28 April 2008

A shiver of fear

As I post this let me say two things. First, it was written in the middle of last week, one of those weeks during which one simply does one’s best. Not much writing. Only that which seemed essential. Second, Tal is fine, back to yard work and fishing. I don’t want anyone to have to read to the end to find that out.

We all live with it, some unspoken fear in our deep down most hidden recesses. Some of us are steadfast in our refusal to fashion even the slightest nod in that dark direction. And, some of us are aware of them, those fears, knowing they are there, all the while keeping a polite distance. No matter who we are or what our natural stance where fear is concerned, sometimes we come face-to-face.

The first thought I have when the question of fear comes to mind is a quote which pre-dates me, a quote which is a tag line, essentially, for at least a couple of generations shortly before the middle of the 20th century. As the world descended into the second world war, this country’s president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, striving to invest the United States with courage declared, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” That’s one approach. Seemingly easier, though, and at the other end of the spectrum is my mind’s eye vision of a hand, clutching a crimpled tissue, fluttering to the mouth at the briefest hint of a fear-inducing topic.

This week I have found myself inhabiting the via media, the middle way, good Episcopalian that I am, knowing and believing (two different things, by the way) that there is room for a broad range of reaction, position, response. Tal had a couple of distinctly difficult days resulting in my calling his physician on Monday afternoon when he came in from a round of golf. “Don’t bring him here. Go straight to the emergency room. We’ll call ahead for you.”

Fear. I was with FDR. The fear is the worst part. My hand, even without the requisite tissue, wanted to flutter, my prayer a “please, please not yet.”

Tests, bloodwork, hours of waiting. Not a stroke. The reeling unbalance unexplained … perhaps a result of an, as yet undiagnosed, ear infection. The dragging lethargy unexplained … perhaps something as simple as springtime yard work. Too much of a good thing.

But, the fear. It has retreated a bit. The fear. It is, in truth, an affirmation of my deciding to retire. The hours simply spent at home doing what Tal wants to do are hours of presence and joy. The fear. I refuse not to look. I refuse to cower. I refuse to descend into the dark, ceasing to live, letting the fear win.

Every life ends. Monday night was a forceful reminder to me that, while I acknowledge that truth, I must claim the present with the most real intention I can give it.

21 April 2008

By the light of the moon

Today is Western Carolina Seniors day. That is, Tal is off playing golf at Hunter's Creek in Greenwood with a bunch of guys. A once-month outing to various courses across the CSRA. One of his buddies came by at 7:15 to pick him up. And, in order for him to be ready, the alarm went off before 6:00. Yawn ... again.

Oh, but the moon -- full, low in the sky, casting light across the bed. I shouldn't have still been abed at that hour. I should have been out in a field somewhere practicing moonset photography. What was I thinking?

For one thing, how warm and comfortable I was!

Anyway, it's about time I begin planning for a few of these events.

20 April 2008

Gentle light and harsh realities

Tal and I were up early today, rising just before 6:00 to be on the road by 7:00 for church in Greenwood at 8:00. Yawn. No, not church! No yawns there. I of all people have to say that!

The best part? Well, time with Tal, of course. And, the drive was so lovely; the sun low in the sky, the morning shadows long, the light golden and soft. I was charmed and so happy to be up and out. After church we went to breakfast where I had my favorite French toast. Yes, at the Cracker Barrel. And, once home we waded through the newspaper. Just the way Sundays should be.

For all the comfort and calm of the day, however, I cannot seem to get the Texas situation out of my mind. The raid on the polygamist compound and the seizing of all those children rests just under the surface. I realize I don't know all the facts, but something about it makes me nervous. Maybe it seems like Iraq on a smaller scale. Didn't the armored, SHERIFF-emblazoned vehicle seem a little over the top? All the stuff Homeland Security paid for had to be used, I guess.

We are intensely suspicious of those different from us. And, for all our culture's promiscuity we are pretty buttoned up over sex. I fear at least part of the raid’s having been staged is in reaction to a way of life of which we don't approve. I wonder if the raid and its consequences, like several hundred children in the foster care system and/or how to handle all the legalities, were considered in the planning or if it was a knee-jerk reaction. Or, or, if any excuse would do and the 911 call was it.

I'm not a proponent of polygamy by any means and I am not even suggesting that no one has ever been exploited or abused in that particular compound. I don't want to live in such a place or to be as programmed as the blank women I’ve seen interviewed. I simply hope the police action was for the right reasons and not, in essence, some sort of heavy handed commentary.

19 April 2008

A change of pace

Literally. About three MPH on average.

After coffee and breakfast this morning Tal and I set out to fulfil a promise we'd made to ourselves early in the week -- to do something fun on Saturday. We had options, some of them more fun than others: the Garnet and Black game, marking the end of football spring training, at Williams-Brice in Columbia; a ground-breaking for a new chapel at Gravatt, the diocesan camp and conference center; the Spring Fling at Monetta Farrier, to include horse-shoeing demonstrations an anvil shoot (very exciting, by the way) among others.

