The Ticking Clock

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How can it already be September? Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were ringing in the New Year? When did tiny strands of grey appear in my hair. How did my knees come to ache when I walk too far? Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was able to run like a deer and see without the aide of spectacles? When did my long narrow waist become thick? From whence came the wrinkles and folds in my skin. Wasn’t I a young woman looking into the future with boundless dreams only a week or so ago? How does the same time that creeps in its petty pace suddenly race so quickly that I lose track of its passage?

I never thought of growing older. It seemed to be an aspect of life reserved for my elders. Somehow it rarely occurred to me that I might one day be respectfully called “mum” or “mother” as a sign of my advancing age. I look into the mirror and I see my twenty year old self, not the seventy year old woman who has lost two and a half inches of height and whose eyelids droop over her once big brown eyes. My brush accumulates more and more of my thinning hair and I have taken to wearing comfortable shoes rather than stylish pumps. The world and its future is being overtaken by younger women with ideas that sometimes seems as strange to me as mine appear to them. Yet somehow I find myself fighting to maintain my relevance, my purpose on this earth before I am called to one day leave.

My mother embraced her age as have so many women before me. I struggle to stay in the game, to be considered woke. Haven’t there been women my age running for President of the United States? Isn’t Ruth Bader Ginsburg still demonstrating an incredible acuity of mind? Who determines when someone should retire to a state of old age? Why should I simply sit back and watch the rising and setting of the sun without making efforts to squeeze every single second of meaning out of my existence? After all I come from a line of people who live for a very long time. If I make it as much time as two of my aunts I still have at least thirty more years to contribute to society. If I consider my grandfather I can tack on another eight years. People have entire careers in less time than I may still enjoy if I am true to my DNA.

The world is not the place it was. We are often able to keep our minds and our bodies vibrant far longer than once thought possible. Our appearances may change and we may move with less vigor, but our minds are as alive as ever. Coupled with the experiences that we have had we are in many ways the wise men and women of our time. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ve endured triumphs and tribulations and learned from each of them. We understand that simple answers are rare, but there are solutions for even the seemingly most hopeless situations. We also understand that there comes a time when we must give the young the freedom that they need to learn how to be stewards of the world when it is time for them assume the leadership roles that we once held.

Hopefully the world that we leave behind will be somehow better for our having been here. I’d like to think that each of us will have a positive impact on some person or problem or advancement. Since there is still so much to be done, we should search for new ways of making a difference now that we are no longer part of the teeming race of workers who report to jobs each day. Ours may now be small almost imperceptible contributions that nonetheless are important. What we accomplish may be as simple as sending an encouraging word to a young person who is struggling to launch. Ours are now the quieter moments that touch individuals more often than creating a buzz in the crowd.

I am indeed older. I see loveliness in the hard work that shows on my hands. Unlike what people may think about someone of my age, I know that I am more open and forgiving than I once was for I have seen my own humanity and weaknesses. I have somehow overcome them with the grace and help of others. It has been in the kindnesses of even people that I did not know that I have been able to survive this long. Now I understand that it is up to me to continue to pay my blessings forward.

I do my best to spend a part of each day outside of myself. I have friends who are far more gifted in such ways than I am and they continually inspire me. I see them spending time at nursing homes and bringing smiles to people who are sick and lonely. I watch them unselfishly donating their talents to causes that make life better. I read their evangelical praises of God and know that they are living breathing angels of example. I am awed by them and do my best to emulate them in tiny ways. They are my peers who are not daunted by the passing of time and the aging of their bodies. They are good people who forget themselves and focus on others.

We live in a world that idolizes the young and the beautiful. That is perhaps as it should be, but those of us who are moving ever closer to the inevitability of closing the circle of life still have so much to offer. We need to spend each day with purpose and resolve. The truly beautiful are those who forget about their images in the mirror and instead devote precious time to benefitting the world just a bit more.

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God’s Artistry

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I have heard about Lake Tahoe for most of my life, but honestly knew little about the place. I’d heard that it was the location of some of the filming of the old Bonanza television program and one of my old neighbors visits her brother there regularly. My own brother frequently took trips there as well and often took my mother along on his family vacations. My mom enthusiastically related that it was one of the most beautiful places that she had ever seen. Beyond that I was only able to imagine what Lake Tahoe is really like. Recently I found an opportunity to see the place for myself.

