The Poems of My Life

(I am hoping that it is fine arts month, cause the topic is POETRY!  Holy Cow! Here we go . . .)

The poems of my life is a short list.

Not because I haven’t read, studied, been exposed, ran across, pondered, discussed, and/or analyzed many.  For, like most folks, my life has introduced me to a litany of great poets, young old, male, female, American, non-American . . . .  just lots.

But the poems of my life is still a short list.

My youth was filled with all types of poetry from the iambic tetrameter of “I will not eat green eggs and ham, I will not eat them sam-I-am” to the simple ditties of “hickory, dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock.”  I laughed, smiled, and repeated as my mother, god-rest-her-soul, spent countless hours sharing with me the likes of Dr. Seuss and other fan-favorite authors who created easy to read and understand poetry for children.

Moreover, I grew up during the “you will read the classics” era.  Before I even came close to reaching high school, my education had exposed me to The Raven, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Road Not Taken, and Oh Captain! My Captain.  Once in secondary school, the list grew much longer and included much more complex and perplexing selections – Daddy, Dream Deferred, Howl, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mending Wall, Still I Rise, The Waste Land, and Who Am I.   And college offered a steady stream of poetry that was mystifying, sometimes mortifying, always mysterious, and was light years beyond my cognitive abilities – Leaves of Grass, Beowulf, and any Shakespearean Sonnet.

It would have seemed logical that as my exposure to poetry grew, so to would the poems of my life.  The more I knew, the more I would appreciate the art form.  The more I read, the more I would understand and honor.  The more I listened, the more I would value and appreciate.

But, that is not so.

The more I poetry on my plate, the more I realize the less I know.

Poetry is a tricky art.  It harnesses the power of words in a unique and indescribable way.  It becomes personal – immediately. It resonates deep within.  It moves.  It enlightens.  It changes. It lasts.  It stupefies.  It means something tomorrow that it did not mean yesterday or today. It solves.  It comforts.  It tends to the mind.

My list includes two poems that I have committed completely to memory, one with easy rhythmic stanzas and one that – at one time in my life – was set to music, which helped me to remember even the challenging lines.  Both lend me direction whenever needed. They are my fall back poems, my refuge and rescue lines.  They can find my peace within.

My list also includes the traditional, Irish/Gaelic Blessing which is written in a plethora of places for a plethora of reasons.  It may be commercially overused, but I don’t care.  It jagged edges fits into my puzzle, so it’s on my list:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, And rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of her hand.

Please note – I take natural license with a couple of words here and there, but that’s the great thing about poetry.  It must become your own to be your own.

The end of my list includes an epic poem from Mother Teresa, a work of Shel Silverstein, a selection from Dylan Thomas, and an excerpt from Gwendolyn Brooks.  The very final piece on my list is the Peace Prayer of St. Francis – another much used poem that just seems to say it all to me.

So, there it is. Eight selections.  I hope the poems of my life grows in the future, that the respective meanings change over time, that they become more powerful and meaningful with each reading, and that “the ears of my ears awake and the eyes of my eyes are opened.”

Your list?

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Sometimes even four oranges can be just a little poetic.

The Art

I have been fairly quiet on the “share my opinion front” lately.  Not because I haven’t don’t have strong and valid opinions. But, I have been quiet.

I have been quiet mostly because I am heartbroken.

Not because of who is or is not the President of the United States, or because of Cabinet choices, or because of border walls, or because of Supreme Court nominees.

I am just heartbroken.

I have spent a good portion of my life in school. From grade school to graduate school and beyond, I attended school for a long time.  I finished classes I liked and classes I didn’t like.  I sat through courses that seemed to fit within my world and courses that – at the time – I thought did nothing but take my tuition money without giving me back anything.  I wrote papers on assigned topics that – at the time – I raced through and completed with little joy and more angry annoyance.  I participated in group projects that – at the time – seemed to be nothing more than a waste of good daylight.  I was quite sure – at the time – that I was often learning little to nothing, just moving towards that golden finish line.

And throughout umpteen years of classes – on subjects I enjoyed and subjects I didn’t enjoy – one of the most important lessons embedded in each course – unbeknownst to me – was a particular art, a foundational concept, a core value that I prize and value now.

