Small Blessings Bring Joy

Dandelion and pebblesKittens grow up and become cats. They learn to use their claws on the furniture, and then they reach a point where if we do not pay attention, they may produce more kittens. Snow falls, gets turned by snowmen by eager, mittened fingers, and then when the sun comes out and the cold retreats, they melt. I wash the dishes, polish up the burners on the stove and sigh, remembering that there will soon be more dishes to wash and something will fall on the cooking surface and smell of burning if I don’t notice it before I begin to cook again.

It is important to me to take notice of how nice it is to have an empty sink and a clean stove. If all I do is think about doing it over again I will miss the feeling of how nice it is to have done with my small tasks. They can become routine, done without thinking, and without appreciation for the effort as well as for the result. When I take the time to notice, I feel better about myself and about my life in general.

When spring comes and the first bluebells and crocuses poke up through the thawed ground, how wonderful it is. We say, “Spring is here.” And it is. Yet spring turns to summer. Then we rejoice in the longer days and firefly strewn nights, until the hours of daylight begin to shorten again. Fall’s bounty of color comes and then goes.  It is good to appreciate what we have while we have it because as a wise teacher of mine used to say, the only constant is change.

It’s easy to take for granted small blessings that pass quickly. We do it all the time without thinking. We’re actually more likely to take notice of what is wrong than what is right. I’ve read that our brains are wired that way for self-preservation. It’s important to make note of the danger lurking nearby—is that a wild beast? Or see the car coming a little too fast as we are about to cross the street. However, our built in warning system can override our joy.

Just recently the wild roses bloomed. Their sweet smell permeated the air by my back porch. I made sure to take time to enjoy their scent. Now the petals have turned brown and I have to wait until next year to enjoy them again. Still, I do have the memory, and although it does not have an actual scent, it can still bring back the pleasure of what I enjoyed when the petals were fresh.

If I am focused on regret because the roses have passed, it is more difficult for me to remember the joy they brought me. As well, I might not be able to take advantage of some new and pleasant experience that could await my notice. Small blessings do not announce their presence with a shout but rather with a whisper. The bright dandelion by the side of a building might go unseen and unappreciated if I am not aware of its gift. If I am only looking at the trash around it, I might not see it all. Small blessings bring joy.

Honoring my Father on Father’s Day

Even though she didn’t like to cook, my mother would not allow my father to do so. She said he burnt everything. She had a strong fear of wasting food. Later I think he occasionally tended a barbecue, however they were not in vogue when I was little. I have early memories of him polishing the family silver. My mother didn’t do that and didn’t wish to even display it. We had many different pieces. They were family heirlooms, inherited from elders who had passed on. I remember a huge tea set with lots of shiny parts to it that rested on a big silver tray on a large wooden sideboard. My father loved and cherished it.

As it is wisely said, no one is perfect because God isn’t finished with us yet. Perfection may be something to strive for, and attaining it is most likely impossible. People are people and bound to mess up. Fathers can’t be perfect either. Some are cruel, whether consciously or unconsciously. I knew someone once who said that her father used to tell her and her brother to jump of the kitchen table and he’d catch them, only he wouldn’t. He told them he wanted to teach them not to trust what anyone said.

Doubtless he meant well. Perhaps he had suffered from believing, himself. My father would taunt me and my siblings when we made mistakes. He wanted us to toughen up, learn not to care what people thought. Did he succeed? I believe he did, however it took a while to sink in. Meanwhile, I resented his pointing finger and his “ha ha” followed by some negative comment. That was not all; we had a lot of fun together too, and he could be very kind. I once came home to the apartment my young husband and I shared to find him sweeping the rug. I didn’t have a vacuum and hadn’t realized I could sweep it with a broom. He used to give me lovely valentines.

He bought me my first washing machine—it was state of the art for the time, with a rubber tub that squeezed the water out of the clothes. He taught me how to dance, and he was a good dancer. He gave me money for years, an allowance that helped greatly when I was first married. Later on he paid for my health insurance because he wanted to take care of me. No, he wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t care. I loved him faults and all. He lived large and had wonderful charm. He had a lovely smile and he smiled often.