My husband and I traveled to Sacramento to watch our grandson, Eli, run in the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics. Since he was only competing in a couple of events there were whole days when we had time to do some exploring. A quick Google search alerted me to the fact that we were only a couple of hours away from Lake Tahoe, so I quickly planned a day trip to visit the wonder that I had never before seen. I had little idea what I might find at the end of my journey but so many had spoken of the splendor of the area that I actually worried that I might be a bit disappointed. Expectations often exceed reality and I braced myself for the possibility of being underwhelmed.

Our drive began through farm country where we saw a variety of crops being grown in a landscape that was so dry that it seemed incongruous that fields were green. The towns through which we passed appeared to be struggling to remain meaningful with obvious closures of businesses that no doubt once brought great hope to the citizens. It was a pleasant journey nonetheless that became even more enchanting once we took the cutoff for the highway to Lake Tahoe. Our car climbed to higher elevations through forests of pine that sweetened the aroma of the air. It was so pleasant that I would have been satisfied with little more, but to my great pleasure I soon saw the outline of a vast lake looming on the far horizon.

Once we were in view of Lake Tahoe I understood why so many had expressed their awe of the place. The waters of the deep lake were brilliant hues of blue, green, aqua and emerald. Boats dotted the surface like images on a picture post card. It was a lovely sight indeed and I must have used the phrase, “This is so beautiful!” hundreds of times as we drove along the circumference of the water stopping occasionally to snap a picture for posterity. 

The sky was a brilliant blue on that day as though it was competing with the lake for notice. Tall pines encircled the shoreline caressing the water with its deep green branches and filling the air with a fresh and invigorating scent.

Our journey led us through hamlets where fortunate souls owned homes overlooking the glorious scene. Given that Lake Tahoe is known as much for its winter sports as the summertime activities that were in full force I understood why it would be a rather grand place to either live or visit whenever the urge arose. I was utterly delighted with all that I saw.

By the afternoon we were quite hungry so we stopped for lunch and a restaurant called Jakes and enjoyed dining with a spectacular view. The food was as delicious as the scenery and I found myself just wanting to linger at our table on the deck for the remainder of the day. Sadly we had to continue forward so that we might get Eli back to Sacramento in time to rest up for his 1500 meter race the following day.

Our course sent us into the Nevada section of Lake Tahoe and even more spectacular views. There were long walking trails filled with people enjoying the serenity of the scenery along with us. Eventually we found the casinos and amusements of the main area where visitors play and stay. It was like a more inviting mini-Las Vegas and we might have taken a spin or two around one of the clubs but for our underage companion.

Before long we had completed the circuit of our drive much more enchanted than before. I found myself thinking that I needed to one day return to this glorious place so that I might spend more time exploring and enjoying its beauty. I would love to see it in the winter when the snow covers the ground and coats the branches of the trees. Sitting by a warm fire just gazing at the blue waters is an inviting picture in my mind.

Once again I realized the extent of the natural wonders that California encompasses. From the shores of San Diego to the mountain retreats and magnificent lakes it is indeed one of the most beautiful places in our country. Little wonder that people endure droughts, earthquakes, fires and a high cost of living just to be near all of the beauty that it has to offer. God’s artistry is apparent in every direction.

I feel fortunate to be able to travel to places like Lake Tahoe. It was even more awesome because it really was a surprise to learn that people’s estimates of the place were not exaggerated at all. Perhaps I will return again one day to linger longer. In the distance were mountains where the hardy enjoy winter sports when the snows come. 

Our journey led us through hamlets where fortunate souls owned homes overlooking the glorious scene. Given that Lake Tahoe is known as much for its skiing as the summertime activities that were in full force I understood why it would be a rather grand place to either live or visit whenever the urge arose. I was utterly delighted with all that I saw.

By the afternoon we were quite hungry so we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Jakes and enjoyed dining with a spectacular view. The food was as delicious as the scenery and I found myself just wanting to linger at our table on the deck for the remainder of the day. Sadly we had to continue forward so that we might get Eli back to Sacramento in time to rest up for his 1500 meter race the following day.

Our course sent us into the Nevada section of Lake Tahoe and even more spectacular views. There were long walking trails filled with people enjoying the serenity of the scenery along with us. Eventually we found the casinos and amusements of the main area where visitors play and stay. It was like a more inviting mini-Las Vegas and we might have taken a spin or two around one of the hotels to play the slot machines but for our underage companion.

Before long we had completed the circuit of our drive much more enchanted than before. I found myself thinking that I needed to one day return to this glorious place so that I might spend more time exploring and enjoying its beauty. I would love to see it in the winter when the snow covers the ground and coats the branches of the trees. Sitting by a warm fire just gazing at the blue waters is an inviting picture in my mind.

