Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's not contagious

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about "the cross", the trials we have in life, and who we can turn to.

Today, I want to mention that our crosses are generally not contagious. Unless I have an easily-communicable disease, and you spend a lot of time with me, and we don't practice good sanitation techniques, you are most likely not going to 'catch' the things I have to deal with - or vice versa. 

As an example of what I'm trying to say, when we see someone who is homeless, if we think, "That could be me," that thought might make us more compassionate; however, on the other hand, that thought could instead lead to fear that the same thing could happen to us, and fear sometimes turns into shunning or blaming. 

"That could be me", can lead to: "What if that happens to me?", which can lead to..."Well, that won't happen to me because I'm careful with my money. That person obviously wasn't careful with his money." Really? Do we know that? No, of course we don't know that. It just somehow makes us feel better to think it...like, whew, I don't have to worry about that kind of suffering. You know what? Probably we actually don't have to worry about that particular brand of suffering. But we can be compassionate. 

Or maybe it's an illness. Maybe we eat healthy and exercise, and maybe that person who is ill drinks too much and smokes. So, after all, it must be his own fault he's sick, right? So, now, I don't have to worry about getting that cross. But maybe it really wasn't anything he or she did (or didn't do). 

You see, the deal is that we don't have to worry about getting each cross we encounter on someone else's shoulders. I can be really and truly sorry for what someone has to suffer, without worrying that it might happen to me.

And then there's our perception of choice. Have you ever looked at all the people who wait at bus stops, instead of driving cars? Why do they stand out in the heat and the rain? It's possible that person has no other choice. Or it's also possible they make that choice so that they can spend their money on something else, maybe to get an education, or maybe they have spent the money helping family.  

Whatever the reason, it doesn't mean they enjoy it. Let's not rub it in by saying we 'couldn't do that!' And conversely, let's not ignore the fact that it's challenging for them, by reminding them of all the money they save on car repairs, or some other way in which it's really "a blessing in disguise". Let's let people find their own silver linings, if they wish. And just be there for them. In kindness.

And let's just keeping "being there", but if we've ever said anything that we think, now, wasn't very compassionate (and I know I sure have), guess what? We're human. And we're trying. Let's start each day anew, trying to be compassionate; and let's start with ourselves first, being compassionate to ourselves, and then reaching out from there to others. 

God bless you, my friends, and may He hold and comfort you in all your trials. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Glass Elevator

              This is a bit of prose, written by my late son Paul. I'm not sure what year he wrote it. 

              I hope you might like it. 

The Glass Elevator

               You will turn the knob slowly with your frail withered hand.  Stepping into the hallway, you will take in the familiar mix of aromas as the door swings shut behind you.  Chlorine, air fresheners and various cleaning products.  Your ears will be tickled by the sounds of rushing fountains, the light buzzing of the younger people enjoying their happy hour and the screams of several children turning this oasis of luxury into a playground.

                You will sigh and dig the tip of your cane into the thick carpet.  Life just isn’t what it used to be.

                You will make your way slowly down the hall gazing idly at the exquisite paintings on the wall.  You’ve looked at them so many times.  So many that it will surprise you that you still notice them.  But they remind you of me, like everything here reminds you of me.  You don’t cry.  You never have.  But it hurts, like a deep hollow in your chest, and you will try to avert your gaze and direct your attention to the distant lobby.

                An attractive young cleaning attendant will roll their cart past you, but you only smile and nod.  You were always faithful, yes, but in the past you would have looked.  Imagined what it would have been like to indulge.  Now you don’t care.  They are not me.  It is me that you miss.

                As you turn the corner into the main lobby, you will hear the gentle coo of songbirds.  Why would there be birds here?  You will wonder.  You will scratch your head, thinking you must be going crazy.  You will adjust your hearing aid.  The other sounds will still be there, but the birds will be gone.  You will shrug. 

