Category Archives: Uncategorized

Think, say, cause the future, then get out of the way

 

Accommodation and Compromise and Making things work

In our work with leaders particularly new leaders, we distinguish taking a stand for something bigger than yourself, something that could use you beyond your lifetime. And beyond your location. We distinguish being cause in the matter, that is taking a stand that you are 100% responsible whatever the situation is. It this time that you are. It is that you take a stand that you are and constitute yourself as that who you are are the stands that you take.

That sounds a little gobbledygook.

Take a Stand
Constitute yourself
Bigger than yourself
Beyond your lifetime
Beyond your location
Being Cause in the Matter
Being 100% Responsible

Taken down to the everyday, it means you are not a feather blowing in the wind but a solid rock. It is very enrolling. Not controlling.

I took a trip to New York with my family over the holidays. The trip was born from listening to my tenor 16-year-old grandson sing word for word every song from “Hamilton” in the car as we were at Camp Nana (granny camp) in the NC mountains this past summer. Then after that auditioning for and getting the role of Scar in “Lion King”. His performance brought tears to our eyes. He once again recognized what an amazing son he has, a true artist.

We saw Hamilton”and the “Lion King”! On Broadway.

Davis wanted to wait in the 15 degree sidewalk outside the stage door to wait for Scar to come out and talk to him. He instructed his sister, his parents and his other grandmother and me to keep our mouths closed and let him handle the meeting. Not to embarrass him.

The big moment came the London actor, Stephen Castile who played Scar came out and grinned. We had already met the actor who played Simba and told him we had a Scar from Virginia waiting. He turned around and went back in the stage door and I don’t know what happened but shortly the Scar performer came out and headed straight for Davis.
I said again, this is Davis, he played Scar in his local theatre production. (I didn’t get in trouble for speaking.)

Stephen aka Scar looked at Davis and shook his hand and said, “Say a line, say the first line Scar says.” Davis swallowed and grinned embarrassedly and then stood tall and said, “Life is unfair. I will never be king and you will not live to see another day.” Davis grinned like a Cheshire Cat and the actor said, “ Good job. Keep at it. There is nothing like live theatre.”

I knew in that moment why I had taken the trip, my stand for Davis and his talent and his joy and place in the world right there in front of me.

My being cause in the matter of his knowing himself.

All that worth standing and waiting. Somebody asked how long we are going to wait. I said as long as it takes.

The accommodation, the compromise, the making it work, that is also what we give leaders as sweeteners to their stands. It doesn’t always look like you think it will or should. Soften and wonder vs control and force. Be willing to be cold and uncomfortable and wait it out. Be willing to do what someone else suggests. All the while standing for the stand/future you have created. Be willing to get out of the way and allow it to happen. Be willing to elevate others and have them have it happen.

I may see the promised land but I will not get to go there myself. That is more than enough.

Untouchable

Watching a film about the Dalai Lama this morning, the part about the hang-glider tourists spending more money than an untouchable spends in a lifetime, the untouchable looking up in the sky as the tourists drift overhead at the foot of the Himalayas.

What adventures will they go on next? Which will I go on?

Seeking the rewards of travel and new workds over the satisfaction of sitting and drinking tea in the slum.

Being afraid of the squalor but not afraid of jumping out of a plane.

Being afraid to sit and look into a stranger’s eyes.

Being afraid to go to the party when I can’t hear anyway.

Writing daily to work this out, finding moments for more love and less hardheartedness.

Integrity, Principles and points of view, Stories to follow

Integrity, what is it? doing what works, doing what you say you will do and on time

 

Integrity Principles, stories to follow 

 

Being related and integrity are the source of results and that is it.

Look there strategically

Are you building relationships?

Are you being true to your word? To your strategy?

 

 

Being true to your values

Being true to your standards and ideals

Being true to who have said your self to be

 

Guilt and shame is not integrity

It is an internal state you are loyal to your internal state (how you feel)

At the cost of being out here Related in the world

 

You are dancing with disempowering conversations

You could give your word not to do that

When you notice a disempowering conversation

When you notice being loyal to how you feel about it unless you are lit up and empowered by how you feel, but mostly regarding not keeping your word, you are ashamed, guilty and embarrassed

All of which are internal states

 

 

Just don’t buy in to it and entertain the disempowering conversation as true

 

 

You could meditate, pray

Write

Call a friend who won’t coddle you or buy in,

Take a hot bath

Take a walk

Have a good cry

Get or give a hug or both

Have some good hot soup

Tell someone you love him or her

Tell someone you are sorry

Ask someone what you can do for him or her

 

All that is good and healing

And all that, even the bath or long walk,

Is the practice of someone working on their integrity and authenticity and their leadership power and mastery

 

By distinguishing out integrity and restoring it and building it and the same for authenticity. Distinguish it as missing and then bring it present by sharing where you have been pretending and separate and the impact that has on others and clean of up

 

With your partner, commit to having an honest and supportive and friendly and spiritual relationship each responsible for in what ways you don’t make it work by being separate and not following through on what you know works

 

Doing what you know to do whether you promised to or not

Doing what you promised

Being and doing

How Transformation Lasts, A New World for Congress and all of us

How Transformation Lasts 6-16-17

 

Making it last or letting it go and then starting over

 

In regards to the opening to love present in Congress after the shooting at the baseball field in the park where Republican Congresspeople and staff were practicing for their game against the Democrats.

