The Flowers in the Garden of my Friends

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My father had two British friends, a married couple, who had at some point taken up residence in the small town where we lived. I remember they had a black, cast iron lion and unicorn on either side of the stone doorstep of their home. In addition, for years I had two small china ornaments they had given me. I don’t know how old I was when I visited with them, perhaps four or five. I can recall only their kindly smiles. When they passed on, they were buried in our local cemetery.

Two pink granite headstones marked their resting place. They were large, highly polished stones, and stood out among the simpler monuments. Every Memorial Day my father would purchase flowers and plant them on their graves. Although I don’t recall his telling me anything about them, they must have been special friends to him. He was one who believed in honoring those who had passed on. His own father died in World War I, when he was only eight years old.

For me especially, Memorial Day brings to mind my dear ones who have passed me on the road to the larger life, where they have their next assignment–whatever it may be. I have pictures of them, both in my mind and in reality, where I can catch a glimpse of them as they once were. Occasionally, though especially when I’m engaged in a task in my kitchen, I catch a whisper from someone I loved dearly and still do. They come into my mind and I see them smile as they used to do when we were together. It is as if they are telling me they are happy and well.

There is a smooth stone on my coffee table inscribed with these words: “My friends are the loveliest flowers in the garden of my life.” I treasure it as a memento from someone special who lit up my life for a time a few years ago. We were near neighbors and saw one another almost very day. A brave and valiant woman, she was a wonderful example of positive aging. Though she had many difficulties and illnesses she scarcely ever complained and did the best she could to carry on in a cheerful fashion.

In my mind, while I am fixing dinner, I often hear another of my late friends with whom I had many phone conversations: “What are you having for dinner that’s good?” she would ask. We would chat about cooking and trade ideas. In my recipe collection I have one of hers written out in her own handwriting. When I make a recipe  I was given by a late friend, it is especially tasty because of my recollection of its origin. How precious are the memories of those we have loved and now lost to time.

Memories of loving friends who have pasted on are such a treasure. They are a bouquet fragrant with the perfume blended from our combined experiences, the times we have shared, the gifts we have given one another. Memorial Day brings to mind many memories of my dear ones no longer within reach of the telephone or email. As I turn them over in my mind, I feel again the love we shared. I see again their smiles and welcoming arms and I have no doubt one day we will meet and share again.

Befriending Ourselves

Bridge reflected

For the most part very young children are naturally generous. This may be because they do not yet have a strong sense of individuality or perhaps because they feel others will enjoy what they find tasty or enjoyable, whether a cookie or a cherished plaything. Later on they lose this openheartedness and fight to keep what they believe is theirs. At this point most parents teach them to be polite and sharing. This lesson becomes a kind of inner imperative that guides us as adults. We learn to feel better when we obey this inner morality and as a consequence often end up depriving ourselves in favor of giving to others.

When was the last time you bought yourself a present—not something practical but something you wanted and didn’t think you ought to spend the money for? You might even have recently bought a gift for someone else that you would have liked to give yourself, and yet didn’t quite dare to for fear of your own disapproval. Most of us have been taught to think of others before thinking of ourselves. While that is a nice way to behave it often leaves results in making us feel deprived or at least somewhat resentful.

Giving to others is praiseworthy. Depriving ourselves to give to others is not. It often results in our feeling the other person ought to be more grateful than they may be…especially if the other does not know how you sacrificed to do that. The reason we too often give to others at our own expense is that it feels nicer to do for others. It gives us good feelings because we’re acting in accordance with what we feel is the right thing to do. But is it? I believe it is important or even necessary to treat ourselves as we would a friend.

Long ago I met and studied with a teacher that taught me about this. It was the beginning of a friendship between myself and me. I learned that if I listened to a wee small voice inside me I would receive true guidance toward correct behavior when it came to giving to or acting for myself. I am not speaking of being selfish or self-centered. There is a big difference between befriending oneself and spoiling oneself. I do not believe in self indulgence to a point of neglecting others, only in being fair about the balance between giving to others and giving to myself.

