My Always Valentine, by Tasha Halpert

Stephen and Flowers People who do not know us sometimes ask Stephen and I how long we have been together. I think this might be because we don’t act like an old married couple. We are often openly affectionate in public and might seem more like young lovers. Yet we have been together for many years now, so many that I am always a bit taken aback when I think of the total. To me there is something odd about how past years seem to accordion. It is as if they compress in some way so that they don’t seem to be nearly as much time as when I contemplate them stretching into the future.

Stephen is my always Valentine and I am his. What that means is that we treat one another with respect. We do not compete nor have we ever done so. We don’t need to. Instead, we cheer one another on, each wanting the best for the other. Neither do we put one another down or make fun of one another. While gentle teasing may be appropriate between couples, mean behavior is absolutely unkind. It is also true that no matter how long we may be together, in order for our relationship to stay strong it has to grow at the same rate we do.

I believe it is vital for individuals to keep growing; whatever does not grow normally begins to decay. For our love to grow along with us we must work to make it do so. In my experience, love grows with appreciation, with honesty, and with the expression of gratitude. We do our best never to take one another for granted. When he washes the dishes, I thank him. When I cook a meal or drive us somewhere, he thanks me. When he sees a book I might like at the library, he points it out. When I see something he might want to eat at the market, I purchase it.

These many small gestures add up. Along with the days of our lives they form a fragrant bouquet that surrounds us with loving kindness. Being kind to one another is an important ingredient in our marriage. Another is sharing feelings with honesty. If something is troubling one of us, we share it, even if it may feel painful to do so. This is something I insisted on when we began our relationship, and over the years it has helped us avoid many problems.

Our years together have gone by so quickly that it is difficult to understand how they could have accumulated the way they have. Yet like leaves piled under a tree in the forest, they have melded into a kind of fertilizer that feeds the ongoing growth of our relationship. I am enormously grateful to have Stephen in my life. He feels the same. We both feel blessed. It is most wonderful to have an always Valentine, and each of us does our best to make sure that as long as we both live, we always will.

 

 

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.

Love Begins With Me

Love Begins With Me

While little children learn to love by observing the behavior of those around them, they also, as any parent of a toddler knows come with a built in ability to love. The human heart has an inborn tendency to emotional cherishing. From what I have seen both on television and in the movies, this is true of other mammals as well. Perhaps it is chemistry, or maybe it is a gift from the Creator, however it is certainly evident, especially in small children.

Furthermore, the emotional heart that dwells within us is infinitely expandable. However, in order to keep expanding it needs to stay elastic. This elasticity requires a certain amount of maintenance. When individuals harden their hearts–even if they do it because they feel they must in order to survive, they reduce the heart’s elasticity, and possibly begin a process that will eventually result in the heart’s inability to expand at all. The way the heart becomes hard is through the resistance to and denial of pain.

That is not say it is easy to admit pain into the heart. There is so much of it around. The media confronts us with pain at every turn. Each day when I open my computer I am confronted with samples of disaster or tragedy, sometimes many of them. In our personal lives there is much opportunity for pain of all sorts even in the best of lives. Major trauma can strike at any time, and on any given day there are many small deaths or sadnesses to be dealt with.

When I am willing to allow my emotional pain into my heart, I also take an important step toward compassion for myself and for others as well. Compassion is a natural response to pain. Even very small children will try to comfort you if you are sad or hurt. It seems to be a built in reaction. There are animals that will do the same. I remember a day long ago when I was feeling sad and began to cry. At the time we had three cats and all three came over and tried to climb into my lap.

It can be difficult for me to open my heart to emotional pain. I was brought up not to cry, to be tough and to ignore hurt. Yet that meant ignoring rather than acknowledging it. I had to learn to open my heart enough to take in the pain in order for compassion to find its way in as well. I had to be taught to love myself enough to admit that I felt pain, and that I needed to address that pain. In this I had the help of a fine therapist. I will always be grateful to her.

By loving myself enough to be honest with myself and others, I keep my heart flexible and elastic. By comforting myself with that love, I acknowledge what I feel, and then I can do what is necessary to address that pain. Being emotionally honest is being loving to myself. When I am loving to myself in this way I expand my heart. This makes it possible for me to love others even more. The more I love myself, the more I am able to love others, and that makes me happy in my heart.