Once again I realized the extent of the natural wonders that California encompasses. From the shores of San Diego to the mountain retreats and magnificent lakes it is indeed one of the most beautiful places in our country. Little wonder that people endure droughts, earthquakes, fires and a high cost of living just to be near all of the beauty that it has to offer. God’s artistry is apparent in every direction.

I feel fortunate to be able to travel to places like Lake Tahoe. It was even more awesome because it really was a surprise to learn that people’s estimates of the place were not exaggerated at all. Perhaps I will return again one day to stay longer.

There’s A Place Where I Can Go

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Mornings have become my favorite time of day. It wasn’t always so. When I was working mornings began before the sun announced the dawn. I’d rush around half asleep readying myself for a busy day at work. I’d eat my breakfast on the fly hurrying as quickly as possible to get into my car and hopefully missing the worst of the rush hour traffic. Even with my best efforts a wreck, a stalled car, or a rain storm might land me smack dab in the middle of an immovable jam of traffic. I’d sit in a half asleep stupor wishing that I lived closer to my work so that I would not have to endure the horrors of a long commute in a city with virtually no mass transit. I never felt as though I had any affection whatsoever for the earliest hours of a new day, but that was before I no longer had to leave my home to join the daily rat race.

Now I arise without benefit of an alarm. No longer do I feel as though someone has awakened me with a cattle prod while in the middle of a lovely dream. Instead my body and a hint of sun tells me when it is time to begin the routines of my day. I have no sense of hurry for I am now the mistress of my schedule. I wander into the kitchen to prepare my morning tea and a light breakfast and then repair to my sitting room. It is an area filled with things that have meaning for me, things that make me feel comfort and happiness.

It is a somewhat old fashioned place because it is filled with things that once belonged to people that I have loved. I might tell a thousand and one stories just from glancing at the objects that decorate every inch if the space. It is dominated by an art print that once hung in my mother’s home. She and my dad chose it when I was still a young child and I recall accompanying them on the shopping excursion in which they selected furnishings for the living room in the first home that they had purchased. It is a lovely rendition of magnolias which at the time complimented the colors of the sofa that they had selected. Long after my father had died and the original couch was gone my mom still treasured the piece and it came to represent both her and my father in my mind. It calms me in an almost spiritual way even though it is only an object. Somehow I feel the presence of my parents and remember the happy times that I shared with them whenever I gaze at the lovely work of art.

Ironically I had purchased a floral chair long before my mother gave me her prized picture. The colors in the chair look as though they were produced solely to go with the painting. A dear friend eventually created pillows to place on the couch that pull the entire room together. It is comfortable and quiet in the room and it has become my refuge.

After my mother-in-law died my father-in-law gave us her secretary desk that I had always admired. It stores other treasures that I have either inherited or collected over the years. There is a cookie jar that my brothers and I bought for our mother one Christmas with money that we had saved from all of our little odd jobs around the neighborhood. It also features two little blue teacups that had once belonged to a set of toy china that my mother had as a child. There are lovely ceramic birds from New Orleans that Mike’s Aunt Elsie collected when she lived in that glorious city for a time. My treasured piece of the Berlin wall is nestled in a lovely wooden box from my eldest daughter along side a lovely china container from England. There is also a clock that my brother gave me when I earned my college degree that is still working long after I have left the career that it launched.

Perhaps my favorite piece is an antique vase that once belonged to my great grandmother Christina. My grandmother Minnie Bell gave it to me when I was still a girl, admonishing me to always keep it safe. It meant little to me when I was young, but over the years it has found a special place in my heart as I think of how precious it must have been to Christina as she lived out her hard scrabble life. I have moved it from one home to another with great care. It is a tangible link to my history and to the women who came before me.

There are other wonderful things as well that may mean nothing to others, but everything to me. I have end tables and lamps that belonged to Mike’s grandmother, including an old style Tiffany lamp that also compliments the colors in the room dictated by the picture on the wall. Pewter coasters crafted by the Norwegian uncle of our dear friend Egon hold my morning tea and make me smile as I thing of the friendship that we had with this man who left the earth far too soon. A whimsical frog catches my eye and those of my guests making me think of a sweet colleague named Jane, an extraordinary woman who so enriched my life when I was still a working girl. A shadowbox contains door handles and some of the wooden flooring from the home that Mike’s grandparents built when my mother-in-law was only a child. It is gone now but I can still see it and imagine the dinners and the parties and the ordinary days that they enjoyed there.