The real key here is that balance. I can tell when things get out of balance because that inner voice will cry out in pain or sorrow. I may feel neglected or ignored even when I am actually not. Learning to hear that inner voice requires giving up the righteous feelings I get from self-sacrifice and instead asking myself what I really want to have or do instead. I can ask myself if is this how I would treat a friend? The answer comes as a knowing or an understanding. Then my actions are guided by what is good for all concerned including me. When I am my own friend I treat myself the best way I can, and I am happy and content.

Saying Goodbye to our Friend

Laura Dodge's Dancing DollsAs we were moving into our Forest Lane apartment, we needed to assemble some of our new furniture. My tools had not yet made it over to our new home so I went knocking on my neighbors’ doors to see if I could borrow a hammer. Met with headshakes in the negative at each one I tried, I arrived at the last one. A spry older woman with a wonderful smile opened it. “Yes,” she said, “I have a hammer I can lend you.” That was approximately ten years ago and the beginning of a wonderful friendship with my neighbor Laura Dodge. I loved her spunk and her bright mind, but most of all I treasured her kind heart.

Over time as we visited and got to know one another, she told me her entertaining stories and shared her crafts with me. She also at my request shared space in her freezer with me. Over her protests I paid her “rent” in fruit sweetened jams and frozen desserts. She also had Stephen and me to tea and made popovers and other treats for us. I have recipes of hers in my collection that she wrote out in her tiny script. When she visited us in our apartment she admired my husband Stephen’s art. “Would you like to try collage?” he asked, and handed her a canvas. “Here, have fun.” She began to turn out wonderful collages of her own, asking for guidance from her teacher, as she called Stephen.

As her canvasses mounted and her skill increased, Stephen arranged for her to have art shows two years running at a restaurant in Worcester. Many came to her openings and admired and purchased her collages. We invited her to our birthday parties and she became popular with our friends. Everyone loved her stories. We included her in some of our shopping trips, took her to the Worcester Art Museum, and through a car wash, which she said was a first for her. When at Stephen’s suggestion she began to make dolls, we had fun helping her with designs. Eventually we loaned her a cabinet to keep them in.

When we met she was quite able physically, considering. As time went on and her physical health became worse, she couldn’t get out as much as she used to. Many of the evenings that she was home I would go down and visit with her. She had pain in her legs and in her back. At her request, I did some energy healing for her, singing to her and using my hands to remove painful energy and replace it with healing energy.

The day came when she could no longer live by herself. When she moved out we were both sad to part. We moved too very shortly, yet we kept in touch by telephone nearly every day. It was always a joy to hear the stories of her life and daily doings. Despite her many ailments and illnesses, she was so very filled with life. One of my favorite things she told me was, “It’s a small life, but I make it interesting.” Laura was an inspiration to me and to many others as well. I will miss her always.

Do you have a story to share with me or a suggestion for a column? I love hearing from readers. Send me an email at tashahal@gmail.com.

The Wisdom of Waiting

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Children are notoriously impatient. I was no exception. The car ride into Boston for holidays was excruciating, especially as dad had to take traffic ridden Route One and what was then the Sumner Tunnel. Sitting still for any length of time whether in a car or on a couch was difficult for me. Today, given the current parenting advice I might be labeled with some alphabet letters and perhaps given medicine. However in those days life was simpler and that kind of behavior wasn’t considered abnormal.

Because of this my most disliked punishment was not a spanking but being made to sit on the piano stool for fifteen or more long minutes. In addition I would be, “put on silence,” Which meant no conversation with anyone. It was difficult for me to learn to sit still. Once I when I was the only child at a very tedious adult afternoon tea I manufactured a case of hiccups so as to get some attention. My parents caught on to what I was doing and put a quick stop to it. Patience training begins early.

Fast forward to today: On Friday a few weeks ago, a big cardboard box appeared in the hall. Despite its weight, I lugged it in. “I think our exercise machine has come,” I told Stephen. “Good,” he said, “lets open it later.” He was busy as was I. Saturday and Sunday came and went. There were things to do and places to go. Occasionally one of us would say perhaps we might open it, yet it was never quite the right time.

On Monday a dear friend came for lunch. I mentioned the arrival of the exercise machine. “Can I see it?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, “no time like the present.” I opened the cardboard carton and started to lift out the machine. It wasn’t completely assembled. “Oh, let me help,” said our kind friend. She looked it over, lined up the parts, followed the instructions, and in very little time had it all done and in good working order.