School isn’t the only place where the practice of teaching of this art can be found.  In fact, school is only one of the places where it occurs.  But, for me – a person who thought college was more of an avocation than a temporary stop – it was one of my primary sources.

Looking back, I can see that I was being exposed to the art of collaboration.

I was learning how to play well and get along with others.

There were many times that I was quite unsuccessful.  I didn’t like someone in my group, or I didn’t finish my work on time and didn’t like the consequences, or I thought the method of teaching and learning was trite.

I often behaved badly and made some very basic mistakes.  With each new class and each new professor, I was offered the opportunity to try again and again.  And gradually as I practiced the art of collaboration, I learned how to navigate different types of circumstances more successfully than when I started.

My heart is broken because I think I am witnessing the denigration of the art of collaboration.

Each and every day, there are countless opportunities for people all over this nation and any nation to come together, open their minds and their hearts, and work together for the greater good.

The United States has resources available to create the best collaboration activities we have ever experienced.   We have great minds.  We have the ways and means to collect those great minds.  We have communication tools that can bring in top-notch research.  We have technology to beat the band.

We have both opportunity and need.  We have problems looming.  We must find solutions and find them soon.

Instead, I have witnessed too many attempts to spoil and squash the art of collaboration.  I listen to heavy duty name-calling. I watch grown-up pouting. I see stubborn streaks.  There is bullying occurring from every direction.  No one is listening and everyone is talking too much!  There are language violations, research violations, manner violations, and decorum violations. Instead of fighting for what’s right, good, and just, we are fighting each other.

And then there is violence.  I am brought to tears by the wave of violence happening in my country.

I have promised myself that my job is to participate.  I will not sit on the sideline.  I will not wait and see.  I will be a person who is a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

But I am asking myself to utlize all that was taught to me by those who walked before me.

I will listen to understand the best parts of the viewpoints of others.

I will research and read to fully acquaint myself with the topic at hand.

I will speak politely, professionally, and honestly.

I won’t hide my thoughts and ideas, but I will present them with the highest level of civility and manners possible.

I will recognize that there is more than one right answer and that sometimes, my way will not be selected as the current path.

I will acknowledge that there are individuals who are way more intelligent than me.

I will seek to find the goodness in others, for it is there.

I will remain hopeful, even when my heart is breaking.

I will not support violence.  Ever.

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Thank you to my young daughter who created this sign.

Nature and History

The view was nothing shy of spectacular.  And it was certainly not what I had expected to see.  I stood quietly with my companions for what can be described as more than awhile – with only the steady clicks of our cameras interrupting the silence.

The day was ending with evening approaching much more quickly than any of us desired.  Soon our tour would be over, and the six of us would be headed back from whence we came.  Thankfully, from beginning to end, the weather had kindly cooperated, offering us a smattering of sunshine, wind, clouds, and rain.  Eighty degrees and balmy would have been ideal, but autumn is a season of surprise when it comes to outdoor conditions, and we were prepared.

In the last of the moments, I still had not come to terms with the landscape surrounding me.  The cliffs were more than beautiful; the water calmly lapping their edge.  A lone bird was swirling back and forth, seeming to have no particular destination.  And it was quiet . . . so quiet.

I thought I was going to see something quite different.  In fact, I was most positive that the experience was going to be one hundred and eight degrees away from what the experience actually was.  Part of my quiet was due to my inability to quickly move from my past expectation to my current reality.

I knew that to visit this site meant that I would be stepping on ground where many – too many to count – had died before me.  I just didn’t know what to expect.  World War II started and ended well before I was born with every subsequent generation since June 6th, 1944 having chronicled the horrific battles that transpired on and near Omaha Beach.  All six of us had studied the history well in preparation.  But, it absolutely did not prepare me.

I saw magnificent colors in the water swells.  I saw green, moss-covered cliffs with auburn, crimson, and turquoise hues.  I saw a blue and white-painted sky with moments of gray pushing towards shore.  I saw serenity, peace,and calm.  I saw majesty.

