try to pick something up off the floor, I can imagine my arthritic husband exactly that stiff.  When Grampie wanders around, trying to find his misplaced camera, wallet, hat, or whatever else I recognize the absent-mindedness in the man I live with.  Thyrza shuffles around after him, trying to help, just the way I help Beve search for whatever he's missing.  Yep, Beve's a limb of the giant tree that was Grampie.  And they share the same graciousness, the same servant's heart.  As we walked out of the dining room tonight, Grampie made a detour to the kitchen to thank the staff for the lovely meal.  This too is my Beve.  Gracious, friendly, willing to help friends and family and strangers.  I love this about him, love the legacy Grampie has given Beve.  His heart, his hands, his father's eyes--Beve has it all.

This is a gift that keeps on giving.  I see in our children the same graciousness, the same heart for others that I love in Beve and Grampie.  But this is what happens, isn't it?  "Join in following my example , and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do." Paul says.  "Follow me, as I follow Christ."  That's what my children have in their father, their grandfather, their Father.  People who follow after those who follow after those who follow hard after--down through the generations of people with their Father's hearts.  And I am thankful!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Anyone for a swim?

It's hot.  Stinkin' hot.  At least for this marine-climate where we're accustomed to mild summers and winters, and lots of rain.  Growing up on the eastern border of Washington, I was used to much higher temperatures in the summer.  Long days of 100+ degree weather where I marched around barefoot, racing across streets so the soles of my feet wouldn't burn.  I loved those summers.  Love the pool where I spent most of my days, my hair slick and shiny with chlorine, my body brown and freckled.  Beve and I sometimes talk longingly of those Rainey Pool days, when we'd line up just before 1 PM to get into the pool complex, and wouldn't leave until we were starving. (Inexplicably, there was a puddle of warm water right between the two outdoor pools at Rainey Park, where Beve--and other kids--used to lie to get warm...this is what he remembers most.)

My family was populated with fishes; we all learned to swim before we learned to ride bikes.  Some days, I'd get home from my afternoon at the pool with my friends just in time for our whole family to drive back down in our suits at 5 PM for family swim. My parents took turns playing with us while the other swam laps.  Dad was a regular jungle-gym in water, the pool rules loose enough that he'd drop down in the water, let us climb onto his shoulders then spring up and toss us high in the air.  There were underwater swimming competitions, biggest splash competitions, and races. I never got tired of any of it.  I was a pool-grown kid, though.  Used to regulated water temperature and visibility to the bottom.  Lakes were always a little more iffy to me.  One never quite knew was was lurking beneath the depths.  But the truth is, I'll take any body of water, any time.  If there's enough water to put a toe in, I'm taking off my shoes, and checking it out.  If it's too cold to dive in, I stand there until my legs numb up, then walk a little farther.  Lakes, rivers, the sound, oceans--never met a body of water I didn't want to dive into. 

Well, that's perhaps an exaggeration.  I've been to India, you know.  I've seen some pretty ugly rivers, ones that look dirty and smell worse.  There have been a couple that I wasn't willing to risk my life for.  But I've swam in the ocean in Alaska, the same one in Hawaii, and lived to tell about it.  I think before I die, I'd like to dip my toes in every ocean--even McMurdoe Sound off Antartica.  I don't hunger to climb the highest mountains, or even some of the short ones, but the waters covering this planet?  I'll take them.

Part of it is exactly that I grew up in water. Come by it genetically, I think.  My mother's dad was winning swimming contests in the navy, and one of his sisters was still winning Masters' swim meets when she was 85 years old.  It's part of my DNA, this thirst to be immersed, so to speak. And, to be honest, my poor, weakened body doesn't hurt when it's bouyed by H2O--and I'm here to tell you, that's a huge (!) thing to me.

But I think I'm about immersion in every context of my life.  If something's worth doing, it's worth diving into, I think.  This goes for books, relationships, food (!), and most especially, God Himself.  I'm just not a dabbler.  It seems to me that God is the deepest ocean in the universe, and even the deepest dives cannot plummet His depths.  But, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who only dip their toes in.  Shoot, this world is populated by people who sit with their backs to the Ocean, and pretend it isn't even there.  And all the while He's roaring and rushing and moving forward toward them.  Their backs to Him, they are blind to the mighty Tide that is God moving toward them.

