Sunday, July 29, 2012

What Price Glory?

I have long been a fan of the Olympics and so I watched some of the TV broadcast from London last evening: beach volleyball, some gymastics and swimming, but between the all-too-frequent commercials and the incessant, annoyingly-noisy severe thunderstorm alerts being issued by the National Weather Service, I finally turned of the TV to head upstairs to read. As I was lying in bed, reflecting on the Games, I recalled a column I had written about the XXIII Olympic Games in 1984, about a particularly hard-to-watch incident which had happened and was televised live (as most of the games were back then) for all the world to see. I share it with you as a reflection upon the dichotomy between the drive to win and the need for compassion. Perhaps some of you will remember this, too...

Glory- At What Price? (August 1984)

          Though not a particularly great fan of television, I have found myself seated in front of the tube every evening for the past week, reveling in the spectacle of the games of the XXIII Olympiad. On numerous occasions, I have found myself shouting encouragement to some of the athletes, leaping from my chair in excitement over a particularly dramatic win, and shedding tears as the American athletes stand at respectful attention during the playing of our National Anthem.

          The wonderful wins by the men’s gymnastics team, Mary Lou Retton, Julianne McNamara, Edwin Moses, Tracy Caulkins, Rowdy Gaines, and the many other U.S. swimmers have brought day after day of pride and pleasure. And the generous and caring way in which the athletes of different nations appear to be treating one another has been particularly inspirational.

          But on Sunday, I witnessed a spectacle which brought tears and cries of a different kind as we, along with about a billion other viewers, watched the last-lap struggle of Swiss marathoner, Gabriela Anderson-Scheiss. As the television cameras picked up this athlete’s entry into the coliseum, it was immediately apparent that something was drastically wrong. This woman appeared dazed and she listed noticeably to the left. Close-up views by TV cameras showed glazed, almost un-seeing eyes, wobbly legs, and made it clear to everyone watching that this young woman was in desperate trouble, physically.

          Marty Liquori, the former runner who was doing commentary with the other ABC announcers, cried out for someone to help her, imploring that she not be allowed to continue. “There is the danger of brain damage,” he explained, “when someone is so dehydrated and the body temperature soars. She should not be allowed to continue.” He rmade reference to a British marathoner, Jim Peters, who had a similar finish with severe heat exhaustion, stating emphatically that Peters was “never the same” afterward. But Liquori’s appeals apparently fell on deaf ears, as no one around the track stepped forward to help the obviously-distressed Anderson-Scheiss. I was in tears by this time, unable to believe that anyone who was actually there, seeing this struggle in person, could remain uninvolved. Here was a human being in deep and desperate need- and no one was doing anything!

          Liquori became more impassioned in his commentary as he stated emphatically that if this were a boxing match, the referee would have stepped in long ago. And though other announcers defended the non-interference by those around the track by emphasizing that this racer would be disqualified if anyone touched her, I agreed with the former runner in his statement that the well-being of this woman was far more important than her disqualification from the race.

          From my comfortable, cool seat in our family room, I implored those at the stadium to do something. My pain was real as I watched those last agonizing two hundred meters. But no one was willing to take the responsibility to step in; no one seemed to care enough to intervene in this case when the young woman herself seemed unaware of what was happening or even where she was. As she was passed by runner after runner, all headed for the finish line, I found it incomprehensible that not even one of the other athletes reached out to her. Their only goal was to cross the finish line, to complete the race, and another athlete in need did not seem to affect them.
          Now I am certainly not an athlete of Olympic caliber. In fact, my own athletic abilities are faltering at best. I have never trained for an athletic event for years of my life, and I certainly cannot begin to know the physical strength and stamina of a marathoner. But I can recognize pain and suffering when I see it- and Anderson-Scheiss was certainly in pain and was suffering mightily during that last grueling lap. Where was everybody? Where was just one somebody who cared enough about Gabriela as a person to risk disapproval and even ridicule by stepping in to assist a fellow human being?

          Never have I watched something more intently; never have I felt so deeply about the picture on the TV screen. I cried out more than once, as the pain I was viewing became mine. And even later reports, which I awaited anxiously, telling of Gabriela’s apparent recovery, did little to reassure me of the ultimate outcome of what I had seen. Late in the evening, a reporter from ABC interviewed the athlete, by now seemingly recovered from her earlier ordeal. In that interview, Anderson-Scheiss acknowledged that although she recalled entering the coliseum, from then on everything was black- she remembered nothing. And although she stated that she was fine, though somewhat weak, I couldn’t help recalling the British athlete mentioned earlier that day by Marty Liquori, the one who had never fully recovered from his similar experience. And I wondered about the future of this not-so-young woman, praying silently that her recovery would indeed be complete and that she would indeed be able to go on and compete again.