How glad I was that we had waited. I’m sure we would have had to spend most of a day figuring out what went with what, where, and how. My clever friend had it put together in no time. There is wisdom in waiting for the correct moment, for that is when success is attained. The moment itself cannot be hurried, nor can its arrival be predicted. No amount of wishing or searching can affect this. Sometimes patience practice can be frustrating.

For example, no matter how hard we looked, Stephen and I found every place we’ve lived in Grafton by stumbling over it. Because none of our deliberate searches brought good results, we were forced to be patient. The practice of patience, like the practice of a musician, needs to be lifelong. Eventually it can be seen simply as a challenge rather than as a tedious bore. However, one must be patient because that ability comes only with plenty of practice.

The Last Jar of Honey, by Tasha Halpert

Pink and white flowers  I don’t remember exactly when we met; it was between fifteen and twenty years ago. What I do remember is her smile. She never failed to greet me with it–that and a wonderful warm hug. Her name was Santina Crawford. I called her the Honey Lady because that was what I bought from her, delicious local honey from the bees her husband Howard tended so well that he won prizes every year at various fairs and exhibitions. He even proudly showed me articles that were written about him in the local papers.

I brought her all my glass containers and never failed to leave without a variety of different sized jars of honey both for us to enjoy and to give away. She and her husband also sold apples. Their farm with the apple orchard and the hives is in a densely commercial area just off highway 495 in Franklin. When I first met Santina and Howard they were well along in years, and I used to worry that they’d retire and the farm would get gobbled up by a developer. As time went by, each time I would visit I would relieved that the little sign reading “Akin Bak Farm, Honey” was still there on the pole by their driveway.

Once completely rural, the land around the farm now teems with businesses. Heavy traffic zooms past on 146 at a steady rate. Several years ago her grandson, a Cornell graduate, came to help. He revived the apple business, which Howard, because of his accumulation of years could no longer manage. He even built and began a farm stand not only for the apples, but also the produce and eggs from the chickens he and his wife began to raise on the farm. Then several years ago when I visited, with tears in her eyes, Santina told me that Howard had passed away. Santina kept on handling the honey, however, her son no longer wanted my glass jars.

During my many visits over the years we would sit and chat together in her kitchen. She shared much of her background with me. Part of a large family, she grew up on the farm where she eventually lived with her husband. While she was growing up, she and her siblings worked in people’s homes and on the farm. Every year I brought home quantities of their apples, some of them heirloom varieties, all of them special. I also brought many of my friends to meet my honey lady and to purchase jars for themselves.

When I called this fall to see the best day to get some honey from my friend I was told she had passed on in August. I was shocked and saddened. If only I had gone to see her sooner! I have only one large jar left from what I didn’t know was my last visit. It is nearly finished. I hoard the special crystals of sweetness that remain. One day the last of them will be gone. Still I will enjoy thinking of her, of our conversations and most of all her tender hugs. And although the last of the honey will eventually be gone, my heart will always hold the memory of her warm and radiant smile.

Friendship By Tasha Halpert

Tasha and Brenda          My friends have always been important to me. From the time I was quite small I have enjoyed the company and companionship of at least one or two close friends, and often more. Their lives and the experiences they have shared with me have become part of my life and my experience. At times I have for one reason or another suffered the loss of a close friend and mourned it as though it were a death. As time has gone on however, I have become more comfortable with the coming and going of people in my life, and I have realized that the hole left behind is soon filled.

As my life has been long, I have made as well as lost many friends. Some have been older than I though mostly as time goes by younger. In my heart I am very grateful for all the friends I have made. Whether the friendships were long or short, all have given me something to cherish. What seems to me to be most fortunate is that I still make friends with individuals younger than I am. This will prevent me from having to say–as someone remarked to me recently–that most of my friends have passed on.

My mother once told me that my great grandmother Florence told her, “All my friends are dead and I have no one to play bridge with.” Apparently she died soon after. She was well on in years, so I’m sure that was no coincidence, still it strikes me as a bit sad. I have been fortunate to have made many friends throughout my life in a variety of ways. Given the times and the formality of her life perhaps she did not have all of the opportunities I did.

