Eldering Charlie

I had the opportunity to try out this eldering thing last night. I went to my almost 17 year old grandson’s wrestling meet last night. There were three matches (Charlie told me not to call them games). The first was between Little Falls, my grandson’s team, and Milaka, the second between Milaca and Sartell and the third between Little Falls and Sartell. This meant that I could sit for an hour and watch Charlie’s team play, oops I mean compete, and then sit for an hour to await his second chance to compete. After the first meet, Charlie told me i could go home if I wanted to but I told him no, I wanted to stay and see how Little Falls would do later. He sat down next to me. I told him that if he wanted to go sit with his friends he could. He said no, he would sit with me.

I was thrilled to have his ear because I knew nothing about wrestling and wrestling can be really boring when you don’t understand what is going on. So, as the match  proceeded, I began to ask him questions such as how points were made and what it means when a wrestler is pinned. Why did the wrestlers begin their match standing and facing each other and other times on the mat with one kneeling down in front of the other? As we watched the wrestlers, I had him explain to me what was happening, what the ref was telling them. He pointed out the good moves, the techniques being used by the better wrestlers.

When his coach called him to regroup with his teammates, I felt so much more in-the-know about the sport and when Little Falls faced Sartell in the next match, I found myself actually knowing when to cheer. It was exciting.

I think Charlie truly enjoyed teaching his grandmother. Eldering is not always teaching a young person. Sometimes it comes in the form of letting them teach you.

The New Year

When I neglect my blog, it locks me out. The little “edit” option disappears from my page and I have to go through the process of seeking out my administration page and proving to WordPress that I am who I say I am and not some kind of blog robber. My blog guru son as finally taught me how to do this for myself. Oh, he taught me many times before now but he finally got the process through my thick skull.

Christmas was the distraction. My blog is not the only thing that suffered neglect. So did my eating program, my exercise regime, my sewing, and any other of my usual life activities. Yesterday, Bernie and I took down the Christmas decorations and today threw out the tree and vacuumed up the pine needles. The house looks a bit naked after all that dingle-dangle stuff draped on the beams, banisters, and window frames, the little ceramic Santas and angels on end tables and book cases, and holiday towels on racks in bathrooms and kitchens. It seems we keep adding stuff each year. I prefer naked, at least as far as my living space is concerned.

About a week ago I bought a new 2019 calendar and spent a couple of hours bringing forward events such as birthdays and all my weekly and monthly meetings. I complain a lot about how busy my life is, but in doing this meditative activity, I realize I rather like the things I do, my daily routine of reading and writing, the groups to which I belong, and the family events including holidays and kids concerts and sporting events. At 74, I still get around pretty darned good.

So I made a promise to myself that in 2019 I will complain less and try to walk through my days with an attitude of gratitude.

Happy New Year.

Presence as Gift

Are there any bloggers out there besides myself who write posts hoping certain people will read it only to find that none of those that you had in mind ever really read your blog? This is a good argument for telling people up front what you want them to hear. But I don’t do that. It is kind of a problem I have. I don’t like telling people what to do. I prefer that they be themselves and accidentally accommodate my wishes.

Here we are walking into the Christmas season once again. If I were to take the time to look at my past blogs I would bet that every year I wrote something about gifting. And every year, I walk into Christmas either doing what I want to do and feeling bad about that, or doing what others expect of me and feeling bad about that. It used to be that the bad feelings came after the exchange of gifts. Now I start early, before I do any shopping.

I have talked to a number of friends about this. Almost without exception, they agree that there is too much emphasis on material things in the world. Where is the true meaning of Christmas, they say. And giving our kids and grand kids what they want seems to counter whatever this meaning is. Behind every act of giving is an act of getting. Selflessness countered by selfishness. What a sad cycle!

My own particular form of cringing at giving material things is rooted in my concern for the environment. I envision every bow and box, every trinket, every Christmas sock and ornament piling up in the city dump. I am a goddamned Scrooge. I mean that in a nice way. Scrooge’s transformation led him to bring himself and his good cheer to the Cratchet family. In other words, his present was his presence.

I read this morning a chapter on giving in Noah Levine’ book, The Heart of the Revolution. He shared the Buddha’s teaching on giving that progresses from giving out of duty (alms) to giving to get. The latter is a bit like Christmas in America is about. We give knowing full well that we also will be recipients of gifts. Deeper, perhaps, is giving because it makes us feel good. Either way, Levine sees that there is a deeper level of giving to which the Buddha calls his followers – the giving of presence. And his idea if presence is so much more than being in the same room with a person. Presence for him is suspending one’s memories, thoughts and plans for a moment in time and take in the other person’s memories, thoughts and plans. It is hearing and seeing in the way Jesus taught when he shared with people what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.