Me?  I want to swim in His Ocean.  I want to float on His bouyant surface, hold my breath and dive as deep as I can, to discover all the treasures of His depths.  And you know what?  I think that it's only in His Sea that I'll learn to breathe.  Breathing in His Living water, and breathing it out as love for Him and love through Him for my fellow swimmers.  Not to mention those who sit on the shore. Come on in, I'm saying with my life, the water's fine, It will hold you up, It will give you Life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So you think you can dance

We've become full-on fans of a TV show this summer:  So You Think You Can Dance.  It's a dance competition with real dancers who've auditioned, have a specific dance style they've either spent years learning or years perfecting alone.  And these dancers are really, really good.  Kids with real talent, choregraphers expert in different genres teaching these dancers a new dance in a short period of time.  Judges who are passionate not only about this program but about the community this show is creating, the elevation of their art to something larger than it's ever been.

And we're hooked on it.  TiVoing it each week, in case we aren't available to watch it right on time.  Last Thursday, I was in the dead zone of Whidbey and missed which dancers had gotten cut that week.  I'd planned to call SK Friday morning, but when my friends got there, we discovered we're all addicts of SYTYCD.  An animated discussion of the show, the dancers ensued, making me laugh.  Last year this show felt like a guilty pleasure, this year, it feels like one simple, good thing we're participating in.

See, I love the human body. I love that it can be the best instrument to honor God, please others, through dance, or music or playing a sport. Even though my own is weak enough that I'd like to trade it in on a newer model at times, I still love what God did when He created man and woman. Gave strength and agility and flexibility to some so that, when they merge those gifts with their own hard work, the result is brilliant.  Awe-inspiring!  Whether it's on a court, a field, or a stage, the body as an instrument--of dance or of sport--is compelling to me.  Given straight from the breath of God, and perfecting it through long, hard work, these athletes (and yes, dancers such as these are definitely athletes!) turn a craft, an ability into art.  And is compelling to watch.

I took ballet as a child--many years of it, actually.  But my wooden steps, my inflexibility, my weakness was merely a shadow of real dancers.  I didn't practice it enough, wasn't passionate about it.  The same is true about my piano playing.  I hated practicing, was too impatient to do my five-finger exercises.  So you know what?  I can read music, but can't get my hands to follow.  So the music I play falls short, is full of mis-fingering, missed notes, and bears little resemblance to the music I read on the staffs. 

The reality is that He gives us much in His creation of us.  Talents, gifts, strengths all meant to do something with.  I will never be a dancer (especially now when I can barely walk), but I can cheer from the sidelines, let that movement, those steps, that joy flood me into praise.  And my poorly-trained hands can make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  And I can watch what others do--far better than me--and praise God for their gifts, for their jumps and spins and incredible timing.  Give Him my pleasure that there is dance, and music, and sport. 

And...offer my own five-fingered exercises to Him as well. I definitely do NOT think I can dance, but He has gifted me--as He does each of us--with such things as He pleases, such things that are meant to be offered back to Him. For me, it's writing, praying, reading, trusting, communing with others, writing devotionals, teaching at times.  All given purposely.  For the joy of them for me, the honor of them for Him. 

Maybe someday, when the time is fulfilled, I actually will dance.  Like David dancing before the ark, maybe I'll throw out my arms, throw off my earthly clothes, and dance, dance, dance in God's honor!  A new body, dancing the oldest dance there is--the dance of worship of our God.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A shell

While I was in the no-technology zone on Whidbey Island over the weekend, my sister, RE, was dealing with a new development with Mom.  Apparently Mom's been chewing, then spitting out her medications.  Spitting right at the nurses and aides trying to...well, aid her.  So as of yesterday, Mom's off all her meds, other than one liquid anti-depressant.  The psychiatric nurse told RE that this is the heartbreaking part of her job, because it signals that the end isn't far off.  Three weeks ago, when we were dressing up and taking Mom to her grand-daughter's wedding, Mom was still almost present.  Sure, we had to sink onto our knees in front of her, interrupting her vacant stare in order for her to actually see us.  Sure, she could neither understand our words nor speak in recognizable sentences. Sure, she'd forgotten our names, that she'd ever been married, what a wedding even is.  But she was there, and at moments, her eyes seemed to clear a little, and she broke into a smile.  Now, according to RE, she just seems sad.  A sad shell of her former self.

