Grace in Small Things #30

800px-swallowtail_butterfly_2

Swallowtail Butterfly

“Be a gentle friend to trees and they will give you back beauty, cool and fragrant shade, and many birds, singing” ~ Unknown

Well, today will be short and sweet.  Think I may be coming down with something.

1. Beneflu in a bottle. Most people don’t like liquid cold medicines. This stuff is great. When I get on a coughing jag, I just take a big swig right out of the bottle (I make sure it’s the bottle that no one else uses). It goes down warm and is very soothing, and it usually starts to work immediately. Measuring? That’s for sissies.

2. Corey brings me a hot cup of coffee while I’m still in bed almost every day. I like this tradition. I don’t know what I’m going to do when he finally gets a boat.

3. Finding a new song to add to my playlists. The way that I love music, it is always wonderful to find a new artist or a new song by a favorite artist to add to one of my playlists on the computer. Of course I have different playlists. Would my OCD allow anything else: Mellow List, Country List, Bedtime List, and then Extended List, which has enough music on it for 16 hours of play.

black-capped chickadee
Black Capped Chickadee

4. Butterflies. When our Lantana comes into bloom in the spring and summer, we have a veritable butterfly garden in the front yard.  Monarchs. Swallowtails. Painted Ladies.  It’s incredible to be so close to so much beauty.

5. Song birds. We also get a lot of songbirds in our yard, more when we have the feeders hung. My favorites are the cardinals and chickadees. Once in a while we’ll get a hawk in our neighborhood; then all of the smaller birds just disappear until the hawk leaves. It’s amazing how nature works.

More later. Peace.

“The ‘ancient enmity between life and the great work.'” ~ R. M. Rilke

the-rose-by-cy-twombly-acrylic-on-plywood

“The Rose” by Cy Twombly (acrylic on plywood). Twombly has used phrases from Rilke’s poems on this series and a previous series of paintings.

“Build Your Life In Accordance With This Necessity” ~ Rilke

In 1903, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote 10 letters to a young man who was considering entering the German military. The young man, a poet, asked Rilke to criticize his poetry. Rilke’s correspondence lasted over five years. Upon Rilke’s death, the young man took the letters, omitted his own side of the correspondence, and published a valuable compilation of Rilke’s personal aethetics on poetry, the creative process, and life.

Letters to a Young Poet, written in Rilke’s native German, has been translated several times over the years, and is a favorite of poets and writers, particularly because of its honest depiction of a solitary artist’s unedited thoughts on writing. The thing to keep in mind, though, is that each translation bears the mark of the translator. In essence we are not supposed to see the translator, but that is a very hard feat to achieve.

The passage I have included below comes from a 1999 translation by Stephen Mitchell.

I chose this passage because it addresses the questions that I have been asking myelf of late: Do I have what it takes to be a writer? In response to Rilke’s question of whether or not I must write, the answer is a definitive yes. I must. I don’t know what would happen if I were forbidden to write. If my computer were taken away from me, it would be a hardship because writing by hand is harder on my hands, but I don’t think that it would keep me from writing. Not after coming this far.

It would slow down my output. But now that I am this disciplined about writing every day—every day—something I never imagined I would be able to do, I cannot imagine going back to not doing this. It is as natural as breathing to me. But I wish that I had a Rilke to look at my work and say, “Yes. You must keep doing this. It is outside you as much as it is inside you.” And then I would know that I have a chance. That May Sarton wasn’t the only late bloomer.

Enjoy this selection (emphasis added mine) from Letter #1, written in Paris in 1903:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you—no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: Must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: They are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully-ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty—describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity, and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place.

And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds—wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance—And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: For you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.

A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: To go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.

But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude, perhaps you will have to renounce becoming a poet (if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all). Nevertheless, even then, this self-searching that I ask of you will not have been for nothing. Your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.

What else can I tell you? It seems to me that everything has its proper emphasis; and finally I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to question that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer. ~ RMR

Perhaps tomorrow, my outlook will be more positive. More later. Peace.

Grace in Small Things #29

 

“Like a bird on a wing . . . over the sea to skye”

Let’s see where we are going today . . .

1. Telephone calls that bring good news. Much better than the other kind.

2. Suddenly having a line from a poem pop into my head, and then being able to search for the rest of it because you can do that now so easily using the Internet.

