Thursday, November 28, 2013

For All of You, I Give Thanks

Hello to all of you whose blogging friendship has enriched my life during the past year. All of us, I hope and trust, have so much for which to be grateful. Each day, life offers us blessings pressed down and overflowing. Often these blessings come as surprises: we feel a sudden upsurge of gratitude within our innards. A lightness of heart and mind. Joy. A feeling of contentment.

These transcendent moments enrich our spirits as we meld with all others who inhabit the Universe and are part of the Holy Oneness of All Creation.

That Oneness unites us despite our differences with regard to religion or politics or skin color or ethnicity or sexual preference or other beliefs to which we cling sometimes as that which defines us.

What really defines us I believe is our ceaseless search for authenticity, for wholeness of the human spirit—a wholeness that speaks loud and clear of the great gifts we bear to all human—and animal—kind.

This year I am especially grateful not only for the friendship you have extended to me but for my family, the cats with whom I live, my home, the beauty of our natural world, and my health. And one thing more: renewed possibility.

Meniere’s entered my life in 2006 and has narrowed it in many ways. But this month I flew—for the first time since the disease took up residence within me. Flying is somewhat tricky for those of us who are often in the throes of vertigo and the accompanying headaches and so I’ve given up traveling to anyplace except where I can drive. And driving long distances at seventy-seven is tiring!

This past year, a young mother and her four children “adopted” me as their grandmother. During my lifetime I’ve been daughter, sister, and aunt, but I’ve never been called wife, mother, or grandmother. This is a whole new episode in my life and I feel humbled by it—and grateful.

When this family of five invited me to visit for two weeks I hesitated because the distance was too far to drive. I checked train and bus schedules but both time and cost were prohibitive. After much mulling, I decided, with some trepidation, that I had to venture forth and take to the skies. I found an inexpensive roundtrip ticket that pretty much made the decision for me.

A Meniere’s friend in Stillwater, Minnesota, gave me sound advice on how to prepare for the flight. Nevertheless I felt stressed, which can exacerbate Meniere’s. So on November 6th, both anxiety and I boarded the plane.

Now here is the wonderful news: I experienced no problems in flying across the country and back. NONE. O ye jigs and juleps! O, joy in the morning! This means that my life has opened up to possibility again.

As I’ve aged, my life has narrowed. Partly because of Meniere’s and partly because of moving away from friends of thirty-eight years and settling here in Missouri. I am neither a joiner nor a churchgoer and after volunteering for fifty-some years, I’m ready to leave that enriching way of meeting other people to the younger generations.

But discovering I can fly means I can visit with friends in Minnesota more often. I can visit those places that are on my “bucket list.” Moreover, the realization that Meniere’s is still present but that it no longer holds my life in thrall has helped me realize that even here in Missouri I can venture out more and seek new experiences. I can get on that superhighway to Kansas City and enjoy the concerts and plays there.

And so today as all of us honor the courage of the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, as all of us give thanks for our health and our families and friends, as all of us gather with loved ones to embrace the goodness and abundance of our lives, I am saying a special thank you to the Universe for the treasure trove of possibility that I now see opening up before me. Life is good.

Peace to all of you, pressed down and overflowing, on this Thanksgiving Day.

Note: The photographs from Wikipedia are of the Rocky Mountains. I flew over them and also was driven up them and through their canyons. The world is indeed beautiful.

PS: Next Thursday I hope to begin posting regularly again. You’ll find me in Seneca, Kansas, teaching fifth graders.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Final Bout of Hatred

In late August of 1960, I returned to Omaha. For the next nine months I taught a delightful class of fifth graders. Just thinking of that year with those eager fifth graders who soaked up learning makes me smile. How different from the seventh graders of the spring before. The only thing that marred those idyllic and carefree days were the recesses and the days I did the convent laundry.
         Throughout the year, several fifth graders would always gather around me during recess. We’d talk and laugh. And daily the members of that seventh—now eighth—grade gang would intrude. “You won’t be smiling when we’re done with ya,” they’d taunt. “We’re goin’ rape ya ‘til your ears ring.”
         Always the threat of rape.
         Because of that, Sister Brendan told me I was never to walk back to the convent alone. Another nun always accompanied me.
         The gang never raped me, but they did toilet-paper the trees and scrubs around the convent numerous times. Moreover one of my obediences was the weekly laundry. I’d pin a load on the line and go back inside the convent, only to return to the backyard and discover all the wet clothes trampled in the dirt, the clothespins littering the yard. 

          After this had happened a few times, another nun stood guard during the laundry days.
         One playground scene imprinted itself on my mind. In mid-winter, I was talking with Eugene, a fifth grader who was all of four and a half feet tall, malnourished, his face thin, a shock of black hair over his forehead, a woeful look in his eyes.
         Eugene was telling me about his dad’s drinking when one of the eighth graders—a member of the gang—strode up. He was tall, at last six feet, and burly. He smirked, put one of his muscled hands around the back of Eugene’s neck, squeezed, and lifted him off the ground. Eugene’s feet dangled; panic widened his eyes.
         “You b___,” the eighth grader snarled. “We’ll get you tonight!”
         “Let Eugene go!”
         “I suppose he’s your pet. Probably likes you. Doesn’t know what a b ___ you are.” As he spoke, he squeezed tightly so that Eugene’s face turned blue; his eyes rolled back.
         “Drop him,” I yelled from my five-foot-four height.
         “Make me!” he shouted.
         I slapped him.

         The bully dropped Eugene, who crumpled to the ground, coughing.          
         Rubbing his left cheek, the eight-grader muttered some choice curses, debating whether to hit me.
         Seeing the white line across his cheek left by my slap, I was appalled at what I’d done. But I had no time to apologize because Eugene was struggling to get up, still gasping for breath. I knelt on the asphalt and gathered him in my arms. Looking up, I saw the eighth grader looming over us, his fists clenched, his curses still bluing the air.
         “I’m going to report you to Sister Brendan,” I said.
         With that, he turned away, sullen, and rejoined his buddies who’d been watching. I don’t know what Sister Brendan said to him and his gang, but that ended their playground forays into fifth-grade territory.
         The year passed. I enjoyed being with those young children whose curiosity made learning exciting. But I continued to feel guilty about the hatred I’d incited in those gang members. When I’d taught them, my intentions had been good, but the results echoed for many years so that it was only thirty years later that I could finally see that I did have a gift for teaching and that those first five months had little to do with me and much to do with those damaged boys.
         And that, my friends, ends the saga of Omaha.

Note: I’m taking a vacation for a while, but will return to this on-line memoir in late November to share with you my next teaching assignment: Seneca, Kansas, in the fall of 1961.

All photographs from Wikipedia.