RE thought Mom might perk up a little if she heard my voice, so she held the cell-phone up to Mom's ear and I began to speak.  "Hi, Mom," I said, then told her my name.  But though she reacted to my name, she didn't get the concept of the telephone, and tried to lean closer to it, as if she might hug or just see me through it.  It was not a successful venture, so RE lifted the phone away from her leaning body, and talked to herself, while Mom slumped back in her wheelchair, staring blankly toward the window.  It's the last time we'll try that, RE and I decided.  I will never talk to my mother on the phone again.  And it's possible that, even if I'm in the room, she won't be able to communicate with me.

Two weeks ago, Mom was still pacing the halls of the nursing home in her wheelchair, propelling herself with her feet.  Now she just sits in her room, barely aware of time passing.  Mom, who once was addicted to chocolate, now grits her teeth against her favorite treat.  She who could read whole stacks of books in a week, now cannot recognize more than a word or two on a printed page.  Oddly, however, she still instinctively adds the words she reads to her incoherent speaking.  For years, I was annoyed at her relentless reading of signs as we drove through town, because it interrupted any real conversation.  "Dissmore's", she'd say.  "No fee ATM. Clements' Chiropractic."  "Don't even think of parking here (this was actually a sign across from the post-office when I was a kid--my alltime favorite sign ANYWHERE.  And Mom had a shirt made with that sign plastered against my chest.  Imagine the response I got when I wore that shirt in public)."  And somehow, that endless sign reading has lasted into this winter of her brainless life.  And what once irritated me is now amusing and even comforting.  It reminds me that she's still in there somewhere!

So now we're in the final countdown.  RE didn't ask the nurse how long this season will last.  It's probably hard to quantify, varies from patient to patient.  But the heart, blood pressure meds she's been taking a long time are gone.  And the thyroid pill she's had daily since long before I was born will no longer regulate her system.  No more Alzheimers drugs either, so the steep descent might actually accelerate.

So we're all holding our breath a little now.  RE told me it's increasingly difficult to visit Mom. Because she doesn't even speak very often now, one has to be ready with a monologue.  For some in my family (like myself especially), monologues come naturally.  Sorry to say.  But for RE, it's excruciatingly difficult.

But what strikes me is that every change somehow becomes the new norm.  About when I got used to filling in the blanks when she couldn't think of a word, she began to use nonsensical sounds.  And just when we got used to her roaming the halls and using her feet to move her chair, she stopped moving.  The blankness in her conversation became a blankness in her very being.  And now, her being a body, a shell that used to house a person, will become natural.  And just about the time we grow comfortable in her living absence, that absence will become a literal one.  All of this shell-time is practice for that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The rock tumbler

Just got home from a few days at the family cabin on Whidbey.  I drove down Thursday afternoon, and the first 24 hours I was there marked the first time I've ever been alone on the property.  I walked the perimeter trail, the long steep steps down to the beach, then sat in the sun exactly where I'm usually surrounded by assorted siblings, cousins and our kids.  I'm one of 23 grandchildren in my dad's family, so when we get together, it's always a crowd.  I'm fortunate that I really grew up with and know my extended family.  And I suppose those 11 acres on Whidbey are the closest thing to a family homestead we have.  So even when I was alone Thursday, I felt surrounded by the ghosts of summers long past, when we roamed the large meadow clad only in shorts, spent hours making up plays to put on for our parents, were told "If I have to come in one more time to tell you to pipe down and go to sleep...", piled into Carry-alls for I-c-e-c-ream runs (That was one of the first words I learned to spell because the adults were always trying to make that treat a surprise!).

Friday four of 'the girls' landed on the island and we began our marathan gab fest, talking about all manner of things, from our kids' current activities, remodeling catastrophes, the foods we love, the TV shows we are addicted to.  We don't have to explain our childhoods as background to every conversation, because we were each other's childhoods.  They know my parents: their names, their jobs.  And I know theirs.  They've been my friends since before my two youngest brothers were born, since before I wore my first bra, had my first period, my first date.  And before the weekend was over, we'd revisited memories that make only us laugh--the slumber parties, the running around our home town when we were meant to be sleeping, the innocent mischief we got into.  One of my friends reminded us that this specific subset of 'the girls' had comprised the wedding party at her wedding.

We went to a street fair in the picturesque town that sits on a bluff high above Puget Sound, the same town where my cousins and I, herded by our grandmother and aunts, visited the Star Store, which not only still exists but has now become a local chain--in three locations in that one small town!  We wandered among the craft booths, watched a local band playing...and I was somewhat startled to see that the almost naked man dancing in front of said band was actually my cousin--the one who lives full-time on the family property.  I watched him sway slowly in the sun, then shook my head and walked away.

