VIOLENCE

Arm teachers!?!? Have we lost what’s left of our collective minds?!! The day I was required to keep a gun in my classroom would be the day I would walk out! And don’t think I’m a loser…. I am National Board Certified and was a Teacher of the Year. Gun ownership is a personal issue and I would no more want gun possession forced on me than many of you out there would welcome giving up your rights to gun ownership.

So, what is the solution? First, would someone please tell me that owning a rapid fire, automatic rifle actually SAVED a life! I mean, a normal, everyday person….sort of like those normal victims who now inhabit cold graves. Have you saved someone’s life with your own rifle?

Second, I cannot believe the authors of a constitutional amendment would have included weapons of war in their writings if such weaponry had existed. Those weapons have a place…in the hands of our military and police…NOT in the possession of the general public. Why do we insist that kids wait until they are 21 to drink alcohol, but allow them to handle and purchase lethal weapons? Common sense would say that children are not ready to handle such weighty responsibility.

Third, we have in our hands the technology to establish a nationwide data base to track and manage gun purchase. We are already tracked through medical, financial, and tax data bases. Surely, having a similar data base to ensure safe gun ownership would help more than it hurt! Surely, saving someone’s life would be worth the freedom gun owners might have to give up…

Finally, at least some responsibility also rests on the heads of…well, of ALL of us. I was constantly surprised by the “harmless” violent rhetoric and actions I often saw in some of my young students. I have also been dismayed at the tech addiction that is sweeping our society. I believe young children have a difficult time separating the fictional violence of these games from the reality of living in community with other people. (Wonder if this same violence addiction has anything to do with road rage…?). Perhaps we all need to take a collective breath and determine to live peaceably, without malice, dealing fairly and respectfully with our neighbors, and walking humbly, give up our obsession with power (i.e. Gun ownership?) and intimidation, seeking out the best in others, rather than provoking their worst.

Posted in Parkinson's Disease | 3 Comments

Moving Day

Ten years ago, I was blithely ignorant. About my future. About people with disabilities. About the hidden benefits that came with my teaching position. About Parkinson’s disease. Unaware of the dramatic turn that was about to take place in my existence.

Ten years ago, a doctor asked innocuously about the slight tremor in my right leg. I was only vaguely aware of it…..could make the twitching stop just by thinking about it. He sent me for an appointment with the local neurologist …. An appointment I put off because of big (brave??) plans to drive my mother and her younger sister (both were seasoned octogenarians….) north into Minnesota to their stomping grounds at a cabin on a lake north of the twin cities.

I was aware of some strange details: while swimming the traditional half mile across Sugar Lake, I struggled to stay on course, pulling dramatically to the left as I swam. At the organ bench, it was getting harder to play “clean.” I found myself tripping over notes in favorite hymns that I had played for years. Handwriting was growing difficult as well…my once beautiful script was turning into inelegant scrawl… In my naivete, it never occurred to me that all these little irritants were part of a much larger issue….

Dad's Peace Rose

Dad’s Peace Rose

Ed and I had just moved into a wonderful space on Pine Road, and I was eager to begin landscaping our 2.5 acres. We planted a rose garden, and began planning the landscaping for the front of our new home. As I photographed the first rose blooms with my new DSLR camera, I could not know how precious those developing camera skills would become. Nor did I realize then just how valuable the “all on one level” layout of our new home would be.

I eventually kept that neurology appointment, going as a “lamb led to the slaughter.” The doctor’s diagnosis ( “I’m 99% certain you have Parkinson’s Disease.”) introduced me to the reality of panic attacks, and the horrifying realization that nothing would ever be the same. In the coming months, as I researched, read, asked questions, and made the rounds of an ever-growing list of doctors and specialists, I learned that there was nothing that could cure me. Nothing that could stop the progression. Nothing to prevent this interloper from gradually, ruthlessly stripping from me many things that I enjoyed doing.

