Monday, June 25, 2012

Penny Candy...Is the Past Really Past?

         Several days ago I was going through some things resurrected from a little-used storage space, only to discover a scrapbook containing my “Made for Living” columns. Back in 1980, my family moved to South Florida, to a “new” community called Coral Springs, not far from Fort Lauderdale. There, we quickly became part of a church family at Lutheran Ministry in Christ, affectionately and widely known as LMIC, a growing congregation composed mostly of families similar to ours, with children and youthful (thirty- and forty-something) parents, with a smattering of elders and singles. I tell you all this because it was through a new friend at LMIC that I obtained my job at the local weekly newspaper, The Coral Springs Forum, and began the nearly five-year adventure of writing a weekly column.

Janice had been writing the column, “Made for Living”, for several years and wanted to give it up, as her life had become too busy with her other, full-time job in real estate. And since I loved to write, she asked me if I would be interested in taking over for her. Of course, I said YES and, after an interview of sorts with the editor, I began my newspaper “career”. The column had been billed as “religious news”…but I am not a reporter and simply giving the “who, what, where, when, why” of some happening within our local religious community held little appeal for me. And so, slowly, gradually, I turned the column into something different- an opinion piece on various topics, including, over time, things that were going on in my own life, in the world, in our local area, always reflecting on the place of God in all this.
            As I sat reading these thirty-year-old columns, I could not help noticing how very timely some of them seemed; how they could have been written in the past days, weeks, months rather than those long years ago. And so, I have decided to share some of them with you, dear readers, with a few editorial changes here and there, but mostly intact from when I had written them at the tender ages of 38-43. I have also discovered, to my surprise, that the woman I was then is very similar to the woman I am now…though I would like to believe that there has been a growth in wisdom and understanding and tolerance, at my deepest core I am who I am and who I was then. Interesting, n’est pas? (Don’t know where the French came from, but isn't it a lovely expression?)

I hope you will enjoy the reading and reflection. Remember to remind yourself that these pieces were written between 1980 and 1985, perhaps before some of you were born! Perhaps they will give you a tiny glimpse into the world of that day and time, a kind of time capsule of life in one tiny corner of our world, written by one woman’s perspective…for really, what more can any of us offer to one another but our own view? Blessings on your day, dear ones, and remember that you are loved. Love, Linda

Penny Candy and Greed  (Jan. 1983)
          Do you remember penny candy? I have many fond memories of standing before the huge glass case in the corner grocery store near my elementary school, a few pennies or a nickel clutched tightly in my hand, surveying the wondrous array before me. The decision about what to buy was momentous, the variety of choices nearly overwhelming. Should it be the mint juleps, two for a penny? Or the watermelon slices, once cent each but, oh, so good! What about the root beer barrels, the licorice squares, the spearmint leaves, or the orange slices? And then there were the jaw breakers, the candy corn, the Sugar Daddies, and the peppermint sticks.

          Confronted by this seemingly endless presentation of delectable goodies, a child could stand, absorbed, for long moments, oblivious to everything except the choices which confronted her, the choices between an unbelievable number of mouth-watering goodies which delighted the heart and mouth. And many was the day that I left that tiny shop clutching a small paper bag filled with my favorites, to be relished and shared with my friends, my treasure trove purchased with those two or three pennies I had clutched in my hand.

          It saddens me that those days ar gone forever, that my children and yours will never know the sheer, stomach-tickling joy of that childhood experience. In fact, the days when a mere penny would buy anything significant have been long ago relegated to the past and now, more often than not, we find these coins gathering dust in the penny jar atop the refrigerator or sink or dresser of most homes.

The realities of today’s world are now runaway inflation, recession, joblessness, rising prices for food, clothing, and shelter, a rising tax burden- all sacrifices, it seems, on the altar of someone’s greed. For here, as throughout most of the world, we are finding that the truly rich are indeed getting richer at the expense of those who do not have and likely never will. Large corporations bemoan the requests of their employees for raises which will keep pace with the inflationary spiral while at the same time issuing statements to their stockholders which demonstrate that profits have never been higher. Utilities request ever-increasing rate hikes from the already over-burdened consumer who is attempting valiantly to “cut back”, while at the same time paying their stockholders the highest dividends ever.

