Saturday, July 8, 2017

Pursuing Peace—#2

In 1941, I lived with friends of my parents while my dad worked in a munitions factory in Parsons, Kansas. By the time I was in first grade, Mom, Dad, and my baby brother had returned to Kansas City. Dad then began to work at Salt Lake City, another munitions factory close to where we lived in Independence, Missouri. I was too young at the time to connect munitions with either war or peace.

Dad was thirty-six when the war began and blind in his left eye from a mining accident. Because of this he could not join the army. However, he hoped to become a Seabee. The Seabees were construction battalion units that built naval bases in the various theaters of war. Dad was a steamfitter; he felt certain he could serve his country with his work skills.

The Seabees, however, turned him down because of his blind eye. Not being able to serve devastated him. It made him feel, I realized much later, as if he weren’t a real man. The consequence of this was that Dad became an alcoholic. He drank for the rest of his life, always feeling, I believe, that he was a failure as a human being.

Throughout the war and during all my grade and high school years, my father’s drinking terrorized me. When sober he was a kind, thoughtful, gentle man. When drunk on hard liquor, he became belligerent and sometimes violent. The arguments Dad and Mom had at those times frightened me because I feared he would harm, and possibly, kill her. 

I longed for quiet, for no arguments, for calm. That is how I began to think of peace—as a great calming of the waves of rage, fear, pain, and abiding grief within my father and mother.

When they argued, I would go to my bedroom, lie face down on my bed, and imagine myself lying on a grassy hillside. I’d be on my back, looking up through the branches of a white-blossomed apple tree while swallows swooped overhead amidst cushiony clouds edged with the gleaming gold of sunrays.

In that place. On that hill. Beneath that tree, I found peace—a peace that I came to know as serenity many years later.

As the arguments raged, I initially heard all the anger and pain because there was no door to my room, just a privacy curtain hanging in the frame. But as I lay on that hill and listened to birdsong, felt the whisper of breeze against my cheek, smelled the rich loam of the earth and the fragrance of apple blossoms, all my senses settled into the calm of peace. In a world of my own making, I lived beyond the arguments. That, then, was peace for me.

Many years later, Dr. Nimlos, the psychiatrist who saved my life, said, “Dee, if you hadn’t had that hillside you would, I think, be totally psychotic. Or dead. It saved you.”  A few months ago, I heard for the first time the song “Pure Imagination.” Its lyrics helped me remember what Dr. Nimlos had said: it was my imagination that enabled me to live through those tense days. My childhood imagination had enveloped me in peace.

That blissful scene on the hillside may have saved me, but it also became what I expected from life. In the convent, I expected no dissension. In friendships, no dissension. I remained caught in the romantic notion that peace meant a life devoid of any kind of disagreement. It took years for me to let go of that idyllic view of peace. The peace I wish you now is not idyllic. It is hard won. Peace.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pursuing Peace—#1

Recently a friend asked why I sign off on my blog postings with the word Peace. That question prompted me to think of my history with both the word and its meaning. Today I’ll begin to share with you my initial memories. I suspect I’ll be writing more than one posting about my relationship to peace, but here’s where it all began.

I was five years old and in kindergarten when the United States entered World War II. My parents had told me before then that England was fighting the Blitz and that RAF pilots were defending the island nation. Dad used a large world map to show me Great Britain.

“The British airmen are defending England now, Dodo,” he said. “We’ll probably end up entering this war. Like we did the last. This time we’ll fight for real peace.” I know I didn’t understand the words war and peace then.

However, in 1942, the song we heard repeatedly on our radio was “The White Cliffs of Dover,” sung by the English songstress and actress Vera Lynn. The lyrics spoke of the RAF pilots—called the bluebirds because of their blue uniforms. Lynn sang of their valiant efforts to defend their England and bring peace. That song is perhaps when I first understood the emotions that peace implied.

Between December 1941 and August 1945, I was like most children in the United States: we saved money for war bonds; collected scrap metal for the war drive; and listened as our parents talked at the supper table about the bold newspaper headlines on the battles, which were being fought on multiple fronts.

Several times each year, we gathered around the radio in the front room to listen to President Roosevelt’s fireside chats. By our beds each night we knelt to pray for our fighting men. We laboriously printed short letters to soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. We were all in the fight together; all of us—those fighting; those on the home front—were pursuing peace, which my mother told me was “elusive.”

Kitty-cornered from Saint Mary’s Grade School was a small grocery store. It was there I went after school one day a week to buy a few necessities and to present Mom’s ration books and the cash she’d given me that morning. The store’s owner had thumbtacked two maps on his wall: one of Europe, northern Africa, and Asia and one of the Pacific islands.

Each time I came into his store, the owner, whose name I’m sorry to have forgotten because he touched my life with goodness, gave me a history lesson. After I’d made my purchases and while I waited for the town bus, he’d summarize the war effort. Using thumbtacks, he’d show me where our soldiers were advancing or retreating. He’d point to islands in the Pacific and make educated guesses about where the marines would land next. He’d read to me from the letters his son sent.

Early on that son trained at Fort Leonard Wood, which had been built in the Missouri Ozarks in early 1941. He shipped out to the Pacific where he learned jungle warfare and finally fought in the Battle of Luzon. His letters, like all the military sent, had blackened letters. “Can’t let no spies find out what’s happening,” the grocer would say to me.