I hear folks frequently talk about how their thoughts have blocked their awareness of what someone else is sharing. The Buddha called this “monkey brain”. It is when our thoughts bombard us so strongly that we can barely pay attention to anything else around us. Meditation is a practice that is designed to calm the monkey. When the monkey is calmed, we can truly listen. Levine suggests that because being truly present to another is such a gift, our meditation practice is a gift to the world.

I wonder what would happen if I gave to my loved ones this kind of presence absent the monkey. What if this were my gift instead of something they could hold in their hands?Would they even recognize presence as a gift? If they knew how difficult it is to become truly present, they might have a better appreciation. And for me as well. What is the gift I most desire? Presence. Leave the monkey at home. Five minutes of presence is better than anything.

Belief or Faith…What Does God Want?

My spirituality book club has chosen a new book that we will be discussing in October, Knocking on Heaven’s door by Katy Butler. Because I order so many books, I usually get them used on Amazon. I don’t like my practice because it doesn’t really support the writers. However, I am very prone to buy books when I have an opportunity to meet authors at book fairs, signings and readings. In the end, I spend more money on books than I do on clothes.

The subtitle of Butler’s book is The Path to a Better Way of Death. The first two chapters refresh my memory of the years I cared for my mother and her later months of life. I was more present to her than my two brothers. Like Butler, I was the woman in the family caught between child care and parent care. It was the way things were for women. I tried desperately to fit into my full-time work time to visit Mom (she knew no one in Minnesota as we’d plucked her out of Illinois after my father’s death), making appointments and taking her to doctors (she could neither drive nor speak), and attending to her day-to-day needs for supplies (or trinkets). I can’t deny that there were days when I felt exhausted and unappreciated. Yet, today I would not give up one of those days.

Butler’s book is not one I would have chosen myself. I am getting weary of reading about aging bodies and death. I would prefer to read about child development or different cultures or the history of our country. But books like hers keep showing up and saying “pay attention.”

This morning, I read something that struck me. I have often struggled to understand the difference between belief and faith. Butler shares a moment she had when she visited her mother and dad and they sat together one morning for a 20 minute meditation. It was her idea to do it believing that it might help all of them deal with the realities at hand: her dad thrown into dependency by a stroke, her mother thrown into the caregiver role and she, the only daughter, trying to manage care details from her home on the country’s opposite coast. First she shared a humorous but annoying moment when her mother kept try to kill a fly with her slipper. Butler struggled with her knee-jerk tendency to snark at her. Rather, she tried her most recently learned self-help technique called Nonviolent Communication. She breathed and recited in her mind a prayer of gratitude for being with them. She says she later looked back at that experience and others like it as a year of grace. She writes:

I did not believe in God then, and I don’t now. But the closest I can come to explaining what happened during that year of grace is to describe a Christian poster I once saw and thought at the time was sentimental, of footprints along the damp sand of a beach.The script along the bottom read, “During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Interesting words for a person who claims to be an atheist. Here is my thought: We can talk about one’s need to believe in order to enter into some kind of relationship with God. But does God really require belief? I think what God wants from humans has nothing to do with some mindful agreement with someone’s idea of God. Rather, what is required is faith, simple live-in-the moment faith. It is being able to love and hope in all these very human experiences we are having.

Seeking Oneness in Families

This past weekend my grandson Noah married the love of his life, Christine. What a precious day! Two families coming together, enjoying the process of discovery, each appreciating the other. It wasn’t a big affair, but there was so much good happening.

The wedding party was large, but how could it not be with bride and groom coming from large families. Early in the ceremony, we were delighted when Noah’s 2-year-old nephew, Skipper, brought the box containing the rings forward. He was lured by his Uncle Micah with a promise of candy to deliver the box. After he did so, he sat on the sanctuary step with every intention of staying. His dad had to come forward to scoop him up.

There were some rituals during the ceremony including a sand ceremony that I’d never heard of before. It was explained to me that the families of origin (the moms) pour sand into a jar representing foundations and the couple then pour colored sand into the mix representing the unique way the new couple would build on that foundation. After the vows, the parents of both sides came up and formed a circle of prayer with the couple. We were not in the circle to hear what they each prayed for the couple but those of us in the congregation were able to support them in prayer.

During the reception, Noah called all married couples to the dance floor and, as we danced, he began eliminating couples one at time. “If you have been married one year or less, sit down…” Then, “Five years or less…” “Ten years…”etc. Bernie and I could see that the moment would come when we would be standing on the dance floor alone. As we danced, we argued about how long we’ve been married. We weren’t quite sure. We finally decided we would say 53 years even if it wasn’t right.

I want to share with my readers something about this special event that touched me more than anything. Christine was an adopted child. Some time after she was being raised by her new family, contact was made with the birth mother and a relationship began between her and Christine’s adoptive family. She was there and when Christine’s father was asked by the minister “Who is giving Christine in marriage?”, he responced, “Her mother, her birth mother, and I.” Later after the initial couple’s dance the bride and her father danced together alone, At one point Kevin stopped and signaled to someone in the back to come forward. For a while, no one came, but eventually with more coaxing, a man came onto the dance floor to take Kevin’s place. I was told that this was Christine’s birth father who had also been invited. There were many tears shed at that moment, including my own.

