ENJOYING CHAOS

“Grandma, your house is too relaxing,” Adele commented to me.  I knew she was right; I have not been able to figure out how to raise the energy in my house; I want to take a nap all the time.  “You need to paint it all white with black trim!” was her solution.  The black trim didn’t sound right, but I considered white walls.  I do love the light green in the living room and the dark intense red in the dining room, but I realized that white walls would, in fact, lift the energy.

Once decided, I was at it immediately, grabbing the first available non-painter to do the painting.  In one day my very petite but determined housecleaner, Ruthie from Indonesia, had done the entire living room (she’d never painted before) and then the next weekend she did the dining room.  And it does the trick!  The energy is WOW! –  lifted and light. 

   However, the rest of the house is in chaos, as we had quickly moved everything in these rooms “elsewhere”,  just anywhere;  now the dining room is completely empty and happy and light, the rest of the house is a stumbling muddle. 

   I’m reluctant to just return all that was in these rooms back to the way it was.  The new feeling of lightness is to savor. In the chaos, I’ve been finding what I need here and there, moving things a little to be more convenient, and feeling strangely happy and laid back.  No compulsion drives me to get going with this re-ordering process. A matter of fact, something-in-me feels NEW and happy!

   I feel an opportunity here to do what I always say and “get rid of things”.  I wonder what I really will miss?  I feel like putting things back just one piece by one piece, very slowly as they call to me.

   This re-ordering is not just about “simplifying”, making things look and feel lighter and more open.  This is really about cutting ties with my past!  I am a sentimentalist, keeping souvenirs of every person and experience I’ve treasured, even those that were heartbreaking or mixed bags. I also collect against the future:  books I hope to read “someday”, projects started and yet to finish ”someday”.  Following the basic guideline of the young Japanese advisor (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo), I feel ready to be completely honest about how each item makes me feel.  She says, “If it doesn’t bring you joy – Get rid of it!”   

    This sounds logical but really requires immense honesty and courage.  With some items I feel an obligation to be “respectful”, maybe grateful; to this impulse I respond by respectfully either burning or burying such items, unless, of course, they can be given away.

   I have found that giving myself permission to be truthful about my feelings towards people and events is immensely healing.  Truth, truth, truth: the medicine for endless ailments of body and spirit. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free!” said Jesus.   Learning to be thoughtful of others has been a valuable learning in my life, but protecting others from my honest experience of them has sometimes gone too far, for their well-being as well as my own.  Truth heals everyone, in the end.

And anyway, even wonderful experiences at some point are “past.”  One has the choice to just turn forward and face the adventure, let go of the pulls of the past, good or bad, and see what’s there yet!  New learnings, new fun!  Who knows what unexpected abilities are still inside me?

   Last night in my dreaming, wonderful feelings of freedom were coming up.  Here are a few of the images that came:

Some part of me has been a prisoner in a basement! / I’ve been an “indentured servant” to the happiness of others, to what others needed from me.  Now I seem to have gathered enough experience to cut out on my own, to follow my own knowing of what is right for ME. 

“No one owns me.  My life belongs to me”  came back to me.  I know this was from a previous life, something I scribbled in the dirt in a dungeon as I refused to eat, having been kidnapped….

Riding a tiger, a dream image from the nearer past, now I feel the tiger is my assertive self who knows how to find its own true path, even in the dark through a jungle.  “Walking under the stars in the dark, the tiger knows that it knows the path.” 

I walk in wildness, off the thread that would connect the past and the future that it would lead to.  I find a thread inside me and follow it to an unknown future….

Now I stand on top of the dune, free.

Alone?  No, there are many who cheer the true me, adventurers in their own lives. We inspire each other.

“Alting du behover.”  (Swedish:  Everything you need [will come to you])  This had come to me as a message from spirit in my past and then I saw it again on a wall painting that I will keep.  From somewhere comes the promise of Power with me, behind, below, around.

  Different;  The chaos in my house enables different.  It protects me from limitations I no longer need.

and “How things look?”  = Distraction!

I use my gathered resources and stand in this still-intact body. My riches, my support, are all my experience that I carry invisibly with me. 

I, the giant, hiding in my little body, face forward into adventure, protected by chaos, …..

                                   Marti Matthews  September 15, 2020

HOPE Just Needs A Good Night’s Sleep

Hope just needs a good night’s sleep

and there it is in the morn!

 Magically/naturally

like a crocus through snow in spring.

   Or occasionally

Hope just needs a good old cry

like rain releasing heaviness from clouds,

water for new life,

allowing sunlight through

Faith requires effort.

Hope “happens,” by

  allowing

     things to be

 just as they are.

To do “Faith,” one positions stiffly in one direction, like a soldier.

Faith is an act of mind, dependent on

  what it sees, or imagines wildly.