                You will walk lazily toward the elevator.  You will not be sure why, but something draws you there.  It will open.  You will walk in and close the door behind you.  Not sure which floor you want to go to, you will hit every button.  You used to do that for fun as a child.  Now you do it because you don’t know what else to do.

                The elevator will begin to rise and you will be mesmerized as always by the view through its clear polished surface.  The flowing fountains.  The colorful flowers.  The ivy that seems to climb as you do.  The art and the architecture, some of the best in the world.  You will salute the beauty of it all and smile as if saying goodbye.  Again you will hear the cooing of songbirds.  You will adjust your hearing aid, but they will still be there.  You will take out your hearing aid.  Every other sound will vanish, but the songbirds will still be there. 

                You will laugh to yourself.  You knew you would go crazy sooner or later.  The elevator keeps rising and you realize that you are no longer looking at ivy and famous paintings.  You are staring at blue sky and puffy white clouds. 

                You will gasp in astonishment, not so much at the fact that the elevator is soaring through the sky, but at the fact that you aren’t more shocked by it. 

                The cooing of the songbirds will grow louder and you will start humming along with them.  Clouds will fall beneath you as you rise higher and higher.
                The light blue sky and white clouds will give way to a dark blue sky illuminated by thousands of bright twinkling stars of many different colors. 

                You will rub your eyes as if you can’t believe how beautiful it all is.  The stars grow brighter and brighter.  The coo of the songbirds slowly coalesces into a soothing hymn sung by a choir so sweet and lovely that it can only be angels.

                The light will become so intense that you can’t see anything for a moment.  You will blink.  Then you will see me.  Your beloved.  Your spouse of more than fifty years.  Reunited at last.
                You will rush to my side and we will embrace.  Then I will tell you that I want you to meet someone.  You will look at me quizzically.  I will smile.

                When you see him, you will fall to your knees.  You talked to him everyday of your life without fail.  Even when you doubted him, you still talked to him.  You wore his image around your neck.  And now here he is face to face.

                You will lower your head, not feeling worthy to look at him.  But he will take you by the hand.  He will fill you with his unbounded peace and love.  He will tell you to rise and walk with him.  He will welcome you into his home forever. 

                And I will take your hand in mine and walk with you.  Forever.

(By Paul Myers)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Things are not always exactly as we think we remember them

A moment occurred the other night when I realized that a picture which I treasure from my childhood - one of the few things I still have - might not be such a treasure, after all. Suddenly, it made me sad.

I lay on the bed in the guest room, resting for a few minutes, and in that quiet time, I looked at this silhouette, and I really appreciated, so much, what my kindergarten teacher did with that project. You see, she used some kind of projector (whatever they had, circa 1958), and she put each of our silhouettes on the wall; and then, somehow, she cut each one out of black paper, & she pasted it onto a white background. How much dedication she must have had!

Now, to warn you, this story becomes very sad. If you don't want to go there, you can stop now.

When I was in...oh, I'm not sure...maybe fourth grade, the "estranged husband" of the kindergarten teacher at my school went into her classroom, before any children had arrived, and he shot her, and then himself. He ran through our woods; so the FBI came to my house to question my mom, but she hadn't seen or heard anything. (Okay, that was it; the sad part is over.)

I remember being freaked out, not liking to go to the kindergarten room for group activities, as we sometimes did. I don't remember grieving. So the other night, I guess I finally grieved (by thinking about her, and by appreciating her dedication and love for her students, and allowing myself to feel sad). But what I didn't realize until I did some research today was that this woman was not my kindergarten teacher!

I had looked on the internet before, but this time I found something...only, what I found wasn't what I thought. I didn't find anything about a shooting; but what I found was an obituary for a woman whose maiden name was the name of my kindergarten teacher, and who taught first grade at my school "until her retirement in 1979"...and lived to 2002.

The teacher who was shot was not my teacher. (I know. I said that already.) The story of the shooting is still a very sad story, and I'm still sad for that woman's family, and for all those in the school who may have known about it, as I did. (And I still say that the violence in the world isn't new, only the knowledge is more widespread.)

