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Saturday, March 9, 2013

I'm No Cliff Climber!

“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
Sir Edmund Hillary

“Just write about this whatever comes to mind,” MaryAnn, our writing teacher, said as she put down the marker pen on the ledge of the easel. 

Here’s what I wrote:

This quotation spikes my unanswered questions about people who attempt to do dangerous things. In the case of Sir Edmund Hillary I'd think, (but not venture to say,) Is the conquering of oneself by doing something that dangerous that rewarding? For being first to make it to the top of the world and spend fifteen minutes there you no doubt gained a unique feeling of some sort and a mountain of praise and well-deserved high regard later. No doubt you think it was worth it.

What turns me off about stories of people like this, like Sir Edmund Hillary, mountain climber, Charles Blondin, the man who crossed over Niagara Falls on a wire, and others who have become famous for their feats of daring, is that they were willing to risk life itself to achieve their goals. Why? 

My reaction is probably due in part to an experience I had when I was a young mother. I left our three children at home with their father one late afternoon to walk down to the beach in Laguna and watch the sunset. I was curled up in a little lagoon alone savoring the whole experience until I began to notice that the breakers were getting higher and closer. Soon I realized I was trapped in that lagoon! If I didn’t get out in a few minutes I’d be swept against the rocky cliff behind me. There was no other way out, I had to climb that cliff! And I am no cliff climber! Never was. But my life depended on doing it then. No cell phones in those days. It was getting dark and sane people had gone home. Even if they were up there they probably would not see me. No one would come so close to the edge, and with the noise of the surf no one could have heard me if I yelled. I was completely alone, on my own.

I knew instinctively then the truth of Sir Hillary’s comment. I’d need to conquer myself and my fears. Slowly and deliberately I picked out a way, though I could barely see by then. I put one foot on a ledge, the other on another, making sure the outcroppings were secure and would bear my weight. I needed to use my fingers too. I had to trust each step I chose. All the while breakers came in rapidly, fiercely lapping against my feet and ankles and spraying cold salty water against my whole body. I prayed like never before, 'Please, God, help me!' 

I felt an inner voice telling me, “Keep calm. Don’t panic. Your life depends on getting up to the top, so do it.” And I did. When I got home I didn’t tell my husband at first. I just went to the bathroom, cleaned up and got into my pajamas, slippers and robe. Then I went to the kitchen to prepare spaghetti dinner. After we were nearly through and there was a break in children chatter I said, 'Oh, by the way, I had a scary experience at the beach.' 

I didn’t get much in the way of praise. The kids knew the beaches. It must not have seemed a big deal to them. No piece appeared in the local paper like it would have if I’d failed. Just one reward for my careless outing and the conquering of myself. My life. My life!  I’ve lived probably fifty years or more since then. Was that little lonely escape from home to view the sunset worth it? No! Not in the least!  I’ve viewed many a sunset since. They were worth it, and I didn't risk my life for them. 

Reading about Sir Edmund Hillary since leaves me glad that he achieved this honor. He was a man in other ways also worthy of his fame and accolades. He had a spirit of humility, grace, generosity and bravery that made his life worth it. I’m truly grateful he lived to enjoy a less risky life long into his advanced years. I’m glad, too, that he made it safely home. And that prompts me to give another of his quotes: “'s always good to be going home.”

Over the Rainbow

When most of us remember Judy Garland we recall her role as Dorothy, the little Kansas farm girl in the movie The Wizard of Oz. How she sang the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow! It is hard to describe the sweetness, the hope, the pathos that simple melody evoked when Judy sang it. 

Next to life itself there is nothing quite so compelling than the desire to have a happy life, a life where all the positive, pleasing conditions one can imagine are ours. Do we need to bake the cake of life without all the required ingredients? Must we always have something missing? Are we required to be ignorant before we get smart? Those who declare we wouldn’t be able to appreciate good without its opposite might have a point. I’ve bucked that theory in the past. It seems like the old pinch-yourself-because-it feels-so-good-when-you-quit theory. Yet I’m willing to wrestle with the idea a bit more. 

Is that why we find in the Biblical story of creation a “darkness...upon the face of the deep?” After God had created all did He have to cover it up with darkness and then add the essential ingredient of light to illumine it so He could see and enjoy what He created? No, it doesn’t say God created the darkness. All it really says is that perfection needs to be seen, understood, made plain, sometimes earned and sometimes received and accepted by the grace of God in order to be enjoyed. 