          Looking back, I still question the entire incident. Jim McKay of ABC, following the interview with Anderson-Sheiss, stated that the last mile of the race had taken her more than sixteen minutes! And the word “courageous” kept entering the commentary: such a “courageous” finish; such “courage” in this total effort. How, I wonder, would those commentators be feeling if this “courageous” woman were lying in a coma or worse, had lost her life all in the name of sport, of athletics. At what point does the drive for excellence in a sport become cruel and heartless, an insult to mind and body? And at what point do we indeed become out brother’s- or in this case- our sister’s keeper?

          To me, the truly courageous person would have been the one who, obeying his or her inner self, would have stepped onto that track and helped this desperately-struggling athlete: out of love; out of compassion; out of deep care for another human being, at the risk of looking foolish, even of being wrong. For at what price glory? Is the glory of the sport ever justified at the expense of a human body or spirit? I hope and pray that in the wonder and pride and excitement of these Olympics we do not become so caught up in the athletic events that we forget the intrinsic value of the athletes themselves. Without them, the events would not exist; the games would not go on. I deeply hope that we can revel in the wonder of the gifts God has given to these remarkable people without losing sight of their intrinsic value simply as part of God’s creation.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heroes of Space and Sky...Remembering


Today, we remember two remarkable women, women who were among the pioneers of their respective generations: Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride.

Earhart was a childhood hero of mine- bold, confident, daring to go where other women had not gone before. Today is the 115th anniversary of her birth. And on this day in 2012, we mourn the death of Sally Ride, also a pioneer among the women of our day- bold, confident, daring to go where other women had not gone before. Both were drawn to the skies, Earhart to flight within our atmosphere, probably not even able to imagine flight which would go beyond the bounds of space; Ride to space flight far beyond the limits of gravity, into places and spaces perhaps only dreamed of by the earlier aviators.

What amazing women! What incredible role models! Two women who dared beyond daring, who stepped out- or up- into the reaches of the beckoning skies, who spread their wings and soared. Wherever you are, dear Amelia, dear Sally, I am remembering you with love and admiration on this wholly holy day. Godspeed.

What's News?

                                          
I must acknowledge that I have been on a TV news fast for some time... months, actually. I struggle with the dichotomy of feeling the need to be informed about what's happening in this world of which I am a part and the feeling of helplessness and anger which fills me when I actually view almost any TV news program. I find all the negativity and nastiness pervading the realms of politics and news reporting energetically draining, sapping me of any sense of goodwill and compassion toward those with whom I share space on this seemingly-shrinking planet of ours. Perhaps I have reached a state of "compassion fatigue", my heart and mind no longer able to accomodate the overwhelming but very real needs of people in every corner of the world. Perhaps I have come to a place of intolerance for the many ways in which we human creatures denigrate and destroy one another and the natural world around us. Perhaps I have become tired of the lack of civility and manners and respect for the other and for ourselves. I only know that the TV news seems to exemplify the ways in which we have come to regard and treat one another- and I find I can no longer tolerate being part of it by viewing.

Now, I know all of the arguments FOR being a watcher- and, indeed, I had long felt, believed, that by watching I was serving as a witness to what was happening across the globe, a task I saw as very important since witnesses maked forgetting or neglecting the truth impossible. But that very vital role no longer energizes me. Instead, I find that the viewing and listening is actually enervating me, sapping me of strength and courage and energy and, yes, tolerance for the ways in which the "NEWS" can be shaped and distorted and twisted to serve the respective agendas of the networks and the corporations which sponsor them.

So, for now, I am fasting from the TV news, tuning in only if I have heard of something interesting and important on NPR or in the admittedly-limited High Point Enterprise. Perhaps that will change in coming months, though with all of the presidential politics I have my doubts. I am harkening back to the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite (I know, my age is showing) and longing for a newsperson of that caliber, for a news program and newscaster I can trust. But maybe this generation of 24-hour news reporting has obfuscated that possibility or, for many, the need. I know only that this viewer mourns the death of civility and honesty and openness, of real NEWS- unslanted, with a lack of agenda other than providing the best and most complete imformation to the public. But is that really so much to ask?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Remembering...