Ten years ago, I took on a new mantle, unwittingly and unwillingly, without any choice. This new journey brought with it an all-important decision; one that has to be reconsidered nearly every day: Is the proverbial glass as half empty or half full? Is it a stop light or a go light? Do I dwell on what is lost, or look for new perspectives, maybe even savoring new ideas or opportunities? Does Parkinson’s define who I am? Or does it serve as a catalyst, prompting me to think outside my own proverbial box?

Let me be honest here: I am not superhuman! Not an angel nor a saint. Sometimes, I am afraid. Sometimes, angry at what I have lost. Sometimes, overwhelmed by grief. I miss my classroom and my students.   I miss playing the pipe organ and singing…I can no longer physically make music. I ache to perform again and am repeatedly devastated with the realization that it just is not going to happen…ever! With each fall, each setback, each loss, I sense the growing concern and protectiveness of loved ones. I loathe what this illness is doing to all of us.

Ten years, the first decade of this “decades long” diagnosis. I am different:  older, wiser, less-stressed. I have explored new artistic avenues (things that may have never entered my mind before), enjoyed successful competitions in photography, learned to make teddy bears from old fur coats. I’ve learned to think my way out of a “blue funk” as I color extravagantly detailed pictures, go for walks, try new exercises. I have met new friends and found fulfillment as I work to make life easier for others with serious medical issues. I have been very fortunate during most of the journey, reaping the rewards of countless benefactors…those Parkinson’s patients who have gone before me, testing new drugs and procedures. And the brilliant doctors, neurologists, movement specialists, and scientists who have passionately searched for answers and solutions. And there are the untold thousands of friends, neighbors and fellow citizens who have generously given to fund the research.

So now, as I enjoy the wealth of research…as I obediently take the drug regimen custom fit for me….as the Boston Scientific brain stimulator works silently inside my head, canceling the tremors and much of the rigidity….well, now it’s my turn to give back. Fund raising is not my usual forte, yet it is a challenge that I cannot ignore. It will culminate in what is called “Parkinson’s Moving Day.” the annual national fund raiser for the Parkinson’s Foundation. One of the events will be held in Winston-Salem, not too far from my home. Even many of the medical care providers (who, incidentally, have become like a second family to me) will be involved. On Saturday, April 28, we will gather as a community from 9:00 to 12:00 for a morning of walking, moving, learning, playing – as we raise awareness and gather funds to help the next generation of Parkinson’s patients.

SO what happens in the two months between now and then? I need to build a team who will commit to a Saturday morning in April immersed in the PD community, who can meet with me at least once for some initial planning early in March, who are willing to share by any and all means possible the absolute necessity of funding continuing research. I need team members who can help me get past my own personal hesitancy to ask for money….Who are willing to join the “Spunky Spencers” in a quest for $1500 for Parkinson’s.

Will you join me? Any donation will be most welcome. New team members are welcome too! You can register, join my team and/or make donations by going to this web address: https://movingdaywalk.org/event/moving-day-winston-salem/participant/1704584/

Thanks to all who have been part of this incredible journey.  Thanks for your encouragement, your presence, your patience, your understanding.  For those of you who have already volunteered, don’t forget to officially sign up as a team member at our website.

 

Posted in Ministry, Parkinson's Disease, Photography | 2 Comments

Snow Days

(Written a few days ago, during the first snow of this season.)

WInter Post

It’s 5-ish in the morning. A “snow day.” A surprising slow-down in the midst of Advent, preparing for the coming Christmas celebration. The activities of this day will be a bit different from those planned on the calendar! Perhaps we will complete the decorating, actually putting up our Christmas tree together. And toting the boxes, now empty of their stored decorations, back to the garage. We will prepare meals together – no sense in trying the normal “eating out on the run” scenario.