As I think about this almost perfect weekend with my oldest friends, I am somewhat amazed at how alike we still are. We like the same kind of books, the same kind of movies.  Our marriages are stable, our children well-educated.  We're all pretty casual women, with daughters who love shoes, good make-up and think we could do with make-overs.  Our political views don't align and our church preferences are diverse, but there's an acceptance of those differences between us.  Before I left home, Beve warned me not to do all the work, but I knew that wouldn't be a problem.  These women and I have an easy cadence in the kitchen, the kind of cadence that reminds me of my aunts and cousins and seemed fitting in that place.  We give each other advice--whether it's been asked for or not; we have each other's backs--physically and emotionally.

I'm exhausted tonight, but it's a good tired.  Lots of walking, lots of laughing, lots of confessions and even a few tears.  They asked me about my writing--the one thing I'd dreaded having to answer. But I should have known.  I should have known they'd tear up with me, that they'd care more about me than my accomplishments--or lack there of.  If you want to know who I am, you could do well to look at these strong, solid women.  We made each other, in no small way.  They were the rock tumbler that began the polishing of my sharp edges.  Sometimes it was painful, sometimes only a gentle rolling together.  But for all of it--for all of them, those present this weekend, and those who couldn't join us this year--I am grateful!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hot rocks and icepacks

Sorry about the lack of posts lately.  Sometimes it's all I can do to make it through the day, let alone think, be creative, remember how to type.  And it's been one of those weeks.  I don't know why.  I'm not particularly more stressed than usual, not overwhelmed with work, guests, or whatever other unidentifiable things trigger such episodes of all-over pain and weakness.  It all serves to remind me that I'm not in control of my body, not to mention the rest of the world.

I've been working on a new quilt this week, however, for my just graduated nephew who is on his way to Berkley in the fall.  Maybe it's having sat at my sewing machine for ten straight hours the other day that threw me into this foggy spiral.  I'm just about finished with it, but need to wait for my firing nerves and muscles to relax before I start the most arduous part of the project--the actual quilting.

We had friends here for the 4th, a young man, his wife and almost 2 year old, ringletted son.  I should say adorable son.  He ran up and down our bowling alley of a hallway, cocking his head like a puppy and saying, "Daddy go?", hoping to be chased.  He calls fans "fan-whee!"  for the sound they make, is quite the little mimic, repeating every word anyone says to him, and anunciates the word "company" so precisely it sounds like "Come-pan-knee".  As I say, adorable.
Our dogs, however, didn't know quite what to make of this small human.  Jackson kept trying to do what dogs always do with newcomers: sniff his rear-end.  Fortunately, Jackson's about as mild-mannered as they come, so even his 110 pounds of muscle, fur and flapping tongue didn't worry the little guy.  Jamaica, however, is a total scaredy-cat.  She spent most of the day racing from one kennel to another, trying to make herself very inconspicuous.  I'm not sure what she thought the toddler was, or what he might mischief he might inflict on her, but she wasn't taking any chances.  Clearly, we aren't around babies enough.

The wife has recently become a licensed massage therapist, and it was only my good breeding and tongue biting that kept me from demanding she practice on me--or on all of us.  That and the fact that she hadn't brought her table with her.  But seriously, the floor isn't that hard, is it?  We got to talking about massage though, and when I mentioned the disease I live with she told me that it's a little tricky doing massage on someone like me.  Deep muscle massages actually tend to exaserbate the muscles rather than release them.  That's why hot stone massage is so effective.  The heat does the hard work, therefore the massage can be more gentle and complementary.

Late that night, I got to thinking about the idea that it's the heat that does the hard work, the heavy lifting of pain, so to speak.  It's a little--or maybe a lot--like what God does in us.  It's heat that does the work of relieving our pain.  Heating pads, hot water bottles, hot rocks all work to soften what is tight and hurting within us.  And, my friend told me, ice-cold stones also work.  Cold reduces inflammation, calms down what hurts.  In our spiritual lives, as well as our physical bodies, we need the extremes of temperature, of environments to move us back to where we are supple, flexible and able to move well.  When those tightened spiritual muscles--doubt, shortness of vision, aching prayer muscles--are relaxed, the Holy Spirit can massage back into movement, growth.  He uses heat and cold to pull us out of pain and back into running the race with endurance.