Hope relies on nothing

but gut feeling.  “Which direction would be better?

Hope senses what “better” feels like.

Hope sees one flower in desert snow and throws its arms around it, refusing

to look at the desert, the long winter….

Faith is Controlled Hope;

its only strength is Experience.

Reliable Experience.

   I have quite a bit of Faith in vitamins and chocolate

         and exercise,

         rest,

         and friendship.  To me,

all true Love comes down to Friendship.

but that’s another subject.  If

there is a “God,”  Somewhere,

I would have most faith in That Being

If It were like a Friend to me.

  Various ideas

I was told about “God” have not worked reliably,

though chocolate has.

Hope is the same as taking breath. 

It’s the willingness to go on living

rather than, in one way or another,

refusing any more.   It’s the choice to continue

getting up each morning,

   trying whatever, taking one more step.   Hope feels the empty stomach

and chooses to respond. 

Hope faces the same old same-old

still willing one more try.

Hope faces utter darkness

and chooses breath.

Hope would rather feel pain

than nothing.  A soldier told me once

“If you feel pain, you know you’re still alive….”

Faith wavers under pain,

cowers in the darkness, in the storm.  It

rises, falls, with weather.

 Hope

only begs for rest.

And then, it’s there again! –

like a spring of water, bubbling up

through thaw.  Just there,

ready to go like an old car, a horse;

“Sure let’s try once more,” Hope says.

And Hope and Heart join hands, and on they march,

  and on and on and on and on

-Marti Matthews, August 26, 2020

 On the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, finally giving women the right to vote!

Destiny: Your Life is Beautiful

Here I want to summarize a 286 page book that has influenced me enormously – The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman.

 Hillman was a maverick Jungian analyst, founding his thinking on that of Carl Jung.  Hillman’s hypothesis about our human condition he calls “The Acorn Theory.”  “The acorn theory …claims that each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny.  As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.”  P.39.  …each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” P.6

“… is already present before it can be lived” – in the same way that the oak tree is already present in the acorn.  From the beginning, everything in the acorn calls it to become not only an oak tree, but a specific oak tree.  Before we were born, our soul selected an image or pattern; perhaps general or specific learnings or gifts that would be possible in this particular lifetime.  The image itself is the soul-companion, the daimon that guides us here through our life.  The daimon remembers what belongs to our image and tries to keep us on track to do/be what we came here for.

The word daimon is Greek and much of Hillman’s ideas come from Plato and other Greek thinkers.  The Romans called it genius and the Roman Catholics call it your guardian angel.  I must admit this is confusing, as the daimon is called an “image” we are born with, yet the power of the daimon seems beyond our conscious control and affects us like an outer force that accompanies us.  Perhaps “destiny” is a similar (Greek) word – something we can neither fight nor do we need to try to fight.  The daimon will keep us on track!  Trust, then, of “how things go” is a proper relation with our lives. 

Free will is still functioning, but here’s an example I made myself to understand free will and destiny:  A particular acorn is buried by a squirrel; later a human happens to place a sign over the buried acorn.  Nevertheless, it grows. It bumps against the signpost and decides to grow to the left or the right.  It comes up around the signpost and now is in better or lesser sunlight then it might have been had it chosen the other direction.  Nevertheless, in the current conditions it continues to try to grow up into the particular oak that is the image calling it forth.

The image calling it forth:  this is the cause of Why We Are The Way We Are!  Hillman totally rejects all the current psychological theories:  My mother didn’t X, my father always y’d, my teachers never z’d.  The criminal was bullied as a child.  Over time, genetics caused A.  Poverty caused B.  An accident caused C.  No, No.  Hillman gives fascinating examples one after another of famous people we know whose lives deny all these theories. Causation does not function from the past; there is a future – the image of the particular Oak tree – that is the real cause of everything.  In philosophy, it’s called the “final” cause:  the goal pulls us toward it.  Other experiences affect us, but the final cause keeps pulling us towards what we came for.

Here we might think of “odd” things about ourselves:  Why did you always feel interested in X?  When you heard certain words, music, stories, a spark would jump up in you while not in others.  For example, as a Catholic child I heard the stories of Jesus and the images of God the Father over and over, but whenever I heard reference to “The Holy Spirit” something jumped up in me.  “What is that – the Holy Spirit?” I would wonder.  “They say it will bring you wisdom and courage.  Why don’t they talk more about the Holy Spirit?” Over many years I stumbled forward learning about the Still Small Voice inside me that I can trust,  that guides me in my best interests, that is available through my intuitions at any moment I need it.

