“Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a future of radical transformation.” ~ Cherrie Moraga

 

Durdle Door, Dorset, England

                   

“The question we need to ask ourselves is whether there is any place we can stand in ourselves where we can look at all that’s happening around us without freaking out, where we can be quiet enough to hear our predicament, and where we can begin to find ways of acting that are at least not contributing to further destabilization.” ~ Ram Dass

Tip of The Cobb, Lyme Regis, Dorset, England

It’s Saturday afternoon, two weeks and a day since my mother’s accident. Yesterday, Corey brought over one of the computers from the house since my stay here is obviously not going to be just a few days, and he realized that I am going crazy without a computer. That and the fact that I really cannot leave my mother alone in the house while I go somewhere else to work on my blog.

My mom’s house has no Internet connection, but fortunately, enough people nearby have unsecured networks that I can tap into. I know. Not an ideal situation, but at this point, I have to take what I can get.

So now I have a little set-up in my mother’s living room: an old sewing table, a bit rickety but just big enough for a screen and my Bose speakers (hooray for that). This will be my first official post from my new location. I have one of my playlists going in the background, just loud enough to drown out the constant sounds of television coming from her bedroom. She is one of those people who is uncomfortable with silence of any kind; hence there will always be a television on at any given minute, and the sound will always be quite loud. So “Ruby Tuesday” is currently muffling the sounds of whatever lightweight show she has found to watch on Saturday afternoon (only comedies and game shows in this house, no dramas (with the exception of “Law & Order”???), nothing heavy—remember, my mother is of the “think happy thoughts” school of mental health).

“And which is stronger in us—passion or habit?” ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Lyme Regis from The Cobb by Peter Spencer

This is the story: My mother has a very large screened back porch with a cement floor and solid cement steps. These steps are the same ones she fell on last year although without nearly the same bad results. My mom has a tendency to put throw rugs all over the place, and she had one on the steps, which is what she tripped on, ultimately landing hard on the cement. Apparently, she pulled herself into the house and crawled to the telephone.

She called a number that she thought was Brett’s and told the man on the other end that she had fallen and asked him to get me as soon as possible. Turns out it was a wrong number, but you would think that the man on the other end might have had the decency to call 911 or something. My mom waited a few minutes and then called my number. I answered, and she asked why I hadn’t come over. I told her that I didn’t know what she was talking about. She asked why Brett hadn’t told me. I ask what was wrong and told her that I would be there in a couple of minutes.

Brett and I broke the land speed record going the two miles between our houses. I walked in, touched her leg which caused her to scream, and called 911. One ambulance and a fire truck later, I was surrounded by five EMT personnel, three of whom were asking me questions simultaneously. My reaction? To answer them while cleaning. It’s what I do under stress—regress to the child who cleaned her way through family fights and insecurities. I picked up laundry, moved chairs, and recited my mom’s vitals. Brett stood by looking helpless, and Donna, the neighbor from across the street spoke quietly to my mother.

Surreal is the only way to categorize the tableau as it unfolded in the living room on Friday evening.

“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.”  ~ Chuck Palahniuk from “Invisible Monsters”

Town Mill in Lyme Regis, Dorset, England

Brett rode next to the EMT driving the ambulance transporting mom, and I followed in the Rodeo (Brett later told me that the man had tried to make casual conversation during the ride to try to keep Brett calm, for which I am ever grateful), all the while thinking that it would go so much faster if they would turn on the lights and sirens, but it wasn’t really an emergency in their book, so I obeyed the speed limit and followed the transport to Leigh Memorial, a hospital that I truly hate but the one that my mother requested.

My father died in that hospital, and the ER in that hospital misdiagnosed Caitlin when she first presented with symptoms. Needless to say I just don’t get a warm and fuzzy from the place.

I walked into a packed ER, gave the person at the registration desk my name, and tried to find seats that were not directly under the blaring television. Have you ever noticed the unspoken rules in an ER waiting room: Everyone already seated checks out the newest arrival in order to assess if the person has a real emergency—like a dangling appendage, which would be cause to be taken out of the queue. When the registration desk tells the newest arrival to take a seat, all of those already waiting breathe a collective sigh of relief that the order will not be disturbed. Of course, when your name is called and you go between those two magical doors, the ones that can only be opened by the keeper of the automatic door opener, everyone still seated shoots daggers at your back.

Ah, the rich pageantry of life.