The only things missing are the normal “warm factor” commodities such as kids and grandkids, and a fire in the fireplace. The firewood has finally been depleted and the chimney sweep is coming in a few days – all in preparation for the installation of gas logs. Such logs were in place when we moved into this house (was it really 10 years ago this week!!?). As we set up house keeping in this new home,I adamantly had those fakes removed (“We will be using the real things! Thank you very much!” I thought.). For ten years, we have stacked firewood, hauled logs into the house, swept up over and over … and enjoyed the warmth and smell of real wood fires. Almost like sitting around the campfire,

img_4728

Ah, but this pleasure is about to bite the dust, much as the “real” Christmas tree did after our children flew the nest. Hauling logs is no longer easy. Even bending down to build and light the fire has become an issue. (Old age has it perks, but this is not one of them!). In fact, decorating and Christmas baking have been scaled back, in direct proportion to my current energy.

Of course, the fruitcake recipe is lying out on the counter with the growing collection of ingreIMG_1057dients necessary for concocting the “George Rodgers” recipe (Thanks, Dad!). There are plans for a couple of our traditional coffee rings as well,but who knows if they will actually come to fruition. There actually won’t be any baking today – lacking some ingredients and heavy snow means possible power outages. So, like so many of our plans and traditions, many of today’s activities are in a dynamic state of “hold until things are stable again.”

So, what to do with today? With the power still intact, I can fire up the sewing machine to finish a couple of Christmas projects. I can complete my gift list by shopping on line. I can be totally lazy in my recliner, reading and dozing the day away. I can dig out the camera and try to capture the beauty just outside my window. Lots of possibilities. Limited mainly by soreness from an automobile wreck 5 weeks ago (Who knew it would take so loooooooong to get over that trauma?).

Whatever this or any future days may bring, I face them with a strange mix of sobriety and mirth. I was “lucky” five weeks ago. Or “blessed” or something. There is much healing left to do, in both body and spirit, but at least I am here. The events in recent weeks have confirmed much of what I already knew: Live each day to the fullest, because it may be your last. Family and friends – relationships are by far the most valuable “thing” in life. “Wasted” time is   not necessarily lost time. Savoring one’s life, just like savoring hot, home-made soup, is highly important, for it nourishes our very souls.

Cedar iin White.jpgI am giddy with the possibilities that life still holds, yet sobered with the realities that things change as I age. I still have the same choices as when I was a young adult: will I allow the negative forces to surround me, holding me captive in an ever- restrictive web, or will I continue to follow dreams? Will I rest on my laurels, or will I keep following the “road less traveled by”?   Much to contemplate. Good thing I am moving slower, so I have time to think!

I love snow days!

 

 

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Sixty Five

I’ve been a lot of things in my life, but never 65. Until today. As with previous birthdays, I don’t feel any older than yesterday, yet there are some odd realizations that seem to go with this prodigious milestone. Medicare is one (sorry, I am not willing to go there here!). The official ending of a career is a larger one. Yes, I’ve been on disability for 3 years, but today, retirement is official.

I’ve been mulling some things over for quite a while… What’s next? Does retirement mean the end of my effectiveness? Am I being sent “out to pasture?” Do I get to sit back and rest “on my laurels,” content to watch the world go by? This is supposed to be a time of resting, relaxing, and enjoying the good life, right? I will admit, the proverbial rocking chair does look pretty good sometimes.

Ever since brain surgery almost exactly 3 years ago, I’ve been in some sort of holdingWake at Daybreak #4 pattern, waiting to see what the next big adventure might be. After all, isn’t there supposed to be an open window when the current door slams shut? It still seems odd to have been sidelined on disability just after deep brain stimulation seemed to give me back so much! For all its miracles, DBS could not restore my ability to play the pipe organ, nor could it stop the deterioration of my voice. With balance an ongoing issue, and the increasing inability to multi-task, I could not return to my beloved classroom… so “waiting” has become a way of life, a huge question mark stamped on my existence as I try to make sense of how I got here anyway! What in heaven’s name I’m supposed to do now!??