The most obvious way the acorn theory (and also that of Carl Jung) differs from most other theories about human nature is that it looks at life from “before and after”, from an eternal view – that we are most basically eternal spirits here for awhile learning and growing and being creative.  In this way the acorn theory fits very well with modern physics, which is getting stranger and stranger… Quantum mechanics/physics is seeing everything as “consciousness”, expanding into ever larger units, and the Universe seems to be endlessly expanding.   Are we  consciousness and parts of larger units of consciousness, expanding by trying out new ideas?  Growth, creativity, seem to be the primary pulse of All.  I would add that in our experience we find some ideas are more successful than others: “pain and suffering” guide us to conclude that some ideas are more creative, productive, pleasing than others.  We naturally look for ways to live that please us more – and that is important!  I was raised with some unhealthy ideas that in some strange way suffering is good, “God loves us when we suffer silently,” we show how we love X by suffering, etc.  This is very contrary to Nature and not healthy.  Suffering should guide us towards finding a way out of it, i.e. towards change, towards growth. 

One more important aspect of our acorn:  it must grow down before it can grow up.  When a soul is born into this world, it first must learn how to manipulate in a body, how to speak a language, how to relate to people around it, etc.  We have many images in religions of reaching upward for the skies, of getting ahead of ourselves by letting go of all desires, living less and less fully here and now.  We are here to be here.  There’s no need to fear physical experience, nor the desires that arise in us which may actually be our daimon guiding us!  The more we try to get rid of what attracts us, the stronger “Fate” must work to keep us on track with the image that pulls us forward.

In 286 fascinating pages full of clarifying stories, Hillman examines this possible view of human life in greater detail.  For example, how to explain Hitler and other horrible people?  What if we don’t succeed in what our soul intended?  What about people who die in childhood? I hope you might be tempted to read this book.  I may write more on it in the future.  James Hillman sees our lives as starting with a unique and beautiful image, and it is always trying to carry us forward to live out what we came for.  We can trust our lives!  But – watch for “guidance”…

Mental Magic

Putting thoughts down on paper;

putting thoughts down.

When my mind seems obsessed, cannot stop talking to someone

via my head, or working something out,

if I write down on paper what’s circling in my brain

– voila! I can walk away from it!

I know the thoughts are there

if and when I should need those clever phrases.

I don’t have to carry them endlessly. It’s as if the paper

is a cupboard,

a shelf, and now I can get on to something else while

my precious opinions sit and wait.

MAGIC!

The Indian Blanket,

or “Learning to Speak”