I forgot to mention that during all of this, I texted Alexis first with a brief message: “Oma fell. 911. Call ASAP.” She did not respond; what in the hell is the point of using 911 if the response is ho hum, I ask. I texted again, this time to everyone with more specifics: “They are taking Oma to the ER in an ambulance.” Alexis and Eamonn called almost simultaneously. I had already called Corey on the way to the house, but as luck would have it, he was working but supposed to be off at 11.

“The shortest distance between two points is often unbearable.” ~ Charles Bukowski 

Ammonite Light Post at Dusk in Lyme Regis

So back to the narrative: I was told to go through the doors, turn right, turn left, go around and turn right. Right. Got it. I turned right and immediately asked for someone to point me towards my mother’s room.

She had been given morphine in the ambulance, which had made her throw up, so when I walked in, she was clutching a disposable emetic bag that I eventually had to pry from her fingers. I was told that x-rays had been taken and that we were waiting for the doctor. Talk about stating the obvious.

Hours and hours later . . .

The x-rays revealed that my mother had broken her tibia directly below the kneecap, and she was bruised in several places. She had not broken her hip. An immobilizing brace was ordered, and the attending physician told me to call the orthopedist on Monday.

Now this all sounds terribly civilized, but I’m leaving out some good parts, like my mother screaming when anyone touched her, the fact that she was shaking all over from shock and I couldn’t get her a blanket, and she needed to pee. Eventually, she was catheterized, given more meds (I felt like Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, trying not to become hysterical as I demanded that they shoot some more of the good stuff into the IV. Look, I just can’t get into what I was feeling during all of this, not really, as it was all much too intense and draining). 

As the doctor was giving his parting directions, I thought to myself, “You’re not keeping her??? What do you mean you’re not keeping her??? Have you lost your mind??? Have I lost my mind???

Then there was the Marx Brothers scene in which an orderly, a nurse, and I tried to put my mother into the passenger seat of my car. You see, I had sent everyone home. Brett hadn’t eaten all day. Corey was exhausted,and I knew that I was going to need him when we got home. So the departure was a solo event.

The three of us tried lots of different scenarios with each of us holding different body parts, and my mother screaming “No. No. No. Just put me back.” Finally, the orderly lifted her bodily and placed her in the seat as my mother said, “You’ll get a hernia. You’re going to hurt your back.” Meanwhile, I thought, “how in the hell are we going to get her out of the car when I get home?”

“The human story does not always unfold like a mathematical calculation on the principle that two and two make four. Sometimes in life they make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down in the middle of the sum and leaves the class in disorder and the pedagogue with a black eye.” ~ Winston Churchill

Coade Stone Ammonite Pavement Celebrating Lyme Regis’ as the Capital of the Jurassic Coast

                   

I don’t remember the drive home at all, just that I avoided potholes and bumps. I had called Corey, and he was waiting at my mother’s house for us. I told him about the ordeal of putting her in the car. Neither of us had an inkling as to how we would get her out of the car, up the steps, and into the bedroom.

Lots of screaming. Hers, mine, ours.  (look, I’m not being flippant, or maybe I am, but this was two weeks ago, and the only way to deal with some things is in retrospect and with no respect whatsoever). The goal was to remove her from the car without bending her right leg . . . We had the walker, but it quickly became apparent that it was useful as a skateboard.

We ended up carrying her. Don’t ask me how. We stopped on the porch as I opened the doors while my mother yelled not to let Willow (her schnauzer) out. Trust me, Willow was too petrified to bolt. We stopped at the entrance to the hall. Somehow, we got her in bed.

Those first few days and nights were a blur, except for the hallucinations, which I’ll get into next time as they deserve a post of their own.

So that’s the first part of my latest saga. Feels good to be writing about it.

More later. Peace.

Music by Jean Louisa Kelly, her version of “Someone to Watch over Me” from Mr. Holland’s Opus

“Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text.” ~ Fernando Pessoa

Blooming Sour Cherry Tree, Switzerland

“The various thoughts which arise in our minds are nothing but the scenery of the Life of the Self.” ~ Uchiyama Kosho

Spring in Vorarlberg, Austria

Very little sleep again last night . . . I got up early this morning to take my other mother-in-law to DMV to get a replacement license. I suppose this is my first time alone in trying to do something with her since her condition has worsened, and I must say that it was an awakening.  When I got to her house, she did not know why I was there, and then we had to spend time looking for her social security card, which she was certain she had lost. As it turns out, it was in her wallet. 