But when I look at my silhouette now, I can think of my kindergarten teacher the way I learned about her in the obituary...married, from some time after she taught me, until her death; teaching first grade until her retirement; and raising eight children. Dedicated? I should say! But she seems to have lived a long and peaceful life.

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Prayer Space

When we moved from a house to an apartment eight years ago, we couldn't bring the piano with us. But my husband sings, so we bought a keyboard from Craig's List, and I volunteered a desk, which I had previously used for my sewing machine, for him to use for the keyboard.

We are now in a different apartment, and we did finally bring the piano home; but in the meantime, with the dining room table often full of papers, I never took the sewing machine out of its case for years.

And then, after one of our sons moved out, I was debating whether to keep an old vintage desk - a different desk (we brought a lot of furniture from Kentucky) - which we had moved from a basement to a storage unit, to someone's bedroom, to a corner of the dining room. Many years ago, my husband had used it for his homework in college. He wouldn't have minded giving it away, but I like it. So I asked him if it brought back memories he would rather forget; maybe he didn't like remembering all that studying. No. He just didn't have any attachment to it.

So I took the old desk for my sewing machine. And I moved it to the newly-vacated room. This way when I start a sewing project, I can leave the machine up for a few days before I put it back in its case.

Then, since I was re-arranging the holy pictures and statues in our home, I moved my lovely St. Therese statue to the top of the desk, a statue that someone had given away years ago, and that my daughter Mary had repainted for me. I added a plastic statue of my beloved St. Martin de Porres and a statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as well as a little wooden Crucifix and a few other little resin statues.

The desk could use painting, but nevertheless, I think the dark wood makes a nice background, for now. It's so nice to have a little quiet spot to pray the Rosary or read the Bible.

Do you have a special place in your home that's all yours, where you can feel focused, and take a few moments of quiet?

P.S. In case you were wondering, yes, that is a plastic shelving unit to the left, with a Christmas tree stand, accompanied by a pair of two-pound weights, a stretch band, and a ball; and yes, I now have a focused place to do exercises, too. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What's all the talk about the Cross?

There's a lot of talk about the Cross, about its value, and about us carrying our crosses. But what does it all mean?

I think there is a balance to be had, somewhere in the middle of the crossbars. 

First, there are the people who say that if we profess Christ, we will have all the good things of this world...money, a comfortable life, whatever we pray for, whatever we can dream about and work for, we can have it all. But we have only to look at the life and death of Christ...and after him, the Apostles, to see that wasn't part of His promise. (And I'm not saying we shouldn't pray and dream and work, just that it's not like a vending machine, where if you put in the right coins, you will get what you want.) 

Then, there are those who seek out crosses; who speak as if we should all have greater ones; who would even inflict them on others, weaker than themselves. That wasn't what He had in mind, either, He who said, "What you do to the least of mine, you do to me." 

Some say, if you are a Christian, you will need to have crosses, seeming to imply that Christians will, perhaps, have more crosses than the rest of man. But as St. Louis de Montfort (1600's-1700's) pointed out, everyone has them, everyone has suffering in their lives; it's more a question of how we will handle it.

Personally, I think it's a matter of where do we turn. Who do we turn to? Do we take them to Him who carried the heaviest cross of all, not only the heavy weight of wood, but also the cross of all of our sins? Do we take them to Him, no matter how weary we are?...to Him who will give rest to our weary souls? Do we take them to Him, even if we are feeling angry or confused or upset?

I used to think I had to be so very careful how I approached God. He is, after all, God, our Creator, great in His Majesty. But Jesus came to earth as a baby. He told us to approach His Father as our Father. I don't know about you, but as an adult - before my father had dementia - I talked to him pretty freely. I wasn't all, like, "Well, I have to hide my feelings and pretend I'm not human". And God knows we are human, because He created us human.