    I was way, way into adulthood. Yes, I was surely still distraught – my husband, Tom, had died of a heart attack just one year earlier at age 42 – but what’s puzzling is how typical this moment was for me. Here I see myself starkly, I feel my frozenness, I feel my own present puzzlement looking at that past moment. Something is wrong with this picture. How did I come to this?
    I wanted to go back, even alone, to the field in the woods where Tom and I had gone together on the motorcycle, to the great field with the six-or-seven-deep circles of pine on the far side of this openness. The field was so big we’d hardly seen the trees at first. We’d parked the motorcycle, took off all our clothes as the day was hot and we were way off in the backwoods; we wandered toward the only interesting thing in the field, this far-off grove. Upon arriving there I walked all through it and finally stood in the middle to feel the energy. I remembered Carlos Castaneda’s writings about places of power, and particularly he’d said that a warrior must find their own specific Place of Power where their spirit will go after they die, where before leaving the earth they will do their warrior’s last dance. I decided that this would be my Place of Power when I die.
  Tom was wandering around somewhere and came back saying it was time to go. We headed back to the motorcycle, put on our clothes, and drove off through the endless quiet woods of the Manistee National Forest to my family’s cottage on the little lake.
    Now here I was two years later trying to pull together some new life. After twenty years together Tom had been taken from me to another world. I had come to the cottage alone. I wasn’t able to drive the motorcycle, but in the tool shed I found an old bike – no gears at all. I took one of the old Indian blankets that had been part of my family’s picnicking all through childhood, wrapped a can of bug spray in it and somehow put it on the back of the bike. I wasn’t sure how to find this field; all these sandy trails through the woods looked the same, but I headed off as best I could remember.
    Riding the heavy old bike on trails of sand was hardly easier than walking, but I pushed forward slowly. Finally, to my surprise, I came to the field. As I got off the bike I realized I’d lost the Indian blanket. “It must have fallen off somewhere farther back,” I thought. I stood by the bike looking back down the road, trying to decide what to do. Head back down the difficult trail for an unknown distance? There was sentiment with the Indian blanket, besides wanting to sit on it in the circle of pines.
    As I stood there, weary and unsure, a pickup truck came down the trail. Two men sitting in the front drove slowly by me, so close we could have shaken hands. Their window was open; they said nothing. And I, too, said nothing! I hoped they would stop and offer me what I’d lost: “Did you drop something on the trail?” they might say. But they did not. They looked at me but all was silent as they continued slowly on.
   Frozen. I remember my mouth feeling sewn shut, forbidden to speak.
   They were men, this was part of the situation.
   They seemed men of power and I was a small woman of 43 who still felt like a girl-child.
   They were strangers. I had never seen my parents talk comfortably with complete strangers. I did not feel permission to do that.
    It was not that I felt the men were dangerous, it was not that at all, though they looked like men of the woods, surely hunters in the fall, surely ignoring regulations when they didn’t like them. Was it my mother inside me? “Hold everything that’s you inside, silent and unshown.” My earliest real memory as a child is of looking up and seeing her crying quietly, as if she were trying to hide this show of true feelings. “Take what Life and men give you; you cannot have what you want,” she had told me with her example of silence. The Depression had taught her this stoicism, as well as the general culture of her times that left all decisions to the husband.
What else? Was it something I’d been taught or was it just something missing in my experience? Why could I not ask for what I wanted?
     The question brings up other memories. I’m maybe five or six, standing on a beautiful wooded hill in autumn that slopes steeply down to the Muskegon River. My dad has just said to Mom that his dad, Grandpa M, has some old wooden skis in his garage. Excitement rises up in me; I can see the skis in my mind’s eye. Wouldn’t it feel grand to go down this steep hill on skis? But how does one get up the hill again? How does one stop and not run into trees? Would they ever let me try Grandpa’s skis? Would it be dangerous? I wanted to try skiing, try sailing down this steep hill in the winter snow, but I stood there silent, small between the grown-ups, quiet as I always was, no bother to them. I never asked about the skis, or how does one do this skiing, and they never even knew I was interested. A desire unspoken, silenced at the gate – the closed mouth.
    A few years later it’s Christmas and we’re at my maternal grandparents house for dinner. “Uncle Moe” (we couldn’t say “Melvin” when we were little) was still living at home as a young quiet bachelor. Upstairs we’d get to tiptoe briefly into his room and he showed me his ham radio, through which he could talk to people far away, even in other countries. I was excited by this! Wouldn’t that be fun to be able to do that? But did I ever ask him or anyone if I could learn it? No, of course not. No one ever knew that interest in my heart.
    Do not ask. The family policy: We will give you all you need, all we can. We give and give abundantly, but please do not ask for something from your own heart. Somehow I had learned this..