The realities of this world in which we find ourselves are sometimes more than we would care to bear and, at times, we are convinced that it has never been worse, that things have never been so topsy-turvey, so out-of-kilter. But let me share with you the findings of a professor of archeology at New York University. A number of years ago, he and his colleagues were excavating the ancient city of Aphrodisias, a thriving community of the Greco-Roman Age. This city had been located in the Anatolian uplands of Turkey, 135 miles from the Aegean port of Izmir. The dig had been successful, producing a treasure trove of artifacts from the ancient world: coins, potsherds, exquisite statues, marble carvings. But the professor and his staff had also located the marketplace of the ancient city, thereby unearthing some three hundred pieces of inscribed stone panels. These they fitted together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, the whole of which was found to be a table of fixed prices such as you might see in a supermarket today.

It seems that, in an effort to curb runaway inflation which was plaguing his city, the Emperor, Diocletian, froze the prices on almost everything, including melons, marble, kerchiefs, and cattle. No more could the people pursue their usual custom of bartering and bargaining, the merchant obtaining the highest possible price, the customer the lowest. And the rationale behind this drastic measure was explained on still another tablet from the past unearthed by the archaeologists. An edict from the Emperor, it read: ‘Raging greed blazes on without limit and, with no respect for mankind, races after its own gains and profits not only every year, month and day, but almost by the hour and minute. The sole desire of these greedy men is to disregard completely the public good.’ Clearly, inflation is not a new problem. Greed was not invented yesterday. The Emperor, Diocletian, issues this edict in the year 301C.E. His people were having the same trouble we are facing in making ends meet, and he instituted the only means he knew to attempt to overcome the increasing problem.

          Obviously, this knowledge will not make your dollars go any further at the supermarket, nor will it reduce your utility bills at the end of the month. But it can perhaps give you some sense of perspective and even help us to look at ourselves and our circumstances with less despair and more hope, knowing that others have faced similar challenges. And with the writer of the Biblical book of Lamentations, we can say, “I therefore have hope, for the loving kindness of the Lord never ceases, God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is thy faithfulness.” For when all else around us fails, when our circumstances seem more than we can handle alone, when the world seems to be closing in and extracting a higher price that we can pay, remember, “Great is thy faithfulness”. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

world washed clean...

the world washed clean                
by nighttime's crashing
                   storms

window screens dappled                     
with remnants of Nature's
                    tears

or were those tears mine,
the ones that wet the
                    pillow

the storm without a mere
reflection of the raging tempest
                    within

and now as i see the
world without as fresh and
                     clean

i find myself longing for
that same clarity
                     inside

of purpose and design, of
truth and honesty and
                      hope

and most of all, of love,
connection with and for the
                      world

or at least the little corner
of this cosmos where i
                      reside

a taste of holiness is
all my hungry soul
                      desires

a touch of divine healing
in the form of human
                      flesh

that my self may be washed clean
and walk proudly, boldly
                       naked

into the lovely, dreadful,
difficult, challenging, waiting
                        world

Thursday, June 21, 2012

LIFE...Gloriously Messy...

Glorious! That’s the only word to describe last week’s weather in this part of Carolina. Blue, blue, cloudless skies…low humidity…temperatures in the upper 70s…balmy breezes, all combined to produce throw-open-all-the-windows-in-the-house-and-BREATHE weather. With our recent surplus of rain, everything was green...green of every shade and nuance and generous beauty, punctuated by the brilliant palate of blooming flowers frolicking in virtually every yard, around every street corner. The world was wonderfully, beautifully, GLORIOUSLY alive!