I listened as our most reverent tour guide spoke about lost lives on Omaha Beach.  He mentioned those who scaled the cliffs in twenty minutes and survived both the climb as well as enemy fire. And he mentioned those who did not survive.  He described the men who exited their boats and headed towards sure-death on the beach.  He described the deafening sounds of that day, as all sorts of explosives were launched from sea to shore and shore to sea.  The more he spoke, the more I realized that all the ground around me – as well as the tiny piece beneath my feet – held the memory of the death of many.  My heart ached – and still does ache – for all of those who died in pursuit of freedom for others including me.

Yet, when I looked out towards the horizon, I saw beauty.  In fact, the nearby rock formations were mesmerizing.  Likewise were the sandy shores and the surrounding vegetation. Here and there were tiny cottages, some vacant, some inhabited, all that clearly had stunning views of the Omaha Beach of today.  There were many memorials to those who had fallen in service to their country seventy years earlier, all of which were impeccably landscaped and maintained.  A scenic coastline, serpentine road cut through the hillside, bringing visitors like me to see and experience the history of the area.

I must admit that I still have not come to terms in any way with Omaha Beach’s unbelievable beauty juxtaposed with the reality of the heightened degree of suffering and death that occurred in the same place.

Perhaps the generations that follow me will offer greater clarity and understanding of how we, as humans, can come to some understanding of the balance between nature and history.  I know for me it is something that I will ponder for much time to come.

The Cliffs of Omaha Beach

The Cliffs of Omaha Beach

I Wore My Shorts Inside Out

I wore my shorts inside out. . . For at least ten minutes. . . While shopping. . . With my daughter. . . On vacation. . . In Florida. . . They were lined Nike running shorts. . . Black. . . With black lining. . . Trimmed in neon yellow.

I had just tried on some clothes in a local beach shop. When I put my shorts back on, I put them on inside out. And I didn’t notice. . . At all.

I walked fifty feet to the cashier, bought a couple items, and exited the store.

I turned to my daughter and said, “My shorts feel a little sideways,” . . . never looking down at them. But she did. Within seconds, we were laughing so hard, our eyes were blurry and our stomach muscles hurt.

I actually wore my shorts inside out for at least ten minutes while shopping with my daughter on vacation in Florida, and didn’t notice.

There is no doubt in my mind that wearing my shorts inside out was one of the goofiest things I have ever done. Somewhere I am sure there is a long list of other crazy funny actions on my part. But this one happened a couple days ago, so it has risen exponentially as my number one memorable moment.

I asked my daughter if she thought anyone else noticed. Her response was: “How could others not?” She suggested checking social media quickly for ‘crazy funny woman with shorts on, lined shorts on, inside out’.

As we were still laughing upon returning to our vacation compound, I willingly shared my faux-pas with the remaining assembled relatives. Wearing lined shorts inside out while shopping. There was no need to embellish the story in any way. It was crazy funny in its short form.

I didn’t have to share the embarrassing moment with my vacation family. It was a choice. My daughter, following a politeness protocol, would have graciously kept the story to herself. But I threw caution to the wind and shared it.

I truly believe that the world is crazy funny more often than not. At any given time, someone somewhere is doing something that is just flat out funny. Most embarrassing moments are hysterical if the owners can overcome the embarrassment.

But it isn’t that simple.

Too often crazy funny moments are transformed into anger, frustration, or fright.

I could have blamed my inside out action on the lack of adequate light in the changing room. Or on the minuscule time I had available to shop. Or on my daughter for not alerting me sooner. The whole event could have been framed in anger with me passing blame towards anyone or anything beyond me.

During the same vacation week, I watched a young boy, a new bike rider, at a speed of less than 1/1000 mile per hour ever so slowly run into my cousin. I saw my college age nephew toss a bocce ball that broke into two as it hit the ground. And my thin and trim brother-in-law sat in three beach chairs, breaking each one, within a three hour period.

Each scenario could have been framed differently.