My sitting room is a peaceful place, a refuge that I now have so much time to enjoy. It is where I go when I need to think or just relax. It looks a bit old fashioned but I have yet to find anyone who does not feel the same sense of serenity as I do when enjoying its comfort. Best of all is the fact that I am now able to linger there as long as I wish. I feel a sense of joy in recalling the lives of the people represented in the contents of the room and sense that their spirit still resides in me. It is so much more than things. It is a respository that speaks of who I am, where I have been, and where I might one day go. It’s a place where I can go to truly be me.

Finding Beauty In Life and Death

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I’ve seen more than my share of death. As the calendar moves relentlessly forward I have had to watch the passing of my elders, the people who loved and guided me when I was a child. Of late I have seen far too many of my peers leaving this earth as well. Death is inevitable and yet still such a frightening and unwanted state for most of us. We cling tenaciously to life even as we understand that not one of us is immortal.

A friend posted an article that defined the ways in which one might experience a “good” death. It was filled with all sorts of ideas that might work if one has the luxury of knowing that the end is near because of an illness that points in that direction. For many death is more sudden and unexpected, making it impossible to take charge of the event as described in the article.

My mother always spoke of being ready to die at any moment. She did not broach this topic in a morose manner, but rather from the standpoint of living life in such a way that no matter what might happen she would be ready whenever her time on earth was over. She did this with several routines from which she rarely diverged and from open discussions about her preferences long before there were any signs that her death was drawing near. As a result her passing was beautiful, and done on her terms just as she had always wished.

Mama never let a single day end in anger or hurtfulness. She asked for forgiveness for her transgressions which were always of the very minor variety anyway. She communicated her love for the people that she knew daily. There was no need at the end of her life for her to make an act of contrition to either God or family members. We already knew as I’m sure God did as well that she was sorry for anything that she had done that hurt anybody.

My mother expressed her desires to refuse all artificial means of prolonging her life on many occasions. She only hoped to be as free of pain as possible, but beyond that she insisted that we not take any extraordinary measures. We therefore felt comfortable conveying her wishes to her doctors who all smiled in agreement with her wisdom.

Mama lived a faith filled life that never wavered. She believed with all of her heart that our earthly home is only temporary and imperfect. She looked forward to an eternity of peace and happiness with God. On her last day of life she had an angelic glow and a beatific smile as she motioned toward heaven whenever we asked how she was feeling. She believed that her reward for a life well lived was coming soon. She had no anxiety and her peacefulness spread to each of us who visited with her in those final hours.

One by one the people who had meant the most to her came to pay their last respects. She made each visitor feel her love as she held hands and did her best to help them to accept the inevitable. She orchestrated final moments that none of us would ever forget, and gave us a gift of peacefulness that is unimaginable. In fact, even the nurses who cared for her in the ICU felt the joyousness that she projected. One of them cried as she left her shift, telling me and my brothers that she had never witnessed such a blessed ending to a life. She understood as we did that my mother had chosen this way of spending her final hours by living her entire life in preparation for the end.

My mother was always a caretaker who sacrificed for the needs of others. She asked for very little for herself and she certainly had moments when she was filled with all of the human frailties that we have. Somehow she always found her way back to a kind of inner peace and a total dependence on God to comfort her. She never asked Him for things or even to take away her sorrows or pain. All she wanted from Him was a bit of help in managing her attitude toward whatever was happening. Sometimes it took awhile, but always she found the serenity that she sought.

Mama’s life was difficult from beginning to end and yet she was one of the happiest people that I have ever known. From the time that I was a child she explained her joy by reasoning that she was able to tackle any challenge because she always knew that God was not going to leave her to act alone. Even, and perhaps most especially, in death she had a certainty that He was with her and that the best was coming. She was never angry with Him for the difficulties that mounted at her door. She accepted her travails as being a part of life.

I understand that it is difficult for many of us to curtail our anger, resentments, suffering and sorrow. Life can appear to be very cruel and death is often prolonged and painful. Keeping the faith and finding a way to smile even under the worst of circumstances can seem impossible, and yet I saw firsthand the power and beauty of my mother’s unwavering determination to be in charge of her life and her death by choosing an attitude of trust, faith, hope, and joy. She showed me and those who knew her how to have a beautiful death. I only hope that I will be able to follow her lead whenever that day comes for me.

