Tag Archives: family

Remembering Who We Are

Leaving the house in search of some downtime, I take a chance on spending part of the late afternoon at a charitable thrift store.

Pulling into the parking lot of one of this area’s largest stores, I find only two spaces remaining. Balloons and special signs tell me today is a serious sale day. People are everywhere, arriving, leaving and milling about.

Over the years I have lived here, I have come to recognize a few of this community’s most serious secondhand shoppers-not by name but by appearance. And, when I begin to bump into any one of them frequently, it is a signal that I need a few months off from my own charitable-thrift-store “ministry.”

Spirituality
Spirituality

This afternoon’s trip is about getting out of the house to regroup, ground and center, rather than being about hunting for something in particular. Walking into the warehouse-sized store, oldies blare through the PA. My mood, which is upbeat, elevates even more. And, though the store is very busy, the racks are full enough for the methodical shifting of garments in front of my chasséing body. I will be able to regain center amid the chaos of people.

Moving through one section of the store, I notice a mother-daughter pair, whom I have not seen in a long while. The daughter is a mature woman, and her mother looks more frail than she did the last time I saw them bargain hunting. More frail or not, the mother maintains her general sparkle—a sparkliness of countenance which I love seeing.

Two sections later and with a one-half-hour between us, all three of us end up in the same area. To bypass the lines at the dressing rooms, I use a full-length mirror to try a dress on over my clothing.

Setting her frail body down on a steam trunk which is for sale, the mother glances my way. “It looks like a fit!” she announces. (Supportive, team shopping is not uncommon in this area.)

Struggling to release the hem of the garment from the grip of my blue jeans, I answer, “Well, almost. I need to drop the hem to make sure.”

We talk a little more—idle chit chat of the girl variety. I am reminded that this type of banter is a luxury, a gift representing a certain amount of leisure time. We are fortunate. Having finally dropped the hem, I zip the dress up. It fits in a lumpy manner over my clothing, but it is good enough to take home and retry. Unzipping the garment, I slip it over my head and fold it, placing it on the small stack of items I have.

Readying myself to leave, I stop briefly in front of the elderly mother, with whom I have been conversing.

“Where have you been?” I ask frankly. “I have not seen you or your daughter out for a long while.”

“Oh, I have had such adventures this year,” she replies. “First I had a mild heart attack, then, a mild stroke. After that, I was mending.”

Worn into her daughter’s face are the lines of an exceptional care-giver. Every new line has been translated.

“Oh, my. You have had quite a year,” I respond simply.

Then, reaching for my hand, she takes it into the smooth cradle of both of her soft-skinned arthritic hands, saying, “You look like a praying woman. Please pray for me. Pray for my health.”

She has granted me a blessing. The blessing of being seen.

As she releases my hand, I assure her that I will add her to my prayers.

Spiritual Communion

Gazing down at my banana-yellow downhill skis, I see that—about a foot from their upturned tips—they are hopelessly crossed over one another. Hanging from leather straps around my wrists, my ski poles twist in confusion around me, adding to my cold entanglement.

The bottom of the ski hill is a busy place. I stand frozen, pigeon-toed and strapped into the dead weight of my heavy skis. These are old-school downhill skis, and there are no quick-release binders. There is no quick fix to my situation.

Working to lift my right leg off the ground to maneuver my right ski off of the top of my left ski, I feel the almost impossible heft of the wooden ski pulling on every muscle, ligament and tendon in my pint-size hip, leg and foot.

Spirituality
Spirituality

Hoping to rectify the situation more quickly, I glance up toward my father, who has gone out of his way in his attempt to share his love of downhill skiing with me, having borrowed a pair of skis for my use during some informal instruction.

In place of the humorous, often patient twinkle that I am used to seeing in his eyes, I see a look of undisguised disgust at my predicament. The look cuts into my five-year-old heart. I am an inept disappointment. Somehow, I have messed up. I do not recall how we moved forward from that point. But, we must have. I do not remember ever trying downhill skiing again.

Years later, at fifteen, while rummaging through the family cedar chest, where we kept the specialty woolen wear “too good” to use, I stumble upon an exquisitely handknit wool sweater—a ski sweater.

The sweater is wrapped carefully in pristine tissue paper. Pulling the sweater out, I notice its unusually soft suppleness. The sweater’s body is knit in a realtively loose manner in a natural off-white yarn. The neck and shoulders feature a beautiful, understated Nordic pattern in a muted light-brown yarn.

Turning the sweater over in my hands, I wonder, “Where did this come from?” It looks to be my size.

After a very careful line of questioning, I learn that my father purchased this sweater as a gift for my mother, while they were still dating, in the hopes that they might go skiing together. My mother is deathly allergic to wool and, as a hot-cocoa-fireplace-with-a-good-book type, I imagine she proved as inept on the slopes at the age of twenty, as I did at five.

