Friday, July 27, 2012

Aunt Orpha - Honest Inspiration

I'm one of many family members, gathering for the memorial of my husband's Aunt Orpha.  She was a sister in an extremely large, Norwegian family, a mother to two daughters and four sons, an active church lady, a volunteer for multiple social service/justice organizations, and of course a dear friend.  It will be a good time to remember her and I'm looking forward to hearing more stories and testimonies - people speaking the truth in love about her life.

Speaking the truth in love, for me, means that she will be remembered as a full person.  A woman who was amazing and generous and committed to meeting the basic needs of others whenever she could.  A woman who was raised up in the rural Midwest and traveled the globe as an adult.  A woman who loved a bargain, finding a great set of dishes for a new refugee family at the neighborhood garage sale.  And truth in love,  a woman who would buy that set of dishes (cuz it's such a great bargain) ignoring the fact that her basement and garage held countless other sets of dishes already.  Cleaning out her home was a hard and sometimes frustrating activity.

It's important to remember the whole person so that we don't bestow protected sainthood upon our loved ones.  To see someone as wonderful AND flawed means that we can be wonderful AND flawed too.  Orpha wasn't a perfect anything.  None of us are.  I want to be like Aunt Orpha though, leaving this world and the people I meet with a little more kindness, love and compassion.  She did that with the same over the top results as her garage sale buying. May our own failings be overshadowed by our goodness.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let's Talk Anyway

Here are two completely separate interactions that happened to me this week that have me churning.  The examples I'm going to give are two moments that took place in one day and smashed up in my mind but they are not unique or unusual. Let me know what you think.

First, a lovely get together with a friend who I haven't seen in a long time (except in Facebook land) and she asks me about writing this blog.  She admits that she saw the title and figured that as a single woman without children it wouldn't hold much interest or might even feel like a little pinch of salt on a sore spot.  I cringed, realizing that the very title of the blog had felt like an exclusionary clause to someone I like quite a lot.

Second, scanning some Facebook updates I see a relative remarking pretty harshly about the President and longing for his days in office to end soon.  I read the remarks and recoiled.  We like each other.  Just last month we were together face-to-face and sharing some important stories and experiences.

So, I'm thinking about how I listen to others. Do I speak honestly or defensively? Do I avoid people who I know will have a different point of view?  Are there ways that I could show myself to be more open to others?  Am I allowing myself opportunities to be challenged or taught by another?

Because here's the thing, I'll just be very blunt.  I can't afford to draw lines in the sand based on who's "with me".  If I decided to only talk with family members who were going to vote for Obama like me, I'd have maybe a handful of family left, including third cousins twice removed.  If I could only find wisdom from people who shared my spiritual beliefs, I might only have my own counsel to turn to - not a great option.

Here's the reality, we do like and love a ton of people who we don't completely understand. I had my four siblings with me a couple weeks ago and not one of us shares the same spiritual practices or lifestyle as one of the others.  We are incredibly different.  And yet we talk anyway.  We may get misunderstood and feel hurt sometimes but we aren't writing each other off and we're certainly not calling names or labeling each other as "them" or "those people".  In the big picture, I'm going to try and carry these thoughts with me, even into this crazy election season.  I'm a 46 year old, white, mom, who's voting for Obama.  Let's talk anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bucket List

Film poster for The Bucket List - Copyright 20...
Film poster for The Bucket List - Copyright 2007, Warner Bros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I talked with my friend yesterday and she asked if I might like to help her escort her dying aunt to one of the local riverboat casinos.  These are the type of conversation we have lately, ah to mid-life.  "Yes!"  is how I responded immediately. She seemed to not hear my excitement and continued to tell me how other family members weren't all that jazzed to accompany a woman in the final weeks of her life on a field trip to the penny slots. She warned me that we might also bring her aunt's friend who has Alzheimers and who would also need supervision. The riverboat casino was on her aunt's Bucket List and seemed like one of the easier activities to help realize.  I've never been to a casino.  I'm in!

I haven't created a Bucket List. I saw the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman but never took up the obvious project of making my own.  Part of my hesitation is that I'm just not all that creative about travel or adventuresome activities.  I kinda just go along and see what happens.  My friend's attempt to help her aunt transition out of this life is inspiring me a little.  I'm also currently listening to some talks from Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and her words are in my mind.  At one point she asks a basic question.  If we know that death is certain and we also know that the time of death is unknown, are we doing the thing that we really need to be doing right now?  If you were to die right now, would you be ok with your life choices? The interesting thing about that question is that your answer could be that you want to eat chocolate cake or that you want to meditate. Both might make you feel more ready to let go of this world. Your answer probably isn't going to be that you want to be mean to someone or to yourself or that you want to watch more tv.  A lot of her comments are about how humans are trained to avoid pain and so seek pleasure or activities that will numb pain.  I'm not a heroin user but my tv habits often feel like anesthesia.

So, at long last I'm thinking about a Bucket List.  So far it includes: a wilderness camping trip, Hawaii, Alaska, a train through Europe, ball room dance lessons, an extended conversation in Spanish, building my own bookshelf (carpentry skills), and playing blackjack in a casino.  Some of these could be considered straight forward pain numbing, pleasure activities but most are ways to live consciously, actively, that is, as an actor in my own life.  Blackjack will get checked off the list in short order.  It's probably the easiest item on my new little list but I'm surprisingly excited to make one.  Numbing pain or living life fully - we can make the choices at any time in our life.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Can't Go Back

I am enjoying a week of sibling reunification and nostalgia.  As part of our time together we took a drive to Gary, IN to visit some of our former homes.  The pictures here are a sampling of our trip and proof of the old adage, "you can't go back".  Two of the three homes that we lived in while in Gary are now abandoned and uninhabitable.  It was such a weird feeling to see the outline of happy, familiar memories and have the "heeby jeeby" tingle going up my spine because I was expecting a drug addict or wild, rabid dog to jump out from the wide-open door, pulled from its hinges.  


