The Listeners

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Suitcases and overnight bags laden with a week’s worth of clothing, shoes and personal care items can weigh a lot and perhaps it is that similarity in clutter and weight to the problems that people carry and sometimes share with others that are sometimes called baggage.

Medical providers, clerics and other empathetic listeners are often burdened with the problems of the heartsick of this world.   The question is, I believe, how to help distraught individuals without just being sapped of one’s own energy because it is very draining to hear bad news while feeling helpless to do anything constructive or concrete to relieve the agony of someone who has had a painful experience.

While there are the Eeyores among us who always seem downtrodden and incapable of being cheered up, there are the rest of the people who, as they go about their lives from day to day get the sudden disaster that stops them cold and leaves their communities in shock wondering how to help, or if they are next in line as fate doles out terrors.

Prayer and spiritual reading have long been my immediate remedies for my own catastrophes and also the solutions I offer and employ when anyone reaches out to me for help.  But sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the news I am given and I am shrouded in sadness and it is time to reach out to greater communities for support that can come from numerous hearts.

Just this past week such an event occurred and I was very comforted by the responses of many individuals in my extended family and friends group when I requested prayers for a certain lady and her family.  Collective prayer has always been very powerful and I felt content as the mantel of this strength and love crossed the country and went to those who needed it.

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Verboten

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I wanted a bicycle like all the other children in my neighborhood and my cousins had, but my father was sure I’d ride in the street and get hit by a car and either be seriously injured or killed.  So he said no and that was that.  Maybe he just didn’t have the money, but he’d never say that, I just could not have such a thing.  Nothing he said could stop me from learning how to ride a bicycle, however, and to ride the ones owned by luckier kids on my street.

My father’s youngest sibling was a year and a half my elder and she owned a bicycle too, and was willing to let me mount the two wheeler and ride down the street to my heart’s content.  I rode on the sidewalk to be safely out of the path of cars, but sidewalks were not as even as streets, so as I glided back toward my grandparent’s home one day, the front wheel caught on a broken slab of sidewalk and I flew off of the bicycle, landing on top of the fallen bike, the handlebar hit into my stomach and knocked all of the air out of me.  Although I was sobbing I could not breathe or talk for the time it took me to get back to my waiting family who all assured me that the bicycle would be fine, though the handlebar was jerked out of center position and was I okay?  The world had not ended and nobody was mad at me and my Aunt’s bicycle could easily be returned to the normal condition and I breathed a fresh load of air back into my lungs so all would be well.

As all of the toys of my childhood, the bicycle ended its life out on the farm with my six cousins there who drained it of its last life.  The last time I rode it, the chain was not catching as I pedaled alongside my cousin who said I could ride while he jogged in training for one of the sports he participated in at the local high school.  I worked so hard to pedal to keep up with him that I was huffing and puffing and in minutes he was laughing and could not keep running.

My father never conceded to allowing me to own a bicycle and I thought about that when I lived in California where I did own a bicycle and rode it to work from Mountain View to Palo Alto once my roommate got married and took her car with her.

Riding that bicycle in the mainstream traffic not only to work, wearing dresses and clogs, but down the San Tomas Expressway to get to church, I thought my father would faint if he could see me then.  Of course, it was not information I volunteered in my letters home.

Giving is Receiving

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What comes around, goes around is an old saying that I’ve known most of my life, though I do not ever remember seeing the second half of the saying play itself out.  For example, when someone seems determined to be difficult, it seems like Karma will go into gear and sooner or later that person will get his or her come-uppance, or fate will put a lesson in that person’s path, but I have never seen it happen.  It’s always been my way to just pick up the pieces and go forward with my life trying not to focus on the unfortunate experiences of the past.

There are more things than just negative experiences that this saying can apply to.  For example, I have found that if I have given a pair of shoes away, a different pair of shoes comes to me.

At an author talk at the Parma-Snow library I went to hear Frank Delaney talk about the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and ended up buying a copy of his book, Ireland, which he autographed.  I went home feeling like I had a treasure but not a great fan of reading historic novels, I took my time getting started.  When I did undertake to read the book I found I had a hardback copy already on a shelf.   After I read the book, I talked my friend Diane into reading it too, since she and I were both in Ireland back in 2011.  She also enjoyed reading it.

I knew I didn’t need 2 copies of the book, so I spent a little time thinking about where it should go.  No, not back to the bookstore where I might get fifty cents for it.  Hmmmm.

Without too much stress on my thinking cap I realized that my boss at the financial planning office is of Irish descent.  I walked into her office and asked, “Is there anyone in your family who might find this book a treasure to your family cultural history?”  She swung around in her chair and asked “What book?”  When I pulled it out of the plastic bag I carried it in, she stood up, her eyes wide and she threw her arms around me with an emphatic, “YES!” and went on to say her family was full of authentic Irish names.  Clearly she was happy to have it – she even gave me one of the cookies she gives to her clients at their meetings.  I left the office smiling and feeling very content like I had found a good home for a book I really liked.

At my last podiatry maintenance appointment, the doctor popped into the room where I was set for his attention and said, “I have something for you.  I’ll be right back.” I was imagining free samples, so it was really a surprise when he returned bearing a 750 page tome of seventy years of short stories and essays by the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and handing it to me, said, “You were the first person I thought of…”  What a treasure!  He said no, he didn’t want it back and I was floating all the way home.

So, sometimes what comes around, goes around can mean something quite good.