Interestingly, recent events, some seemingly innocuous and quite ordinary, are converging into what I recognize as a Thumbprint, characteristic of other hallmark events down through the years. From a sermon Sunday at Elevation Church through a retreat for a Parkinson’s Support Group yesterday to a ministry-related hospital visit this morning, there seems to be a remarkable answer to my query.

First, Sunday’s sermon about waiting: Whether you believe i,n God’s activity on our behalf or not, there were several observations that ring true: (1) How you wait impacts who you become. (2) A waiting season is not necessarily a wasted season. (3) Waiting may be more about the journey than the destination.

Translation: Perhaps it’s quite all right to let go of constant goal orientation. Career aspirations seem to feed on our culture’s unspoken yet very real insistence that success is measured only in one’s advancement up the ladder. Waiting for “the next step” can be quite active, but it still is the antithesis of goal-oriented being and doing..  Finally, what if, all along, the journey – the experiences we’ve had, the memories we’ve made, the relationships we’ve cherished – have really been what was most important?!

A retreat with my Parkinson’s buddies yesterday helped the picture come more into focus. We shared frustrations, concerns, experiences, and even a surprise birthday cake together during the course of that day. I was asked to lead some drum circles … odd, because I can no longer keep a steady beat on my own. That didn’t seem to be an issue as these friends immediately understood the value of the drum as an expression of things even more basic than “steady beat.” It wasn’t my skill (or lack thereof) that made it work. It was the connection of kindred spirits who joined together, strengthening the bond that was already formed.

An activity later in the day “by chance” brought a book to my awareness. Peace In His Presence is exactly the sort of book I’ve been wondering if I could write! There it was, in my hands – proof that not only is such a book possible, but there might even be a niche for it. Combining nature photography and perceptive writing, Sarah Young’s book both touched my soul and sparked my imagination. Now, some real waiting and listening begins as I seek Direction for combining passions for photography and for writing into something bigger than I am…

The divine Thumbprint cemented itself, yet again, in my psyche today during a visit with long-time friends who are in the middle of a health crisis. This tale begins with Howard #9a love of teddy bears. I make them from non-traditional materials such as old fur coats, upholstery material, and blue jeans. In the last three years, my sewing machine has increasingly become a tool for designing everything from minister’s stoles to purses to teddy bears. Previously, I thought it was only for sewing clothing and mending…never fully comprehended its availability as an artistic tool! Certainly not as a tool for ministry! Wonders never cease …this special friend has been looking for someone who could make a teddy bear for her sister…from her recently deceased father’s sweatshirt!

Today IsSo tonight, as I contemplate a birthday chock full of friends, good wishes, family, food, and fellowship, I am aware yet again that these three years of “waiting” have most definitely not been wasted. The activities used to occupy my mind and hands while I have waited have become the Next Step.   I embrace “65” with thanksgiving. This retirement pasture is still green, calling me out, giving rest, joy, relationship, and continued belief in a God who is still intimately involved in the details!

 

 

 

 

 

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 Retirement

Occasionally, I get things right! When I learned that my long time friend and colleague, Gerry Robinson, was retiring from Hatcher Memorial Baptist in Richmond, I determined to attend the celebrations in his honor. Today, I experienced a wonderful “final” service, led by Gerry, and then an amazing Concert, lovingly prepared and presented by the church family that called him away from us 8 ½ years ago.

Gerry and I worked together for many years at Starling Avenue Baptist Church, he as Minister of Music (+++) and I as organist. During one of the early choir rehearsals with him, I stumbled over a direction, and remarked, “Give me time…I will learn to read your mind!” I did not fully realize then that as musicians, we would both soon be able to sense much of what the other needed, nor did I know what a special friend he would become.

Over the years, Gerry took special care of his parishioners, including me. He was forever surprising me: he often put my music in order before adult choir rehearsal began. When he learned that my back bothered me by the end of most rehearsals, he ordered a special rehearsal chair to replace the piano bench in the choir room. Soon afterwards, I discovered a back rail had also been added to the organ bench in the sanctuary.