This vision for my physical body and my spiritual health really helps me today, when all my muscles are firing in the wrong way, and even my skin hurts to touch.  An ice pack, a few hot stones, and my body awakens and begins to move more easily. And my spirit as well.  I think I've been lukewarm lately, anemic in my prayer life, and lackadaisical about my devotions.  No wonder my spirit's tightened up.  I need a Holy hot pad to put on my soul, and Heaven-sent ice-bucket dumped over me so that I begin to move--one direction or the other. So that pressure applied on the outside will massage me refined in the fire, so I can become spiritually rich, and wide-eyed with His vision.

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

American religion

In the early 80s when I spent two autumns and winters in a row in Europe, I had my first glimpse of how the world looks at Americans.  It's like a mixed cocktail of feelings, or it was then.  One part fascination, a splash of envy, two parts curiosity all mixed up in a tumbler of disgust.  Since most of the world's experience with us came via television in those days, the expectation back in 1982 when my friend and I backpacked through Europe, was that we'd be like either the women of "Dallas" or the barmaids of "Cheers." And we were neither.  In one place, where we stayed with my friend's cousin's cousin, we had to continually explain that we weren't interested in partying or having sex with random strangers.  Other places, as we met and shared meals with fellow travelers, we found ourselves so defensive about America that we hated to admit we carried those passports. "Why do you think you have to save the whole world?" we'd be asked.  "What makes America the boss of everyone?"  We had no answers for such things.  In fact, I think we were stunned--truly shocked into silence--by the dawning realization that, despite what we'd learned in Social Studies and Western Civ. most of the world wasn't enthralled by us, didn't covet our freedom or democracy, didn't believe we were the best, the only true place on earth.  They actually saw flaws in the nation we'd been raised to revere. By the time we left Great Britain, we'd begun to tell people we were British instead.  I'm not exactly sure we fooled anyone. I mean, by our footwear alone, we gave ourselves away.  If you've ever traveled out of our country, you'll understand what I mean.  There's just something about American shoes--tennies, sneakers, comfortable or sturdy walking shoes, cowboy boots, and the like--that are like neon red, white and blue flags to the rest of the globe.

The thing is, though the American evangelical church often laments the lack of religious faith in this country, there actually is a national religion.  Perhaps Godless, but every bit as fervent as the most devout of churches.  It's called 'patriotism.' Believing in our nation as the last great hope on the planet, our way of living, indeed, our freedom (!), as the truest of true things.  We have our national holiday--today--to worship this nation, and the great symbol that raises more reverence and more ire than any religious symbol.  Burn a flag and one is committing a crime. Burn a cross?  Merely exercising one's freedom of expression.  The most pious ones in this country's religion, it seems to me, are those in the military.  And this, I have to admit, troubles me.

This whole concept of the military fighting for our freedom in every war our country has participated in?  Just the other day, my kids and I were talking about this.  In which wars has this actually--literally--been true?  The Revolutionary War, of course, and the Civil War, certainly.  World War II? Yes.  But what about these others?  Korea?  Vietnam, the current war in two places in the Middle East?  I'm less convinced these soldiers, most so young and earnest and idealistic as they step foot off this continent, could actually express a clear and convincing argument about how this fight protects our freedom.  Because, after all, if we really believe in freedom, don't we also believe that other countries, other governments have the right to their own forms of governments?  Certainly there are reasons to assist--I think of the brutal coups in Africa, the civil wars and genocides that leave entire countries destitute beneath the reign of a madman.  But let's call our actions that--assistance.  Not fighting for our freedom.

And, let's celebrate being Good Samaritans in the world, not the bullying big brother.  Let's celebrate that we are participants in the world, not superior to it.  I'm glad to be an American, glad to have the choices this country, with its initial declaration and subsquent Constitution written to protect our lives.  But let's not be pharisees about it.  And I think sometimes, that that is exactly what we are.  Judging others by our standard--judging other nations, other responses, other views, as inferior because it's not 'free.'  Perhaps, if we REALLY paid attention to the gospel, were really intentional about living that as our constitution and declaration of Independence, the world would be less divided.  And we'd be servants to the world, rather than rulers of it.