Nick is on the left...
My grandson, Nikki, recently turned nine (though he now wants to be called Nick, just as his older brother, Jamie, wants to be called Jim- lots of adjustments for this grandmother, but then change is the story of life, isn't it?) I have been thinking about him a lot in the past several days, recalling the sweet-faced, wise-eyed baby and toddler he was, the still sweet-faced boy he has become- with his love of Grandma Linny's homemade applesauce and the readiness of his welcoming hug whenever we see each other.

And as I was thinking about my Nikki (forgive me, Nick, but in my heart you will forever be Nikki), I recalled another Nicky who came into my life briefly many, many years ago when I was a young nursing student on Staten Island, NY. The impact he had on me has remained to this day and so I share his story with you, dear friends, from my January 1985 "Made for Living" column, in the hope that it will stir in you some recollection of those who have come into your own life, however briefly, and left a lasting mark on your mind and heart.

Remembering Is Bittersweet
          I don’t know why I started thinking about Nicky. Perhaps the ending of one year and the beginning of another brought with it thoughts of finality. Perhaps the lingering, bittersweet holiday memories of loved ones no longer with us made the awareness of death more poignant. Perhaps the approach of my own birthday carried with it the certain knowledge of my own mortality. But whatever the reason, I found myself remembering the little boy who had been my first personal encounter with death.

          A junior nursing student, I was an innocent, na├»ve, nineteen-year-old when I was first assigned to the pediatric unit at Staten Island Hospital. For the most part, my life until that time had been straight-forward and simple, with only the usual trials and tribulations of being a teenager to cloud an otherwise sunny horizon. Oh, yes, during my earlier experiences in the hospital, there had been patients who had died, but they were mostly old and I had never been very close to any of them. Certainly their deaths had not affected me very deeply, nor had they made me look inside myself to discover how I felt about this human experience we all share.

          On this day, I reported to pediatrics, my assignment sheet in hand. Miss Cook, our instructor, had given us our assignments on the previous day but I only knew that I would be caring for a little somebody names Nicky, diagnosis neuroblastoma, an especially nasty type of childhood cancer. I was totally unprepared for the impact this little guy would have from the very first moment. I saw two huge brown eyes staring at me, surrounded by the most angelic face I had ever seen. A shock of brown hair topped the tiny face and his tiny body was thin, almost gaunt. My heart ached for him immediately, but it was the look in his eyes which drew me up short, for it was not the look I had seen in any other child I had ever known. Rather, it resembled that of an old and very wise person, someone who had seen and experienced much of life and now regarded everything around him from a place of wisdom and understanding. Indeed, Nicky had the oldest eyes I had ever seen.

          The details of his treatment escape me, these many long years later. I only remember that I was responsible for his routine nursing care- bathing, feeding, medications, and most of all, giving plenty of TLC. Nicky had long since stopped talking to anyone. Without his verbal input, there was no way to really gauge just how much physical pain he was having at any particular time. So, after morning care had been completed, after an attempt at breakfast and a struggle over his oral medications which he hated, I would take him as far from his crib as his IVs would permit and hold him in the large rocking chair, rocking, singing, and soothing him as best I could. And slowly, gradually, his tense little body would relax, sometimes enough to permit him some restful sleep.

          After two weeks of being “Nicky’s nurse”, I was assigned to other patients so I would gain experience with other children and other diagnoses. And so, I cared for other children in the pediatrics department, but every day I visited Nicky, holding him for just a little while and watching as he got progressively worse. A good friend worked the three-to-eleven shift and each evening when she returned to the nurse’s residence, I asked for news, hoping against hope that some miracle would return this sweet little boy to the good health I fervently believed he deserved. And each evening before sleep, I prayed that God would be with dear Nicky and his parents, who were agonizing through this disease with him.

          The day had been long and classes on campus especially difficult. All of us in our class were exhausted, so when we returned to the hospital, we stopped to get a bite to eat in the cafeteria before hitting the books. We were just completing our dinner when we saw Lynn, our pediatric nursing friend. The tears in her eyes told their own story. None of us could take our eyes from her as she carried a cup of coffee over to our table. When she looked at us, her eyes filled again, for she knew that all of us had come to know and love this little boy. “Nicky died a little while ago. His parents were with him and I was in the room.” And then her composure broke and she sat down, sobbing, with our tears and sobs joining hers, a sisterhood of grief shared.