Tasha and Sunflower, best

Photo by Marcia Ruth Text by Tasha Halpert

Conveying Love

Selfi with art 4The stores are filled with red and white decorations, candy and gifts labeled for Valentines’ Day. The newspapers overflow with ads for various ways to express one’s fond affection on this day dedicated to lovers and those who love–whether romantically or otherwise. There are cards galore for any and everyone on your “fond of” list, and the internet also has plenty of humorous to mushy cards to be sent out to anyone with the ability to receive them.

Once it was difficult to convey one’s love on Valentine’s or any day except in person. Several centuries ago, when a loved one set out on a journey, most especially across an ocean, months, possibly years might elapse before they would be reunited. Letters took weeks, even months, if at all to arrive. The postal service was not organized until the 1840s when stamps were first issued.

We take the telephone call for granted. However, universal telephone service only began in the 1880s, and coast to coast long distance was not available until 1915. Not until 1927 could telephone calls be made overseas, though telegraph service was available. Twenty five years ago my daughter living in Africa and I found it necessary correspond for the most part by mail. Phone calls were expensive and unless she was home, pointless as a result of language barriers with those working for her.

Children born in the last decade have absolutely no concept of a time when communication was not instantaneous. Once the Dick Tracy two way wrist radio was a cartoon fantasy. Now there is a wrist radio that acts with your cell phone for two way communication. Until fairly recently, face to face communication on the computer, known as Skype did not exist.

The ubiquitous cell phone, first available 1983, was still fairly rare even in the early nineties. I know I didn’t have one back then, and people who did were considered quite trendy. Camera phones came into use in the last decade. Does it seem that short a time ago? It seems no time at all to me. Once something is present in our lives it is not easy to remember when we didn’t have it.

While Valentines’ day was celebrated in Europe from the 14th century on in a variety of ways, the actual Valentine card began in England at the very end of the 18th century. If you wanted to convey your affection with a card, according to Wikepedia, the first Valentines were generally available in Europe just prior to 1800, and in the USA in 1847.

Today Internet cards are often sent instead of paper ones. However, it really doesn’t matter how our love is conveyed or what method is used to share it. To paraphrase the words of a dear friend of mine, “Miles may separate us, but in our hearts we are no further away than a thought.” There is no postage or fee of any kind for this Valentine expression.

Words and Photo by Tasha Halpert

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.

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.

 

Homely Beauty

There is beauty to be found where least expected:
in dried blossoms clinging to bare bushes,
in the twisted intricacy of a naked tree
against an autumn sky slowly dimming.
Beauty smiles from wrinkled faces remembering
as old eyes gaze at small children and listen to their laughter.
I applaud the homely for its quiet elegance
its small soft voice bespeaking a unique and special loveliness
like a cracked pitcher that belonged to a great-aunt
or a rusted iron fence gleaming in the sunset glow.
These warm my heart and draw my eye.
I cherish beauty that goes unnoticed
amidst the flash and filigree that draws the crowd.
I want to embrace and caress the tattered and torn
that form patterns of valor against the starkness of harsh reality,
precious beauty, quiet, shy, and velvet rich to the stroking hand.

Photo and Poem Copyright Tasha Halpert 2013

Image

Love, Grief, and Joy

There is a Hebrew saying that goes, if there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy? I would add, or compassion.

 

We learn about pain by feeling it ourselves.  We learn about grief and bereavement by losing loved ones. The lessons life has to teach may be harsh or gentle but those that teach compassion invariably revolve around a sense of loss.  Perhaps this is what is meant by the hollowing of the heart by grief. 

 

The sense of loss makes an emptiness where there has been fullness, aloneness where there was companionship.  When we feel these feelings we can cry for them, letting our tears soothe the pain and wash it away, or we can cry out against them and they will harden to rock within us and weigh us down.  What fills that hollow place is love.  But we must pour it out to our own selves

 

As we grow older, if we absorb and process our life experiences, we develop that part of us able to look with love and forgiveness at whatever life presents. Those who die and leave us behind help hollow our hearts.  As we let go the ache of missing the physical presence, it becomes easier to accept the loss.  Time is the best healer, and patience with ourselves. 