I really wasn’t sure if they would replace her license as I put Parkinson’s on the form under medical conditions, but I don’t think that the woman at the counter even glanced at that particular box. In a way I am very dismayed by the outcome. Her license was replaced, which means that she is legal to drive. She assured me that she won’t drive unless she feels up to it and that she will not drive at night, but after spending the morning with her, I am worried that she might get in the car and forget where she is going, only to get lost. 

To say that I am saddened by the helplessness of a once-vital woman who has been such a big part of my life for so many years is a huge understatement. Like so many others of us in the sandwich generation, watching my children grow and come into their own while simultaneously my elders decline and lose so much of themselves has become the sad reality of life. 

“How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you—you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences . . . little rags and shreds of your very life . . . ” ~ Katherine Mansfield

Claife Station, Western Shore of Windermere, NW England

The weather here is beautiful, a bit chilly, but sunny and clear. For some reason, when the weather starts to become warmer, Shakes takes to hiding in my closet, nested within the shoe boxes and clothes that have fallen in the back. It’s very unnerving to go to the closet door and hear rustling. Maybe he likes the cool, dark of the closet. Who knows. When I was a child, I remember going into my closet during thunder storms. I wasn’t really scared, everything  just sounded better from within the depths of the closet. 

A few nights ago I dreamed about my cousin from Great Bridge again. We were very close when we were growing up, but other than the funerals, I haven’t seen very much of him lately, which is why it’s disturbing that I seem to be dreaming about him about once a month now, and he is always in some kind of dilemma, not danger, but facing some kind of problem. Another who knows . . . 

Some good news with a caveat: Corey spoke to someone at the port security firm today, and she told him that she had a list of names to call of individuals in whom the company is not interested, and his name is not on the list. The head guy comes back next Monday, so perhaps Corey will get some good news next week. Here’s hoping. 

“There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us, with or without repentance.” ~ Gilbert Parker

Bois de la Cambre, Brussels

Tomorrow is Alexis’s EEG, which is supposed to take eight hours (blimey), and then she has her MRI on Friday. It will be good to get the tests out of the way, but then more waiting for results. Overall, she is handling everything really well, or maybe she’s hiding it from me. There is no way to be certain. I just know that I’m on perpetual worry mode until we find out something concrete, which may or may not happen. 

I think that Alexis realizes what a worrier I am, so she probably does not let on if she is fretting herself. But she seems to be fairly calm, which is a good thing. I can worry enough for everyone. 

I didn’t tell my other m-i-l about Alexis’s seizure as I didn’t see any need to worry her. I was thinking about it, especially when she asked how Alexis is doing, but I decided that in this particular situation, discretion is most definitely the better part of valor. The last thing she needs on her mind is whether or not something is wrong with one of her grandchildren. 

“There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.” ~ Josephine Hart

Spring in Vonêche, Belgium

Since it’s getting close to spring, I wanted to feature some spring images from other parts of the world (found on Wikimedia Commons). I have images in my mind of Europe in the spring, the hills in Scotland, vast expanses of green in the English countryside. I know that I saw them as a child, and even then they imprinted themselves on my memory.  

Personally, part of me longs to live in a small European village dotted with houses with steep roofs. I hate the suburbs. I hate ranch houses. I hate driving down a road that is one long line of unending convenience store chains, grocery stores, and car repair shops. I wonder if the place actually exists that I have created in my mind’s eye, the small place, with local shopkeepers, a small flower store, and in the background, fields of wildflowers, a creek. 

But more, I wonder if I would really love it in reality as much as I think I love it in my mind. 

More later. Peace. 

“Be Here Now,” by Ray LaMontagne 

I Truly Do Not Understand What Has Happened To The Milk of Human Kindness

black-angel-of-council-bluffs-cropped

The Black Angel of Council Bluffs

The Truth is More Horrible Than Fiction

He Deserved More Dignity in Death

In Bay City, Michigan, a 93-year-old man froze to death inside of his home because the electric company had put a limiting device to limit the amount of electricity the man could use becaue of $1,000 in unpaid electric bills. The temperature in the house dropped below 32° Fahrenheit, and Marvin E. Schur died “a slow, painful death,” said Kanu Virani, Oakland County’s deputy chief medical examiner, according to an AP report.

Schur died of hypothermia, which he would have felt first in his extremeties as a burning sensation in his fingers and toes. Hypothermia causes a gradul shutting down of the body’s whole system. Schur was found by a neighbor on Monday morning.