He understood the complexities of the pipe organ and did ever so many things to make that job easier like putting together notebooks for special services with all of the dialogue and music in order. He knew how to fix out-of-tune pipes and ciphers (how many times did we rummage through the pipe chambers just before services began?!…)

There was a surprise birthday party at their home on my fortieth birthday (he turned 42 the same day…!). And, there was a wonderful worship service in my honor as I turned 50…a remarkable, much appreciated affirmation of my life in ministry.  He was quicker than most in understanding God‘s claim on me as minister…

Gerry also introduced me to the work of music educator Carl Orff, helping me to attend local workshops and even several national conventions. Neither of us had any idea that God was preparing me for a wonderful position as Music Specialist at Leaksville-Spray Elementary School in Eden, NC.

One of the most significant gifts Gerry has  given my family was to travel back to Martinsville on a Sunday afternoon to officiate the wedding of our son, Joel, with Maria.  It was an emergency intervention; our pastor lost a family member  only two days before the wedding so, at the last minute, we had no one to officiate the wedding. Gerry (who was very instrumental in Joel’s musical upbringing) stepped in for us and did a remarkable job.  He knew Joel so well that he was able to step in. speaking directly to our son with specifics that only he could know. We could not have planned anything better!

In 2008, I began working on National Board Certification through the school system. I was already aware that my deteriorating handwriting could become a problem that could influence my testing for the Boards. Little did I realize that was just the tip of the proverbial ice burg! I was also experiencing a growing inability to play a hymn “cleanly”. Such things as trills and scalar runs were becoming increasingly difficult. I could not add appropriate weight to fingers to bring out the melody on piano pieces.   My right foot seemed to have a mind of its own as pedaling at both the organ and piano became more and more uncoordinated. In August of that year, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Telling my co-ministers at church was only the beginning of the agony of letting go…

I took the first two months of 2009 off from my church position, in order to finish writing for National Boards.   The fall had been a zoo as I adjusted to new meds and regimens; unfortunately, I didn’t even begin to suspect that my beloved friend was about to leave. Sometime during those two months “off,” Gerry came to Eden with the news that he was leaving for a church in Richmond.   I honestly thought that my world was falling apart and God was growing silent…

It has been 8 ½ years since that day, and I believe I’ve been angry with God for most of that time! How could He call my friend away when we all needed him so much? Many things have changed in the intervening years. I have lost my ability to play the organ, the piano, to sing, to teach, to handwrite a letter. (If I dwell on what is lost, I find myself looking into a dark abyss…)   Suffice it to say, life has gone on, just not quite the way I had imagined.

One of the up sides to this disability/retirement existence is that I have freedom to come and go as never before. Hence, the trip to Richmond in support of this special friend. I went for him today… yet I received a rich blessing in return. The obvious deep love of the Hatcher family for Gerry and Betty has helped me finally understand that God knew exactly what He was doing in sending them to that place. Gerry has been their Minister during some very difficult years for the church family. I honestly believe he may have been the “Glue” that held them together as they struggled with their identity and mission in the 21st century. And, that church family embraced both Gerry and Betty, calling out the very best in them during these 8 ½ years.

The fullness of time – that is most certainly how God works. At times when God seems most silent, God is still at work, still loving us, still carrying us until the time is exactly right and we can hear God’s voice again, until we can see God’s larger plan and how we fit into it.

I’ve been at this “Out of work/Disability/Retirement” thing for nearly three years. I never planned to be here, never thought of myself as disabled. I seem to have floundered my way through these first “empty” years, trying to figure out how to structure wide-open days and weeks with “meaningful” activity.  Sometimes, I just feel old and gray and invisible. But I have returned to my home this day with a renewed sense of hope that God is not done with me yet. There is still a future for me, for all of us, even if we have to rest more, or move more slowly. Even if we cannot keep up with the latest technology. Even if we have to give up life long identities and activities. Even through the inevitable changes that are part and parcel of growing older.