Once the secret desire in my own heart matched something dad wanted too, and without asking I received a gift that matched my secret longing! I’m still surprised to remember this. One surreal day I was sitting in boring Spanish class when someone knocked on the classroom door. I was called down to the school office. On the way my best friend fell in step beside me as she, too, had been called out. The superintendent greeted us in his quiet stiff manner and invited us into a little room. As we entered I saw a circle of men around the table and recognized one, our friend Mr. V, the only Catholic on the school board. Yes, this was the school board. Then someone explained to us that they had been thinking it would be enriching for the school to send some students to other countries as exchange students and have foreign students come here. Would we like to go abroad as exchange students?
    Oh my! Would I like to travel abroad as an exchange student?? Would I like to …
This had been in my heart for several years. I had never asked my father; I wouldnever ask him. I had three younger sisters; to spend such money on me would take too much from the family pot, I knew. Dad had already taught me this when I had sent for mail about a Catholic girls’ school in Miami that I longed to attend. He must have seen the mail because out of the blue one day he said “I pay taxes for public schools; I’m not sending you girls to private schools.” Don’t ask. Don’t ask.
    But now the School Board had “chosen” me! And they had already talked with our parents and received an OK. Later I learned that they had picked five students out of our class of 44 and visited all their parents: any student could go whose parents would pay for it: the School Board was not giving any financial help at all. We were the only two whose parents agreed to pay for the trip.
    So I spent a summer in Sweden, an experience that jerked me out of my small town life into a much larger view of the world. If I had asked for this experience, I’m sure the answer would have been “No,” but the honor my being “chosen” gave some kudos to my dad, so for once my heart’s desire matched what the world offered me.
    In hindsight now, I’m thinking perhaps this was not good. This experience seemed to feed my passivity, this principle by which I was living that adults would give me what was good for me without my asking. The right to ask for what I want, the responsibility to ask – these have been missing in me for some reason.
There is the possibility that it all began as Freud, from his own neurosis, would have predicted, – with the mother. Dad told the story more than once about that long drive from Michigan to Georgia when he was in the Air Force. There I was an infant lying in the back, crying and crying to be fed. “Feed the kid – she’s hungry!” Dad would say. And Mom would answer, “I can’t! The book says she can only eat every so many hours!” The mother separated from her own good instincts by theories of control over nature. I cannot remember this experience but I can only imagine what a baby would eventually figure out when crying for all she’s worth gets no response. “Speaking out for what I want is not the way to get what I want. What isthe way?” She would search. “I can only watch these two big people and see what pleases them. They have what I need and it seems that dancing for them is the way to survive.” This, I surmise, would be what a baby figures without words or thoughts when crying out for what one needs gets nowhere.
    Perhaps gratitude, ironically, has also been part of the problem. Our major income was Dad’s work doing tax accounting for individuals, so of course he worked like a dog from January through April 15th. Then in the summer he really played when he played. But seeing him work late at night, night after night, month after month, gave me pause if I wanted to ask for something that cost money. He was already putting out lots of money to give us as much happiness as he could. To ask for more felt like adding to his burdens.
    But still, here I stood at age 43 wanting my Indian blanket back and unable to open my mouth and ask for it. Something is not healthy in this picture.
    I have receivedmy life. For much of it I’ve felt like a tiny boat pushed around this way and that, sometimes in calm waters in shady coves of loving trees, often out alone feeling winds heartlessly whipping me around, the world wanting things from me, trying to form me into what others needed me to be. In all these desires of others pushing and pulling on me, I’ve still and always felt a compass inside that kept me peddling, swimming, in a crazy zigzag way, trying to pull myself back onto a course that I would recognize as ‘truly me’ where I could feel comfortable with myself.
    Often the best I could do was to say “No” to what I would finally recognize as Not Me. In so many of my life’s experiences I would finally come to see that this was not IT, not what I was looking for, did not feel right and I needed to get out of something and continue searching elsewhere.
    Perhaps finding “no’s” was like a sculptor with a large chunk of stone. They say the sculptor must find a form that’s there inside the rock by chipping away everything that’s not the form. I’ve learned to recognize what doesn’t feel like “It”, like “me.
    I remember in college I’d decided to minor in speech and drama because I loved a particular prof and was growing a lot in oral interpretation and public speaking. I had to take an acting course but acting felt impossible for me. I could not let go of myself and pretend to be someone else. How could I let go of myself when I hadn’t yet found myself? My direction was that of a person desperately trying to hold onto something very fragile, small, tenuous but essential – still trying to stand firmly in “me.”
 