And yet, in the midst of all that beauty, that manifestation of life flourishing yet again in the natural world, I found myself struggling to pay attention, to enjoy and appreciate the message being shouted all around me, as my heart was filled to overflowing with a sad heaviness which clouded my vision and overburdened my heart. Even as I sat on my lovely screened porch to eat breakfast, on my backdoor deck to have my dinner…even as the birds invited my enjoyment and the flowers near the driveway swayed their dance of just being…even then I found myself weighed down with the cares and concerns which presently fill my mind and heart: my sister dealing with cancer and facing chemotherapy; my dear friend and her family dealing with the dreadful loss of a precious and much-desired grandchild; another friend from church preparing to take her American-born children back to her Sudanese home to meet their extended family, in the midst of the continuing unrest there; and the numerous residents at the Lutheran Home who are attempting to cope with the move to new quarters which they neither understand nor requested.

But isn’t that the way of life? Sorrow in the midst of joy; darkness in the midst of light; brokenness in the midst of beauty...no way around it, only through it. And the challenge is to take it all in, to deal with all of it with equanimity and courage and wisdom and joy- yes, joy, ultimately, which is not the same as happiness but is deeper, dwelling in that place of peace and contentment which cannot be easily shaken. It is that place of peace promised to us by Jesus and spoken of by so many writers of the scriptures, Hebrew and Christian and, yes, Buddhist and Muslim…a place beyond our understanding and striving…a place that is pure gift…total grace. It is a place, I must confess, I all-too-seldom go.

And yet, after two 11-hour-days helping with the major relocation of our facility to the beautiful, brand-new Trinity Glen, I am flat on my back in bed, icing the aching lumbar and sacroiliac areas, trying to appreciate the enforced rest and catching up on much-needed sleep, filled with all sorts of crazy dreams. And, because Summer has come to Carolina with a vengeance, with last week’s balmy temperatures giving way to a heat wave in the 90s, I am being grateful for my dependable air conditioning and attempting to be okay with doing nothing for a couple of days (not really good at this most of the time). It’s a reminder to me that 1) I’m not as young as I used to be nor as I like to think of myself being; 2) that it’s okay to let folks know when I am being stretched beyond my limits; 3) that though I dispense good advice to others about caring for themselves wisely and well, I all-too-often fail to heed that advice; and 4) that the world of which I am but a very small (but significant!) part will go on quite nicely without me for a few days. Here I am, in that place of peace and joy and grace...whether I want to be or not! Out of my hands...

That’s the way of things; that’s LIFE. Messy…confusing…filled with more than we can possibly realize or appreciate or understand or inculcate. But most of all, a gift: every moment, every breath, every encounter, every happening. And how we live it out is our part of the whole endeavor. It is either a daring adventure or nothing at all, Helen Keller once said. And she was both blind and deaf! Would that I, with my senses pretty much intact, would see and hear so clearly, would live out each day in gratitude singing along with the birds, “Thanks be to God!” Let it be so!

Love, Linda

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Movies and Books and More Books...Oh, My

Spent a most enjoyable afternoon with a remarkably appreciative audience watching "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", one of the best movies I have seen so far this year... and I've seen several good ones. This delightful British film focused on the later-life decisions of a number of "elders" to spend out their remaining years in Rajasthan, India, at this hotel which had been advertised as a place for the elderly and beautiful. The sights and sounds of India are beautifully presented, as are the intricacies of relationships when people are thrust into life with strangers. To me, this lovely film has at its heart the ways in which past and present can so wonderfully merge...focusing on dealing with and letting go of the past and daring to live fully in the present, regardless of age. The audience in our theatre, composed mostly of people of a certain age, burst into applause at the end, which gives you some idea of how fully this movie spoke to us. I laughed heartily and shed tears more than once.

One further word: the cast was amazing, with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie, and Penelope Wilton demonstrating just how beautiful women can be as we age. Wrinkles are visible, makeup at a minimum, and no attempt it made to disguise less-than-perfect figures. These are REAL women...genuine women...and that, in itself, made me want to stand up and cheer. The Brits do this so well: Hollywood, are you paying attention?

Have also recently completed three very different, remarkable books which I commend to your reading. Though I am a fiction afficianado, two of them are non-fiction; memoirs, actually. The first, entitled Love, Life, and Elephants was written by Dame Daphne Sheldrick, widow of environmentalist and animal activist, David Sheldrick, who spent his life in Kenya working for and defending wildlife, ably assisted by his wife and daughters. Having visited the David Sheldrick Baby Elephant Rescue Center just outside Nairobi, as well as having spent time in that beautiful country the past two summers, I found this book especially meaningful, though I think anyone interested in the animals of Africa and the ways in which we humans too often treat our fellow beings on this planet would be transported by Sheldrick's very readable prose.