Grace, mercy, peace, and rest, Gerry and Betty! Thanks, Hatcher Memorial folks, for loving my friends, for calling out the best in them, for sending them off with style and grace.

Posted in Parkinson's Disease | 5 Comments

Villages

It’s true, folks.   It really does take a Village. To raise a child. To build a family. To stay healthy.  To thrive, even (especially!) in the face of a progressive illness.

Today, we have been celebrating my husband’s birthday.  It began oddly enough, with a regular 6 month appointment with my neurologist and the good folks at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital who have played such a significant role in my life for the last 4 years.  In some ways it felt like a visit home as we caught up on events of the last 6 months. 

Today’s visit was remarkable for several reasons.  Even with the recent progression of Parkinson’s maladies, I scored just about the best ever on the neurological tests.  Apparently, the new regimen of an hour a day in the Silver Sneakers exercise classes (plus Yoga and Tai Chi) is working.  Not only am I getting stronger, but my moodiness is getting better.  Ditto, balance and coordination. I never expected to be addicted to exercise, but it is happening!

Equally remarkable today was the Neurologist’s magic touch with the computer/ deep brain stimulation.  With a few “tweaks”  he calmed the rigid muscles in my legs and evened my gait. As the day has progressed, I also realize that I’m smiling again.  With a few hours of practice, I’ve just about relearned what normal walking feels like. Somehow, I feel less old and gray.  It’s as if someone oiled my joints! I am so blessed to have found a medical team, headed by a physician who knows not only what questions to ask, but how to interpret my answers.  Who seems to have taken his skills to a brilliant, artistic level, using cutting edge technology to create real quality of life.  

We left the medical complex, heading for the mountains for some birthday R & R.  Our route took us around Pilot Mountain, a prominent local landmark.  Many years ago, the Native Americans called this place “Jomeokee”,  which means Great Guide.  It rises more than 2000 feet above the valley floor, highly visible for miles. We have climbed this mountain, driven past it more times than we counted, even stayed several times at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast at its base.

I am, it seems, surrounded by greatness. By ordinary people, who rise above the valley of normalcy to live creatively, finding ways to make life better for the village.  It is a joy to live in this place.  It is an honor to be part of such a Village.

Posted in Parkinson's Disease | 2 Comments

Nostalgia

Nostalgia: [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-] noun

  1. A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time

Nostalgia is truly a mixed emotion. It was on my mind a good bit a few weeks ago as I lingered for several days in my childhood “stomping grounds.” One day, I took my 90-year-old Mom out for lunch. Her mobility is impaired, so we decided to just go for a ride after lunch. Driving through the countryside to “see what there is to see” was one of my Dad’s favorite pastimes, especially on Sunday afternoons.

The hour ride took us beyond the bounds of current time and place to years gone by. First, we drove past the site where my Dad’s remains were buried. It is a beautifully kept cemetery, but my only memories of that place are shrouded with great sadness. The visit did not help. The gravestone was quite easy to read: “RODGERS George Farris Rodgers 6/21/20 – 7/31/2005.” A gentle nudge from Mom prompted me to read the rest: “Louise Mitchell Rodgers 4/27/26.” She very matter-of-factly stated, “They are supposed to add the last line….”

We left that place in silence, pondering a reality looming closer than either of us could discuss. (Wonder if they arrest drivers for speeding in a cemetery …)

Our mood lightened as we drove under the interstate and turned onto the parallel road between it and my high school. I remember watching the construction of Interstate 81 from the entrance of the school. Little did I realize that it would become a well-worn path between my past and adulthood!

Meandering down the country lane where my school bus had once labored, we found our way past a dam and a dry lakebed, musing at the length of years since either of us had been there. Not far away was the little house my Grandparents bought when they left the bitter winters of Minnesota to live near my mother, their oldest daughter. Memories, vivid with sensory experiences, poured into my present conscience, rich and warm as Rodgers Clan coffee.