My cousin could have scolded the bike rider. With acres and acres of beach, it was rather quizzical for him to – at a snail’s pace – hit her. The opposing bocce team could have cried foul as a very competitive game came to a screeching halt when my nephew’s bocce ball split. The tournament was effectively ended. And with a three for three broken beach chair track record, my brother-in-law should have been a little frightened to sit in anything. Bodily injury was a possibility and his cost of sitting on the beach was escalating.

Instead we turned to the crazy funny side.

The little boy hopped off the bike, backed away (slowly) and we chuckled. The bocce players looked at the two half moon pieces, laughed, and went for a swim. My brother-in-law trudged three times to the trash can to dispose of the next broken chair while we howled.

And the inside out shorts?

The next morning as I arrived on the beach, five of the sweetest nieces and cousins suited up in their now favorite inside out shorts, inside out lined shorts, for that one extra belly-busting roller coaster laugh.

All I can say is . . . well framed!

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Positivity – – -ness

“It’s all in his positivity – ness.”

That is the sentence my son uttered and the word that he used.  And when he did, I did the eye-squint double take.  I certainly know what the word positive means.  And I am fairly skilled with the meanings of the common english suffixes. But when he put them all together, I paused.

Since that moment, I have thought long and hard about it.  Positivity – ness. What does it mean?  What does it mean to me?  What should it mean?

Many days, I find that all types of challenges, problems, dilemmas, tests, trials, and conundrums that are just waiting to be explored, solved, eliminated, completed, deciphered, and overcome.  All too often there seems to be far too few hours in the day to properly address everything that is on my short-term list, never mind everything that is on my long-term list!

In fact though I am embarrassed to admit it – but not too proud to face it – two days ago, though it is not something I do often, I did take a small pile of moments out of my day to stop and complain – about the workload in front of me, the mound of seemingly insolvable problems around me, and the lack of my ability to succeed with any of it.  Keep in mind, that I know that I should not be complaining. I know my world is kind, great, and wonderful. I have family, friends, health, security, and more; but, for some reason I took five and whined.

Today, I remembered my son’s word . . . positivity – ness.  It swirled around my mind for a piece of time, and became a little, silent mantra that I heard most of the afternoon.  Positivity – ness. Positivity – ness.  Positivity – ness.  As crazy-funny as it might sound, that most unusual word – a word that seems to have one too many endings – is one very powerful noun.  And for now, it is becoming one stunning part of my vocabulary.

Most vocabulary words have rather concise definitions.  Though not a genius, I can generally rattle off the meaning of everyday, ordinary words lickety-split, and for words that are more complicated, I can usually find sufficient dictionary definitions that are ten words or less.   However, positivity – ness is neither an ordinary word nor one that can be found in the dictionary.  It was one that was created and developed by my third son, the artist.

What I think he meant by it is only a guess.  However, I have had some practice with such word interpretation.  For this particular word isn’t the first that he has invented.  In fact, he has a fleet of great terms plus a few phrases that he has brought to fruition.  Some of his words have brought howls of laughter, some nods of agreement, others quizzical head shakes, all of them joy in the moment. I have truly grown accustomed to new language additions from this most unlikely source.

Positivity – ness is a term, however, that has done more for me than just increased my language.  Its meaning isn’t simple nor short.  I think when that third son invented it, he knew it was a word to be comprehended and understood after a long period of thought. In fact, I think he expected folks around him to consider its meaning and use it appropriately, kindly, and confidently.

Positivity – ness is what it takes to make it through a day when there is nothing else to consider.  Positivity – ness is knowing that we are all challenged each day, but we are also blessed, and it is the blessings that should be the focal point.  Positivity – ness is learning to enjoy and respect the differences within each other.  Positivity – ness is expecting that we will work to change the world in many ways, every day, all of our days.  Positivity – ness is relying on each other for the strength we need when we can’t muster the strength we need ourselves.

Today, I found positivity – ness in the smile on the face of the guy who nodded his head as I jogged past him on a sidewalk near my home town university.  I heard positivity-ness in the voice of my oldest son as he told me about the birth of a friend’s child, seven pounds, two ounces, healthy.  I felt positivity – ness when my golf partner told me about the joy of helping her daughter move into her first new house.  I learned positivity – ness through all of these events and so many more, too many to list, that occurred in one brief twenty-four hour period.