When I was a young mother most of the people I called friend were women who had children of their own. We did things together. Often we would meet at the beach and watch our children play in the sand or in the waves at the edge of the water. We’d take turns bringing iced tea to share, visit together, and chit chat about life in general and motherhood in particular. Later, groups I belonged to such as the PTA or an amateur theater group brought friendships that flourished and then faded as our lives changed and we parted ways.

When I was quite young I had pen pals from distant countries. Through my writing I have also made friends that I have never actually met. At one time I published a bi monthly newsletter called Peacemail. Some of my subscribers became friends I never saw face to face yet enjoyed corresponding with. Now there is the Internet and FaceBook; correspondence is virtually instantaneous. My list of unseen friends has grown lengthy. While I do not expect to meet most of them, I have on occasion had a visit from someone I’ve met in that way.

Friendships flourish in many different ways. The soil of their growth may be shallow or deep, the time spent together short or long. What matters to me is what we have to give one another, whether it is comfort, recipes, advice or companionship. There is a saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I never know which it will be, and I cannot care. However it may end, what matters is that a friendship is formed, and for that I am grateful.

The Gift and the Wrapping

by Tasha HalpertKathy's Christmas tree

Being somewhat uncoordinated when it come to things like wrapping packages, I have always struggled with trying to make my presents look reasonably attractive. Some people are really creative with how they wrap their presents. I envy them. I wish I had that kind of creativity. My mind tends to run along more utilitarian tracks and I don’t always think to add the trimmings.

I have a friend who does lovely wrapping. She told me about the finishing touches she had put on the colorful hand made gifts she had crocheted. She went on to tell me that someone said to her that the decorative packaging she had purchased to do this was extravagant, asking why she had spent so much money on something that would soon be discarded.

I understood completely why she had wanted to do this. Her gift was special and she wanted it to look that way. Her expenditure made perfect sense to me. While I tend to be less decorative in my thinking I can admire someone who knows how to do up a package and make it look special. My artistic friend has very clever fingers and knows exactly how to fix up a package to make it look extra special. I wish I had her skills.

The care with which a gift is presented says something important about the giver as well as the gift. Stephen and I accumulate presents for family and friends all during the year; my wrapping though not fancy is part of the caring. I used to have a dreadful time wrapping presents until a friend who had done professional wrapping for a department store showed me some useful tricks. Now I can make my packages look much more attractive.

There was a time when wrapping paper for Christmas gifts was not as inexpensive or as available as it is now. When I was a child we used to save all our Christmas gift paper from year to year and reuse it as often as we could. The use of scotch tape was discouraged and gift paper was sturdier as well. I remember one special piece of wrapping paper that appeared every year on a different present. It had an elaborate design and was very lovely as well as quite durable. In her elder years as the Christmas presents were opened my late mother would spend her time folding the wrapping papers. I expect this brought back vanished memories of when we were all young.

At this season of giving many feel compelled to spend money they don’t have to buy gifts for others who probably don’t need them. The simple gift of a hug and a plate of home made cookies or a hand made card might do just as well. Even young children need to learn to be content with less rather than yearn for more. Whatever I give at Christmas is primarily a token of my affection, and it need not be expensive or fancy. I will, however, wrap it with care and love because these are the real gift I am giving.

I am Thankful

Stephen and Tasha Hug          I make a practice of being thankful. I have often shared the little prayer I say a dozen or more times a day for various and sundry blessings. However it is not necessary to pray one’s thanks. It enough to simply acknowledge that one is grateful. My gratitude for what I have is enormous. I am also very grateful for much that I do not have, or may have had and no longer do.

What we have and what we do not have may both are something to be thankful for. Did you ever think back to when you were little and wanted something–a pony, perhaps? Most likely you didn’t get it, and most likely if you had you would soon have tired of taking care of it. Ponies require daily brushing, cleaning up after, feeding, petting, riding, and more: taking care of the saddle, bridle and all the required tack. They are a lot of work, and the child who wants the pony doesn’t think about that.