Finding a Long Lost Friend

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I met Kathy at a local Tex Mex restaurant. It had been well over fifty years since we had seen each other in person. She and I had both once lived on Belmark Street in southeast Houston. Both of our mothers were widows and both of us were products of an education at Mt. Carmel High School. I was in the Class of 1966 and she was a member of the Class of 1967, the group with whom I might have shared my teenage years had my parents not decided to send me to first grade a year early. We had both lived through a lifetime of memories in the years since last being together and it was only through the miracle of Facebook that we had reconnected once again.

I adored Kathy’s mother. She was a tiny woman who was nonetheless a giant in my eyes. She seemed capable of staring down the devil if need be. She was incredibly courageous and one of the few women that I knew who actually pursued a career even after she became a mom  and her husband was still alive. Kathy’s mom and mine often attended dances and events sponsored by Parents Without Partners, a social group that gave them a place to be with people who understood what it was like to raise a family alone.

When I knew Kathy on Belmark Street she was known by the nickname, “Candy.” She was stunningly beautiful even as a child and only became more lovely as she grew. She had the same spunky spirit as her mom and I so enjoyed doing things with her. She was the perfect counterpoint to my shy and reserved nature. When I was around her I felt at ease and able to just be myself. She was a fun person who helped me push aside the awkwardness that sometimes made me wonder if I was ever going to find my way in the adult world. Her joyous nature rubbed off on me, and she made me forget all of my childhood angst.

One of our favorite activities was playing dolls on my driveway. Kathy had one of the very first Barbie dolls and I was in awe of the model like figure of the toy. I stuck with my Madame Alexander doll that was lovely in its own right. We collected milk cartons and boxes and transformed them into furniture for our dolls. We used scraps of cloth to make rugs and pillows. My mom showed me how to design a four poster bed for my doll out of a cigar box and four clothes pins. We set up our make believe homes and pretended that our dolls were stewardesses living in exotic places around the world. It was more fun than almost anything else that I did in those days. I treasure the memories and the things that Kathy taught me when we were together.

Sometimes our play was interrupted by earnest discussions of how we might actually become hostesses in the sky once we were old enough to apply for jobs that we considered highly glamorous. It was after all still in the days of infancy for mass air travel and anything associated with the industry appeared to be quite exciting to us. We had so many hopes and dreams about being independent women like our moms but on a far grander scale.

Kathy’s home was different from mine. There were no beige walls or conservative ways of decorating. Instead bright colors transformed each room into a happy place that made me smile. Kathy’s mom kept a bowl of candy on the dining table and always urged me to take whatever I wanted when I visited there. I could not imagine such a tempting treat lasting more than a few seconds at my own house, and yet it appeared that Kathy and her younger siblings rarely even touched the sweets. I decided that making something routine and commonplace made it less enticing and thought that Kathy’s mom was a very bright woman indeed for thinking of such a thing.

Kathy and her family moved away when I was a freshman in high school and while her mom and mine continued a fast friendship, I had become devoted to my studies and a small circle of classmates with whom I spent my rare hours of freedom. Kathy and I saw less and less of each other even as we no doubt passed one another in the hallways of our school. Life took hold and we went our separate ways marrying, raising children and working. The years went by one by one, slowly at first and then at a rate so fast that we hardly noticed that a whole lifetime had passed.

Suddenly we were older women, retired from our jobs, enjoying our grandchildren and finding more and more free time on our hands. Then we found each other on Facebook and began to enjoy the commentaries that we each posted. I realized that somehow even with all of the changes that had taken place in our lives at heart we were still those young girls with dolls and dreams and incredible moms. It seemed time to have a reunion, and so we decided to meet for lunch and to reminisce.

I am never quite certain how it is possible to reconnect with a long lost friend so quickly, but we had no problem whatsoever keeping a conversation going. In fact, we devoted an hour to speaking of our past, present, and future for each decade that we had been away from each other. I was a bit shocked when I finally glanced at my watch and realized that we had been chatting away for nearly five hours and I suppose that we might have continued even longer save for the fact that other responsibilities were calling us home.

It was grand seeing Kathy again and knowing that our shared experiences had somehow carried us through every challenge that came our way. Like our moms we are survivors who have seen both the good times and the most horrific and yet we are still standing. Kathy is as beautiful as she ever was and she still has the ability to make me smile. She has become a font of wisdom from whom I learned so much in just a few short hours. I’d like to think that we will continue our meetings now that we have found each other again. We share something quite special and I suspect that our mothers are smiling down on us from heaven, happy that we have found to connect again.