I think the beauty of the definition of positivity – ness is that it can not exactly be defined.  More importantly, as I use the word – positivity – ness – I need to make sure that I use it well and use it right, while undergoing and valuing that quirky unknown meaning sensation.

The world is a great place, filled with opportunity and possibilities.  I hope that I can use my positivity – ness to reach out to others, to find ways to make the ails of the universe fade away.

What a great word.  What a great day.

Positivity - ness from the artist. 2014

Positivity – ness from the artist. 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Family Dance

For me, it was that incredible memorable family dance moment.

The band was playing what could easily be described as the music of many – the type familiar and beloved by both the young and the old, not too loud and not too slow – music for the ages.

The reception was in full swing. And at that particular moment, I looked around and noticed it immediately: all of us on the dance floor were related. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, moms, dads, and grandchildren. All of us were happy, laughing, smiling, and . . . dancing.

Admittedly, we could have never described the dance we were dancing as organized.  It wasn’t refined, or symmetrical. It wasn’t pretty, cultured, or structured.  In fact, if analyzed, it was fairly clunky and chunky.  No one had rehearsed, and although the family talents are many, there are no professional dancers in the mix.  Just a group of folks ranging in age from zero to 80+ who were happy, laughing, smiling, and  . . . dancing.

And, of course, it wasn’t dancing in the very traditional sense.  Rather than pairing up in a Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers type manner, the dance floor resembled more of a brood, a clutch, a gaggle, or a flock of individuals moving at the same tempo, in the same rhythm, using the same motions, to the same music, dancing that potentially awkward and always interesting family dance.

Large gatherings, such as this one happened to be, are not uncommon in my family.  With six siblings at the core plus twenty-one immediate cousins, all family gatherings end up on the large to very large size. Birthdays, graduations, holidays, weddings just turn into big, giant family celebrations. Luckily, in my family, each relative not only seems to know every other relative well enough to dance, but all family members seem to understand each other and have an over-arching acceptance of and pride in all kinds of similarities and differences among the group.

And with family dancing, it is the differences that can and do shine brightly.

At that particular moment, several folks in the teenage set were not only dancing, but singing madly along with the band leader, unabashed and unafraid of displaying their singing (or non-singing) aptitude.

One family member, who could normally be described as quiet and pensive, in a very brave move, having been coaxed to the dance floor by the young but married cousins, displayed some serious dance motion which added a new piece of delight throughout all.

An uncle was arm in arm with a tiny niece, tapping his foot, simultaneously swinging her in step with the beat of the music, while my sister and I held hands over the backs of our respective spouses with whom we were dancing.

As the music reached a crescendo, with bride and groom center stage – the rest of us broadly encircling them – our pop, a less than spry 80+ year old and only remaining grandparent, decided to join the group.  With his walking more of a chore than a pleasure, his participation surprised all of us.  We stared as he edged so gently and carefully towards the middle and watched as the wall of his grandchildren and children parted to accommodate and include him.

He didn’t know it at the time, nor did we, but he was dancing his final family dance.  And it was magical.

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His dance moves were quaint and soulful.  They were deliberate and slow and filled with youthful joy. As he cautiously swayed to the sounds, his family did the same, holding our breath hoping he was successful and hoping the moment wouldn’t end. For as he danced, he exuded an aura that captured a lifetime of happiness in a family dance that he had helped to generate and foster.

Without a doubt, it was a family dance for the ages.

And though usually during the height of a wedding celebration in the middle of a dance floor surrounded by generations of family, it isn’t the moment to capture a serious life lesson.  But, that’s the magic part of it.

It was obvious to me that the family dance was not for a moment about music and movement.  The band may have played and feet may have shuffled, but it was very incidental to the rhythm of the event.  We were throwing away our challenges and our barriers.  We were delighting in the common family bonds that we had cultivated for many years, and we were family dancing.

I don’t necessarily like the following adage.  It seems tired and overused, but it also seems to be true that life isn’t a short sprint, but rather a long, long journey with moments of challenge, of concern, of worry along with moments of joy, hope, and celebration.