Merry Christmas Sage and Bear

In Jerome, Idaho, on Christmas Day, Robert Aragon set out with his two children, 11-year-old Sage, and 12-year-old Bear, to take them to their mother’s house just one town away. The temperatures were bone-chillingly cold, and there were snowdrifts on the side of the road. Soon, Aragon’s truck became trapped in one of the snowdrifts. Instead of wrapping up his children while he worked on digging out his truck, Aragon decided to choose another solution: He had his children get out of the truck and start walking the remaining 10 miles towards their mother’s house.

Sometime after the children had been put out of the truck and told to start the long walk down the country road, Aragon managed to get his truck free. Good new, right? Did the caring father drive as fast as he could to pick up his children?

NO. He drove back home to Jerome. The children’s mother called to say that they had never arrived. Please note that this means that this cretin of a human being had never even bothered to see if his children had arrived. When authorities found Aragon around 10 p.m., he was at the site where he had put the children out of the truck.

Unbelievable, comments are divided on Aragon’s decision. Some people are trying to be forgiving:  “Who knows what went through his mind? It’s just so sad,” said Ron Choate, who owns a diner in Jerome. “Sure, the dad was dumb to let them walk, but he probably didn’t think something bad was going to happen.”

Others are less kind: “I am sure that the jail cell Mr. Aragon is now occupying is much warmer at night than the snow bank he provided for his daughter,” Pat Brownfield of nearby Twin Falls wrote in a letter to the local newspaper.

Within hours after the children began walking, Sage, dressed in pink pajama pants, a shirt, snow boots and a down coat, was dead from hypothermia. Bear was luckier. When he was found, he was wearing only his long underwear. He had become delusional from the hypothermia, and was found in a deserted, single-stall rest stop more than 4 miles from where the children started walking.

Snowdrifts at the site where Bear was found were around four feet high, and rescuers had to climb over the drifts to get to the boy.

But this is not the end of the story. Also in the car with Aragon on the night was his cousin. Both men face up to life in prison for second degree murder and felony injury to a child. A judge later dismissed charges against the uncle.

When I read this, what I could not believe were the number of comments from people who were arguing for Aragon, saying what a good man he was, how “a jail sentence is too harsh.” I find these comments simply unbelievable. A good man, a good father, does not put his children out in frigid temperatures, dressed in pajama pants to walk ten miles. A good father, upon freeing his truck, does not turn around and drive home.

Of course we do not have all of the facts in this case as to why the children were living with their father and not their mother, why their mother did not go searching for the children when she found out they were missing. There are a lot of glaring omissions to this story. But two key facts stand out:

Fact number one: He took his children out in the cold and put them out of the truck. 

Fact number two: He did not go and get them when he dug out his truck. No. He went home.

I, for one, am totally without words.

(From the AP. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090113/ap_on_re_us/death_in_the_snow)

It’s Not My Job

In December in Brighton, England, two Emergency Medical Technicians had a discussion on whether or not they should perform their job, that being whether to attempt to resuscitate 59-year-old Barry Baker, according to The Times of London. An unidentified source said that the EMT’s arrived in reponse to a call that Baker had placed in November after suffering a heart attack.

But after entering the building the two technicians were dismayed by the condition of the building and wondered aloud whether Baker was “worth saving.” Unfortunately for the technicians, Baker had never hung up the 999 emergency call, so everything that they were saying was being recorded, every petty, horrible, inhumane little piece of tripe that oozed from their shiftless, judgmental lips was recorded for posterity so that now, the entire rest of the world can sit in judgment of them.

(from UPI.com, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/12/31/EMT_workers_arrested_in_British_death/UPI-55681230750341/).

And Through It All, We Pray to Remain on the Side of the Saints and the Angels

308px-ellen_terry_at_lady_macbeth

Lady Macbeth feared for her husband because in her estimation, he was weak. He had too much kindness in him:

“Yet doe I feare thy Nature, It is too full o’ th’ Milke of humane kindnesse.”

And it was true. He did not have the blood-letting capacity innate to his wife. But in the end, it drove her mad.

These people who treat life as if it is a coin to be tossed so lightly, bear it without the weight of its consequence. Why surely, God cannot “send to eternal pain a man who has done something toward improving the condition of his fellow-man. If he can, I had rather go to hell than to heaven and keep company with such a god” (Robert Ingersoll).

These people, these faceless companies who have not a thought for the lives they place in the balance when they put ignominious limitations on life-giving heat should be forced to sit in houses in which the temperature dips below 15º Farenheit, and no one looks in on them except for during the “thick night . . . and dunnest smoke of hell” (Lady Macbeth, Macbeth).