Parents. Partners. Children. Family. As “family” we are bound together by choice, blood and love. Sometimes family members share overlapping interests, talents or skills, and sometimes we do not. Even amidst the most tightly knit, active and lovingly respectful members of a family, a single soul can experience a tremendous sense of loneliness—especially when that individual soul is unable to share with those closest the activities or interests which make that unique Spirit come alive.

I try to imagine the dispiriting loneliness my father must have felt as a young suitor, wanting to share an activity he loved, one that made him feel more alive, with the primary someone he cared about most. Suddenly, the scene from my own five-year-old’s attempt at downhill skiing comes into a state of profoundly heightened focus. My father’s look of disgust was the emotional mask he was wearing over his own Spirit’s profound grief.

Children of the Light I

Walking through a neighborhood not far from our own, I observe a woman grab the forearm of her gangly teenage son in vicious impatience. She does this only to yank him closer to herself so that she may spew several ugly, vitriolic phrases in his face about his worthlessness as a human being.

From the looks of the home’s side yard, it appears that the entire family of four has been out working, raking the side-yard dirt to free it from last year’s debris. A new chicken-wire fence is in place. Last fall’s leaves, twigs, sticks and branches, as well as a few scraggily green vines, rest in a heap in the corner of the area which is now cleared dirt.

Spirituality

The only friendly motion in the scene I am witnessing comes from the wriggling swaying tail of a puppy’s unstoppable joy at the undeniable beauty of this early spring day. I suspect the raking has something to do with making way for this family’s new canine friend. I wish that this puppy’s happiness could be magnified and distributed among all five souls present.

Today, I do not hold back. Turning my body halfway around to address the woman, while putting on my very best positive voice, I almost shout, “Wow, are you lucky to have such great help in the yard! Beautiful day to be outside. My own son is all grown up. Hardly see him. Busy. They grow up so fast.”

The woman stares back at me in shocked amazement (maybe at my cheery impudence), loosening her grip on her older male child’s forearm. Her mouth gapes in awe.

Mission accomplished. Further, immediate verbal abuse truncated. But, I can see that the boy’s personal Light is still crumpled up and twisted around his lank physical frame, leaving him vulnerable and emotionally unprotected.

Turning to continue on my walk, I say a silent prayer for this child, “Dear God, please protect this holy child, restore his Light and help him remember who he is—Yours.”

Associations

Cold, windy and biting is an accurate description of the weather on the day I visit the post office. To protect my ears and neck from the wily and brutal winds outside, I have bundled up in one of my extra-long headscarves. With bright red, wind-chapped cheeks and a frozen nose, I imagine I am quite a sight after a full, four-mile walk.

Spirituality

Moving from the expansive post-office foyer into the line for counter service, I attempt to warm my stiff, cold and almost immoveable hands as I try to remove my gloves. Having crossed the threshold into the warmer counter-for-service area, I observe a postal worker shift through a series of complex body postures as he sees me entering the line.

Initially, he is merely doing his job. Then, as he notices me entering the line, I observe his body stiffen, until he is standing ram-rod straight—rigid. All of his working movements become uncomfortably tense and robotic.

With my fingers slowly thawing, I search my mind for a possible reason why my appearance in line would cause this worker so much discomfort.  Reaching up to unwind my headscarf, memories of living within an international, graduate-school housing community come flooding in.

It was while my husband was in graduate school and we were in university graduate apartments that, to my amazement and for the first (and only) time in my recollection, I qualified as something of a head-turner—but only among men of near-Middle-Eastern or Middle-Eastern origin. I consider the fact that, in terms of visual presentation, I am equally at home at a Greek dance party, a Sufi zhikr or a Jewish celebration.

Parallel to the unwinding of my headscarf, I observe the rigid tension melting out of this man’s body. With my long scarf now resting down the full length of my coat, I consider the fact that former military personnel are awarded extra points on the civil service examinations required of all postal workers, points which civilian test-takers must earn through extra high scores. Perhaps this man has seen active duty in the military.

What an odd encounter. We have not met. We have not spoken. And, yet, through whatever internalized, experiential markers this man carries within him, I was most certainly perceived as an uncomfortable form of “Other.” No matter what my mind postulates, my heart feels a deep sorrow for this man because my own experiences as a guest among Middle-Eastern peoples has given me a completely different set of positive, internalized social markers.

In travelling internationally, what I have learned is this. Among persons who are authentic seekers of a better life and who remain focused on the greater good, our greatest human concerns have to do with the love and respect we hold for one another in the context of family, as well as the desire for a better, safer world for our children. It is that simple.