One of my strange zigs or zags was the two years I spent in the convent.
   That adventure was the result of a “Father Knows Best” moment. I really, really wanted to go to the great University of Michigan for my college studies. Perhaps there’s never been anything I wanted more than this: to do serious studies in a place that adequately challenged me. When I did ask my dad about this precious wish in my deepest heart, he said “No” so quickly he never remembered it. “You’d get homesick like my sister did at Michigan State. You’d be just a little fish in a big sea,” he said. I had asked for what I most dearly wanted. Thus silenced, I began an intense religious search for some guidance: now, where to? How to find a future that felt like “me”, especially in a world that still expected girls to marry and spend their lives raising children? Eventually the convent seemed the only thing to try, so I could live a dedicated life without marrying.
    I gave this strange way of life a try but this didn’t feel like “me” either. Among other frustrations, there was this: that all day long, day after day, I could never make a decision about anything. How could I know who I was without making choices and decisions? I longed for the freedom that every young adult longs for – to begin to try to make my own life – by choosing. No, after all, having someone tell me every small and large move to make did not feel like “It”.
    Getting out of the convent was not easy for someone as unassertive as I, but some survival instinct kept me hunting till I found the way out. This experience – finding my way out – was a little step in learning to trust my own inner knowing of what was right for me.
    But once I left the convent – discerned that this was not It – I still felt the pressures of what the world expected: marriage, then children. How did I know this? I remmeber my dad talking about two female remote cousins in mymother’s family who weren’t married. He always referred to them as “the old maids”, even though they were teachers and had traveled around the world. This was all it took; I picked up from this that marriage would be required of me. And back in those days children went with marriage for Catholics.
    I fell into line and married and raised children, experiences with so much joy but still, there was still that part of me that was towing the line rather than expressing my true self. I did what other interesting work and study I could do with whatever energy and time was left. Finally now at age sixty two I feel myself relaxing a bit, smiling, feeling I’ve found a free enough place where I can be my simple self.
    My simple self! That’s what I’ve been looking for all along! Not trying to live up to what others need or want from me. Imperfect, unglamorous, gentle, content with an ordinary little life. “It’s OK to make mistakes,” I write on my learning board. “It’s OK to choose differently than my parents and family.” “It’s OK to be unseen;” “It’s OK to be seen.” “It’s OK if not everyone likes me.” “It’s OK to want what I want.” Healing words. My body breathes as I say these and other words I’ve learned. My whole being relaxes. I have worked hard to find these words.
    I feel my feet; I feel my butt against the chair. I’m in my body unafraid. I can talk with men now. How did this happen? I can usually say what I want and dialogue over it, listening to the response of the other. How did I finally get here? Wrangling with the two great guys I married – that certainly changed me! Even the two widowhoods brought me gifts of warmth and connectedness with others. Having babies, raising children – I didn’t wannna do it, but it put my feet on the ground and certainly kept me in my body. And raising children was fun! It’s been a real heart-warmer that connected me with every other parent on earth. And living in the big city with neighbors of every race and nationality has been delightful and enriching.
    I’ve found good friends whom I respect and by whom I feel respected. I found a spiritual family that feels true for me, where I can speak, even haltingly, without censure and feel respected. As a Quaker in The Religious Society of Friends I learned to trust an Interior Guidance, that Something loving and wise leads me forward if I trust myself to listen and hear it. I did much interior work: spent years reading and thinking and talking with others, trying to figure out what I’m made of and how to be a human being. I learned to write my thoughts out truthfully. One small book I read on Assertiveness Training said I have a right to speak up or to ask for what I want, even when I can’t explain myself. That concept opened wide a door for me.
And then, – counseling others. For several years I counseled adults in the Literacy, G.E.D., and English as a Second Language programs of a community college. I was honored to have every imaginable variation of men and women share with me the insides of their hearts and guts and minds. I smile as I remember one of the very first problems presented to me: a Kurdish woman whose father had two wives and twenty children, now adults, who hated each other. She wanted me to tell her how to get her father to write a will so the two families wouldn’t kill each other when he died. To my amazement, I found a way: her father sounded eerily like my own father and I told her what I had learned from my own life… Then I counseled an old Mexican gambler who’d lost his wife and house to his addiction, and a Puerto Rican mother who was trying valiantly to free herself from heroin so she could keep her children. Two separate gay Mexican men came who had each tried to kill themselves. A fine young African doctor was busing tables while trying desperately to pass the licensing exam in English. An Iranian woman whose husband beat her every day for twentyone years as he drank became a big part of my life asI helped her through a dangerous divorce. A middle-aged black man who could not learn to write no matter how he tried was scared to death his boss would find out. Well-educated Muslim women came with their husbands speaking for them. Young black men now with prison records from drug associations asked me to help them find a path for their future. A Thai woman had had to drop out of school in third grade because she was a girl; she’d been taking classes to learn English for nine years but still could not pass the written nurse assistant test. Many medical doctors and college professors came, engineers, storeowners, plumbers, truck drivers, prostitutes, mothers on welfare, homeless people. I remember the Iraqi youth who came to me with his face half frozen: he’d been fired from his hospital job immediately after the September 11th tragedy because he was Iraqi. Two weeks later his face was normal again after he found another job. A young Mexican gangbanger (his words) was heartbroken when his girl took their baby and left. A mother came to me whose son had been murdered in El Salvador; black parents came whose teens were getting into drugs. There were marriage problems I was not trained to counsel, but without money, to whom else could these people go? Legal problems came to me that were hopeless for illegal people with no rights, and my heart felt sad that I could not help. Sitting at my desk I traveled breathless all over the world and into the corners and houses of every neighborhood. How could I be afraid of anyone now? I‘ve completely forgotten what the word “stranger” means.
Though my life has felt so unacceptable to me in many ways, my heart has been opened and connected by all this experience. It must be this connectedness that enables me, finally at sixtytwo, to speak and ask for what I want or need.
    So now if I stood at the trail it would be easy to smile and ask the men, “Did you see my blanket on the trail?” They would smile and give me my Indian blanket, and with ease I would turn around and walk toward the field.
    But here the ending of this story cannot change. Someone else took control of the end and it’s not in my power to change the way it actually happened.
    In fact, I turned around and headed across the meadow to the pines. Something seemed different as I approached – something wasn’t right. Then I stood there at the edge of the grove, once more completely silenced. There had been a fire. Almost all the trees were charred and bare. I walked through row after row, dumbfounded. I walked to the middle, puzzling. I stood in the middle and gazed around. Then suddenly I knew. Tom had been here. Big Tom, man of power. Somewhere in those forty days after his return to spirit and before I saw the rainbow on the fortieth day, his spirit had come here and he had done his warrior’s last dance, burning the trees to tell me he’d been here and that he, too, had been a person of power.
I smile; how right. He was a great person and I was honored to know him well. He had laughed at those New Agey ideas, but he respected me and was open to new interpretations of life.
    Now I would have to find a new Place of Power for myself. I turned around slowly and gave a respectful bow to all the trees, and then walked back to my bicycle – now today I would also have my Indian blanket – and I peddled slowly back alone to the little cottage on the little lake to live my contented little life, connected comfortably with other imperfect and marvelous people just like myself.
 