 

As I grow on in years, my losses

Leave larger holes behind;

in my life’s landscape, grief has been useful,

reminding me that all we have is now;

we had best enjoy it because it is a gift.

 

My grief is not a weight, nor a cloud,

it is not a blindfold hiding joy,

rather it is an ever giving spring

reminding me to look, to breathe, to know

that all life blooms and fades and love grows on.

 Image

Photo and text by Tasha Halpert

Elegy for a Tree

This tree that sickens
by the side of a main thoroughfare
Is not permitted death with dignity.

By order of the tree warden
It is cut down, cut up,
ground into bits and disposed of.

When a tree falls in a forest
it absorbs into the earth and becomes
first home, then food, then soil.

This Fall I will miss its familiar horse chestnuts
next Spring, the white blossoms.
A friend is gone.

By the side of the busy street
where I walk nearly every day
there is a raw stump.

Tasha Halpert

Living With Small Deaths

by Tasha Halpert

My earliest experience with the death of a pet happened when I was too young to remember it. It became a family story my mother was fond of telling. The way she told it, when I was almost four my parents won a turkey in a raffle, brought it home and kept it in a cage in the yard. I was fond of the turkey and named it Tuty. At Thanksgiving as planned, the turkey was killed, plucked stuffed and roasted. As family and guests gathered to eat and my dad was carving the turkey I piped up: “Where is my Tuty? I want my Tuty.”  After that no one wanted any.

When I was small, death was not discussed in front of children. They were more sheltered than today’s children who from an early age see the adult world right before their eyes on television. I learned about it too, but in a way, first hand: seeing the small deaths around me. Baby ducks perished as they hatched; baby chickens accidentally drowned in the water pan; rabbits were attacked by a neighboring dog; and several dogs and cats were run over by cars speeding by our house.

My family lived in the country in a cottage on my Great Aunt Alice’s property. There were many animals, large and small whose living and dying were part of our everyday life. As a result death seemed to me to be quite natural. I mourned, yet not for long. There were always more animals to pat and to play with. I confess that sometimes I was not nice to them. The cat did not like it when I dressed her in doll clothes and tried to make her lie down in my doll bed. The dog did not appreciate this either. Sheeshee, a small white Spitz mix was gentle however, and did not, like the cat, protest too much or try to scratch me. She lived with us a good long time and was much loved. I have no memory of her passing, which makes me wonder if perhaps I was away at school then.

She managed to have two puppies when she was quite young and before my parents had her spayed. Peloto was left behind in Florida where he was born on a working vacation we spent there with my father. Tallahassee lived with us until tragically he was hit by a truck right in front of me. The driver, terribly upset drove the dog and me to the veterinarian to see if Tallahassee could be saved. I remember holding him on my lap and feeling very sad. His internal injuries were too severe for him to continue to live. I buried him with ceremony. Somehow even though I never attended a real funeral until I was 12, I seemed to know about reverently burying a loved animal and praying over its grave.

Our rabbits provided an experience of both birth and death. They were kept in a hutch outdoors. I remember asking my mother one day why one of them wouldn’t come out of the little house that sheltered them from bad weather. She showed me the infant rabbits that were emerging from their mother. That was wonderful to see and I was thrilled. After that I understood where babies came from although not how they got in there. Having animals helps children learn about these things naturally and under gentle conditions. When my children were small they had guinea pigs that helped them learn these important facts of life.

I believe we had the rabbits a year or two. Then somehow a fierce dog got in and mangled the ones he did not kill. When I was told the wounded rabbits were to be “put to sleep” by Carl, my great aunt’s gardener, I was very upset. In tears I walked past the boundaries of our property so as not to hear him shoot them. I remember that for this act of disobedience I was sent to my room without supper and made to go to bed early. Although I missed the rabbits, I did not mourn them for long. I was always encouraged to get over my grief quickly, and usually I did.

Life and death had their place, and so did religion. Each Sunday I accompanied my mother to her Catholic church while my dad went to his Protestant one. On Easter, Christmas and special occasions we also went to his. Although I found my mother’s simple Catholic church to be bleak and cheerless, I enjoyed my visits to my dad’s comfortable Episcopalian one;. Needing my own church for myself  I created one where I could go and pray when I wished.