3. When my hair doesn’t frizz all over and decides to give me a break. This seems so trivial, but my hair and I have been doing battle since I was a little girl and my mother used to do weird things to it, like cut it all off on a whim, and I don’t look good with short hair. So I have grown to appreciate very much those special days when my hair decides to cooperate with very little effort, especially now with my torn rotator cuff.

4. The song “I Will Remember You,” by Sarah McLachlan. The line, “I was so afraid to love you, more afraid to lose,” is the perfect description of my initial love for Corey.

5. “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes. When I was very little, about 5, we took a trip to Scotland and saw a pipe and drum performance in this huge arena. In 2007-09-25t164259z_01_nootr_rtridsp_3_life-brazil-bagpipes-dcretrospect, it was probably a Tattoo. That was when I first became enamored with bagpipes. I loved that way they looked and sounded and how complicated it appeared to play them. It was also when my mother bought me my first kilt. Somewhere, there exists a picture of me in full Scots regalia: kilt hose with flashes, red Stewart tartan kilt, and a beret. It was the only time in my life that I looked good in a beret.

More later. Peace.

“Take Care of All Your Memories For You Cannot Relive Them” ~ Bob Dylan

summer-08-cousin-shot

Summer 08 Sutcliffe Cousins: Phillip, Eamonn, Brett, Hannah, Alexis, Rebecca, Mallory

“Memory is the primary and fundamental power, without which there could be no other intellectual operation” ~ Samuel Johnson

I cannot write tonight. There is just too much pressing on my mind. I am waiting to hear about my brother-in-law in Germany. He is in the hospital with pneumonia and is on a respirator.

Maybe if I tell you about him that will help. Patrick is my ex’s older brother. He has always been the serious, intellectual one. Patrick was in the R.O.T.C. in college, and then he went into the army after graduation. Patrick was stationed in Germany where he met Helma, the woman he married. After a couple of years, they were transferred back to the states, somewhere in Tennessee.

In the meantime, Paul’s younger sister Ann was engaged to be married in the spring. Patrick and Helma were going to drive to Virginia on President’s Day weekend for a visit and for a fitting of brides maids dresses as Helma and I were both going to be in the wedding. Then the unthinkable happened. Helma fell asleep at the wheel, and Patrick, who had been asleep in the back seat was wedged in the seat when the car stopped. Helma had a broken nose and lost some teeth. Patrick had been deprived of oxygen and had spinal cord damage.

After all of the operations, Patrick was left a paraplegic, but he still retained his mind, his long-term memory, his wit. The army retired Patrick as a full Captain. He was unable to speak, but they worked out a communication system using arm movements and eye blinks and mouth openings and closings. Patrick was quick-tempered and impatient before the accident, and he was just the same after the accident, but never with me.

Whenever I tried to spell with him (which is what we call talking), I would tell him quite plainly that if he started to get all mean with me, I would stop and walk away, which would usually make him laugh, and then he would be patient with me as I tried my best to get things right the first time.

Just to show you how smart he remained, while they still lived here, we used to play games, like Trivial Pursuit, usually men against the women, and it would usually come down to Patrick against me. He loved to kick my ass with history questions, but I could usually get him on literature.

Eventually, he and Helma were able to have two children of their own: Phillip and Hannah. Helma’s sister Kerstin lived here in the states for a while, and she was married, and members of her family would visit, but Helma was always lonely for home, and it was very hard for her. Patrick had a physical therapist who came to the home, and Helma took really good care of him. But finally, they made the decision to move to Germany so that Helma could be closer to her family.

It was hard on everyone, especially on Paul’s mom, but Helma promised to come over every year for a visit, and for a while it was every year, but then the dollar dropped, and then after 9/11, everyone was afraid to fly for a while. They had just started coming back over a few years ago. Patrick had a big 50th birthday party in Germany, and several of his best friends with whom he has stayed in contact flew to Germany to celebrate with him, as did his mother, who hadn’t been to Germany since right after Patrick and Helma were first married.

That he has stayed so healthy for so long is directly tied to Helma’s dedication to keeping him that way. He has had two major health scares. And we have spent our time making visits to VA hospitals, which are incredibly depressing places. But overall, he has been incredibly lucky. They have made trips all over Europe, and when they have been here, Helma has taken Patrick to just about every Revolutionary battleground in the area.

With Helma’s assistance, Patrick has kept up his massive stamp collection, his alphabetized CD and LP collection, including anything ever put out by the Beatles. He reads constantly (books on tape have been a wonderful development for him because before that, it was books by whoever was designated reader). In other words, Because of Helma, Patrick’s hobbies have all been attended to, and his life, although far from normal, has been turned into the closest semblance of normal that it could be.