But...I'm also thankful that I live in such a place that I can say such things freely.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Forgotten, but not

I just reread (then edited) yesterday's post about my Dad, and realized that in my list of events he's missed, I forgot a single, rather significant death--about 18 months ago, my middle brother, Andrew, died.  I was rather shocked to think I'd forgotten him, particularly in relation to Dad because Dad would never have forgotten Andrew.  But you see, that's part of the trouble with Andrew: he was somehow, for better and worse, forgotten.  At least by me.  There have been times over the course of the almost 40 years since he became part of our family that I worked hard to forget him because thinking about him was like a kick in the gut, full of breath-stealing pain.

I know others--more than I can count--who have troubled siblings, brothers who've dabbled in, then were caught by drugs, or made such terrible choices the result was a season (or life) behind bars, women in half-way houses, mental institutes, or (as in Andrew's case) an estranged life without a home.  There's a commonality to relationships with such siblings--the sense of guilt, lack of trust, pain for one's parents all complicate whatever love one felt as children.  And all these things are inside my relationship with my brother, even when he was alive and in my life to have a relationship with...a decade ago before he severed contact with our family.

You see, he was one of the most wanted children ever born.  We waited several years for a baby boy to adopt, and waited several hours for the social worker to actually bring him to the room where we sat around a large conference table, rolling a lone orange back and forth across the top until it burst its skin.  When he arrived, we were instantly besotted by this tiny moneky-faced boy with a scrunched up face and protruding eye-brows.  I remember holding at once the thoughts that he was the ugliest baby I'd ever seen and the one I most wanted for a brother. 

But he was a troubled baby who didn't like to be touched who grew to be a troubled small boy, then a larger one.  My parents were successfully raising four older children by then (my youngest sister was 7 and my older brother was almost 14 when Andrew was born), and they had certain patterns of discipline that apparently worked with us.  Talking to us about our misbehavior, drawing out our shame over the act so that we were thwarted from it in the future.  This didn't work with Andrew.  He was never ashamed, never felt guilt over any act, only that he was in trouble.  He was secretive and taciturn, unable to talk of feelings or, as far as I can tell, even identify them to himself.  He lived almost entirely in the world of the present, where his impulsese drove him, without ever recognizing that acts have consequences.

As he grew, his impulses led him to some very--VERY--deviant acts.  Troubling acts, especially to my dad, who was just about as straight an arrow as they come, a man whose ethics were the backbone of his life.  I think my father cried more tears over Andrew than about the other 5 of us combined (my baby brother, BB, joined our family 18 mos. after Andrew).  See, Dad hadn't failed at anything in his whole life, and problem-solving with reason and intellect had always been his method. And Andrew...well, he had more than his share of failures, sorry to say.  In school, in relationships, in jobs, in life.  So Dad tried countless things to encourage Andrew, to support him.  After Andrew made the worst of his mistakes and ended up in a psychiatric group home, the year he was 12, Dad, who wasn't a christian yet, repeatedly asked me to save Andrew, asked me what programs we could set up so that would happen.  I had to tell my very earnest dad that programs never save anyone, nor could I ever convert Andrew.  I could talk to him, pray for him, but only God is in the business of salvation.  On several 80 mile trips home for the weekend with Andrew, I did talk to him about Jesus, and he seemed to respond--in his own non-emotional way.  He even told me once during that year that he had become a Christian. But as far as his ultimate salvation...I just don't know.

Andrew did, with Dad's 'dinging at him', as Dad would have called it, become an Eagle Scout, probably his biggest accomplishment.  With no other man as a father, would this have been possible.  And, somehow (perhaps even a clerical error) Andrew graduated from high school. They were just so happy that unexpected diploma came in the mail, they hadn't the heart to investigate whether it should have.

That next year, Dad set Andrew up in an apartment near a community college on the coast. Andrew, like for his whole life, had been interested in movies, and  this community college had a program, and since Dad knew many profs there who might look out for Andrew (who still seemed about 12 in maturity), it looked hopeful that Andrew would succeed.  Only seven weeks later, however, in a conversation with one of his friends, Dad discovered that Andrew had stopped attending classes.  Dad asked if we'd allow him to stay in our home with us in Tacoma, attend a tech school there for film-making, which was Andrew's only real interest.  After a lot of conversation, Beve and I said no.  It broke my heart to have to tell my father that, but we had small children, and couldn't have Andrew in our home with them.  So Andrew went home.