Frequently, he spoke of what he’d do when his son came home. Of how they’d run the store together. Maybe enlarge it. Of how they’d agree to disagree without fighting. Of the peace they’d share. Slowly I fashioned a picture of a world not torn by war but woven together by that peace.

Until we meet again, may you know peace.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Latest Astrological Reading

Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve occasionally contacted an astrologer to have my chart read. The first astrologer, whose name I’d gotten from a friend, did my natal chart. I found her reading both interesting and intriguing.

Interesting because it did truly indicate many things that had happened to me in my life up to that time. Intriguing because she didn’t know me and her explanations enlivened my spirit about that year and the future.

Between then and now, I’ve had my chart done several times. I still really don’t know what I believe about astrology, but I do know that whenever I have a reading, I come away enthused about possibilities. Also, the readings always reaffirm my own intuitions about my life. 

Two weeks ago, a Minneapolis astrologer with a sterling reputation did my chart for this year. She began by saying that the past three years had been hard ones for me. (That’s true.) She was surprised she said, to hear the vibrancy in my voice “because I’d expect you to be very weary and depressed.”

I admitted that I am experiencing some depression and that some days I sink into self-pity. However, I told her, I also know that my body is recuperating well and that each week I’m reclaiming more of my life—more of who I used to be and more of who I want to be as I age.

We talked for two hours. Yesterday, I received two CDs of that reading. I haven’t played them yet and so what I’m sharing with you here is simply the highlights that I remember. What follows are those highlights.

For the rest of this 2017, I need to let go of “having to do things,” of feeling compelled to accomplish anything, of wanting to be productive. Instead, because of Venus something or other—I don’t understand the terminology—I am to seek pleasure during the next six months. I am to do things that make me happy. I am to let go of ought and should and embrace joy.

So I hope to get out the keyboard as well as my watercolors and jigsaw puzzles. I hope to play some music CDs and dance around the kitchen table. I hope to go to a lot of movies with friends who drive. I hope to do some baking and cooking of new recipes. And . . . if the spirit moves me . . . I’ll write, but I won’t do that because I feel that I must. I’ll write for the simple joy of crafting a good sentence.

As to the future, the astrologer said that 2018 would be a year that would be enriched by the creativity of 2017. Then in 2019 and 2020 I would experience something that happens only every 84 years in a person’s life—a wellspring of inspiration. I will be inspired by all this creativity to do something new and different.

I have no idea what that will be, but then I don’t have to know. I simply need to let myself enjoy life without feeling any compulsion to be productive. I’m hoping that my future postings for this year will be about pleasure—the pleasure of simply being in the moment.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Been There; Done That

Only in the past few months have I begun to think of myself as old. I felt equal to life until the back operation in March. It derailed me. In an effort to get out of my self-absorption, I began to blog again back in April. Eager to find out what others were doing, I delighted in reading posts about walking and hiking, volunteering, gardening—all sorts of interesting activities.

As I read the postings, I found myself thinking “That would be a fun thing to do. Why am I not doing that?” I began to feel like a wimp. “Others do these things, why don’t I?” became almost a mantra for me.

Then an epiphany was given to me this past Friday evening.

While watching the Great British Baking Show with Matthew purring on my lap, I suddenly said, “We have such a good life.” Stroking his fur, I began to think of the days when I’d baked yeast bread and quick bread, cookies and scones all winter long.

That led to my thinking about my whole life and all I’ve gotten to do.

While in my thirties and early forties, I rode my bicycle in the countryside around Stillwater for ten miles a day before driving to work. After a bicycle accident landed me in the hospital for three days and in recuperation for ten weeks, I began to walk. During my late forties and my fifties and sixties, I walked three to four miles a day in the nearby 1849 cemetery—up and down its hills and in the shadow of its tall, overarching trees. So I have exercised.

Throughout my forties, fifties, and sixties, I taught reading to adults and helped prep them for the GED. For ten years during that time, I took an elderly, homebound woman out to eat three times a week. So I have volunteered.

I fought the weeds in both vegetable and perennial gardens from the time I was 37 to age 73, when I moved to Missouri and settled for a shrub garden. For thirty-six years, I delighted in watching nature share its vitality and beauty with me and the neighborhood. So I have gardened.

I could go on, but the epiphany is this: I’ve been fortunate. I’ve lived long enough to have done many things: gardening; walking and bicycling; baking and trying new recipes for twelve to sixteen guests who came bi-monthly for a sit-down dinner; crocheting, knitting, and macramé-ing; painting and potting; trying out Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi Chih; camping for fifteen years in the North Woods and along Lake Superior in Minnesota; traveling; being a part of book clubs; protesting the Vietnam War and getting involved in animal rights; working as an election judge for ten years and knocking on doors for for three years; teaching and writing. 

The list could go on, but you get my drift. When we are fortunate enough to live long lives—and I’m 81 now—we have a lot to show for them. Just because I can’t do what I used to do, I did do those things once. I am reminded of the words from a poem I memorized my senior year in high school. The last lines of “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson are as follows:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


Photo of Alfred Lord Tennyson from Wikipedia.