          The passing years have confirmed many of the lessons I learned from Nicky, lessons which have stood me well at the times when death has confronted me. Because of this precious little guy- not yet three years old- I learned to accept the reality of death as a part of life; never to understand but always to trust that there is a Wisdom far beyond our own. I have learned to live more fully and well, to truly cherish the wonder of each day, and to regard it as a gift from the Creator, twenty-four miraculous hours to live. Nicky, thank you; I will always love you.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oceanside...

Though there is little I miss about living in Florida those long years ago, I do miss the easy access to the beach, a short drive of fifteen or twenty minutes to my favorite spot where I could find rest and renewal with my feet trailing in the water and the ocean breeze soothing my face. Water has always been a healing, renewing source for me and it is no surprise that in the various religions of the world, it plays a significant role, reminding us of cleansing, rebirth, new beginnings. Perhaps that is what I most miss...that sense of the past being washed away and the present being the only true reality, with the future filled with endless possibilities. I really need to go to the beach!

Renewal from the Sea (From Made for Living, 1981)

          I went to the beach today. It is a place of such miracles, such beauty, such total restfulness, and yet such power. The perpetual murmur of the waves creates a symphonic background for the other beachside sounds, the crying of the gulls punctuating the tidal melody with cacaphonic percussion. And the glorious sun, that heavenly orb, sending forth the light and warmth to bathe our earthbound bodies.

          The sea renews me; it is as though I can regain energy from the never-ceasing kinetics of the ocean tides. Floating on the undulating waves is perhaps, at a very deep level, a return to the womb; in my conscious mind, I only know that I feel tension leave my body as one-by-one the muscles release, relax, and I am filled with a serenity which I seldom attain in any other setting.

          Before me, the horizon is ablaze with the multicolored sails of countless sailboats and my eyes rejoice in the incredible sight of these “sea birds” flying across the water’s surface, so beautifully free from land-bound constraints. Water’s edge is fraught with the wonders of shells and coral, seaweed and driftwood. A small sponge attached to a twig, a lavender-rippled shell, a clump of alabaster-white seaweed- these treasures of the deep have been served up on the platter of the shore for my perusal and pleasure, and I visually absorb as much as I can, to be carefully tucked into memory’s vault.

          Back on the steaming sand, I find that my book takes second place to the sights which surround me. To my lift, a toddler is venturing tentatively into the surf as his delighted parents watch with love-filled eyes. I startle myself with a shout of laughter as I watch his face mirror his amazement, his wonder, his consternation as the waves touch his toes and then race quickly away.

          Directly in front of me is an elderly couple, propped on sand chairs, reading their books. Occasionally they turn to one another and smile, touch their hands, then return to their reading. No words are exchanged not seem necessary; communion of spirits takes place quite wordlessly. On my right are several young people throwing that amazing disc, the Frisbee. Their strong, tanned bodies, smiling faces, and joyful voices give evidence to the Creator’s most wonderful creation and I find myself smiling as I watch their antics, admiring their skill and precision and obvious ‘joie de vivre”.

          Behind me, a family is sharing the afternoon. All five race noisily into the surf with rafts and masks and snorkels, and I half-listen to their good-natured repartee, feeling warm and comfortable and good about sharing their day, even on the periphery.

          Only one things remains to complete my afternoon and then I see them, gliding high above me, seemingly motionless, their graceless bodies now graceful in flight. My friends, the pelicans, patrolling the beach, guarding the shore, creating a brief moment of ethereal beauty as they soar noiselessly in the heavens. Now I can leave. My spirit is refreshed, replenished, renewed; my heart and soul joyfully revived by sight and sound and feel. Home once again- but I shall return another day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Eyes Have It...


With my new haircut thrusting my eyes into prominence, I have been told more than once in the past week that I have beautiful eyes. It seems that with no distractions, people are seeing that one feature of min far more clearly...making me ever more aware of how I am looking AT others. What are my eyes conveying about what is in my heart and mind? What are they saying about the kind of person I am, about the measure of compassion and respect and care I have for each one I encounter?

It was as I reflected on this that I recalled an experience I had years ago in a supermarket in South Florida, one I wrote about in my Made for Living Column. Going in search of it, I found myself smiing as I
re-read it and recalled the incident with a great deal of pleasure as, even all these years later, I remember what an impact it made on my day, on my week. And so, dear friends, I share it with you today in the hope that it will be a reminder of the effect our words and actions make upon others...even the seemingly insignificant ones. For I am certain that this incident held little importance for the man in the Winn Dixie, but it has remained in my memory for more than thirty years.

