Friday, August 29, 2008

Women's Bonds

Our book group met yesterday during lunch hour to discuss the book, The Red Tent. From the discussion of the book a nugget was offered that landed squarely on me, and kept rumbling around in my mind all afternoon, taking root, and becoming something I have to write about.

One of the book group members noted that the women in the book had a strong bond as a group, which helped them survive and thrive in the culture in which they lived. She also looked around our little group at the conference room table and remarked that women today are still bonding together, in book groups, knitting groups (which we have each Tuesday) and other groups that bring us together.

What hit me about this observation was in memories that bubbled to the surface yesterday afternoon. For twenty years of my life, I had no group of women with which I could bond. Even in those that I participated in, I never felt like I was part of the group. As a minister’s wife, I was always held on the fringes, never included in the intimacies shared by women or embraced as a confidante. Away from the church, whenever I would join a group of women, as soon as they learned that my husband was a preacher, I felt an immediate barricade go up, keeping me from their inner circle. Even the ministers’ wives club was stilted. None of us wanted to share with the other wives, because we feared what might get back to our husbands, or that we might sound like we were complainers of our lives that were directed and called by God.

[At this point, I want to make a statement about this period of my life. While I felt excluded from groups of women, I was fortunate to have a few true and lasting friends, and I will always treasure these special friendships where these wonderful ladies took the risk to become friends with the minister’s wife. Norma, Jane, and Eunice, if you are reading this, I do not include you ever as anyone who did not welcome me into your arms of love.]

Things are different for me now. For example, Tuesday evening after work, two of my bus buddies and I met for dinner. The three of us got to know each other on our commuter bus over three years ago, and a close friendship has grown among three women from very different backgrounds, with very different jobs, and with an age gap of about 20 years from me, the oldest, to Shawn, the youngest. Sandy, Shawn and I talk and laugh, sympathize and celebrate, share ideas and give advice. This is the kind of bond I imagine the women in The Red Tent had, and one that I embrace in my own life.

I also have other bonding groups in my life. There’s our knitting group on Tuesdays, book group every month, girls’ trips to craft fairs, mini-reunions among old school friends, lunch outings with co-workers, etc., etc., etc. I am no longer on the outside looking in, but consider myself a very fortunate woman who has discovered the joys of having women friends and feeling the bonds of women’s groups. I am no longer confined to the sidelines, but am solidly in the circle of bonding women.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Windy Day

Tropical Storm Fay is meandering her way across northern Florida today, on her way to Alabama and Mississippi. It looks like we aren’t going to get the soaking rainfall that we need so desperately here in Georgia, but the forecast is calling for clouds, wind, and scattered showers for the next several days. I hope we will get enough to water the last of the summer flowers and plump up the wild muscadines ripening on the vine twining up a sweetgum tree on the edge of our property.

I opened the french doors in my bedroom where my home office is located, as well as the one window that we can open in our living room. The breeze is drifting across the house, keeping me cool, and providing me with fresh southern air. But more than the breeze, I am enjoying listening to the wind in the pine forest outside my french doors, and the tinkling of my five sets of wind chimes out on my front deck. I don’t think there is any prettier music than wind blowing through pine needles accompanied by wind chimes. It is cloudy outside now, and if I step over to the doorway and look out, I can see the cloudy remnants of the tropical storm crossing the sky overhead. No rain yet, but the moisture in the wind tells me that it will soon be here.

Besides listening to the wind in the pines, I love the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair. Earlier this morning I took a break from my work and ventured outside for a short walk. I took out all of the hair clips keeping my hair out of my eyes while I worked and let the wind have her way with my hairdo. Back inside with tousled locks and a refreshed spirit, I am back at my desk until I can’t stand it anymore, and I’ll be back outdoors!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Yesterday, my sister called me on the phone to relay a message. My cousin, Barbara, told my sister, Molly, that her mother, my Aunt Bernice, had talked to another aunt, Aunt Lois, who told her that she wanted to get in touch with me. She had tried calling my phone number, but I had my land line disconnected a couple of months ago, so she couldn’t get through to me. I had written Aunt Lois a note following her recent heart attack, and she wanted to tell me how well she is doing. It took this long string of phone messages to finally reach me.