The man who makes a choice wholly inconceivable, disposes of children like small animals, left thoughtlessly by the roadside to freeze in the snow, “For a plot hatched in hell, don’t expect angels for witnesses” (Attorney Robert Perry, making summation to trial of John DeLorean).

“My whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray to disclose to me why sin came into the world; why the earth is strewn with the dying and the dead; and why man must suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle angel-wingsof light thrown on these subjects, that has given a moment’s ease to my tortured mind . . . I confess, when I look on a world of sinners and sufferers-upon death-beds and grave-yards-upon the world of woe filled with hosts to suffer forever: when I see my friends, my family, my people, my fellow citizens when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger—and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them, and yet he does not do so, I am stuck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark to my soul, and I cannot disguise it”  (Albert Barnes).

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” ~ Dante Alighieri 

There is no more need for words. Peace.

   

 

 

O Christmas Tree

Ms. Claus Has a Dilemmasmall-christmas-tree

I have nowhere to put my Christmas tree this year. The living room still has the new bedroom furniture in boxes in front of the fireplace, which is where we normally put the tree—to the left of the fireplace in the corner. However, there is no access to the corner because of the huge boxes. The only other possible place is the space between the living room and the dining room. However that space is currently being occupied by what I like to call an art nouveau sculpture: a chair on which is perched precariously a box, another box, some file folder, various papers; behind the chair is another box containing mysterious content; next to the mysterious content box is what I believe to be an old CD holder, some more file folders, possibly some office supplies, and other colorful pieces of unidentifiable stuff, for lack of a better term.

The sculpture is being held together by a substance known as dust, which, when left alone for months at a time, becomes very durable. No one has tried to move this sculpture because we have become so used to its presence that it is now a part of our daily lives. We walk around it, reach over it, and occasionally add a new piece to it in an attempt to expand its essence. Even the dogs give it a wide berth.

I have lost several items over the past year, a few books, a sweatshirt, some sunglasses. It is entirely possible that they have been absorbed by the statue. I have no doubts that it has begun to take on a life of its own, which is why I no longer have any interaction with it. It is slowly moving towards the table on which the printer sits. I expect it to mind meld with the dining room computer at any time. In a way, it reminds me of the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Any day now, I fully expect it to demand to be fed something or else it will devour the Jack Russells.

Nevertheless, until someone tackles this mass of clutter disguised as art, I will have no place in which to set up a Christmas tree. This will not be a good thing for all involved, believe me. I keep to myself for most of the time, have given up the living room and the big screen HD television to those who use the XBox. I don’t use the dining room computer because I have my own nice wide screen right here in the bedroom. But when it comes to Christmas and the Christmas tree, that’s when I have to draw the line. That’s my holiday, and I refuse to budge on this issue.

Even though I stress myself out completely in the attempt to create a wonderful Christmas each and every year, I still go through the madness. I want the house decorated inside and outside. I want the tree up, and I want all of the lights on it. To add to the madness, my OCD about Christmas lights is one of the things that I have not relinquished. I wrap the lights on the branches, not just around, which means that I end up putting about 12 strands of lights on the tree, and I won’t give this job to anyone else because no one does it the way in which I want it done. Admittedly, when I’m finished, I am not pleasant to be around, so we usually decorate the tree in a two-step process: lights on one day, ornaments on the next. I do lights, everyone else does the ornaments.

I do the cards and most of the wrapping. Brett has started to help with the wrapping, which is nice, but even he can’t understand why I get to OCD over wrapping presents. Why three strands of ribbon instead of one? I love to make presents look beautiful even if no one really notices. It’s just part of the tradition that I’ve created over the years, a tradition that albeit is more stressful than anything else, and one that I refuse to let go of even though it sends me off the deep end. If you are trying to find logic here, there is none. Believe me, Corey has been trying for years, and he has finally just accepted the madness rather than try to understand it.