I journey with many family members with whom I sometimes disagree, often disappoint, and always seem to need more than I have the ability to help.  But with enough time and with lots of concerted effort, I am hoping that my journey can include that one last magical moment, that perfect storm, that extraordinary symbiosis, the family dance.

I just have to plan ahead and work hard.  I say bring it on!

 

You’re In Luck

“You’re in luck,” I said.  And with that, I turned to my second son and smiled.  “I don’t need my car tomorrow, and am glad that you can use it.”

It was a beautiful March evening; and, Timothy and I stood for just a moment in the driveway before he drove off.  As I handed him my keys, he thanked me and added just a little more. I knew the next phrase was coming well before he said it, but I looked forward to him saying it anyway.

“We’re both lucky, mom, aren’t we,” he said.  And I replied with a “Yes, son, we are.”

As he pulled away from my house with what he came to borrow, I began to consider all the times that he and I have uttered those phrases.  I tell him he is in luck and he tells me that we are both lucky – a mantra we have completed a thousand times a thousand.  But this time, I think I meant it a little more.  And I was hoping that he equally heard my words and delivered his with more meaning.

For during the early part of my day, I wasn’t feeling the luck in any way.

Though my daily work doesn’t bring me into direct, one on one contact with students often, this semester, a series of unusual events had caused me to work with three very different people for three very different reasons.  Each of these three students had challenges throughout their lives that I nor my children had ever experienced or imagined:  parents who at best could have been described as absent –  a lack of funding not only for school, but for basic needs like food and shelter – no reliable means of transportation – no steady employment of any kind – non-supportive family and friends – and in general, a day-to-day existence that was more difficult than ever delightful at every turn.

Lately, I had spent a great deal of time wondering about the what-ifs for these three young students.  What if just one thing was different in any one of their lives? Just one thing? What if one of their parents put effort into raising them?  Just one? Just a little? What type of difference would that have made?  What if each one of the students could say that they had never gone hungry – not for one day?  That they never thought about how they were going to secure their next meal? Wow.  What type of difference would that have made?  Or what if they never once had to worry about transportation to and from college, to and from work, to and from anywhere? What type of difference would that have made? If they had just had a little luck, in any direction, for any reason, at any time, what type of difference would it have made for any or all of them?

My work is not to sit behind a desk and wonder all day long.  But, there are days that wondering is the best that I can do.

For although I tried my hardest with each student and they tried their hardest, neither my effort nor their efforts has been able to provide them with enough success to eliminate all of their problems and challenges.  In fact, we hardly made a dent.  The road in front of each of them still seems long and bumpy with admittedly a tiny glimmer of light at the end  – but I wouldn’t call it a streaming beacon at this point.

Through my contact with these three individuals, I swiftly came to realize that all they really need is a little luck.  Somewhere in their frantic worlds, they need to come across a road block and suddenly be handed just a bit of luck and . . . voilà . . . the challenge is averted, the problem is eliminated, the story has a happy ending.  In fact, all anyone really needs is just a little luck.  Trouble is . . . getting to the point that such luck appears is often a journey of a million miles.

That’s why it is so important to recognize and realize when luck occurs. For when it does occur, we have normally waited a long time, planned a great deal, put in time and effort, tinkered around, and worked hard to reach such opportunity.  Benjamin Franklin said it well defining “diligence as the mother of good luck”.  Likewise, Tony Robbins calls luck “the meeting of preparation with opportunity”. Neither diligence nor preparation has a short time frame.  Both take awhile, a long while. Likewise, luck takes awhile, even for the luckiest of folks.  In considering how luck works,  I sincerely hope that the three students I have personally met during spring 2014 are in it for the long haul and are willing to persevere, waiting for their lucky moment.

Connecting all the dots in some fashion, I am grateful for the conversation between my son and me on that beautiful Wednesday evening.   He and I – in less than 100 words – acknowledged that luck had been a part of our lives and that we were and should be thankful for it and for each other.  Such a brief conversation between two people, but an important one – a conversation that gives me plenty to wonder about. A conversation that I am hoping that we will continue to utter and build on for years to come.

 

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.

A flower seen on that Wednesday evening. Lucky me.