Hello! Thanks for stopping by.
In August 2022, I moved Writing Beside Me to a new blog site - please visit me there!
Hello, all! I am hosting Spiritual Thursday this month. I appreciate Denise Krebs for connecting me with this thoughtful writing circle and I hope you enjoy my post - and that you leave a comment with a link to your blog post below. Thank you!
“Community is society with a human face,
the place where we know we are not alone.”
- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
As a preschool teacher, the goal of building community in my classroom was near and dear to my heart every September. I was constantly thinking, how might I help these young children see themselves as part of the larger group, a community? How might I encourage them to share their individual voices and stories, and, also, to listen and welcome those of others? How might I help them see that this is our classroom, and that we work together to create this loving and beautiful shared space?
I suppose this is why I chose the word “community” as a theme for September’s Spiritual Journey. Of course, many months have passed since I signed up to host and my thoughts about community today have led me far from the classroom…let me take you there….
On our summer trip out west, Tony and I were driving along this gorgeous shaded road in Oregon. All these enormous tall Douglas fir evergreens dwarfed the road, providing this dark, magical surround with just a sliver of blue sky breaking through. We were all smiles when we stopped at an overlook of the Rogue River Gorge, and this - like so many other places we visited this summer - took our breath away with its beauty. It was very early in the morning and we were the only people there; I have no doubt this aloneness added a sense of treasure to the view.
|The Rogue River Gorge|
At this overlook, there was this incredible narrow chasm, with the river plunging down, sending water rushing, breaking over large rocks, sending up wild waves and the vibrant sound of rushing water. A sign at the overlook stated that “enough water (410,000 gallons) flows beneath your feet each minute to fill an Olympic-size pool.” The wonder!
Right alongside this chasm was a thick forest of Douglas firs, much like we had witnessed on the drive. The trees stood together, tall, straight, strong, just beautiful, with their criss-cross patterned bark and branches of evergreen needles bending, bowing, enveloping one another. In the midst of these, there was a thick, hearty stump, with an informational sign posted nearby:
The Living Stump
Here on the flat surface of the lava flow, away from the Gorge wall,
the trees live as a group rather than as individuals. The roots of these
Douglas firs have grown together, providing each other with nutrients and water.
Before it was cut, the roots of this tree had grafted onto those of a neighbor.
Because of this, the stump continues to live.
|Douglas firs and the living stump at Rogue River Gorge|
The stump was not decayed, broken, insect-ridden, as one might expect. Instead, it was covered with bark, much like our own cuts and scrapes form scabs, and seemed to be thriving.
I hope to hold onto the image of this forest, these trees encircling and caring for one another, always and forever. I love how instinctive and natural it is for trees to simply reach out towards one another. This experience continues to fill me with contemplation -
How might I be more like these trees?
How do others help me live fully?
How might my own actions help build a more loving human community?
What is my role?
Am I truly there for others?
Am I reaching out to those around me, even those I don’t know very well?
What blocks me from being open to others?
How do I nurture the “we”?
What does it mean to live in community with one another?
How do we help each other live fully?
How might I be more like these trees?
"What I try to tell young people is that if you come together with a mission, and
it is grounded with love and and a sense of community,
you can make the impossible possible."
- John Lewis
In closing, let me share a poem I wrote about this wonder.
along the Rogue River Gorge
with my own eyes
a living stump
a Douglas fir
what I didn’t know before is
this is true for many trees
roots of neighbors
lovingly reach out
nurturing the depleted
let each other know
when they are stressed
live as community
take care of one another
a giving co-living
We finished our new patio! I wrote a "slice of life" about this sanity project back in April. We've worked very hard since then. Yes, it took us many weeks, working around our babysitting duties and other time demands. In the end, we created this 11' x 12' space just in time for a weekend of the most incredible weather (cool, dry, low humidity). Let me share photos from 'start to finish' of our work, and a short poem about the project, as well.
|We no sooner dug out the patio, when rain was expected.|
|First, we made a layer of pea gravel.|
|Then we add rock dust, and began placing flagstones.|
|If you like puzzles, you will enjoy this!|
|Our patio is done.|
all good projects
I wonder, do all good projects start with a sense of frustration?
my overall crankiness about our ill-defined, unkempt, blah backyard
the eyesore of the rusting fire pit
the plague of weeds and mud
the annoyance of no place to sit and relax
the exasperation of home remodeling delays delays delays
we traded these for a do-it-ourselves flagstone patio
this desire to get something done,
to imagine start do finish enjoy
walking the stone yard, choosing flagstone
days of sweaty labor, down on our knees
measuring digging leveling
pea gravel rock dust
negotiating our different approaches, rethinking
more sweaty labor, down on our knees
laying the flagstone
adding more rock dust
leveling, adjusting, repositioning
A poem-story about some unexpected visitors when we were watching the grandkids (three year old 'Frog' and 1 year old 'Bird') -
In retrospect, Frog’s words
were a foreshadowing, when she
declared Deuce is coming over,
causing me to whip my head up
from the sandbox in surprise
only to see she simply meant
the dog was running alongside the fence
keeping parallel with us while
still safely ensconced in his yard
Right that very moment,
that big ol’ lumbering dog
found a hole in the fence
from where a previous storm
had sent sailing a big ol’ branch
and busted off the picket
unbeknownst to us,
the neighbors' dogs can
jump through the fence
and join us in the sandbox!