It turned out to be a hike -- and the closest of the things on our list of possibilities -- at the Lick Fork Creek Recreation Area. The Horn Creek Trail is a loop of 5.7 miles and "travels along the hardwood bottoms, across streams, and along pine ridges" (from the Sumter National Forest brochure). We are home now, weary but enthused. We walked in sudden showers and through just as sudden dappled sun, cold and damp to warm and steamy. Check out the trail at the link provided below.

I had the camera in the backpack, but used it little. Being aware that people with cameras really irritate people without cameras, I didn't want to push my luck! A snapshot is one thing, a 15-minute process to set up a shot is another. This was an outing to enjoy together. Having Tal standing around waiting for me wasn't part of the deal, from my perspective anyway. These are two of the flowers, however, that caught both out attention and paused our steady forward progress.

The trillium were in a low, swampy, heavily shaded spot and the lilies, interestingly, were scattered in several places on a slope in a place that looks as though it floods when the creek is up.

I can't help, tired and satisfied as I am at the moment, but reflect on the times I've felt this sort of contentment. I'm not going to enumerate at this point. Rather, I simply want to acknowledge that, while I'm a good priest, perform well on assorted office tasks and like to struggle with words, I also need to be outside and to make my body work. Today I was wearing Timberland boots, Carhartt jeans, a Life Is Good tee shirt, a vest from REI and a Royal Robbins cap -- all pretty indestructible clothing, nothing froufrou, and pretty much the real me!

18 April 2008

Friday -- after five

Ah, Friday. I’ve been looking forward to this for days!

For the first time since early February I’ve been obsessively engaged in two deadline projects. The word obsessively equating to chained to the computer and inundated with paper – at the kitchen counter, in the study, on the porch table.

All God’s Creatures, a local pet rescue and adoption non-profit, is sponsoring a golf tournament in mid-May and I am one among many volunteers. And, as steward for the Virginia Seminary class of 1992, it was my task to communicate with the class on the 16th anniversary of our graduation. Both projects required composing and proofreading letters, making copies, producing mailing and return address labels, affixing proper postage to dozens of envelopes. The whole mess took days. And, getting everything to the post office before five o’clock this afternoon was the goal.

I am here to report success!

Practically nothing else was accomplished all week. Simple meals. But, no reading to speak of. No photography. No housework. No exercise. No writing. No quiet contemplation.

I wish I were less prone to this compulsive approach. Things might be more enjoyable if I would work on such projects for a time every day, not make them the sole activity of hour upon hour. Oh, and I could also enlist some assistance, I suppose. Now, why does that seem to be such an impossibility to consider?

On the other hand, I am grateful that I have time to volunteer at all. While gainfully employed there was not a scrap of time for such extras.

Maybe the next project will be different. Do I hear laughter?!

14 April 2008

Flirtatious spring

Spring has been on the coy side this year, warm and cool temperatures alternating rather energetically. Yesterday afternoon Tal and I enjoyed a slow walk along the Willowbank side of Country Club Pond and in the yard. It was such a pretty day, even with the wind giving the new foliage a thrashing. I was glad simply to be walking around casually trying to freeze the action in a few photographs, unlike the golfers in a high profile, high stakes final round at The Augusta National a few dozen miles to our west.

Tal had done the mowing and edging around the house Thursday afternoon in anticipation of our house guests' arrival and yesterday it was at that just right place, the edges soft. There is quite a bit in bloom, the native azaleas demanding the eye's attention. We are making a habit of drinking them in each day, knowing how soon they will be finished. That said, we are missing the show of the southern azaleas almost all together, but the sudden freeze a few weeks ago left most of the buds damaged, giving us next year's bloom to anticipate.

13 April 2008

Time away

It has been a full week since my last post. Time away from writing and time away from home. While the days were full and for most part purposeful, I do wonder there the time goes ...

Even with a thousand miles in the car Sunday and Wednesday and a wonderful, visionary meeting at VTS on Tuesday, the week as I look back on it can be summed up with the word family. Spending Sunday night with the Paul Tarboxes in Mechanicsville and stopping back by on Wednesday for coffee with Paul gave the driving a highlight coming and going. And, on Thursday afternoon, my sister, Joyce, and her husband, Ernie, while on her spring break, stopped by for an overnight visit. Having them here was simply luscious.

One of the questions I like to ask people when I have the opportunity is "When did you first feel like a grownup?" The answers are oftentimes fun, sometimes sad, generally thoughtful, and range from specific to general. Some respondants have a clear answer; others admit that they haven't yet had that experience. And, I admit, I've answered that question in various ways myself.

But, this past week, visiting with two of my siblings and their spouses in their homes and in Tal's and mine, I was reminded of my own parents doing the same thing -- visiting their siblings. And, at the time, they were most certainly adults -- to me at least. I wonder if they felt like adults at the time -- sitting up late talking, lingering in conversation at the table after a meal -- the way I have just done here and in Mechanicsville.