Truthfully, I think that really it’s my last connection to doing things the way in which I used to that I just cannot let go of, no matter how much it costs me. I love Christmas. I love the lights. I love the trees. I love the packages. I love to give things to people I love. Corey doesn’t love Christmas in the way that I do, so he doesn’t understand my compulsion about all things Christmas. I want him to love Christmas in the way that I do, but he doesn’t. I try to understand that not everyone likes the holidays, but the kid in me wants to pout and make everyone love this holiday.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m sure that it goes back to my childhood. Being an only child didn’t necessarily mean that I got a lot for Christmas because actually, I didn’t. But as far back as I can remember, we always had nice celebrations at Christmas. In England, Father Christmas would come to school, and we would have Christmas pudding and sing lot and lots of carols. When I was about eight or nine and my dad was out to sea at Christmas, we would spend the holidays either at Great Bridge with all of my cousins, or we would go to Winston Salem to spend the holidays with my mother’s other sister and my cousins there. So it was always a time for family. My mother always made sure that I was surrounded by lots of people when Dad wasn’t there, so I have very warm, loving memories of Christmas as a child.

It was never about the presents. It was about the season. As I got older, I carried that with me, and I created my own traditions, and I don’t want to let go of these. The boys have always gotten up really early and cheated by looking in the gift bags, which is why I wrap about half of the presents. We always unwrap presents as a family so that everyone pays attention to what other people are getting. There are always presents from Ms. Claus and from the dogs, too.

Everyone has homemade stockings, and filling the stockings is as important as the presents. No one ever knows what might show up in their stockings. And of course, when the kids were younger, we left a plate of cookies forgrinch Santa and some milk. The boys asked me if I ate the cookies, and I could honestly say that I did not becaue I didn’t.

I suppose, in the end, for me, Christmas is still magical. I am still filled with wonder and hope, which is why one day very soon, someone in this family is going to have to kill the beast that has grown in the dining room so that I can have my Christmas Tree. Otherwise, the Grinch may take up residence until the problem is fixed, and that just won’t be good for anyone. We’re going to have my Christmas, dammit, even if I have to kill everyone in the process.

More later. Peace.

I Vant To Be Alone . . .

Hermits, Eremites, Anchorites, or Just Plain Recluses?

aran-islands-hermits-cave
Aran Islands Hermit's Cave, Ireland

I’ve been contemplating hermits. You know, those people, usually men, sometimes women, who go off and live by themselves. (The word hermit comes from the Greek word erēmos, which means desert or uninhabited; hence “desert-dweller”; adjective: “eremitic”; (Wikipedia)).  Hermits have been around since the 3rd century AD, and their associations have traditionally been religious. Originally, Christian hermits would live in huts or caves, called hermitages, in the desert or forest, and they were sought for spiritual advice, which kind of negated the whole solitude concept. (Here in Norfolk, we have a museum called The Hermitage, which has nothing to do with hermits, and that’s always kind of bothered me, but I digress.)

By the Middle Ages, the hermit’s life had changed in that it had become more anchored to the Christian church, thus the term anchorite. Instead of living in forests or deserts, many anchorites were actually walled into mud or brick attachments on the sides of the churches with a window opening into the church so that the anchorite could receive holy communion and another window open to the street to receive donations of food. I suppose that this allowed for more of the life sought by the Christian eremite, which was to be in total praise and devotion to his god.

tigers-den-buddhist-monastery
Tiger's Den Buddhist Monastery in the Himalayas

Of course, there were and are many kinds of hermits, not just the Christian ascetics. For example, Buddhist monks and nuns seek solitude for meditation, contemplation, and prayer. They prefer to life without the distractions of modern society or sex, and their lives follow a regimen of a simplified diet without meat, drugs, or alcohol. Buddhist monasteries and temples can be found all over the world, with an expected preponderance in China, but also from every place from Queensland, Australia, to Slovenia, to Oregon, to Chile and Bali.

Then there are the hermits who have no religious affiliations, the ones who are hermits simply because they choose to live a reclusive life apart from the rest of society.

When I was about 17, I contemplated becoming a nun. Now, given that I’m not Catholic and was not raised Catholic, you might find this a somewhat interesting declaration. I had a very good male friend in my teens who I may have mentioned before, and he was pretty much my sounding board throughout my teens and college years. We have known each other since the fourth grade, so I trust his judgment, even though he was a Republican for almost forever. So when I made the statement that I thought that I might like to become a nun, his response was to raise an eyebrow and wait.

These were my reasons: Let me preface this by saying that I find the Catholic religion particularly sexist, so I really have a hard time with that part of it, which I know pretty much disqualifies me from the start, but I love the rituals of it: the incense, the candles, the kneeling, the holy water. I wish that they still said the mass in Latin, not that I understand Latin, mind you. I loved the idea of being a nun and not having to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I mean, bingo, you’re married to god, you have a vocation, your wardrobe is chosen for you, you never have a bad hair day.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to be flippant. These really were my reasons. I was 17, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. It had nothing to do with religion. I loved the idea of being cloistered. I had not idea that I might have to teach school children or anything like that. I just wanted to be away from the rest of the world, and I didn’t know how to go about being a hermit, and I wasn’t sure if you could still actually do that, at least not in America. I knew that they still had hermits in England, or at least, I thought that they did.