He has a computer that he can control to write letters to his friends. His children may have had times that they were embarassed by their father, but I think not any more than any teenager is embarassed by a parent. Just ask my sons.

The last time they were here, I noticed how tired Helma looked, and I was actually surprised, because she really takes care of herself. She is a championship swimmer. She coaches swimming. That is her time for herself. She is in very good physical shape, but she really looked thin this time. Not thin as in skinny, but thin as in worn thin. I wrote her an e-mail about it, but she never really responded, which I did not expect that she would. She is just not that way.

She had told me before coming that this time she was not running around to see everyone the way that they usually do. She was just going to take it easy. Normally when they visit, they are on the go from the moment they arrive until the moment that they leave. But this time, she really didn’t go very many places. Even when she went to Busch Gardens, she didn’t close the place the way that she usually did.

I’m waiting until it’s 2 a.m. here so that it will be 8 a.m. there so that I can call. I always forget about the six hour time difference. I’m hoping that the news is good, that they have turned down the ventilator and that the pneumonia is clearing. That’s the news that I am hoping for. After all, Patrick’s grandmother just died last week. I’m not sure how he took the news I don’t know the last time that he saw her. But he does get very emotional.

His mother, my other mother-in-law, is noticeably worsening with her own health problem. Parkinson’s does not respond well to stress. So I’m just hoping that she holds up well for the next few days.

I suppose for someone who said that she didn’t have anything to say tonight, I managed to run on in my usual way.

That’s all for now. More later. Peace.

Grace in Small Things #28

Wicked winds outside today. Not sure what I want to touch on . . .

1. The way that my daughter and I will sometimes say the exact same thing at exactly the same time. It drives Corey crazy.

2. Sea turtles are wonderful creatures that can have really long lives as long as humans don’t interfere.sea-turtle-by-sandra-edwards

3. The Internet. Because of this incredible invention, we now have access to information, people and places 24/7 in newer, faster ways unimagined even a generation ago. Now, we have a whole generation that will have grown up always having the Internet and personal computers in their lives.

4. I like to write with #1 pencils . They are a softer lead, so they write more smoothly. I never use #2 pencils, and at work, I always requested #1’s, and it always got on the nerves of whoever did the supply order. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. It was just a personal preference.

5. I also like to write on graph paper. I’m not sure where or when I picked up this habit, but I really prefer graph paper, and even go so far as to use  grid on the screen whenever I can, like in Microsoft Word (it’s also a good way to keep people off my computer, not that I would do that on purpose, or anything).

That’s today’s list. Yesterday I was wondering if I were doing this right, but as a friend pointed out, if I were putting things on the list that truly brought me some measure of joy, things in which I found some measure of grace, then there was no right or wrong about it. You always say the right thing, Maureen.

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

falling_stars800

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

I’ve Never Seen A Night So Long

Emotionally Raw, Tired, and Overwhelmed

I’m really tired tonight, emotionally exhausted. Trying to write my Grace in Small Things list for today was really hard. I took on a hard topic last night, and it’s still with me. Any one of the three stories that I found would have been pretty bad on its own, but to put all three together—I think that it was just too much.

I cannot get out of my head the image of the 93-year-old man who froze to death inside of his house because of a bureaucratic decision. I cannot forget about the two EMT’s who made the decision not to resuscitate a man based on the condition of his house. My god, if they came into my house right now, this very moment, if anyone who worked for social services or the city government came into my home right now they would think that I’m a terrible mother, that my children are deprived, that my house should be condemned, and most certainly, that I am not worth saving.

My house is a complete and total mess. I have cobwebs because I cannot reach them with my ostrich feather duster to clean them. The last time that I tried to do that, I pulled my back. My living room still has two dining room chairs in boxes because my eldest son refuses to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. It has become a point of downright contention. My youngest son’s room is neat and tidy.

My room is relatively organized, but dusty. The kitchen looks like a disaster, but is wiped down daily with disinfectant spray, and the sink is scrubbed with liquid bleach. Clothes are washed and dried daily. Everyone bathes daily. I personally clean the bathroom on my hands and knees with a cloth and spray disinfectant because I don’t trust my sons to do it right, and Corey has enough to do around here. I can’t walk after I do it, and I have to get in bed and take my muscle relaxers afterwards, but it’s clean.

