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Friday, May 31, 2013

Above Average

Life is a sea of statistics and I was interested to learn yesterday that among American women I have passed the average age of death. I think I know why. It’s because I’ve kept my childhood without being too childish. There is a difference, you know. Besides that, put simply, I’ve been lucky. I was born rich. Not in worldly wealth but in familial love and decency and in gratitude for daily supply and the joy of living. Above all, I am grateful to have had early instruction in the Christian way of life that does not get bogged down in dogma or blind faith. 

My daughter-in-law told my son, “I think I know why your mother always looks on the positive side. It’s because she’s good at letting go.” I was happy to hear that because I think it’s true. You’ve probably heard the story of how certain natives captured monkeys. They took empty gourds, tied them to trees and put grain inside them. When the monkey found one he’d reach in easily but with a fist full of grain he could not pull his hand out of the gourd. Being stubborn, he’d hang onto the grain until he was captured. My philosophy is to see good everywhere and in everything. Then I can let go of the good that traps me. 

Another reason I think I’m living this long is that I’m not afraid of what is called “death.” I’m not even afraid of the problem that might precede my demise. Why? Because I take life one day at a time and am so busy gleaning the good out of it I can't be bothered too much by what goes wrong. If the wrong can be righted, I’ll address it in practical ways. If not, I’ll let go of it and turn my thought to better paths. 

I know of a man who became totally paralyzed from his neck down. He was a Christian Scientist and asked not to be treated by the medical faculty. His wife hired a person to come in daytimes while she went to work to support them but before she left for work she would feed him and get him ready for the day. To occupy his mind he asked to have the textbook of his denomination, Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, set before him. His wife propped it up on a book stand in front of him and opened to page one. Each day he’d study one page and memorize it. His physical condition continued for ten years but he kept mentally alert by the book. He never gave up. Then, after all that time, he began to see physical improvement. Soon he was able to move, and before long he was up, walking, and in full use of his faculties. This has been documented and you can look up his name, Peter J. Henniker-Heaton, on Goggle to see his testimony. 

No, I don’t believe in blind faith but I do believe that faith can see beyond the limits of what appears real to the five physical senses. I believe there’s a spiritual universe all around us, even a heavenly kingdom that we see and understand faintly at this stage of our development. We’re like infants, aware enough of heaven to recognize the difference between good and evil, but not comprehending the full scope of it. When we get it wrong or misinterpret, we cry. We stumble and fall, but we pick ourselves up and go on. We let go and we find new discoveries. We learn, sometimes through science, other times through suffering, to be obedient to the law of Love and we live because of it. In the end we find there is no end. No beginning either. Just the Infinite, the Only, the All.

As for today, a little poem my mother gave me when I was a child has served me well as a morning prayer. I don’t know the author but here it is:

Now I rise at the dawn of day
Knowing God is my only guide.
In thought or deed, in work or play,
I know that He is at my side.
He is my help in everything.
He goes with me and rules my day,
No matter what the day may bring
Since I reflect my God alway.

I cannot claim great achievements in life or brag about anything, for that matter. I’ve been lucky, (fortunate is a better word.) I’ve focused on the good and let go of what seems bad, and I’ve treated each day as a little child would, with joy, gratitude and a mind full of wonder. Tragedy, war, fear, may spook me at times, I may fret and cry over both the trivial and serious, but this child in me just gets up, dusts herself off and marches on. That’s why I can say I’m a little above average in longevity. In other things I'm not so sure, but I do keep attending this school of life. I'm not ready to drop out quite yet, let alone graduate. I regret not striving more for perfection in all things, but at least I can claim to be above average in age. That's something! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Occupation: Retired?

The first few months of Wally Ginder Wethe’s retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps were painful. He’d sleep in mornings, move to the sofa in his pajamas to sit and read, fall asleep there, and eventually wander around the house like a lost soul. If I tried to help by suggesting some task around the house or yard he’d say, “I didn’t get out of the Marines just to make you my commanding officer!”

It was hard on me too. That old saying, “I married him for better or for worse, but NOT for lunch!” rang true after the first few days. I was reminded of how pleasant it had been to see him all clean-shaven, breakfasted, and looking snappy in his bright-buttoned uniform and polished shoes as he left the house for a day of flying a fighter plane or "flying a desk." Then I could do my own thing at my own pace and happily be my own boss. I had no more college homework, no outside job where I had to please someone else, and if I got bored studying recipe books or shopping for groceries or house-cleaning I could go over to visit Liz, a friend and another officer’s wife, and play with her baby. A year and a half later I had my own baby, two years later another, and six years after that our third and last child. I had plenty to do. Later I kept busy in my own ways, but with my husband at home all day? That changed the picture.