Frog screamed in terror and
I surely wanted NOT to be
the adult in charge.
Deuce is a very big dog.
To date, our entire relationship
has been across the fence
from one another.
All at once, here he was,
running to us, barking excitedly
I scooped up Frog, holding
her close, hurrying away, and
speaking soothingly to Frog,
saying he's a nice dog (I prayed)
Deuce paused for a moment
in the sandbox and then
ran to keep up with us.
I hurried towards
the house carrying Frog,
while Deuce was
rushing along right at my heels
There was Tony holding Bird up high,
running from the the other side
of the yard, just as surprised
as I by our canine visitor, and
trying his best to wave
Deuce back through the fence,
to leave the way he came.
I quickly opened the back door
and basically dropped Frog
into the family room for
safety, pivoting back to Tony, and
taking Bird from him, only
to hear Frog cry out
from inside Oh no Nana,
I have a shovel full of sand!
That’s when Frog first lived
Mimi Ingram’s wisdom
Circumstances alter cases -
who cares about a pile of sand
on the rug if no one has been
bitten by a big ol’ dog?
I am ‘big dog’ phobic,
but I wasn’t feeling so afraid
of Deuce; after all these months
of being alongside him in our
backyards, I knew him to be
old and slow and calm;
I was feeling scared of his buddy Ace,
however; oh my, different story;
he barks so loudly, and
the owners take him for walks
with a thick chain to rein him in.
Yes, as I hurried to get the
girls inside the house, it was Ace
that was sending shivers
up my spine. In the tumult,
my eyes searched for
this second dog - was he
going to follow Deuce through
the opening in the fence?
ah, no, please, no.
I heard Ace barking loudly, and
then I saw - Ace was sporting
a cone around his head!
Which was bad for him
and great for us at this
particular moment - Ace
couldn’t quite fit,
couldn’t wedge himself
through the opening.
ah, thank goodness.
Hearing all the commotion,
their owner was out back, too,
making apologies for Deuce
slipping into our yard
and praising his sweetness,
his good nature - Deuce loves
children and simply wanted
to be friends. She and Tony chatted
while he repaired the fence
with a spare picket from our garage;
the girls and I watched in
safe fascination from the
family room window.
Frog wanted to know,
why did Deuce want
to be our friend? My answer
was a bit of mind-reading,
I suppose he likes seeing
us play and decided to get
right with us.
I must say,
from my perspective,
Deuce is a better
Ramona Behnke offered today's writing inspiration/prompt - to think about 'small celebrations' in our lives. Check out her thoughtful reflections on this theme, and read the comments on her post for links to other writers and their responses.
We were invited to a gala event in celebration of a special someone recently, a dear friend of our family. I'll keep the party 'anonymous' in the interest of sharing something a little deeper:
there was one invitee whom I was totally surprised to see,someone I knew in a wholly personal, emotional, confidential way, totally apart from this celebration,someone I never imagined running into there or anywhere againthough I had hoped and prayed I would.
Years ago, we had met in a time of parallel pain; we had met at a recovery program, both of us parents to a child with addiction. This recovery program was an extraordinary blessing, giving us space to share our hurt and the tools we needed to move forward. Every participant shared personal stories, with the assurance of anonymity.
I was awash in empathy for everyone, but this one family's story is one that I held in my heart these many years. One evening during the support group, this parent and I had the opportunity to share more deeply one-on-one, and I felt a sad yet beautiful intersection of our grief. We listened to one another and 'held' each other in this time of fear and confusion. I know I reflected on their words many times over, in the months and years to come; I was lifted by their story. I realized then that it is no small thing to be alongside another in suffering; there is great power in this.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." Helen Keller
Over the years, I have wondered about their child. I prayed for their recovery. I hoped for strength for the family.
Here, many years later, we cross paths again! In the midst of a completely separate and jubilant celebration!
It felt coincidental, so happenstance, so wonderful.
(I have a friend who assures that a coincidence is the work of the holy - when you are surprised like this, believe in the mystery of something much larger than you. In the midst of this celebration, I did feel the holy.)
This person and I, we greeted each other like old friends, with a warm embrace. We met each other's eyes. With just a few tender words, we were able to impart how much healthier each of our children now was. We shared big smiles, and moved apart to chat and mix with others at the party, continuing the celebration at hand. I, however, basked in the second celebration of simply intersecting with them, again.
It is June and the strawberries
are blooming popping ripe for tasting
In the neighbor’s front yard
these sweet delights
are like toddlers running
in between around all over
their happy wild natural garden
planted all along the curb
so that everyone and anyone
We wandered over after naps
each grandchild with a small container
Our preschooler was focused
searching, lifting leaves, looking under,
stepping closer, excitedly tossing each into
her small pail
Whereas our toddler stood transfixed
devouring each and every piece of
plump red lusciousness that came her way
(assisted greatly by her dear Poppa)
while holding an empty pail
she scowled at the hosts suspiciously
yes, wrinkled brow dagger eyes pursed lips
(these last were dripping in berry juice)
Such abhorrent behavior for a guest!
All is forgiven when you are only 19 months old
trusting only your nearest and dearest
not yet ready to welcome the stranger
or neighbor, as it were
the recipients of your ‘stink eye’
were the reason for this
We all just chuckled and giggled and shook our heads
at the wondrous mystery of the young.