The second book is Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen, another excellent memoir which had me laughing and crying, but most of all, envying the writing skill of the author at every step of the way. Divided into "chapters" which are actually personal essays on a variety of topics having to do with aging (the author wrote this book as she was turning 60), this book can easily be read a chapter at a time without losing the overall theme of the book, which is a celebration of aging.

Last, but not least, is the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery, A Lesson in Secrets, by Jacqueline Winspear, an English author whose work I discovered several years ago. Set in post-World War I Britain, these books are intelligent, well-written, with finely-drawn characters and believable plots. Indeed, in reading some of the earlier books in the series, I became so interested in World War I that I visited our public library and did considerable reading on the topic, about which I was sadly woefully ignorant. Maisie is a great character, and following her from book to book has been a delight. But don't let the fact that this is a series put you off; each book can stand on its own, though I suspect that other readers might get "hooked", as I did, and will want to read the earlier volumes, all of which are now available in paperback versions.

Now that I've offered some summer suggestions for your viewing and reading pleasure, I am including the names of several additional films for which I've seen previews and which look like must-sees for me...perhaps for you, too:
  •  "The Intouchables"- already released, this French film looks like one which really should not be missed. In French, with subtitles, don't let that put you off.
  • "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"- released on June 22, this possibly off-the-wall film, billed as a Comedy/Drama/Romance starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightly looks like it could be quite amazingly good...and I am not a Steve Carrell fan.
  • "Ruby Sparks"- to be released July 25, this film goes into the realm of fantasy, as an aspiring writer creates a female character who suddenly appears in his life.
  • "Hyde Park on Hudson"- not coming until December, this film about FDR stars Bill Murray (yes, Bill Murray!) as the late president and Laura Linney as his secretary and the previews looked amazing.
  • And last, but not least, "Les Miserables"- this musical version, with the fantastic music from the stage version, is due out in December, too, so we have somethings really great to look forward to near the end of the year.
Happy viewing; happy reading...have a wonderful summer. Now I'm off to the library again.


Monday, June 4, 2012

At Seventy

When I look into the mirror,
I see silver hair, a well-lined
face, a drooping jawline and
crinkly neck...eyebrows thinned
and marked with white, eyes no longer
blue but greying, like all the rest.
But all of this is surface stuff,
the "me" seen at first glance
by folks I pass on streets, in
supermarket aisles, or in the pews
of Sunday morning church...
the ones who never go beneath
the aging surface to see the
interesting, intelligent, fanciful,
and often funny "me", the "me" I really am.

                                        How can they know that every
                                        line that marks my face, each
                                        silver hair gracing my head has
                                        been hard-won...earned along
                                        my journey's way, badges of
                                        of courage which mark the path...
                                        signs of tears and laughter limned
                                        deep into the very heart of
                                        who I truly am...making and shaping
                                        me into this woman of a certain age
                                        who gazes in the mirror at her
                                        here-and-now self and sees the
                                        past and present merge into a
                                        glorious creation, filled with
                                        courage, wisdom, strength, compassion-
                                        a thing of beauty to behold...
                                        and wonder, how will the coming
                                                              years unfold?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sisters, Sisters, Sisters...

Sisters...
     is any other relationship
     more fraught with
     joys and tears, with
     memories shared, with past and present
     intermingled in ways
     both intricately complex and
               childishly simple?

Sisters...
     can any other relationship
     make you feel so simultaneously
     overwhelmingly proud and
                blushingly foolish?
     unflinchingly loyal and
                deeply competitive?
     fiercely protective and
                incrediby defensive?

Sisters...
     no other relationship
     can take the place of
     bonds formed over time and space,
     of deep connections forged so tight
                that they cannot be broken.

Sisters...
     today I am so thankful for
                my sisters.