My Life With Children

 
     I grew up in western Michigan, where fun is the way of life for all.  Summer camps, swimming, canoeing down the Pere Marquette River, climbing sand dunes and jumping in the waves of Lake Michigan, picnics all through the Manistee National Forest, hay rides in the fall and horseback riding across fields, ice skating on real ponds and tobogganing down steep hills, all were part of my formation and have had great influence on my writing style.  “A certain fresh naturalness” someone has called it.  “There’s a simplicity and playfulness in your style.”
 
     Perhaps I also owe it to my French-Canadian father who certainly had a taste for enjoying life, that Joie d’ vivre that bounces back in me even when life takes a bad turn. Plus my always cheerful Swedish grandfather, who I watched live through many challenges of spirit with quiet gracefulness.  I can find the rainbow in the rain, eventually and always.  Much of my writing, then, is an attempt to share the positives that I’ve gotten out of the negatives of my life.  Much of it are learnings  I wish I’d known as a child.  I instinctively try to express what I’ve learned in a way that either a child or adult might enjoy taking in this learning.
 
     After plodding through the brain-exhausting college years, I married and immediately began the completely different work of raising a human being, for which NONE of my education had prepared me.  As I walked out the hospital door to get into our car, the nurse handed me this fragile little being, wrapped in a snuggy blanket and quietly looking up at me.  I took him in my arms, climbed into the front seat holding him delicately, and we were off!  I thought to myself “What am I supposed to do with it?  How on earth do I care for this?  I know nothing about babies!”  I could not believe the nurse was entrusting this precious life with me.
 
    Two ignorant humans are a little more help than only one, and my husband and I began to figure things out.  “He’s crying!  I’ve fed him, he’s napped, I held him and rocked him and he’s still crying! I exclaimed in fear and frustration.   “How about his diaper? Said the other brain.  ….    “Oh!  The diaper!”  I remember throwing the pampers down the toilet – I thought that was how we dispose of them – but it plugged up the plumbing badly and the landlord was most unhappy with us.  I sat the baby on the kitchen table facing me and watching the fishbowl in front of him.  Next thing I knew he’d pushed his feet against the fishbowl and fallen on the floor, still strapped in his infant seat.  Yes, we were off to the doctor, and yes, a concussion. “It will heal by itself,” the experienced pediatrician assured me.  “Their heads are malleable in the beginning.”  How did the first one survive my ignorance?  Somewhere I read that the miracle of raising children is not so much that parents raise children to become adults but that children raise parents to become adults.
 
   From those first tender exhausting years, finally we arrived at kindergarten with the firstborn.  At the school door, the little Hungarian boy from up the street stood crying pathetically and hanging on his mother’s skirt.  He did not know English yet and was completely scared to leave her. My heart went out to the child and next thing I knew I’d volunteered to come to school twice a week and help that particular child learn English.  I had no training, just the intuitions of mothers about children and language. The teacher gave us chairs in the coat room, I brought magazine pictures, and thus began many years of teaching English as a Second Language with immigrants.  From there a Cuban friend who was a social worker asked me to teach Mexican mothers English.  Again, I just jumped in with no training, we all brought our babies and the social worker watched them while I used my simple magazine-pictures technique and we did something with the English language.   I went on to paid positions with titles without even knowing there was a profession called “teaching English as a Second Language” and one could be trained for this work.
 
     Again with no education in how to raise a child, we grew on with our two children, learning as we went.  Fortunately my husband, Tom, was a problem solver (a math major) and he had a great sense of humor and play so we relaxed into the years with many happy times.  We did tent camping and eventually were able to get an old popup trailer so we could sleep off the ground.  Tom had a telescope so we’d often stay up late into the night out in the state parks looking at the stars.  Teaching the children to swim was a must for me, being a Michigander.  Soon it was time for Cub Scouts!  And then Brownie Scouts followed.  We “got involved”, as parents must in volunteer programs like these.  I recruited and trained leaders and Tom was Scoutmaster.  Then I led a day camp for the Girl Scouts. Such fun!   I got to sing all those wonderful songs I’d learned myself as a Brownie and Girl Scout!   Games and crafts and fun, fun, fun; I, the director, took the name “Stretch” because I’m so short.  Then the next summer our local professional Girl Scout trainer and I designed a two week camp for both boys and girls in the area who were from other countries.  The neighborhood was a little United Nations, 32 different languages were spoken in the elementary school!  In the summer the children lost much of their language learning while out of school, besides needing to get to know the Chicago area.  I directed this two week program, with field trips, and recruiting the shy parents to help out.
 