Regardless, the house still looks terrible because there are things everywhere from where we pulled things out to start the remodeling. Boxes, furniture, all sorts of things in the wrong places. Would that mean that I wouldn’t get the needed attention from an EMT because it wouldn’t look as if I deserved it? Who were these people to make this decision. I am completely flummoxed.

And then there is the story of the two children: Sage and Bear and their father. I have tried all day to put them out of my mind and find that I cannot because there are too many stories of too many children like Sage and Bear. I just came across another story of a 19-year-old and her boyfriend who beat to death her two -year-old daughter for not saying please, but she did manage to keep saying “Mommy I love you” while they beat the very life out of her.

There are too many stories like this for my heart to hold. I do not know how the men and women who work in these professions can do it, can go to their jobs everyday and hear about these children, or on the opposite side, hear about these monsters. I don’t know how social services can try to work with families who are so obviously dysfunctional but the courts say that placement with the biological parents is preferable. I don’t know how the doctors and nurses can look at the shattered bodies who are brought to them in the aftermath of parental and spousal warfare. I don’t know how the EMT’s can go into a house and remove the body of a 93-year-old man who died on a technicality.

Think of all that this man had survived: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Twin Towers, desegregation, women getting the vote, a man landing on the moon, cars, television, and telephones. He saw great inventions and terrible creations of mass destruction. He saw all of the wonderful things that our country celebrated: the end of wars, ticker tape parades, the first step on the moon, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and he saw all of the evil of the world: Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, Waco, 9/11, and all of the rest. And the final helplessness of dying of hypothermia in his own home.

To all of the people who do the hard jobs that I know that I would like to do but cannot, I offer my sincere gratitude. You walk into houses. You look for the lost children. You do not stop until you find the monsters. You live with the monsters, carry them with you, tucked away in you back pockets so that they do not touch the sanctity of your own families, but they are always with you until you can pass them along to the next link in the chain.

And some of you are never able to let go of the monsters, even when they are dead and gone. That is their heinous legacy to those whose lives they have stolen.

Newest Statistic That I Never Needed To Know

So today I learned from one of the Veterans’ websites that everday approximately 18 American war veterans commit suicide; every month, almost 1,000 veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs attempt suicide (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8868).

This startling statistic is news to most Americans because the Bush administration did not want this news to be made public to Americans. It has taken a law case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, for this news to reach the American public. This case is a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for United Truth on behalf of 1.7 million veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the conditions of the case, the VA had to produce a series of documents.

In one letter from Dr. Ira Katz, former head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, Katz opens his key e-mail with “Shh!” Katz advises a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

Another shocking number is 287,790—the actual number of American veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who had failed VA disability claims since March 25 2008. Other casualty statistics not normally revealed:  Number of American troops wounded in Iraq: 31,948;  Number of troops “injured” in Iraq”: 10,180; Number of  troops “ill” in Iraq: 28,451.

back-of-angel

Those three number total represent soldiers who are so damaged physically that they have to be evacuated to Germany. By splitting the numbers into three categories, it makes the number of casualties appear to be lower. Or, at least that was the thinking in the Bush administration.
 
Personally, the number manipulation just makes it that more tragic. These numbers are people, not numbers. If the American people were aware of just how many of its warriors were dying not only on foreign soil, but also on American soil, after they have come home, after they have been taken out of combat, if they only knew just how its veterans were waiting years for decisions on their benefits, perhaps they would be less complacent. If only we had seen the flag-draped coffins sooner, perhaps the reality might have moved beyond our periphery sooner.
Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day. More later. Peace.

Grace in Small Things #27

It’s hard today to write my list after writing yesterday’s post, after reading some of today’s news, after hearing from an old friend . . . but I will try.

1. Statues of angels. I really love to take pictures of angelic statuary in cemeteries, especially the older ones. And I love to find new pictures of angel statues that I’ve never seen before, like ones in other countries.

2. Hearing from old friends, even if the news isn’t the best.

3. Finding an old pair of earrings that I haven’t worn in a long time and remembering where they came from. Where did I buy them? or Who gave them to me? Was it a special occasion? Why haven’t I worn them in a while?

ginger-snap-cookies
Ginger Snap Cookies

4. Finding an old photograph that I’ve forgotten about and relishing the feeling of that moment all over again. Remembering the people who were in the photo with me, what we were doing, what we were wearing, why we were there, where everyone is now.

5. Ginger snap cookies. I love that slightly spicy taste.

It’s an odd assortment today. More later. Peace.