I miss him. Yet I miss most the father of my childhood and youth, when he was strong , energetic and good looking. He was a snappy dresser and loved loud ties and colorful clothing.  Bad habits and ill health took their toll. His later years were not happy and he declined mentally. It was difficult to see him so diminished. Yet once in a while the old smile radiated from his face and sometimes he told a joke or said something cute and funny that recalled the man he had been when I was little, and we used to build sand castles and jump the waves together.

Creating a Memorial to Lost Loved Ones

SimpkinsMy father always made sure to put fresh flowers on the graves of two special friends on Memorial Day. Buried under two pink granite stones, they were an English couple far from home and family. My four year old self remembers them as two elderly people who smiled at me and gave me two porcelain statues of birds. Honoring someone once a year at the site of their grave is a fine act and the traditional way many choose. However, creating an ongoing memorial tribute could be an even better way.

On Memorial Day there is an annual ceremony dedicated to my grandfather in Beverly Farms, the town where he once lived where there is a square named for him. This year will be its hundredth anniversary. As it does every year, the parade will stop there, the band will play, and a wreath will go on the pole with his name. As they always do, my brother and his wife will attend the ceremony. While I once used to go with my dad, and later on with my young children, I no longer live near enough to attend. I am glad he will do the honors for the family.

One day time runs out for each of us. It can’t be helped. It is said there are two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. We come to terms with both as best we can. Memorial Day puts us in mind of the former. While my grandfather perished in World War I, no other members of my family fought and died or had any connection to the military. For me then, Memorial Day is an opportunity to think about my loved ones who have passed out of time and into eternal life. There are more of them each year.

What seems important to me is to create a tangible memorial as a tribute dedicated to the memory of those precious who have passed from this life. It was with the passing of my first son that I initially thought of this. I wanted to honor his life, and because he loved poetry I decided to dedicate my poetry to him. While I’ve always written poetry, my decision then inspired me to look at life with the eyes of a poet and to write about what I see. In the near future I will be bringing out a small book, Poems and Prayers, dedicated to him.

While I wrote an occasional poem prior to his passing, in the nearly thirty years since his death I have written a great number of them, some of which I have published in various newsletters and others in my two books of articles, Heartwings: Love Notes for a Joyous Life and Up to my Neck in Lemons. Writing poetry has become increasingly important to me as an expression of my creativity. I have created other memorials also: My father loved nature, especially trees. My tribute to him is my love of the natural world, often expressed in poetry; mine to my mother is my photography, much of which are also of nature.  I am grateful for the inspiration of the lives of these loved ones, and I honor them as best I can.

Remembering to be Thankful

Laura Dove A         While at Thanksgiving we are reminded to be grateful, that is surely not the only time to do so. it is vital to remember to be thankful frequently each and every day of our lives. For some time now I have begun and ended each day with this little prayer: “Thank you for this day and for all my days.” As often as possible each and every day I remind myself to acknowledge my gratitude for any good experience and even those that might not have been so good, because of the knowledge gained.

Recently we were saddened to hear of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly just as she was starting a new life with her spouse. Within the past few weeks we have heard news of other friends who are ill or whose lives have been disturbed or changed for the worse. Each time I hear such things, while I say a prayer for those affected, I am also reminded to be grateful for my relatively tranquil, happy life. In this present moment I have so much to be thankful for. When I survey my daily life, even with all its ups and downs, I am reminded to express that gratitude.

My late newspaper editor used to say, “Health is wealth.” How right he was. What are a few aches and pains compared to long term, probably painful illness or worse, an approaching end to life? What’s a broken washer compared to the loss of a parent or of a dear friend? It is so easy to take one’s blessings for granted, to think of them as ordinary or just a part of life. There is an old saying, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” While I am thankful for what I have, I am also grateful for what I do not have to endure.