May your day be lovely and filled with meaningful encounters.
Love, Linda

We Pass This Way but Once
          Did you know that I have smiling eyes? That wonderful detail of my appearance, unnoticed by me, was brought to my attention a few weeks ago in the express line at the local Winn Dixie. The day had been long and filled with numerous errands; several more remained to be completed; I was hot and tired and not terribly pleased about having to make yet another stop. But stop I did and having deftly and quickly procured the items on my list, I took my place in the express line.

          As is so frequently the case when I’m in a hurry, the line moved at a snail’s pace; prices had to be checked, a check okayed, and on and on. My load was growing heavier and heavier and the cold gallon container of milk was numbing my arm and my side, when I abruptly reached the counter and gratefully deposited my ten items or less As I breathed a sigh of relief- a quite audible one, I’m sure- I noticed a gentleman behind me whose arms were as full as mine had been a moment before. Something in his face, something in his demeanor, prompted me to hastily push my purchases forward to make room for his.

          As he did not immediately notice my action, I said to him, “There’s plenty of room here for your things, too, “ and I smiled.
          “Why, thank you, young lady.” (I loved that ‘young lady) “Are you sure I won’t be crowding you?”
          “Oh, no, “ I assured him, “there’s plenty of space. Might as well wait comfortably.”
         
As he placed his things on the counter, he commented about the irony of spending so much time in the express line. I expressed my agreement and then he looked at me pointedly and said, “Do you know how nice it is to talk with someone who is cheerful and smiling- and do you know how seldom that happens these days? You not only have a wonderful smile, but you have smiling eyes and I don’t see those very often.”

          “Why, thank you.” My words were one of genuine gratitude because, though this kind gentleman felt that I had given something to him, only I knew how much he had given me. The ill temper which I had brought with me into the store was shed like a useless second skin and I walked to my car with a smile on my face, ready and willing and eager to share my “smiling eyes” with others I would encounter as I completed my round of errands. And so, thanks to the comment of one sharing, caring person, I smiled at the harried clerk at the dry cleaners; waited patiently at the stop sign while several people decided which way they would go- or whether they would go; stood in line at the bank praying for people who I knew had a special need and wished the obviously tired teller a lovely, restful weekend.

          As I was driving home, I thought again of my gracious supermarket benefactor and the effect his beautiful compliment had on me, turning my sour and cranky disposition into one of care and concern for others around me. If he could see the beauty in me that day, I could surely look around me for the beauty in others I met.

          The paths of thought led to the avenue of memory where I met some words of inspiration I had read and heard many times, a quotation whose authorship had been variously attributed to Victor Hugo, George Eliot, a Quaker names Stephen Grellet, and to many others. No one actually know when it was said or why or under what circumstances
or how it was passed along. But the impelling words hold a fascination for me as they have for countless others.

          “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”  A brief contact in a line in a supermarket: a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience of person-to-person, but for me an experience of kindness and caring and connectedness that I shall never forget. My hope is that I can carry the words and the memory of that special kindness ever with me, “doing also to others” for “…I shall not pass this way again.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Faith Lights the Way...

A holy Sabbath, one and all. Though Sunday has, in this modern age, lost much of its cachet as a "day of rest" or even a day of worship, for those of us who grew up in a quieter, simpler time, it is still most often a day when the pace of life slows and thoughts can turn to matters of faith and our spiritual journey, our relationship with the Divine. For me, "faith" has become synonymous with trust...the belief in something beyond myself...the belief in a connectedness with the Holy that I can neither explain nor prove, but which I simply find deeply, intuitively real and true.

Over the years, this journey of mine has taken me on a variety of pathways, some far more complex than others, some going far-afleid from the faith tradition in which I was raised; but always, I have found, these paths converged with and complemented one another, deeply enriching the ways in which I view what is sacred, what is holy, what is divine. And as I am a storyteller, I have collected stories over the years which speak to my heart, which resonate with my spirit, which celebrate the incarnation of God in human flesh, a cornerstone of my personal faith. I used one such story in my "Made
for Living" column in December of 1980 and on this holy morning, I share it with you. Perhaps it will speak to you, too, and both enliven and enlighten your path today.
Blessings and love, Linda

Faith Lights the Magic Lamp

          Faith has been defined as believing in that which we cannot see, finding the possible in the impossible. But in spite of the seeming ease with which “faith” can be defined it seems to be less easily conceptualized. Yet the importance of understanding what faith is cannot be minimized as again and again in scripture, we met this word, are confronted by it, and in turn, must confront our own ideas, feelings, understandings of what faith means.