Not long after his retirement Wally G. got another job working for his church in various capacities. That was satisfying to him and he kept at it until the day he died. Proving, I’d say, that there’s little in the word “retirement” to recommend it as a satisfying state of living. I looked up the word in my dictionary and found most of the definitions to be negative, like "loneliness, reclusiveness, aloofness, apartness, separateness, solitariness, isolation, inactivity." Sandwiched in with these were a few words that spoke positively such as privacy, tranquility, serenity, and inactivity. I included that last word in the positive sense too because it turns me off to read about seniors who attempt to counter their age by doing things like sky-diving, long-distance running, motorcycling, bicycling through traffic, playing strenuous tennis games, mountain-climbing and other youthful pursuits. Why can’t they just do normal things, leave youth to the young and grow old gracefully?

Inactivity, I’m finding, can be an art. When I sit and look around my little creekside patio, listen to the waterfall, the birds, watch the sunlight glint amidst the trees and send dancing reflections of the creek up the neighborhood walls, I find a kind of bliss that silences the old work ethic nags. I say to them, “Enough! Been there. Done that.”

Sometimes I wonder what I could have done with my life to make more of a mark in the world. I haven’t been too self-indulgent and I’ve spent ample time looking for real answers to life, occasionally sharing my “finds” with a listening ear. I’ve pursued some talents and intend to do more of that in the near future. I’ve been helpful to my friends and family whenever I can, and I treat life as an open school, myself a willing student if not an over-achiever.

When I need to fill out a form and they ask my occupation I always have to think about that a minute before I answer “retired.” That word seems deceptive to me. Now if I could re-define “retired” to mean the state of working and playing on my own terms at my own pace, in other words a kind of do-what-I-want-when-I-want-at-the-pace-I-choose, then that’s my idea of an honest "retired" answer. Could there be another term for it? How about this; 

Occupation: optional 

I wonder when I’ll get my next chance to write that on some form. It might make someone smile. It works for me.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Fireplace

I’ve had quite a few fire-places in my life. The first was the kerosene kitchen stove in the little Minneapolis house on Russell Ave. N. It had white porcelain handles to turn on the gas. My first four years were lived in that house and I learned well the meaning of the word “No!” which was spoken whenever I’d try to play with those pretty handles. We had a coal burning furnace there too, but it was in the basement and I don’t remember getting acquainted with it.

The next fire place I knew was in my country grandma’s kitchen. You’ve seen, no doubt, replicas of those black wrought iron creatures in second hand and collectible stores. But you haven’t really known that kind of fireplace unless you’ve seen the real thing in use. I didn’t need the cautionary word “No” with this stove. It was hot and scary to look into, but when I was held in someone’s arms I could feel it enough to understand I must keep my distance. Still, it was exciting to look at the glowing contents when Grandma lifted the lid with her right hand and held me with her left arm.

In the early 1930‘s before rural electricity came to her home Grandma’s house was lit by candles in any room that was occupied. Candles were no-touch-by-children objects too but Grandma would carry a candle up the stairs with me at bedtime. When more light was needed a kerosene lamp on the kitchen table did the trick. I didn’t like the glare or smell of that thing. Besides it hissed!

I heard about real fireplaces at Christmastime when I saw pictures of them on Christmas cards and in children's books and wished that we had one in our own country home. I worried that Santa wouldn’t come to our house since we had no fireplace but Mother assured me that Santa would be glad to find a house where he wouldn’t be obliged to jump into a sooty chimney. We’d leave the door unlocked that one night of the year and put a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the table for him.

What we did have in the way of a fireplace in our own country house was a genuine pot-bellied stove with chrome bumpers and foot rests. I was not allowed to touch it but I could watch Daddy feed it and enjoy the comforts it offered, especially when I bathed in the laundry tub set next to it on winter Saturday nights.

When I was seventeen I went to live with my other grandmother in a little adobe tile-roofed California house in Riverside, California. It had a real fireplace. We had to buy firewood at the corner grocery and carry it home so we used the fireplace sparingly, but it was fun to tend the fire, using a long poker to move the logs, then sit and watch the flames leap and sputter until they turned into golden shimmering cities of coals. 

After I was married we moved frequently and had other fireplaces in houses too numerous to mention but the fireplace experience never grew old. It was always special. On camping trips we had many a fire outside our tent at night to cook on and roast marshmallows. When we lived on the ranch in southern Oregon our fireplace was a Franklin stove, a free-standing fireplace invented by Benjamin himself. 

In my present home I do not have a fireplace but early mornings before dawn I often light up the collection of candles spread over my secretary-desk. Candlelight, like firelight, moves unpredictably like something alive and autonomous. I often have a hard time concentrating on what I’m reading because of the fascination of dreamy dancing little flames. I call that corner “my fireplace.” (Don’t worry, dear reader, I never leave it unattended.) This morning I nearly drifted back to sleep sitting across from my "fireplace." Then Katie woke up and we went shopping. 

I’m done transferring this blog to my computer now and I feel a nap coming on. I’ll wait until morning to re-light my fire-place. I’ll tell it about the blog I wrote and it will give me, no doubt, a happy little light show in honor of its going public.