“There she goes again,” my readers who’ve put up with me this long may be saying. Always asking questions, always trying to figure things out. Well, yes, without apology I admit it’s what I do most mornings. Here I’ve been given another beautiful day and I wonder why I’m so fortunate. I think it’s because of the gift of gratitude. Without gratitude the gifts we’re given slip out of view and only darkness remains.

I haven’t before thought of gratitude as light but, like light, gratitude shows us what we have to be grateful for and doesn’t get discouraged by the darkness of what we think we lack. It knows it can shine anywhere in that darkness and reveal more of God’s perfect creation, just as much as we can handle. Wow! 

As the song implies, there’s a reason why we don’t enjoy more of that sweet land of light and love Dorothy sang about. We picture it as being “somewhere over the rainbow.” We are plagued with the lie of limitation that would always keep us short of our desired end. We have to go somewhere else. We have to get something more. We are always reaching, reaching. Often we think the something we want is impossible. Even in the midst of agony we can be grateful. How? By letting our light shine on something good. I believe gratitude is not just a means to an end, it is the end itself. Dorothy found this out. She found her over-the-rainbow-home right there at her little Kansas farm home. 

I remember my childhood wonderings. As I lay in bed looking up at the bare ceiling and wondered what was in store for me, as I spread myself out in the little red wagon and looked up at the sky, wondering what was out there, as I first felt the longings of love with songs coming over radio waves in the darkness of my bedroom, I’m still wondering. It’s more fun to spend my mornings that way than listening to the latest weather report or the news of some shooting or other “newsworthy” commentary. 

I’m wondering lately why old folks seem to remember the distant past so much better than the near past. Maybe it’s because we are coming home to the place where we started wondering, the place where we first wanted to know, where we first tried to peek into a future. Maybe we’re making it around the cycle of life. Wondering about life, looking at the future’s blank ceiling, the sky’s endless blue, it is a very good thing to wonder at any age.

No, I’m not looking to fly over the rainbow. I’m just glad to be home, standing on my own two feet, sitting here at the computer, eating my once a day half piece of candy, and listening to the music station of oldies. Come to think of it, that’s what started this whole discussion today. I went to sleep last night with music from that station, so naturally when I clicked the remote it went there this morning, and the first thing I heard was the clear instrumental version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I  sang along with the words, remembering Dorothy and her adventure over the rainbow. 

Now I’m not saying I would turn down a trip to another planet, but I’d need a guarantee in writing that I could come home whenever I wanted to. Instantly. Then again, I might say, “No thanks! This is enough of heaven for me." For now I'll save seeing the whole round circle of the rainbow for some future airplane trip. I still need a good dark night's sleep every day.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Pick a Picture Puzzle

I enjoy putting together jig saw puzzles.  A good jig-saw puzzle takes time, but who cares? When I work on one I lose the sense of time. I’m in a bubble of bliss, safely exempted from the ruthless rules of conscience that would stand by and declare there are better things to do. 

First, I always pick my puzzle by the picture on the box and envision how good it will look full size when each piece is fitly snapped into place. There are many ways to work a jig-saw puzzle. Some like to make it more challenging by forgetting the picture on the box as they work on the puzzle. There are even some puzzles, I’ve heard, that have no picture on the box. I need to see what the end will be and I don’t mind taking a peek at the picture on the box now and then as it goes together. 

Like most jig-saw puzzle players I find the straight outside edges first. Getting the frame  together gives me a boost. Along the way I find myself setting pieces that look related in different areas and then I work on those, filling in by colors and patterns and shapes. When two larger groups have gone together and click into place, that, too, gives me a boost. 

Once I’ve set myself down for a spell by my jig saw puzzle I have already dismissed old finger-wagging conscience. I obey him most of the time, but this is a battle soon over when conscience gives in to reason. I do let him point to my watch at some time and agree to quit when he says, “Enough now.”  The “Just one more piece, please” ploy finally gives in to those so-called better things to do.  The nice thing about a big puzzle is that it is always agreeable. It is used to waiting. 

To me life in this world is, itself, like a giant jig-saw puzzle waiting for the pieces to find their unique places. The thing that keeps me working life’s puzzle is the assurance I feel that it will all turn out to be good in the end. I don’t judge it by the chaotic picture on the table. I know there’s a pleasant ending to it all.

Something tells me the whole picture of life as God intends it is right here and now but we don't see it yet. There's no picture on a box.  Like a baby, new to the world, we capture it, learn it, grow with it, and pursue it piece by piece. Guide books like The Holy Bible are great if we use them and don’t get bogged down with arguments or abandon them because we cannot completely believe.  