Eventually, driving the Toyota pick-up my parents had bought him, Andrew moved to California, where he supposedly went to school.  It's impossible to know if he ever actually did, because by then he'd reduced his contact with our family.  Eventually, he stopped communicating with us altogether.  Dad hadn't spoken to him for many months by the time he was lying in ICU in Spokane.  That week, my then-brother-in-law tracked him down at Universal Studios where he worked selling novelty pins from a cart, and I called him.  I probably hadn't talked to him in over a year then.  I told him to call Dad.  "I don't know what your deal is, why you haven't called, but if you want to talk to him before he dies, you need to call him now."  That was about 4 days before Dad died.  I didn't want to believe it was true, but everything in my gut told me Dad would die.  Andrew didn't call.  My former brother-in-law then went down to Universal and told him Dad had died.  Paid for a plane ticket for Andrew to come home.  It was an amazing gesture, looking back on it.  So Andrew came home for Dad's memorial service.  And I was so blasted mad at him I could hardly speak.  He let Dad die without knowing where he was.  Pretty hard to let go of, even now, apparently.  And I regret I didn't tell Dad I'd talked to him.  I didn't Dad to know and have it hurt that Andrew didn't call.  I kept waiting for that phone call.  But I could have eased Dad's mind a little...

After Dad's death we saw Andrew just two more times--at BB's wedding a year later, and in Hawaii where part of the family was vacationing.  There was actually a third time some of the family saw him, but it was such a terrible time, it's difficult to write of.  Let me just say that Andrew tore our family apart that year, having done something unthinkable.  Mom, trying to be Dad, wanted to believe him while the rest of us were far less certain.

After that, I always paid careful attention to any criminal news from Southern California.  Never saw any evidence of Andrew.  And later we learned that whatever he might have been in in personal life, he worked all those years at Universal Studio, was a trusted and valued employee who was "Employee of the Month" the last October of his life.  But had also been homeless more often than not in that decade.  His fellow employees blamed his family for his homelessness.  They thought we were the ones who had chosen the silence.  What is true is that we were mostly ambivalent about his estrangement.  Sometimes worried, sometimes relieved, sometimes glad to not know.

Our first contact with him in a decade came 45 minutes before he died, when his supervisor called the emergency contact on his employment record.  Mom hung up the phone and called me, and even in that short time, had forgotten all the facts of his choking.  Minutes later, a hospital called to say he'd died.  Just that fast.  Four of us went to Universal Studios to talk to his supervisor, meet his friends, put on his memorial.  They knew a lot about his work-life, but almost nothing of his personal predilictions, or past.  We were careful to allow them their grief, to take the responsibility for him they expected.

At his memorial, I spoke, and told those gathered that yes, we had allowed that distance, yes, we hadn't always done right by him.  And that we were grateful that in our absence, they had been present for him.  There were valid reasons we'd felt cautious about being around Andrew, but it would only have hurt their memories to reveal them.  Better for us to shoulder it.  So we did.

Sometimes I do forget Andrew.  That forgetting is easier for me.  Remembering is so complicated.  One of my sisters, when BB asked how she could even cry at the memorial given what pain Andrew'd caused, said, "I cry for the little boy, and I cry for the way he died."  And that sums it up well.  I loved that little boy, his charming smile that he bestowed so seldom, his cute little face that grew out of being a monkey, his love of movies that never, ever changed.  And I'm sad that that most-wanted little boy grew to be a homeless stranger, with only a gym bag, a single blanket, a single towel, one pair of jeans and a single black tee-shirt to his name.  It's a sad thing to lose a family, so I'm sad for him.

But I also told that group of Universal workers (and my three siblings) that one thing I know for sure is that God loved Andrew.  When he had a family and when he didn't.  When he chose silence, God was still there.  And when he died in that hospital emergency room, choking on a bite of meat far too large, God was there loving him.  The rest?  I leave that to God and Andrew to sort out.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

There is a place

Today is my father's birthday.  He would have been 78 years old, with one bad knee (or maybe he'd have succumbed to the pressure to get it replaced, even though he hated surgery), a slower pace in retirement, some kidney problems, and a still sharp wit.  A woman I know once said of her dad who had died a slow, painful death from cancer, "He was really a healthy man--other than that cancer."  I didn't laugh, because I understand--that's how I think of my dad--that he'd still be alive and well...if not for the small fact that he died.
Since the last birthday he actually celebrated, Dad has missed 9 of his grandkids' high school, 5 college, and 2 master's degree graduations (as well as my own Master's degree from seminary), 1 son's and 3 grandchildren's weddings,  a couple divorces, several of our moves, one troubled son, his sister, mother and a brother-in-law dying.  And of course--thankfully, for his sake, though we would have LOVED to have him help with it--Mom's decline into Alzheimers.  But mostly, in the last 12 years, it's the ordinary, every day visits he's missed that make me miss him so.  The help in the kitchen, and the building projects we could really use his assistance in.  It's his actual self I most miss, and.. the places I've been with him.  So, in honor of his birthday, I decided I'd indulge myself by posting one of the poems I wrote about him in the first grief-tinged days after his death. Pain always gives me poetry, which is odd, since most of the time, I'm strictly a prose-writer.