Families. Sometimes it seems as though they won't let up grow up, remembering us at our worst! And, sometimes without trying at all they bring us to a new place and to a new view of life.

07 April 2008

What's the heavenly smell?

I went down the back steps in the early light this morning to take a photograph of our favorite dogwood tree and was stopped by the smell. We have a number of tea olives at the back of the house and their scent is as magnificent as the bloom is understated. Sadly, I can't share the stunning scent, but the photograph is made more interesting by a glimpse of the bottle tree in the background.

The dogwood tree was one in the tangle of woods when we built the house four years ago. The blooms are whiter than we have ever seen them and the tree is catching our attention -- and gets a comment -- each time we're at the back of the house. I think, used as we are to dogwoods spreading into a lower, wider canopy, it's this tree's conical shape that sets it apart.

NASCAR and I-95

Ooh. A nasty combination, huh?

Today was a travel day, en route from Edgefield to Alexandria for a meeting of the Development and Church Relations Committee at VTS. Local and state roads to I-26 to I-95, stopping in Mechanicsville for the night.

I started out with NPR, listening to the spring fund raiser and a pre-recorded edition of A Prairie Home Companion, a compilation of segments from several shows all focused on English majors. Entertaining stuff. It was over too quickly. And, sadly, I hit a weak spot in the NPR coverage and was forced to find another station altogether to listen to, all the while wishing I had had the foresight to include a book-on-tape for the trip.

A couple presses of "scan" on the radio, however, and I found entertainment, new to me and fascinating. The Samsung 500 from the Texas Motor Speedway. A 340 mile race, I manged to listen to over 250 miles of it before I was unable, by pressing "scan" to locate the needed station in the Petersburg area. While I was present, the average speed in Texas was between 140 and 150MPH. I and others on our ribbon of road were a tad more sedate, honoring more than normal the posted speed limits.

The announcers made listening to cars roaring around a track interesting! Caution flags. Bumper taps. Pace cars. Points. Matching tire pressure to the track. The lingo stayed lingo for most part, but I learned that being two seconds behind the leader is an almost impossible-to-make-up lag. And, I realized just how little I know about NASCAR.

I know, Iknow, why would I want to anything about NASCAR?

The thing is, just because I'm not interested or just because I've never been exposed to something doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile or valuable. The older I get the more I disappointed I am in how closed my mind is. I seem to think (without thinking at all, actually) that everyone has or should have my values, that what I deem important is all that is important.

How dare I? How presumptuous!

In my own extended family I can call on people to tell me about history and geography; plants; medicine; writing, language use and grammar; foreign languages; piloting an airplane; travel; real estate, banking and economics; teaching; computer programming; sewing; photography; law enforcement; woodworking; fishing. I could go on and on. And, this list or, given more time, a much longer one wouldn't even begin to cover all the options.

The trouble is, when I turn up my nose at someone else's passion, I'm doing two cruel things (at least two). First, I'm limiting myself. There is nothing saying that by learning something about that passion I have to adopt a new hobby. All I need do is be open. And, secondly, truth be known, when I turn my nose up I'm dismissing not just another's passion, but I'm -- "in thought, word and deed," to quote The Book of Common Prayer -- dismissing the person as well. And, that's just not my right or my calling, not if I'm going to be serious about being a member of the human race. The more people I judge and dismiss the more alone I'm going to be.

Let's see ... who do I know who can fill me in on the intricacies of stock car racing? I could start by finding out what NASCAR stands for.

03 April 2008

A glimpse of hell

On this cool grey day I am droopy-eyed, having had little sleep through the night. For lots of reasons I'm not going to elaborate on the specifics except to say that I walked into a situation where I was not wanted. Knowing that, but also not able to leave once I'd arrived, I stayed quiet and attentive, largely taking the stance of an observer.

Not only did I have a close-up view of hell right here on earth, I also had to remain alert not to get dragged into it myself, this is not about me, a recurring whispered thought. I've not felt such sadness in a long time -- for the people who have for one reason or another decided not to love or to receive love and for myself and my own susceptibility to the suction of mean-spirited negativity.

The essence of the following quote, which I had to find after I had guided the car back into the garage and found my way into the welcome of home, nudged around in my head while I was away from this safe haven late at night.

If you are, in Christian terms, following Christ, or in Unitarian Universalist terms, completely and wholly in love, then you are in heaven no matter where you are. If you are not in love, you are in hell, no matter where you are.

The stories we tell of heaven and hell are not about how we die, but about how we live.*
It took a long while to find my way into restless sleep. I had to simply sit and be quiet, fighting off the residual fear of the relentless pull emanating from the black hole at the mouth of which I had so casually stood. Even now, grateful as I am that it's the next day, I cannot claim to be completely OK. I do know, however, that I was given the grace to resist something frightfully real and quite terrible.

* Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me (New York: Little, Brown,2007) 135.