My mother’s and dad’s families both experienced brokenness. In our history there is a case of a child being born out of “wedlock” and given to an aunt to be raised. The child grew up not knowing the truth and who her birth mother was. We’ve had our share of addictions and all the pain that goes with it. There were rifts over money borrowed and never payed back. One relative was ostracized when he married outside the family religion. There are so many different reasons brokenness occurs in families. Bad decisions are made and innocent people suffer. Sometmes, parents are young as they start out and in their immaturity do some pretty poor parenting that causes harm to their children. In some families arguing and fighting is the norm. In today’s world, such troubled families are often referred to as “dysfunctional” assuming that their problems are out of the ordinary.

Should we then assume that a “functional” family is one where there are no such struggles or relationship ruptures? I don’t think so. I think all families have problems but not all families have the capacity to deal with the problems in a healthy way. They may lack communication skills and self-awareness, for example. I have seen families where these skills were developed later in the families life when they could deal with old hurts, forgive one another and move on. In the case of Christine’s family moving on means more than forgetting or forgiving. It means drawing in, creating a circle of love where you might not expect one to ever exist. In my understanding of God’s will for us, this is exactly it…moving toward Oneness and Love.

Eating at the Catholic Table

Richard Rohr’s topic for meditations this week is “Eucharist”. Sore spot with me. My decision to dissociate myself for Catholic worship came as a result of the Church’s teaching about exclusivity, that is, only Catholics (in good standing) can receive. Many priests offer a blessing if someone comes forward and holds their hands over their heart. Sounds to me like a way for people too embarrassed to sit in their pews so they are less noticed and perhaps less likely to be judged. When I go to a Catholic funeral or wedding, I wait and listen for the priest to either tell people that they cannot receive or refrain from saying anything. I will go up for communion if nothing is said.

Going to communion is one way to show my oneness with the those I am there for, either in death or marriage or any other celebration. If the bond is really close, such as a relative, I may go even if the priest is exclusive. The relationship takes precedence over my stubborn need to make a statement (as though anyone is watching).

Refraining is a way to show oneness with those others who are being excluded. If I go forward for the blessing I feel it still violates the oneness I feel with them. I was at funeral recently and sat next to a woman who is not Catholic but I know her to be very pious. She appreciated the invitation to blessing and I could see by the look on her face that she was indeed blessed. I sat there angry as hell because I think she should have been able to take the bread. Holy of me, huh!

Before I end I have to mention that technically I am not worthy to receive the Eucharist, Catholic or not. I am not practicing faith. I am what some in the Church would call “fallen away.” I don’t feel fallen away. I feel that I have veered to another path where I have found community and other practices that feed my soul. Going to a Catholic mass is like coming home to visit. I am still a member of the family whether other members agree or not. I enjoy the rituals and words as they stir those sacred moments I remember from my childhood. Because I continue to see myself as part of the Catholic family, I maintain the right to have an opinion and the right to eat at the table if I so choose.

Back Home Again

I have been away for some time…literally. My husband and I traveled down to Colorado to visit my son and his family. There Chris worked with my on my website. From there we went to the little Arizona town where my daughter has lived for 17 years to pack up her and her daughter to move to Minnesota. I never unpacked my computer for the ten days we were there. We basically packed, cleaned, and ran errands. My granddaughter, Christina, graduated from high school while we were there and Becky closed out her work to pass on to a new school counselor. Christina’s dad and I ran a garage sale to clear out what we could. There was very little to bring to the resale store. In the end we just got into the moving truck all of their things. Bernie was the driver for the truck pulling Christina’s car for the whole three days to Minnesota. Becky drove our car. I did very little driving which was fine with me. I make a better copilot.

We arrived home on Sunday. Becky’s two sisters and their families were here to help with the unpacking. It was great. They celebrated her coming home with special t-shirts, a chicken dinner, and a cake. Since then, life has been about unpacking, running errands, and trying to catch up with sleep. I am just now opening my computer.

We have only been home for 3 days and tomorrow we head north to Bemidji to work with daughter #2 and her husband who are on another packing spree so they can move out of their house in preparation for demolishing that and building another. Sometimes I wonder whose life this is that we are living. I am so grateful that my book is off my plate for a while and in the lap of the publisher. All I need to know is when it will be printed and packed in boxes for us to pick up. Then starts another whole adventure.

The greatest pleasure in coming north on 35 toward home was watching the green return to the landscape. I understand people wanting to escape Minnesota winters. I wish we could do so, as well. But if it meant missing the lushness that I see around our home and the beautiful 10,000 lakes that we enjoy this half of the year, I know I would choose to stay here.

Hello, Friends! It is good to be back.