We seldom think about the consequences of receiving what we wish for. There is an old adage that goes: be careful what you wish for, you may get it. I remember admiring big houses, and oh how I wished for a swimming pool. One day I acquired both. That pool was more work than it was worth, although many people enjoyed it. However they weren’t tasked with the care of it as I was.

I used to think I wanted more space, and now having had two large houses–though one was smaller than the other, I have learned that every bit of space I may have requires care and looking after. I have learned to be content with a lot less space that I ever thought I would be.

As well I am thankful for those difficulties I have left behind. It is lovely not to have to clean three bathrooms each week, tend a huge garden, prune lots of bushes. When I hear a child yelling in the supermarket I am delighted it’s not my job to care for a howling toddler. I am also glad not to have be cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner and hosting a large group of people. I enjoyed and was thankful at the time I did all these things, now I am glad that time has passed.

There is much else I am just as glad not to wish for any longer. I used to think I would like to go up in a balloon, I don’t feel the need to do that any more. I don’t want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute either. I am thankful that I don’t need to do these things to be happy or feel fulfilled.

Thinking about thankfulness as I do each and every day but most especially at Thanksgiving I am struck by the way I have learned what I truly want and how fulfilled I feel. Once I yearned to be more popular. Now I am thankful for the friends I do have. I have learned that what is important to me are the small daily pleasures of contact with people and our communications. Most of all I am grateful for my beloved partner and best friend Stephen. Having a special friend with whom to share my life is my greatest blessing.

Making Improvements

Belfast veggies 8Making Improvements, by Tasha Halpert

When I look at a situation it is often with an eye as to what can be done to improve it. I think I developed this habit at an early age because my dear mother was seldom satisfied with anything. She always seemed to have a suggestion for an improvement. Most likely I inherited my attitude from her. However, this is not a bad way to be, and I’m not complaining. Yet it’s not necessary to see a flaw or a need. Perhaps another way to think about that is to see what I might do in general to be of help or to make an improvement..

My late son Robin greatly enjoyed gardening. He loved the earth and felt very close to nature. Wherever he was living he would plant vegetables and carefully tend them. He was proud to feed himself from his efforts. In addition as do the Native Americans, he believed in leaving a gift at the site of any herb or vegetable that he harvested. He always gave back as much as he could. The size of the gift was not as important as the effort.

I was reminded of this as I thought about what someone recently said to me: “I believe in leaving the world a better place than I found it.” The speaker went on to tell me how he had learned this when he was around ten years old and had made an effort to practice it always. This conversation stayed with me for a time, and I considered ways I might make the world I lived in a better place–not because it was lacking but because I might add something.

Paying it forward is one way to make a positive difference. There are drivers who pay the toll of the person behind them, or those who pick up the tab for a stranger in a restaurant. Some businesses do a holiday practice where small gifts are given in secret. I have always enjoyed sharing little presents or passing on what I enjoy or find useful. One friend of mine liked to say a prayer when he left any seat where he sat: “May whoever sits here after me be blessed.”

It may be that sometimes we think that small gestures are not significant. I find it is surprising how a little effort can make a big effect. Smiling at people, for instance, or saying hello to people you might not know personally. Of course there are those who might look at you suspiciously, still, it is not possible to please everyone and if a person feels uncomfortable with a smile, perhaps they need more of them in their lives.

If I can’t use a grocery coupon I leave it where it may be found. I often pay a stranger a compliment. I look around for ways to bring unexpected joy when and where I can. If I see someone who needs help I offer mine. Small efforts like these are my way of adding something positive. Mother Teresa said it so nicely: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Elegy for a Friend

Into the All

Into the All

Memory serves to preserve

the likeness, the beingness of you:

not bound by boundaries

nor circumscribed by circles,

tethered only by thought

 

you have entered

the timelessness of ever after

you have filled

your allotted space

in our time.

 

Deeds, gifts, words,

these remain’

to remind us of dear ones

no longer within

the warm circle of our arms.

 

They are now part of us

part of the heart of us

ever present

in the moment of memory,

of loving thought.

 

Expanded to the timelessness

that is part of the All,

you have joined

all that is infinite,

that is unlimited by flesh.

 

Mortal remains dissolve with time.

Memory thins, fades, shrinks.

Our dear ones live on in our hearts

until we too join them

and all our hearts are one.