There is such joy to be had in a tasty breakfast of a Sunday morning shared with one’s partner. Were this scene to end suddenly and abruptly I would deeply regret having lost even a moment of our time together through inattention . There is no way to know ahead when one’s end will come, when all of a sudden there will be no more time. I have read of a Native American tradition to greet each day with the phrase, “This is a good day to die.” Some might think this is a morbid attitude. To me it says, “Pay attention, live fully in this and every moment.”

Quite simply, though we don’t like to think about it, we begin to die the day we are born. With the increase in medical knowledge the life span of human beings has been greatly extended, still one day life will end for us all. One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that when it is practiced, it becomes easier to pay attention. I am grateful for this practice and to the teacher that taught it to me. It behooves us all to remember that every moment we have whether uncomfortable or comfortable, sad or happy, sour or sweet is a precious gift to treasure and to be thankful for.

Herbs can be Used for More than Cooking

Pictures downloaded from my camera 2. 128Many years ago a wonderful little book fell into my hands. A small paperback by Claire Loewenfeld and Phillippa Back, it was called Herbs, Health and Cookery. At the time I was home caring for my five children and eager to find things to do there to make good use of my limited leisure time. Always interested in health and healing, I was fascinated to learn that the simple herbs I used to flavor my cooking could be made into teas to help in healing physical ailments. Recently I was happy to acquire a hard bound copy from the internet to replace my ancient paperback.

I read avidly and experimented. Following my advice, someone studying for her bar exam tried Rosemary tea for brain stimulation and passed with flying colors. That encouraged me to continue learning and trying different herbs for the uses described in the book. It was wonderful too that all the herbs I needed could be purchased at the grocery store and used for food preparation as well. I went on to study herbs in a variety of books and eventually even to lecture on them. This book launched me into a whole new mini career.

It occurred to me there might be synchronicity between certain herbs and the stories involving them. In the days before most people could read or write, information was passed on orally. One way to get people to remember something was to put it into a song or disguise it in a tale or a myth. Garlic, for instance is an excellent blood cleanser. It has antiseptic and antibiotic qualities. Once upon a time people would wear a clove of it on a string to ward off germs. It was also said to be effective against blood sucking vampires. Interesting that it can heal the germs that “bite” and infect the body.

I am also a folk singer and one of my favorite songs has always been “Scarborough Fair.” This song goes back many hundreds of years. I began thinking that it too might be conveying information, so I tried combining dried Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Mixed in equal parts, the herbs proved to make a wonderful healing tea for a variety of ills, including flu and colds. One friend said she stopped taking aspirin for her aches and pains and drank this tea instead. Now, remembering this I have been making this tea for myself and it really does work well for my arthritis. Herbs are fun to explore, and common kitchen herbs can be effective healing agents as well as tasty flavorings.

There is a saying to the effect that the person who has Sage in her garden will live to a ripe old age. Thyme is an excellent herb to assist in immunity and oil of Thyme or Thymol is used in many mouthwashes. Rosemary is a brain stimulant and helps with circulation and Parsley has a number of benefits including vitamins, minerals, and action as a mild diuretic. We had a guest once who came down with a flu on a visit to us. Two days of Scarborough Fair and he was healed. I have relied on herbs for many years, and find their gentle effective healing properties to be perfect for me.

Hoop Skirts and Test Patterns

I find fashion to be endlessly entertaining. When you live as long as I have, you have seen many trends come and go.  For instance I’m always amused when I see people of every size walking round in tight clothing. Were she still alive my mother would be shocked and making comments. As I was growing up, at most clothing might be tight around the bust and waist, but not anywhere else. Too, as if pregnancy was not quite proper, one wore tent like garments as soon as there was a bulge. Ball gowns were bolstered with stays and wedding gowns were voluminous and relatively modest.

Recently I was looking at a pretty formal gown in a consignment store and it brought back memories of ones I used to wear back in the days when formal dances were a part of my life. I didn’t go to a school that featured proms, however there was an annual series of dances held by a woman who ran a dancing school for grade school boys and girls. These dances were an extension of her classes and held for high school age students in the area.