The homes themselves seemed so much smaller.  We all say that when we go back and look at places from our childhood they look so much smaller than we remembered, forgetting that we ourselves were smaller and therefore everything else looked big from our perspective.  Walking around yesterday, it was more than that though.  The homes literally looked like they had shrunk.  To check, I pulled some old photos to compare and they really do look smaller today.  Changed landscaping or just overgrown shrubs and grasses that have swallowed the size of the home, missing awnings and planters have all diminished the appearance.  A part of me wonders if every home shrinks when a family leaves.  I imagine a vacuum pack sealer sucking out the laughter at birthday parties, the late night kisses goodnight, the puppies being born in the backyard, the strawberry patches and graduation open houses.  The day my family moved out of these homes we stepped out and closed the door and moved forward to the next place.  Pulling away, did we hear the slow, steady, slurping sound of all those moments and memories being extracted, leaving only the vacuum packed house address?

This leaves me with the very helpful take away, I can't go back but I can move forward and inhabit the space I'm in.  Every day that I manage to be present and live fully in the moment, I picture myself filling the space of my current home.  Hopefully my boys will look back on their home one day and think to themselves, "I remember it being so much bigger!" 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Same Gene Pool?

I frequently marvel at how different my two sons are.  Extroverted vs. introverted.  Physical vs. verbal.  Structured vs. free flowing.  This weekend one was shoveling mulch into garden beds, for a neighbor, for 7 and 8 hours a day and the other was creating a blog focusing on book reviews. They were born to the same parents, less than two years apart, and have lived in the same environment, and attended the same schools their whole lives. 

Sibling differences are also on my mind because all of my siblings have come to visit me this week.  The variety of twists and turns our lives have taken also provides some serious contrasts in our personalities and life styles.  The age span among us is such that I was sometimes mistaken as a teen mom when my youngest sister was born.  My family moved every 2-3 years for the bulk of my childhood, middle siblings know only three homes instead of my six and younger siblings were raised in multiple homes and with different parental arrangements.  The mystery for us is how it is that we could still be so much alike. It goes beyond the facial features or shared jokes.  There is a sensibility, a common reality that was endured/experienced even though many parts of our childhood were not the same.
View towards Michigan City from Mt. Baldy, Ind...
View towards Michigan City from Mt. Baldy, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are about to leave and meet up with another brother who currently lives near our old haunts.  We are about to intentionally revisit the old homes that we lived in and some of the "favorite memories".  When we started creating the list of things that we wanted to share together, I was amazed at how unusual the list was.  Broasted chicken from the deli at the local grocery or dinner at the steakhouse chain that we hated and where three of the five of us had high school jobs. It was the only restaurant that we ever went to as a family because on our birthdays you could eat free (if you worked there) and your guests could eat half off.  The perfect meal plan for a family of 7 + 2 foster kids.  A trip to a local park that had a real tank that we would climb on like a jungle gym also made the list.  Our favorite thing and the one that we all mentioned was going on a trip to Mt. Baldy at the Indiana Dunes.

I warned my sibs that Mt. Baldy is in the midst of serious erosion problems.  The dune is literally swallowing up the forest at it's base and changing it's own form.  I'm sure that when we arrive there later today it will be like meeting and spending time with each other.  Different and yet so very familiar.
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Queer Eye for Sanity and a Dash of Hope

Queer Eye
Queer Eye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How ironic it is that I am watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy these days.  Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I can watch the archived episodes of many cancelled cable shows that I never got to see in their prime.  If you never saw this "reality" makeover show it's basically five design gurus helping clueless heterosexual men become more stylish.  They makeover their wardrobe, home decor, grooming, culinary, and entertainment choices and leave the straight men in a cloud of fabulous fairy dust.  From the perch of their Manhattan loft, the Fab Five watch as cameras reveal how the men incorporate their new skills, appearance, wardrobe, and gorgeous home into their normal life with their friends and loved ones. 

As a child I was a tomboy and a mess most of the time.  In adulthood not much has changed.  There is one bottle of shampoo and one bottle of conditioner in our shower, family photographs is my only design theme, and though I enjoy baking, meals are pretty uninspired.  After every episode, I say out loud, "I want the Fab Five to come to our house!"  Mostly, I want them to come because they really do have an "eye".  Every single time they manage to take a dump of  house and transform it into a vision of awesomeness.  The guys that they makeover, almost always say,"I didn't know how to make this place (or myself) look good but if I did, it would have looked like this."  They are overwhelmed at how much their own preferences and lifestyle and personality are actually reflected in the space.  That's all I want.  Five, funny, creative guys with a seemingly unlimited spending account, to "get me" and show me what my style really is.  Is that too much to ask?

Evidently so.  In the real world, as I'm dreaming about chic, New York, style gods, my kitchen ceiling is spraying water all over the floor.  Over my morning coffee, I heard the clear sound of a shower.  Why would I hear the shower?  My husband never showers with the door open.  I get up and go to the kitchen.  Oh, of course, I hear a shower of water because I now mysteriously have one in my kitchen.  Too bad I don't have my soap and shampoo with me.  Eating breakfast while showering could shave so much time off my morning routine. What would the Fab Five from Queer Eye do in this situation?  Cry? Run screaming? No.  They would probably crack jokes about taking a group shower and then pop a bottle of champagne.

That is why I am completely hooked on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In the midst of a very real life, watching someone's impossibly picture perfect transformation brings me some hope.  As I look up at the gaping hole in my ceiling I decide that one more episode is just what I need.
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