I chose a corner outdoors between the chimney and the wooden wall of the small potting shed and greenhouse where Carl the gardener started plants for my Great Aunt’s garden. To substitute for the hard wooden kneeling benches of my mother’s church, I collected moss to kneel on. I used a brick for an altar and tied two sticks to make a wooden cross. On the other side of the chimney I created a cemetery where I buried small animals and birds as well as one of our cats. That church was my place of comfort. I often went there to talk to God. I also developed a small graveyard where I buried  baby chicks and ducks as well as a cat and dog that had perished.

My mother loved her animals. At one time she had two goats. Ebony, the larger of the two was very fond of Mama. The other escaped her tether and ate grass sprayed with arsenic from under my Great Aunt’s apple trees. They told me about her death but did not show her to me. I was often shielded from what was harsh or ugly. Ebony lived quite a long time and even though she had never been bred she used to give milk.

My great Aunt kept chickens as did we. I remember as a very young child being pinned down by a huge rooster that somehow escaped the coop and threatened to attack me as I walked through the apple orchard. Eventually someone came to my rescue and shooed the bird away. Chickens were food, not pets, so there was no sorrow associated with their demise.When they were to be eaten Carl used to kill them. He would cut off their heads with an ax and they would run around the yard headless. Then my mother valiantly plucked the feathers from the warm bird and either roasted or boiled it, depending on the age.

When I was six or seven it became my job to take care of our chickens. I didn’t mind doing it in the summer. There was a convenient faucet near the chicken coop where I could fill their water holder. However, in winter the water faucet was turned off so it wouldn’t freeze. I had to lug heavy pails of water as well as buckets of grain and mash all the way from the barn to the chicken house fifty feet or more away. This was how I earned my allowance so I didn’t dare slack off.

One March I had a brilliant idea. The hen house was close to a marsh that flooded every spring. Daily I filled their water bucket from this convenient source. A couple of weeks later our chickens began to die. At first no one knew why. Then my father called me into the living room. It seems Carl had seen me as I filled the bucket. I expect I was punished. Probably I lost my allowance for a time, though I don’t remember. I did feel very sorry for what I had done to the poor chickens. My parents were even more upset because they couldn’t eat them. I was reminded of that for years.

Worse than the death of Tallahassee was what happened to my mother’s dog Nicky. I was four or five at the time, and I did not eat with my parents but earlier, in my room. I remember the experience vividly. Nicky was my mother’s cherished black and white border collie. He was a bit rambunctious and tended to wander so we weren’t to let him out unattended. One day I accidentally let him out. I was upstairs eating when my mother rushed in. “Nicky’s dead and it’s all your fault.” She sobbed. It seemed that before he could be retrieved a delivery truck pulling into Aunt Alice’s driveway had hit him.

I remember that my mouth opened and the green peas I had just put in spilledback onto my plate. I began to cry. I felt guilty for Nicky’s death for a long time. However, he wasn’t the last dog for whose death I was responsible. Years later when I was driving down a snow banked highway at about 40 miles an hour with my children in the back seat, a great big German shepherd came running  right down the middle of the highway toward me. I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t avoid the dog. Had I tried to swerve to the right or the left I would have hit a snow bank. I had three small children in the car. I had no choice.

Afterward I stopped my car and went back to get the dog’s collar so I could tell the owner. I dragged the body to the side of the road and drove home. I had made sure to hit the dog hard enough to kill it because otherwise it would have been crippled or maimed and suffered terribly. I felt dreadful. Yet I could not risk my children’s lives to try to save the dog. When I explained the owner thanked me. Apparently the dog had gotten out and had followed his truck. He was not upset with me and I was grateful. While I felt sad I did not feel guilty.

Death is part of life. Life is part of death. I learned this at an early age. Sometimes we cannot help causing the death of a loved pet. Sometimes we have to choose death over life because it is the best choice in a situation. Sometimes we have no choice because we simply do not know any better. I have spent many years of my life learning to be as conscious of my actions and their consequences as I could. Death seems to have followed me even as I have reached out to embrace it when need be. Animals are with us for a short time. Perhaps they are our teachers about the necessity for death. Perhaps we can learn from them to embrace it when it comes to us, knowing that we too are a part of creation and that like them we return to the Source.

ImageSt. Stephen’s Church, Bologna by Tasha Halpert