My friend listened to my reasons, and then very calmly pointed out two main flaws in my plan: First, I wasn’t Catholic. And second, I wasn’t particularly religious or even spiritual at that point in my life. As he said, he thought that I needed to be at least one of those or to at least have some kind of “calling,” as he put it.

I cannot say that I was surprised. Disappointed yes, but surprised, no. It has seemed like a good idea at the time, and one that I revisited from time to time, especially when I was feeling as if I did not want to be of this world, if that makes any sense.

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of finding a monastery to go to for an extended retreat. I have heard of one that is in the foothills of Virginia somewhere, but I have never actively looked for it. I suppose that I have never given up on the idea of the monastic retreat even if I cannot live the lifestyle full time, which, in reality, I know that I cannot. I mean, I am already pretty much of a hermit already. Since going on disability, I have retreated from the trappings of life by choice, and I cannot say that I miss it all that much.

I miss going to school and learning new concepts and new information on an ongoing basis, but my computer is my lifeline to information, and I am tapped in 24/7. When I cannot sleep, I surf. I watch MSNBC for new political information, and I watch Law & Order, Without a Trace, and CSI for my doses of crime drama. That much hasn’t changed. I still like to eat out once in a while, and I would love an occasional night out for karaoke, but other than that, the world outside my bedroom doesn’t beckon to me in the way that it used to.

hermits-cave-quarry-bank-garden
Hermit's Cave Quarry Bank Garden

If we had the money, I would still like to take a trip once a year to a new country just for the experience, but a trip to a mall? Not so much. The movies? I really resent paying $30 for tickets and drinks and popcorn when I can pay $4 on cable in a month. Now a museum? In a heartbeat, but I would need to be in a new city for that. The symphony? I would probably get out of my pajamas for that. But just going out to go out? My hermit tendencies kick in, as do my curmudgeonly feelings about people in crowded stores like Wal Mart and the like.

If I had been around in the Middle Ages, and I believe that I probably was, I think that I would have liked to have been a hermit, probably one who lived in a stick hut in the forest. That sounds about right. And my name would have been something like Leonid of Aghast and I definitely would have been a misanthrope.

I’ll get into the whole idea of reincarnation and my thoughts about past lives and Zen and Karma and getting it right in another posting. But just one parting thought on that one. Why does everyone who believes in reincarnation believe that they were someone great like Napoleon or Marie Antoinette? I mean, why isn’t anyone ever a chambermaid or a stable boy or something like that? Just a thought.

As always, there will be more later. Peace.

“Amazing Grace”

Sunday Dinner

“I Once Was Lost”

When I was a little girl, I mean really little girl, about 8, my Aunt Ronnie used to have one of those electric chord organs in her back bedroom. My Aunt Ronnie is my mother’s oldest sister and has pretty much served as my surrogate grandmother on my mother’s side. My mother was the youngest of 12 children, and Aunt Ronnie was the oldest, so there is a big age span between them, which is why I have always viewed her as my surrogate grandmother, that and the fact that she is the grandmother to all of my second cousins who are my age.

I should probably be explaining this better, so let me regress a little. When we came back to the states after being in England, we settled in Norfolk for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was that several members of my mother’s family live in Great Bridge, which at that time, was still a pretty rural place in Chesapeake. Every Sunday, my mom and I would drive to Aunt Ronnie’s house for Sunday dinner, and I would spend the afternoon playing with my second cousins, which was a wonderful thing for me because as an only child, I wasn’t used to playing with family members my own age.

Those Sunday dinners deserve some space all their own. My Aunt Ronnie and whoever happened to be in the kitchen helping would turn out these incredible meals: roast chickens, chicken and dumplings (home made dumplings), pot roast, but the main course was always accompanied by southern style green beans, home made biscuits, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and some kind of homemade dessert, like banana pudding or an apple pie. None of it was frozen. Nothing out of a can.biscuits

I remember my first dinner—It was my first taste of southern sweet tea. I drank it down in one big gulp. Everyone looked at me as if I were some kind of weirdo, which, of course, I wasn’t. I just had never had anything as wonderful as sweet tea. Those were also the days of the kids’ table and the big table. We had great times at the kids’ table . . . until the adults remembered to look in on us. But, as usual, I digress.