          Several years ago I stumbled upon a story which, for me, explained the concept of faith in a dramatically beautiful way. It is the incredible story of an equally incredible woman, Helen Keller. The story began when Miss Keller visited the Bronx Zoo. She enjoyed every minute to her tour, but when she came to the lion’s cage, a problem developed. Miss Keller insisted on entering the cage to “see” the lion close up. She was told that this was no tame circus lion, but rather the real thing from the wilds. No matter. She insisted upon entering the cage. Nothing, no one could dissuade her. She had learned so much about these creatures and here was her chance to study one face to face.

          Against all argument, Helen Keller won the opportunity she cherished. The cage was opened and she walked in alone. As others stood by quaking, she approached the lion. The beast stood stock still, studying her. She touched the animal, running her hands over his mane. As if in response to command, he raised each paw to “shake hands”. When her hand reached the tip of his tail, she laughed, for she had not known about the little “feather duster” she would find there.

          Those who stood watching from outside the cage died a thousand deaths as Helen Keller dropped to her knees beside the lion and spoke to him in the strange voice of hers, that miraculous way in which she had learned to speak to others. They watched, incredulous, as the lion let out his claws so she might feel the savage sharpness of each prong. Helen Keller knew that a human, gripped by fear, experiences a sudden spurt of adrenalin which we cannot sense but which is immediately recognized by animals. And the beasts, alerted by this signal, respond by protecting themselves. But she knew no fear. She even buried her face in the lion’s mane, as she said, “You beautiful creature!” The lion had no cause to fear her and he understood that. And moments later, Keller walked quietly from the cage. That tells it all.

          This is faith- a trust in what one deeply knows, intuits, understands- and what more needs to be added but perhaps the words of Helen Keller herself:

“Dark as my path may seem to others, I carry a magic light in my heart. Faith, the spiritual searchlight, lights my way. Though sinister doubts lurk in shadows, I walk unafraid toward the enchanted wood where the foliage is always green, where joy abides, and where nightingales nest and sing. I regard as a mere impertinence of fate the handicaps which were place on my life from the beginning.”

Friday, July 6, 2012

On Being "Bald"...


 This is day three of my new "do", the chemo cut I got on Tuesday in support of my dear sister, Kathy, who is the one receiving chemo in what she has dubbed "the greatest challenge of my life." It has taken a bit of getting used to, but now I only occasionally start upon seeing myself in a mirror or my reflection in a window. For the most part, I am truly enjoying the freedom of being basically without hair.

It's interesting how quickly I can get ready to leave for work in the morning- a shower and a towel rubbed over my head and I'm good to go (after donning clothing, of course). The only people to really stare have been a few children...looking back over their shoulders as they pass me by and receiving from me a big, warm smile. And the people at work have been great, including the residents. Yesterday, one of the women, a black woman who has been a long-time resident, with the diagnosis of schizephrenia and one of my absolute favorites, laughed with delight when she saw me, making me turn around so she could view me from every angle, and then announcing jubilantly, "Chaplain, I love it!"

Many of the younger women have come up to me, telling me how much they like my haircut, and several have remarked about what a nice head I have. (Never actually thought about that much...it is what it is, but it's nice to be noticed.) And I am finding that, with nothing in the way to distract, what you see IS what you get- my facial expression, the look in my eyes, and of course, each and every wrinkle! But that's okay with me...I feel so very genuine, without any subterfuge at all...no masks...just ME, with my glorious beauty as well as my flaws on exhibition.

It's a bit scary, you know, to be seen so clearly; no hiding place, nothing to distract from who and what I am. And I feel unburdened somehow...as if I have not only shed my hair but many of my worries as well. Odd, isn't it, how getting down to the basics of life brings what is really important to the surface...things like continuing to surround my sister in prayer and love and light...things like maintaining contact with friends in so many places to let them know I care...things like touching base regularly with my scattered family from coast-to-coast...

So, my eyes are showing...my smile is, too...and the rest of my face fades backstage, playing only a supporting role to the more outstanding features in my facial drama. And here I am...for all the world to see...bald and beautiful and loving it! And loving you, every one. Love, Linda

Monday, July 2, 2012

Remembering Another Hot Summer...