Last winter, I got caught driving through a snowstorm that sneaked up on me. As I neared my exit on the freeway, I saw that few, if anyone, had gotten off at my exit since the snow had started falling. I saw abandoned cars all along every exit, and I was in my little car, not my husband's Jeep. There was nothing for it; I needed to get off (I couldn't very well just keep driving around the beltway, which wasn't exactly a hay ride).

So I said to God, "You owe me one," and I proceeded, safely, off our exit. Someone I told that to asked me - with a smile - if I was afraid I'd be struck by lightning for saying that. No, actually, I wasn't, but I was amused that I had said such a thing. I honestly don't think God "owes" me anything. However, in my stress, I said the first words that popped into my head. What I meant was, "I've been through a lot in the past few years, would you please give me a little help here?" And He knew what I meant. He always knows.

Hey, this is just me, and I'm no theologian; but I remember that Jesus said if we want to be his disciple, we will take up our cross and follow Him, and I'm starting to think the most important part of that equation is the 'following' thing, the turning to Him, even if we are sad or mad or confused, even if we're embarrassed because, shoot, we've been forgetting to turn to Him; somehow, we keep thinking we can carry those darn crosses all by ourselves. But you know...maybe a little help would be nice.

Thank you, God, for helping us to bear the sufferings of this world, and for often bringing us joy and humor in the midst of them.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Does she really go by that long name, Margaret Mary?

Be prepared. You might find this a strange post.

For those who don't know (& for those who do, please keep reading too, if you don't mind a long read)...I changed my name at the age of 18. Peggy is often a nickname for Margaret, but my name was really just Peggy. Yes, I went from shorter to longer, and not only longer, but much longer. 

Yes, it was a crazy thing that happened to me on the way to adulthood. It was the 60's; what can I say? Actually, it was 1971 but I was a late bloomer. So...who calls me what? I'm going to go over this again to reassure anyone who might be puzzled. :) 

1) Yes, I really do go by the long, double name, "Margaret Mary", and I have for over 40 years; but if you are not comfortable with a long name, I answer to Margaret, & I'm not offended in the least. Some people who are very dear to me do call me Margaret; or Mary Margaret...& then apologize & I try to reassure them it's okay. Really. I get it; or MM or MMM, or one friend calls me M squared.  :)   But I prefer not to be called Mary, because that is my daughter.  

2) If you knew me before I changed my name, or you are related by blood, or you live in or near Vancouver, Washington, you are welcome to call me Peggy. Those are the only people 'allowed' to call me Peggy ;) , but from them, I often kinda' like it, you know.  :)  And I often sign that way to those people who "knew me when"...or are related...or...yes, you read all that already. ;) If you prefer to call me Margaret Mary because you got to know me at a high school reunion, or on FB, or because you see it all the time, or because it's what my more recent friends call me, or because you think if I changed it, I changed it; and you feel it's more respectful to go with my change, that's fine, too. Either way works, if you fit one of those categories. :)    

3) Isn't this the craziest thing you ever heard (although many of you already know all this). 

4) I have had people say to me, "I want to change my name". I say, "Don't do it". Please, "just say no". Have I regretted it? The same way I regret having gone to a cult, and so many related things. But then again, I'm not really sure you can call it 'regret', because you can't go back. If I could do my life over again and delete a month out of my life, it would be so very different. But would it be better? No, because everything would not have fallen in place for me to meet the wonderful man who is my husband; to bring into the world the great people who are my children; and to meet so many dear friends, as well. 

And I wouldn't have had two names that I love. :)  I do sometimes wonder, though, how the whole name change thing is going to go when I go to collect Social Security. Yes, I did it in a legal way. It was legal then, but it might not be quite as legal today, so there is another project for me. :) 

5) And I sometimes wonder, when it comes time for me to die, "What is Jesus going to call me?"  :)  It's one of those things I ponder on occasion. But I know. It doesn't matter, as long as he calls me, and it will all be good.