Combustible Characters

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Two tiny boys were called up to the front of the school bus due to the ruckus they were causing.  When the driver asked who started the trouble each adamantly pointed an index finger at the other, simultaneously insisting, “HE did!”  I was only twelve or thirteen at the time and each of the youngsters was so cute, it was hard to do more than laugh.  I don’t know how the driver kept a straight face during the ordeal.  Whatever the outcome so many years ago, it was settled quietly and the driver got us all to school without further ado.

It is one thing to have such harmless and childish disagreements, but it is quite another story to see the kind of nasty business politics have generated in current times.  The people in the forefront of verbal abuse lashed back and forth are acting just like the two little boys I remember on the school bus.  However, these men are not children and are not at all cute.  It is so ugly and embarrassing, that I change the channel whenever they start talking about the president of our country and his latest eruptions, accusations and insults.

It is exhausting to be subjected to any of these tirades and I not only do not find these outbursts to be informative, helpful or entertaining,  it makes me feel like America’s government is the laughing stock of the world – how can other countries and our allies take us seriously when the President always has one foot in his mouth?  I hope and pray that we will survive the next three years and that the next Commander in Chief will be less volatile and more respectable.

Aftermath

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As a conversation starter someone asked on her Facebook news-feed, do you remember where you were when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  It is a very clear memory for me as I was working downtown in Washington, D.C.   Leaving the office to go to my bus stop, I was surprised to see a huge traffic jam.  The vehicles are always backed up at rush hour, but that day everything with a motor was standing still and with the engines running and exhaust fumes polluting the breathable air, so I began walking toward Massachusetts Avenue.

We didn’t have cell phones back then but the bells at the National Cathedral were tolling non-stop, creating a very eerie sensation.  I had the foreboding sense that something very bad had happened.  There was no point in waiting for a bus, nor of sitting on one if it did inch along, so I started the long walk up Mass Ave to Friendship Heights, just this side of Bethesda, Maryland where I shared an apartment in an old but nice house with my roommate, Carol.

As the weekend progressed and we all learned what had happened.  There were outbreaks of violence and burning and looting that led to a city wide curfew and for days the National Guard patrolled the city and I felt that I now understood what it was like to live in a city under siege.

Lots of Dishes

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You mean everyone doesn’t have at least two sets of china – one a twelve piece place setting and an assortment of odd pieces of ceramic bowls and cups for the kitchen?  I had been on my own by the time my paternal grandfather’s health began to diminish and he asked my father if they should get me a set of dishes.  The response was, “What for, she’s not married!”  When this remark traveled to me, I found it yet another disparaging slam from him.

I went to my favorite department store where I purchased a twelve piece place setting of a black and white checkered Mikasa ware which immediately cheered me up.  I chose the large number of pieces in case any broke, so I’d still end up with enough to set a table for eight guests, which I was accustomed to entertaining for many years both as a single lady and later in marriage and motherhood.

There was a new little store in our town, Sunnyvale, where a set of bowls, cups and small plates caught my eye with their crisp strawberry print and somehow I just knew we needed them.

When we left California all the china and pots and pans were professionally packed, so I did not open them when we got to the apartment we ended up living in for four years.  We needed something else to use day to day and I found a sale at a local store for single place settings of black Fiesta ware for $9.99 each, so I bought four place settings and those were our everyday dishes until we moved to Ohio where I finally unpacked everything.  I chose the black because they could be alternated with the black and white Mikasa ware and still be color coordinated.

When my parents passed on I inherited their new set of dishes, lovely with flowers and pink trim, not at all like the Mikasa or Fiesta, but I liked them as well and simply expanded my collection.  I asked my son which dishes he would like and he selected the Fiesta ware, so when we moved to this house, I wrapped them all up and put them with his things in the basement.  That was eighteen years ago and like the sets of towels I bought him and many of his other belongings, they are still sitting there in the basement.

My daughter already had a set of dishes and my father had given her a set of cutlery, (even though she never married!) I had given her some cookware, so for a while at least, she was set.

The most used items in my kitchen now are bowls and cups, small glasses and cutlery.  I still enjoy looking at the assorted china, even though I rarely use it.

Another Perspective

 

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Amanpour is the name of the program I am now turning to after the first half hour of the noon news segments fizzles down to it’s all about sports.  Like my former favorite, abruptly cut from daily scheduling, this is an interview show.  It is hosted by a woman, Christianna Amanpour, broadcast out of New York or London.  So far I have watched interviews with French President Macron, Jane Fonda, Sir David Attenborough, and Jane Goodall.

There is so much to be learned about these well-publicized figures that just doesn’t come through during news reports.  For some reason I had not realized that Mr. Macron speaks American English with an apparent fluent understanding of the language.  Ms. Amanpour said he is the youngest and most energetic French President since Napoleon!  I came away from the television set that day with a new respect for him.

Jane Fonda was in the spotlight continuously during the Viet Nam War, as an anti-war protester and activist with her then husband Tom Hayden.  I saw her in a couple of movies, knew she was the daughter of famous actor, Peter Fonda, but that was about it.  This interview brought her into the present and as she spoke, I felt she had grown into herself.

The talk with Sir David Attenborough opened with a photo of the ninety year old with a beautiful butterfly sitting on his nose.   He was also on film looking nose to nose and “talking” with a baby rhino.  I wonder how many youngsters were infected by his great love and respect of all animals and have gone on to support endangered species during their lifetimes.

There has been SO much publicity about the amazing life and work of Jane Goodall, that I didn’t expect to learn anything new in this talk, but of course, I was wrong.