It is HOT here in Carolina, as it is on most of the East coast. We are sweltering with the 90+ temperatures, 100+ some days, which have continued for more than a week. After a beautifully wet and verdant late May and early June, which had created a green and blooming world, the extreme temperatures are parching the land, in spite of occasional thunderstorms, and all around me, the natural world is taking on a yearning, thirsty look...including the human inhabitants.

But I remember another summer, years and miles away, when my family had gone to the Dominican Republic with a mission project called Project Serve. And I recall the heat and the hardship...the whole thing, as we- a crew composed mostly of teenagers from Alabama and south Florida, with adult support helpers (I was the team nurse), were constructing a small church on a mountainside outside Santiago. Everything had to be carried in each day...all work was done by hand...and the combination of altitude and sub-tropical heat often laid us low, taking a toll on even the energetic young people.

I wrote about our experiences for my Made for Living column and so I share one of them from the summer of 1982 with you.

Look to the Mountains
      The day was hot. Under the searing Dominican sun, I felt rivulets of sweat running down my chest and my back, coursing down the back of my neck. Beneath the yellow baseball cap, my sweat-dampened hair clung to my scalp and soaked the bandana tied around my forehead. All around me worked the members of our building team, young people and adults from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Birmingham, Alabama, and as I looked over the work site, I could see them wilting visibly, their bright yellow Project Serve T-shirts soaked with the results of the morning’s exertions.

      “It’s not even noon!” I said to myself. “This afternoon will be terrible! Not even a breath of air today. And so much work to be done.” And I began filling paper cups with precious water from our large galvanized water can, making trip after trip to hot, thirsty people who had become my “family”, seeing the fatigue and discouragement and discomfort written on face after face. The work was going slowly and the intense heat of a day in the tropics was beginning to take its toll.

       The break for lunch came none too soon and our band was remarkably quiet as we trudged across the field to our usual lunch spot under a gigantic mango tree. The wonderful breeze we had come to expect on this hillside failed to materialize and the oppressiveness of the heat seemed to squelch the usual joyful lunchtime banter. We ate our sandwiches and fruit in relative silence, the water jug being the most popular place as cup after cup of the cool, clear liquid eased parched lips and throats. Conversation was stilted and several minor disagreements broke out between friends whose endurance was being pushed to the limits. We were hot, tired, and discouraged- and five more hours of work in the hottest part of the day loomed ahead of us.

       Suddenly, Kent, our group leader, stood in front of us and said, to our surprise, “Let’s take a little extra break time today. This has been a tough morning and I know many of you are feeling discouraged; so find a comfortable, shady place and think about why you’re here, about what all this means, about why God has brought you to the Dominican Republic. Look up at those mountains in front of you and remember the words of our morning devotions…’I will lift my eyes to the mountains from where my help comes.’ I think we all need that.” His voice was gentle and his smile encouraging as he headed toward another shade tree on the hill.

       Almost as if in slow motion, the group under the giant mango began disbursing, some down the hill, others across the field, some toward the river bank below. Finding another shady mango, I sat alone, staring at the glorious mountains surrounding us and recalled the words of Psalm 121, the words to which Kent had referred:

          I will lift my eyes to the mountains;
              from where shall my help come?
          My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
          God will not allow your foot to slip;
               the One who keeps you will not slumber.
          Behold, the God who keeps the people will neither
               slumber nor sleep.
         The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade
               on your right hand.
           The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.
           The Lord will protect you from all evil and will keep your soul.
           The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
              from this time forth and forever.

       For me, those words were a prayer, a cry for help, an acknowledgement of my own human weakness and discouragement. And as I repeated the first lines again and again, my cheeks wet with tears, I felt a comfort, a peace, an assurance that no matter what, we would complete our church-building task, for the strength behind and in and under and around us was not simply our own.

      A whistle shattered my reverie and a cry of, “Time to go back!” drew me to my feet. All over the hillside around me other team members were rising, too, and as we walked up the hill, our faces were fanned by a cool mountain breeze, the first of the day. Greetings were warm and faces were smiling as friends linked arms and hands for the return to the work site where our Dominican friends awaited us with water from the river to mix mortar, with more bricks hauled up from the river bank below.
        “Let’s go, folks,” Kent’s voice rang out. “It’s show time!” and the work began once again.