I called Aunt Lois on the phone this morning, and we had a delightful conversation. She thanked me for the note I had written to her, and told me that she is unable to write these days because of her arthritis. As we said our good-byes, she said she’d look forward to hearing from me again soon. I also made sure she has my cell phone number, so that she can reach me directly next time!

Then, later today I received a hand-addressed envelope in the mail. I was curious. I hardly ever receive personal mail anymore, but only emails and phone calls. I was delighted to open it to find a postcard with a photo taken from a painting of John the Evangelist, photographed by my friend Mike from a 15th century Tigray, Ethiopia, Gospel book. On the back was a short note from Mike, in handwriting that I remember from my high school days when I used to receive letters from him from college. He wrote to thank me for a favor I had done for him (with a check enclosed) and to tell me that he would soon be leaving on a trip to Mongolia. It was wonderful reading his note, and I thought about my Aunt Lois and how much she must enjoy receiving mail.

I enjoy writing letters, although I don’t write them like I used to do. A couple of years ago I decided that instead of buying birthday cards for family members and friends, I would write each person a personal note on special note paper instead of sending a store-bought card. I made each note special by saying something personal in it about the person who was having the birthday. Most of my family and friends commented on how nice it was to receive their notes. However, I heard from one family member that another had complained that I hadn’t taken the time to go to the store and select a birthday card! Go figure!!

Letter writing. Is it gone with the world of internet, cell phones and text messaging? I hope not. I think I’ll go write a letter to Aunt Lois. And then, I’ll select a nice note card and send birthday greetings to a friend whose birthday is next week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fifth Avenue New York City

Brian and I are strolling down 5th Avenue in New York City on this busy Friday afternoon. We’ve just emerged from Central Park, where we meandered along shady trails and talked for over an hour, soaking in the beauty of the day and enjoying the company of mother and son. We find ourselves in a different world from the peaceful park- we’re on the street along with a multitude of other people, most with a destination in mind, and no time to waste.

As we walk along the sidewalk, dodging folks whose way we are in, and skirting around sightseers who have paused to decide what to do next in the city, I begin looking at faces and bodies. There are so many out here, and each one holds a story I wish I knew. The writer in me begins making up stories about the most interesting ones, and the philosopher in me is contemplating the meaning of life for each person I observe. I don’t personally know any of these people. I don’t know what their jobs are, why they are out here on 5th Avenue at 1:00 in the afternoon, or what their dreams are. I wish I did --- I can only imagine.

What I do ponder is what hides behind their faces. I put myself into the mix and project myself into some of the ones we pass. I am sure that each one of the people on this street in New York City has a dream of some kind. They want their life to count for something and they want to make a difference in some way, so that when they leave this earth, someone will remember them and miss them. Who knows what their jobs are or what they do for a living. Do they have families somewhere, either here in the city or somewhere else on this tiny planet in our vast universe, or are they alone in the world? Do they like their jobs? Or are they working simply to make a living so that they can do something that they enjoy when they leave at the end of the day? Are they counting the days until retirement, or thriving in a profession where they believe they are doing something worthwhile? The stories I could create are endless, as is this throng of humanity that we are brushing against as we walk.

So, what’s the point of this little observation of mine? It is merely one of the days in my collection, but I believe it is one that is significant. It is one in which I realize how small I am and how many other me’s there are out there in the world. I think of the children’s story, “Horton Hears a Who” – a person’s a person, no matter how small. New York City is just a speck, a grain of sand on the huge beach of the universe. But on this speck are people with dreams, ambitions, purpose and direction – all wanting something noteworthy to emerge from their existence here that will somehow make a difference to someone, somewhere.

And I am one of them, dreaming my dreams and wanting my own life to count for something.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Friend Norma

I met Norma for the first time in August, 1991. In fact, it was either on or near her birthday, which is today, August 6. It is also her husband, Vince’s, birthday, as well as my ex-husband, David’s. Because the three of them shared the same birthday, we went over to Norma’s house to have birthday cake and celebrate the three birthdays. We were new to the community, David having been assigned to the Methodist Church in Hampton, VA, in late June, and I hadn’t made any friends there yet. Norma and Vince were members of the church, and somehow in conversation with their new pastor, they learned that they shared a birthday with David. David wanted me to meet Norma, so they planned for our visit to their home.