We rambled past the house that was home during my grade school years. And then, last but definitely not least, we ascended the ridge to the “big house” where all of us lived into adulthood. Nostalgia transported us back 50 years to the “early days” when my parents’ dream home was under construction. I could still see my youngest brother standing on newly broken ground, “supervising” the construction, chewing on a stick, much as our Granddad chewed on his cigars. I could feel the strain of the bags as Dad and I harvested apples for home-made apple pie … taste the warm sweetness of cherry tomatoes from Dad’s garden … smell the vinegar from his efforts at making bread and butter pickles … The memories piled in on top of each other as we drove down the hill towards Mom’s apartment at the assisted living facility. The rest drive was quiet, both of us contemplating a generation of life.

Life moves on. Change is inevitable. There is a finality about selling homes, downsizing, losing loved ones. I acknowledge the odd reality that I am next. My generation is aging with empty nests, graying hair, bodies less and less willing to do our bidding. This week, I joined my peers on Medicare … I am face to face with the reality that life doesn’t last forever.

So, I stand on the brink of whatever is next, and nostalgia vibrates like a bass drum in my head.   I’m one of the fortunate ones; life has been largely good for me. But, there is much yet to see, to do, to create. Inside, I’m still young, but my body betrays me. Setting priorities takes on more importance. All those “someday” dreams are fair game now. Perhaps I should begin with the reality of a growing new generation. With the process of giving a new generation wings and roots.

Today, I got my “Silver Sneakers.” Look out world, here I come!

Posted in Parkinson's Disease | 2 Comments

The King’s New Clothes

In recent weeks and months, the children’s story about the emporer’s new clothes has often come to mind. I love the diversity that IS this nation. I cherish the freedom we each have to say what we think. I prefer to refrain from pointing fingers and name-calling, but common sense somehow puts me in the proverbial role of the child who broke the silence of his community as he verbalized the thoughts of many: “Look! The king has no clothes…”

I wonder if this is one of those times when we need to be “wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves”…

Is anyone else as bumfuzzled as I?  While ideas currently “in vogue” (in power?) may have their bases in some areas of reality, surely, SURELY there are better ways to deal with the issues than to stoop to the basest parts of humanity, running rough-shod over dissenting voices or different perspectives!

Try as I might, I cannot keep my head buried in the sand. Watching this evening’s news, I am reminded that the system of checks and balances built into the fabric of this great nation – these systems put in place by people far more savvy than I – are still at work, still providing a voice of reason, still helping knit us together as a truly great nation.

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The Art of Giving

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Some are bought. Some are handcrafted. Some are purchased in a flurry of shopping while others are planned, researched, purchased long before the celebratory event. Whatever one’s gift-giving style, there is, at the very least, a modicum of thought about the recipient of one’s gift. It’s that thought process that I wish to address here.

When I was a child, young enough to eagerly anticipate my birthday, but just old enough to understand gift-giver intent, I received a gift that would alter my life. It was a simple one, really, wrapped in brown paper, tied with my Grandmother’s characteristic white string and scrawling handwritten address. She had mailed it from her home in Minnesota, making certain that it arrived in time for her eldest granddaughter’s special day.

A few months before this day, we were vacationing at Grandmother and Granddad’s summer cottage on a lake in rural Minnesota (“Lake Wobegone” territory, for my “Prairie Home Companion” friends). One afternoon, Grandmother brought out a bowl full of individually wrapped Brach’s candy. That was the day I discovered jelly nougats – a soft, creamy cube inlaid with red and yellow bits of jelly beans. Confection perfection!! I was an instant addict. Unbeknownst to me, an ever-vigilant grandmother was quietly taking note.

So, my birthday finally arrived, and with it, Grandmother’s carefully-wrapped, mail-bedraggled package. Following family tradition, the package was to be unwrapped at the breakfast table, even on school days. So I opened eagerly, lifting the lid of the box. In the center was another small box that contained a piece of jewelry. But what left me speechless were the dozens of jelly nougats that carefully lined the rest of the larger box! In a moment of brilliant clarity, I realized that Grandmother had been listening and watching and planning that gift for months. She was thinking about Me. Loving Me. Caring for Me. 