She had very strict rules for the young ladies who wanted to participate. Gowns had to be of a certain type, and nothing too bare or plunging was permitted. This starchy New England matron who ran the dances was also particular about our weight. My dear mother put me on a diet that summer so I would conform to the ideal held out for those who wished to attend. “I don’t want any wallflowers at my dances,” she was known to say.

The dress I was looking in the consignment store at was a strapless, full length gown. The skirt was fairly narrow. I smiled to myself, remembering the hoop skirt that went under one of my first full skirted formals. How difficult it was to sit down without the darn thing flying up in the air, taking my skirt with it, revealing my gartered stockings to the world. There were other uncomfortable petticoats, starched and stiff that came later. My mother would laugh and say sometimes one must suffer for beauty. Although she wore a girdle for years and tried to get me to wear one, I refused to.

Along with hoop skirts and starched petticoats, no one born today or even many born a while ago know what a test pattern is, nor has seen one. When my parents got our first TV, there were no programs before around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and after around midnight at night.  All that was on the screen otherwise was a black and white test pattern from the different TV stations.

There were no color TVs. Nor was there color programming! Movies were shown on Sunday afternoons and I remember before we got our TV, the joy of watching them at a friend’s home. In those days a comic book was ten cents, and I wasn’t permitted to buy one but I could read hers. Having lived a long life, I can recall much that no longer exists except in the museum of memory. It’s fun to visit there occasionally, though I’d never want to live there all the time.

Gathering Together We Celebrate

Spring is Sprung 19         On Easter after church, we usually went to dinner with my Great Aunt Alice in her big house next door to the cottage my parents rented from her. She would have a beautiful table with gleaning silver, fragile china and sparkling crystal goblets set in the large dining room she used for formal occasions. Once the soup course was done and dishes removed, people brought in to help, carried around platters of meat and dishes of vegetables. These would be followed by dessert and finally, finger bowls with a sprig of green lemon verbena floating in them. The silver candy dishes with chocolates I eagerly eyed all through the meal were finally passed around.

This weekend holds Easter, a Christian Holiday and Pesach or Passover, a Jewish one. Both are important in the tradition of family gatherings.  Both have an element of ritual that is central to the celebration. Carl Jung the eminent psychologist taught us about what he called the collective unconscious. Briefly stated this is a kind of universal memory that underlies all of human consciousness. It is not individual– what we remember for ourselves, but comprised of the memories encoded in symbols, of the whole human race.

The collective unconscious is like a vast rich sea in which each of us is a drop. We swim in it, and thus make our connection to the psychic history of humanity. The symbols and rituals of the holidays are present within it. These provide pathways that we honor with our traditions. For instance, eggs are a universal symbol of fertility. They are found in myths from all over the world. The use of eggs in Easter baskets goes back to Germany. It was brought to this country by settlers in Pennsylvania.

The gathering for the ritual recitation of the history of the Exodus at Passover is another important connection to the past. Known as a Seder, it recreates the connection to Jewish peoples of history. The Easter bunny, actually originally a hare is an ancient symbol associated with the Moon. Both Easter and Pesach are full moon based, rather than on a fixed date. Lilies grow from bulbs, symbolic of regeneration and rebirth.  Spring the season we celebrate Easter and Passover is when new growth, even before the sprouting of last year’s seeds, emerges from bulbs. We wear new clothes to symbolize this newness.

As we come together to celebrate, we are connecting to one another. As well we are expressing humanity’s roots. Our ancient religions and spiritual paths, even those lost to history live again in our minds and hearts. Yes, there are reasons we celebrate linked to historical events, and yes there are links within us to peoples and even to places in our distant past that we are part of through the symbols and rituals we incorporate. The chocolate rabbits, the marshmallow chicks, the flowers and feasts, even the lovely Easter hats are of greater significance to us than we might think, for our celebration is enhanced by these echoes from our shared human history.