When Norma met us at her front door, I felt like I was greeting an old friend, someone I’d known my entire life. There was no introductory hesitance of circling each other, scoping each other out, or tiptoeing around each other. We were immediate friends. As Marina would say, we are “Old Souls” (see my blog entry about this subject). Norma served us a slice of delicious strawberry cake that birthday afternoon. When I asked her if she’d share her recipe, she readily agreed, went into the kitchen and returned with an index recipe card. On it was written “Betty Crocker Cake Mix.” Our friendship was sealed with that recipe.

Norma was my friend during the most difficult year of my life, the year my marriage was seriously unraveling. Her doors, both at her house and at her office at Christopher Newport College, were always open for me. She was never judging, always listening, and tirelessly providing me with an anchor to steady me through those stormy days. She even donated blood for me when I had to have surgery the spring of 1992, which I considered the ultimate in friendship. The following year after David and I officially separated, Norma was the one who went with me back to the parsonage and helped me pack up my personal possessions. She gave me advice on what to take and what to leave, since I only had the back of a pick-up truck to carry everything. I don’t know how I could have done it without her help.

During the past fifteen years, Norma has been a loyal long-distance friend, and we have seen each other on a few occasions. Her friendship extended to Brian, who was her student assistant when he was in college at Christopher Newport. I always felt so good knowing that he was under her watchful eye as well as having the time of his life working in her office.

This past winter, Phil and I met Norma and Vince for dinner at Provino’s in Snellville. They were traveling through Georgia and stopped at Stone Mountain for a couple of days. When we saw each other at the restaurant, the ten years since we’d last seen each other melted away, and these two Old Souls were together again! Time evaporated as we talked, laughed, sympathized, and generally caught up on ten years of life. It was hard to say good-bye. As we hugged, I wanted to cling to her and say “Come home with me!” Once again our lives crossed paths and then took different directions, but our friendship remains and we will always be ready to pick up again where we left off when we see each other again.

Thank you, Norma, for being my friend. Happy Birthday!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Letting Go......Again

Yesterday was one of the hardest days in my life. I took Liberty to the Walton County Humane Society.

It brought back a memory of years ago when we took our little hound, Joey, to the Winchester, Virginia, Humane Society. We felt that we had no other choice, and it broke my heart. We had recently moved into a new parsonage on a busy road, and she couldn’t adjust to not being able to romp as she had at our previous home, which was located on 10 acres of open field. She was not happy staying indoors, and hated being tied to a chain in the yard. She was miserable, and we were, too. When we left her at the shelter, I requested to be contacted if she was ever scheduled for euthanasia. I never got a phone call, so at least I felt confident that she found a new home.

With Liberty, I am not as confident. Anyone reading my blog, please go back to the one in early July where I wrote about Liberty’s arrival at our house. Since that day, Liberty has thrived. She’s put on weight, her mange is almost gone and she now has fur on her feet, legs and ears. Her mysterious white eyes are bright and playful, while still just a little spooky to me. She is a happy little dog with a tail that won’t stop wagging. If we had no other pets, I think I’d try to keep her and train her. However, she didn’t get along with our German Shepherd, Diamond, and played the jealous sister whenever I’d give Diamond any affection. She also frightened our kitten, Rocky, and irritated Old Tom. Liberty needs to be an only child somewhere.

I tried my best to place her in a safe shelter, but kept running against brick walls. I finally got some advice from a private rescue organization in Monroe. The lady there told me that state regulations keep them from taking a dog from a private party, but that they go to the Humane Society on a regular basis to rescue adoptable pets. They also take them to Petsmart on Saturdays and Sundays for Pet Adoption Days. This gave me hope.

Yesterday was the day. I knew that every Thursday is Euthanasia Day in Monroe, so I figured that taking her on Friday would give Liberty the greatest chance of being either adopted or rescued. I cried all the way home, and then I had trouble concentrating on anything the rest of the day. I kept thinking about her, and doubting my decision. I didn’t ask to be notified if she is ever scheduled for euthanasia. I don’t want to know. I also couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of her before she left our home for the last time.

My brain tells me that I did the best thing, both for Liberty and for our little family. But my heart isn’t listening.