There’s something to be said, also, for the idea that at some point we see clearly enough that we simply give up the puzzle theory and break through to reality where we reflect the whole all at once, not in bits and pieces, but like a mirror, a big mirror. I don’t think that time comes until we’re ready for it. Maybe it will be like stepping onto a higher platform in space where we get a better picture. I like to call that platform Understanding.

While working the jig-saw puzzle theory, something tells me I, too, have a part to play in making the pieces of life fit, in painting the picture as well. We are artists, engineers, seekers of Truth, and explorers. We are not stuck in the puzzle. We have a part to play in this grand adventure. We’re given the challenge to work it out with the light that’s been given us. It’s God’s way of letting us engage with Him in the creation of His grand works. Like a father teaches his child how to swim or fish or play ball, or like a mother who shows her child how to make a lovely home and get along with others.

The puzzle now on my table is one of a farm yard, a farm with little buildings clustered around a farm house. Sheep wander around freely and there’s a goat and a cow and horse. Of course a dog and cat and chickens and get the picture. I love the moments I spend with it and I know when I finish and the last piece is put in its place I’ll see it anew and say to myself, “How good it is! I’d love to come in. May I?” (I grew up in the country and I know a lot about farms, especially the small old-fashioned ones.)

Do you suppose God is still putting together pieces of His perfect heavenly creation, the one already created, already here, with the light He’s shining on it? If so, I don’t doubt He will again and again let us help, even insist that we help, to put the pieces together. Then we too will behold and declare the final picture to be “very good!” And it will not have taken any time at all because eternity doesn’t know about time. But that’s another story, another big chunk of the puzzle.

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Sunny Kitchen Window

This is the season when the morning sun breaks past the trees outside and pours into my kitchen window for a few minutes. I love a sunny kitchen window so I take advantage of these times when the sun comes my way, pull up a bar stool and sit here by the kitchen windows for breakfast. 

Now, I know, a window by the kitchen sink can seem an unlikely place to display some of my favorite small art objects but where better could they pick up the clear light of day and show off their lovely colors than here? Where else would they be seen so often as I go about my “KP,” my kitchen patrol? They used to be tucked inside the glass doors of my china cabinet but they begged to get out. So, here they are enjoying the view and adding to it their own delightful eye-catcher charms. 

There’s a deep red glass apple that belonged to my mother-in-law. A handsome ceramic rooster who is crowing silently and reminding me of the real live rooster we had at our Oregon ranch. A stained glass narrow plate with a golf course fairway scene reminds me of the weekly golf games Wally G. and I played at the little nine hole course in Gold Hill. A charming clear crystal replica of the Santa Maria, Columbus’s ship, sits in a blue glass mini-tub of water. We bought that as a ship's consolation gift for having to miss one of our cruise's ports of call. There’s a piece of pinkish-purple amethyst I bought to remind me of Robby, my second husband, who was a geologist. (I gave his collection of these to his kids when I moved out west.) A tall rectangular vase serves to show off the collection of small smooth river stones I love to pick up and let my fingers play with. A couple of leafy plants are enjoying the sun’s brief kiss, but most precious of all my kitchen window treasures is Tommy, the reddish yellow canary I adopted a couple of years ago. He too enjoys the sun and cannot fail to notice his own plumage reflected on the window pane. He adds those vital ingredients of life, animation, and song to these corner kitchen windows, and he never complains about the see-through bars of his cage. 

Occasionally I sit on one of the bar stools here by the kitchen sink to enjoy my breakfast and the ambience of my showcase by the window. Both the gallery of art and the panorama of nature beyond the windows give me delicious delight. The sun’s passing by also catches for a while the ripples on the creek and throws them up on the neighbor’s walls across the way to dance and play.

They say a writer should only write of things he’s well acquainted with. If I were more of a student I’d become familiar with things as things, but I’m wondering if it isn’t enough to just share the objects and ideas that give me joy on a more child-like level. If it is true, as someone once said, that “age is infancy,” then I’m back in my second childhood for at least part of my days. I’m playing house, my possessions are my toys, I must arrange them, display them, and then start reading the morning paper. 

As I page through I begin to wonder, - how many kitchen windows can be quite so distracting as mine? Does anyone else put their best beside the window above the kitchen sink instead of sponges and soaps and scrubbers? No, the daily newspaper can wait. It might even hit the recycling bag before it’s read. Would that be so bad? 

The sun is moving on now. It’s no longer pouring in my windows. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it today! That’s why I’m sitting here later talking to my blog and trying to recapture my child playtime of this morning, the first day of March, 2013. These moments will never come again. Like a photograph, I try to capture them for myself and posterity. I say to myself, This is what I’m most familiar with. I think I’ll write about it, and no sooner said than done!