There is a Place   (9/97)

There is a place
high in the Wallowa Mountains
pine green and needle-carpeted
where I learned to pitch a tent
stretching a tarp between two stumps
finding sticks to use as stakes
my weary shoulders aching from a long, heavy-packed hike
my feet, throbbing, but free of stiff leather boots
And when I lay down to sleep
on the mossy floor beside you
your snores kept me warm and safe from the cold and dark without.
It is a place where I followed your snowshoes,
on my own hand-made pair,
bent metal you wove rope through
me slipping, falling, an awkward,
abominable gait for a bundled child.
It is a place where we built campfires,
ate food cooked in foil,
stuck sticks deep into the coals
until they glowed like the stars in the night above.
It is a place I think of you.

There is a place between rolling, golden wheatfields
and a few shady, lazy trees
where a river runs deep and slow,
gentle for launching a hand-hewn canoe,
green fiberglass, dark wood sanded smooth.
I knelt behind you on the keels,
hands firmly in place on the paddle,
showing off my scout skills,
dip and flow, quiet rhythm, over and over,
through the glassy surface.
Not words or talk, just the music of a summer afternoon.
It is a place for picnics on an old army blanket,
with smashed sandwiches and dill pickles
(a love I shared with you),
oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips
and handfuls of raisins I only ate outdoors.
We talked, or not, and looked at the sky,
and threw rocks into the water, counting skips,
measuring our day.
It is a place I think of you.

There is a place
in an old crowded college gymnasium
where a throbbing mass of spectators
came to cheer and roar with every move.
I squeezed beside you , skinny and breathless,
on the rocking wooden bleacher,
to imitate your yells,
and watch you watch the game.
The smell of popcorn, and your pipe,
spilled Pepsi and chewing gum, and
sweaty basketballing bodies
filled me with exuberance,
of being a part of something, being a part of you.
Later on the drive home,
I would slide right beside you
on the wide bench seat,
to replay the game,
ask questions, soak in your joy.
It is a place I think of you.

There is a place
in a rustic island meadow
where an old cabin you helped build
stands next to a basketball court
made with rough cement you carried
buckets of water up from the well to mix.
Down at the bluff,
where the water glistens,
and the steep mountains to the west
are radiantly colored by the setting sun,
there remains the ghost of the trail
down the sharp bank
you cut into the cliff at 16.
It is a place where
in the long meadow,
under the ancient, knobby apple trees,
we threw Frisbees and baseballs,
and, one dripping, cold spring,
I learned to survey the land,
with real engineering tools and
your rough directions.
There is a place for barbeques,
and fireworks, for old family songs
and conversations late at night
when children are quiet and lanterns glow.
It is a place I think of you.

There is a place
in a wide, gray-walled
university engineering building
where the name over the door is yours.
A room of charm and mystery,
piles with papers and books
and unfathomable equipment
has your handprints and even your authorship
all over it.
It is a place I wrote my name a thousand times,
a thousand ways on the dusty chalk board,
trying to invent a new me.
I played with the adding machines and slide rules,
sticking a pipe in the corner of my mouth,
pretending I was you,
waiting through your alien conversations
with other engineers.
It is a place I think of you.

There is a place
in a distinctive house,
architected to your specifications
on a high hill overlooking our college town
and velvety-drawn Palouse hills.
The only house you ever owned,
where there's a ping-pong table,
an A-frame playhouse,
a basketball court and bulletin boards,
all fashioned by your hands.
A house with an old leather chair,
your great-grandfather's, 100 years old,
where you sat to shine your shoes,
read stories, sew merit badges, match sockes
and talk to your children.
I told you my secrets in that house,
my fears and dreams,
my faith.
And you listened, questioned,
reasoned and wondered,
and finally believed.
It is a place I call home.
It is a place I think of you.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.  I still think of you.