   Meanwhile, back in the back of my mind I had realized I wanted to get some practical education so I could do something professional and financially helpful.  I’d begun taking college courses preparing to direct Religious Education programs for Catholic public school children.  I received my Masters of Arts in Religious Studies, focusing on religious education, and I took a full time position in a Catholic parish.  What a joyous opportunity!  I’d grown up in a rural Michigan town where my own Catholic parish did almost nothing for the children because they believed that nothing can be done with the public school situation; “someday” they’d be able to build a school and then the children could learn about their faith.  I’d observed my Baptist friends at school:  not allowed to go to movies or dances at all, yet the Baptist kids enjoyed being Baptist and learned their Bible and beliefs well.  They had all kinds of sports teams and outings and fun together.  All the Protestant churches had very lively summer camps.  I knew we could work with Catholic children in public school situations if we wanted to do it and I began to dig in as Director.  I was responsible for 1,000 children, preschool through high school, to design the program, recruit and train all the teachers, order all materials, supervise the class times, and also be in charge of the religion program in the parochial school!  The nun who’d tried to run this before me had also taught eighth grade!  She’d had a nervous breakdown.   
   
     I worked there two years, often hurrying home to pick up my two children after school and then bringing them back to my office with me.  I felt exhausted but happily satisfied that I did begin a thriving program for all ages, including a social and learning program for the high school students.  However, it was at this point that I hit bottom with my Catholic faith, feeling entirely discriminated against as an intelligent competent woman.  Strangely, also, when the Mass had been put into English this had turned counter-productive for me; it felt like there was too much talking, too many thoughts to handle too quickly!   When I’d had to deal with Latin, I’d become used to more quiet, contemplative worship.
 
    I looked for a new spiritual home to feed my spirit, and was led by slim chances to discover the unprogrammed Quakers, who worship in silence and equality, waiting for Spirit to lead anyone present to speak out of the worship.  I joyfully embraced this new spiritual family.  However, these Friends do not hire anyone, not even pastors!  There were no jobs in religious education in this denomination.  I began serving on the religious education committee for my Meeting and then also for the regional gatherings, called Yearly Meetings.   At summer Yearly Meetings I often taught the middle grade children and then eventually the high school students.  These were dear and rollicking times, as we all camped out in tents and wooden dorms in the middle of corn and soybean fields in central Illinois.  Campfires and singing at night, dancing children and adults on the lawn with live fiddle music, doing crafts with the children under tents in the afternoons, carting all to the nearby town to swim, I got to go back and forth between being an adult with the children and being a child with the children. 
 
     My own two children continued to grow and we all together entered the world of high school and challenges of the teens. I went back to college and took courses in teaching at the high school level and began to substitute in the four local high schools.  Every day was a different “adventure,” directing choirs, teaching languages and subjects I didn’t know, trying to keep a balance between seriously trying to teach something and just relating to these young people as human beings.
 
 These years were interrupted by the sudden death of my husband from a heart attack , the result of having been given too much radiation for cancer.  My life took a break here; my son fortuitously was able to get good scholarships to a Quaker college.  My daughter and I had three close years as I tried to accompany her through a serious high school attempt at a music career. Finances were more difficult for her college as a music major.  During these years I taught English as a Second Language in local junior colleges and designed and taught E.S.L. programs for factory workers.
 
    Somewhere in between all I’ve remembered here were a few other children’s activities.  I was trained in the Children’s Creative Response to Conflict Program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; from that, I and my daughter led a two week summer camp for poor children in the inner city of Chicago at The People’s Church in Uptown.
 
I also worked with Illinois Quakers to revive the work camp opportunities that Friends had done after World War II in Europe.  We helped our own young people develop leadership skills working with us in committee work, and later several went on to design what is now called Quaker Volunteer Service, an internship program for young adults.
   I had taken training in counseling in the method of Carl Rogers and was certified in Client Centered Counseling.  When my children were both launched off into college, I took a position in Triton Community College as counselor for the Adult Basic Education Department.  I counseled adults and young people learning English as a Second Language or getting their high school G.E.D. or still learning to read in the Literacy program.  This work was the richest work of my life.  It was so deeply touching, such an honor, to help support the lives of people struggling against so many odds to build a future.  All these students worked while going to school, many had children to raise, too.
 
     Eventually, my life took another sharp turn when my adult son died of melanoma at the age of 40.  I had remarried after my first husband died but my second marriage had been short when that second dear man had a brainstem stroke and eventually also died, after I cared for him for 2 ½ years.  Now the death of my first born and only son really brought me low.  I did immediately try to pick up where he left off with his high school students in their Robotics Club and in the creative contests of Destination Imagination.  I worked with these delightful high school students for three years but then decided to move closer to my daughter, now married with her own two children. 
 
     I had followed the lives of children now from newborns through elementary school, through the teen years, and the college years and young adulthood. Where I am now is back at the beginning, immensely enjoying the best job I ever had – being a grandmother!  And finally, I have no responsibilities except doing my writing, which has been waiting patiently in my heart. I look forward to sharing more from my life experiences with children, youth, and adults in interesting and creative self expressions.