My first cousins, Aunt Ronnie’s three daughters, were mostly my Mom’s age. Those Sundays were some of the best times of my childhood. Before them, I knew nothing about running wild through fall leaves, playing tag, playing hide and seek, finding toads, having sticker ball fights, getting bruises from climbing tall trees, swinging on tire swings, all of the fun things that normal children do.

In England, I had friends, and we went to the park, but it wasn’t with the same wild abandon that I had with my cousins. It was the difference between being in a city and having to be watched and being in what was still relatively untouched country neighborhoods with few cars coming down the streets. We could play in the streets, and every once in a while, one of the grown ups might yell out the front door to get a location on us, and we could hear from ten houses down. The windows were open. Everyone knew who we were. We could run through everyone’s yards, and no one really cared.

Of all of my cousins, I was probably the one who was the most scared to do things, not because I was a girlie girl, but because I didn’t know how to do a lot of the things that seemed to come second nature to them, and I knew that they would laugh at me. For example, they never could get me on a minibike. But I was one of the best at climbing trees. I wasn’t afraid to climb anything. Stick ball. Nope. I pretty much sucked at connecting any kind of bat at any kind of ball (I had bad eyes but wouldn’t admit it for years). I tried a couple of times, but decided that I liked rolling sticker balls in the mud and then playing war with them until we were cold, wet, and filthy.

“How Sweet the Sound”

Sometimes, my mom and I would go to my Aunt Ronnie’s house during the week, and none of my cousins would be around, and then it would be totally different. It would just be Mom and Aunt Ronnie sitting around drinking coffee, and I would have to amuse myself however I could. That’s when I discovered the small electric organ in the back bedroom. I think that these organs were probably popular during the 60’s. Some were small enough to sit on desks, and others were on stands. This one was on a stand, and I think that it had 18 keys on it. There were a few chords on the left. Very simplistic.

At that time, I hadn’t begun formal piano lessons. I was playing instruments by ear only. I picked out some rudimentary tunes: “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells.” And then I found an old hymnal, and I taught myself a couple of hymns, “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Amazing Grace.” Now, in all of the times I was in the back room playing with the organ, no one ever bothered me. They just drank their coffee, and once in a while said something about how nicely I was playing. But when I played “Amazing Grace,” I knew right away that I had done something, but I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.

My mother came into the bedroom with this strange look on her face. I had been playing and trying to sing the words as I was singing. She asked me very quietly to stop. Of course, I wanted to know why. The only thing that she would tell me was that Aunt Ronnie didn’t like to hear that song. So I stopped, but being a child, the next chance that I got, I played “Amazing Grace” again. This time, the reaction was much stronger. My mother came stomping back to the bedroom and turned off the organ and gave me one of those looks. I got up and started reading my book, and that was that.

I never played the organ again at her house other than the occasional Christmas carol, and that was much later when the cousins were older, and by then, we were sneaking bourbon, beer, and wine into the back room. The organ was just something to play to irritate the adults with more noise. I never found out why the hymn upset my aunt so much other than a quick explanation that it reminded Aunt Ronnie of something sad.

“And Grace Will Lead Me Home”

Personally, I have always loved “Amazing Grace,” and I decided years ago that when I die, it’s one of the few things that I want played at my memorial service—on the bagpipes, of course. Because, if nothing else is true, I believe in grace, perhaps not in the most traditional sense, but grace nevertheless. And I believe that even though the child in me could not understand how a song could elicit such painful memories in my aunt, something led me to that particular song in that hymnal.

amazing-grace-phlox
Amazing Grace Phlox

And more than once in my life, I have been brought back to the lines “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me.” They have come out of nowhere, when I have least anticipated it, at times when I have most needed it. As always, my spirituality is very personal and private to me and therefore, I am not willing to say more about it, nor do I believe that this is the forum in which to do so.

But mulling over Thanksgiving dinner brought back fond memories of those really wonderful Sunday dinners with my family in a time and place long gone. Those streets are unrecognizable now. Everyone has moved on to different places. My aunt wouldn’t know me if she saw me. The tragedies of Alzheimer’s. I have third and fourth cousins who I have never seen since we stopped going to the family Christmas gatherings long ago. But it’s nice to revisit these memory sand castles that we have tucked away in long-term niches gathering dust in grey matter, if for no other reason than to know that we still can.

Enough for now. More later. Peace.