In that moment, my perspective on birthdays and gifts was radically changed, for I realized the real gift was thoughtful intent. Careful listening. Intentional choosing. Vigilant, loving awareness. And, I realized the wisdom of the old adage: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I have grown to love this gift-giving process, watching, planning, buying throughout the year. I love the exclamation, “This is exactly what I wanted/needed/wished for! How did you know?…”

quad-player

Joel’s Quad Player

I am still humbled by gifts that come my way, chosen with the care of someone who loves me. This holiday season, there were several special gifts that I will treasure long past the season. One, thirteen years in the making, was a nutcracker, painted in traditional Carolina Crown Drum Corp uniform, sporting four drums. I have collected nutcrackers with drums for 25 years, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. For, you see, my son, who played quads with the drum and bugle corps for two summers, made this nutcracker just for me. He has carried this creature everywhere for thirteen years, waiting to find just the right materials to complete it. That loving intent, spanning more than a decade, is the real gift!

There were wonderful gifts of travel and time spent together, intangible, yet sacred as we shared family stories and world perspectives over a cup of coffee or a meal. Gifts don’t always have to be materials, wrapped in paper with bows! I often yearn for family time far more than for more stuff.

sunrise-gift

Anniversary Sunrise

One very special gift came as my husband and I celebrated 38 years of marriage a few days after Christmas. We stole away to the beach to rest and relax a bit after the craziness of the holidays. This annual retreat is our anniversary gift to each other – has been so for most of those 38 years.   But Ed’s most meaningful gift to me was an early morning wakeup call. He realized that daylight was approaching, and, sensing a photo moment in the making, wakened me in time to watch and photograph a gorgeous sunrise. We spent a chilly yet strangely warm hour together on our hotel balcony, watching the miracle of a new day beginning.

My husband’s role as caregiver grows with each passing year. He is more aware than most of what I have lost. He is becoming a master at finding ways to help my creative spirit to soar.   Our annual trip became an opportunity for him to encourage this camera bug, looking for, creating opportunities, insisting that I dive in to something I can do fairly well. So, I was the grateful recipient of another sacred gift: His careful listening. Intentional choosing. Vigilant, loving awareness: Intangible, yet very real gifts that stand the test of passing years, aging bodies, changing times, evolving roles. For all my independent spirit, I discover that I stand much taller on the shoulders of gift givers who share their spirit with me. I am better because these loved ones choose to walk a mile in my shoes and then offer reminders about what life is really all about.

Posted in Parkinson's Disease | 3 Comments

Things I CAN Do

Get the mail.

Read the mail.

Smile.

Bring the trashcan back down the hill on trash pickup day.

Remember that it IS trash pickup day.

Decorate the Christmas tree.

Decorate the house for Christmas.

Bake old family recipes.

Wrap gifts.

Shop for gifts (especially on-line!).

Make a mess in the den while I’m crafting and leave it there!

Use a French coffee press.

Load the dishwasher.

Savor sixty years of tree ornaments.

Remember the stories of the tree ornaments!

Correctly set up the ipod (with booster speakers)

Listen to Christmas carols anywhere in the house.

Carry a mug of coffee to the living room without spilling a drop!

Feed the dogs.

Color intricate details in a favorite adult coloring book.

Type letters, journal entries, family nonsense on a Macbook Pro.

Read email.

Delete email.

Text my siblings – all five of them.

Laugh hysterically.

Leave the bed unmade for half a day.

Move a large desk with hutch (halfway through the whole house). All by myself.

Figure out how to move large pieces of furniture. By myself.
santa-miko

When I look at life from this perspective, there is much more that I can do than that I can’t.

Excuse me … The old family recipe for fruitcake is lying open on the countertop. Ingredients are at the ready. There is work (playing) to do.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Posted in Parkinson's Disease | 3 Comments