 

At the Capitol and at the White House, there was a somber mood, preceded by shock, then condolences and love and a commitment to harmony and affinity in the midst of disagreement about policy.

 

Compromise and coming to decisions for our country is the job of leadership.

 

At first, I was thinking I could write about making it last, but transformation is not a thing that lasts like an object and even objects rust and decay or break and are thrown in the trash.

 

This could be written in regards to a marriage crisis that results in a sacred commitment to increased expressions of love and appreciation. Yet does that last?

 

“How Transformation Lasts” is that it doesn’t just like everything else, objects, political parties in the majority, good moods, marital bliss all don’t last.

 

How Transformation Exists over time and over and over is that you keep creating it. You create it in conversations for a new human being, a new relationship, making new vows and promises.

 

You create it and recreate it. You apologize for where you fell and will fall again short of you commitment for what kind of human being you want to be.

 

A lot like AA where the slogan for sobriety is “one day at a time.” My friend with 35 years of sobriety has 12,775 days at a time.

 

That is how transformation exists over time. Working it out, reinventing it everyday.

 

The “being” part of leadership, the character of a leader is where we keep working.

 

Starting with the phenomenon of blame and excuses and rationalizations. “It is this way because of those other people.” “or because of something outside my control.” “I didn’t do it, they did.” “Barrack divided this country.” “Trump raises the violent rhetoric.”

 

I heard all of these statements in the last few days.

 

But very little. Mostly I heard let’s work together. This is either nobody’s fault, or all of our fault.

 

We are the leaders we have been waiting for.

 

If Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi called us today and said, “Will you help us have and sustain a transformation?” What would we do? Where would we begin?

 

Ask David Brooks to be our journalist, documenting the process.

 

Ask to meet with Fox News and MSNBC to engage their leaders in the possibility of this project and the newspapers too.

 

Have people sign up to participate and be the ones, even devote their careers to this transformation. Create mindfulness practices. Create listening practices. Create practices for “truth and reconciliation” and deep apology. Have gratitude practices. Begin and end each meeting with expressions of gratitude for each other’s service.

 

Create vows for partnership and having each other’s back and for having respect. Develop the skill to disagree and respect at the same time.

 

Bring Church leaders, Muslim leaders, Jewish leaders together to pray and preach and ask their congregations to get engaged in this transformation in their own lives and at the dinner table where they gossip about the other side and how wrong they are.

 

Bring Corporate CEOs to the table to do the same.

 

There is no reason this discord should be other than maybe it is the nature and cycle of humanity. Rome fell and we can too.

 

Maybe this is a repeat of history and a natural phenomenon.

 

Or maybe this is an opportunity to invent or create what has never happened. Create a world based on love. Take lessons from Bhutan on building our Gross National Happiness.

 

 

 

 

From Yahoo Answers

Rome did not “fall” so much as it broke up from within, not quite the same thing. The empire had been divided east and west since the end of the 3rd century; in the 5th century, it was the western empire (which included Rome) that broke up, with the last emperor deposed and not replaced in 476 AD. The eastern empire carried on through many ups and downs for another thousand years until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD (we often call it the “Byzantine” empire since it didn’t control Rome, but it was still the east Roman Empire).

The reason for the breakup was that powerful factions within its military struggled with each other until the central government could not maintain control and finally became irrelevant. The last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was the teenaged son of a Roman warlord named Orestes, put on the throne as a puppet by his father. Orestes was killed in 476 AD by his rival Odoacer and Romulus deposed, but Odoacer would neither appoint a new emperor himself nor accept the candidate the eastern emperor wanted. In the resulting stalemate, the various warlords in different parts of Roman territory just carried on governing their various territories, and the Roman Empire insensibly evaporated into the kingdoms of medieval Europe. Fifty years or more went by before the writers of our sources even seem to have realized what they lived in wasn’t the Roman Empire any more.

“Barbarian invasions” are a red herring (as are even sillier theories that try to pin it on lead poisoning or Christianity). Many of the kingdoms to emerge on former Roman land were ruled by dynasties of “barbarians,” but these had not come there as invaders. Their rulers were federates, people who had immigrated into the empire under treaty and become a part of the late empire’s military system. The federate leaders tended to win out over conventional Roman generals in the power vacuum after 476, probably because they had more reliable support from their own ethnicities’ warriors and could win over Roman provincials as well. But they were already part of the Roman system, playing the game of Roman politics by Roman rules.

As far as how it influenced the development of the Middle Ages; literacy doubtless declined, as did cities, because there was no longer the far-flung bureaucracy needed to organize the raising of troops and taxes from far-flung imperial provinces, and therefore no jobs for literate people. Only the Christian churches still needed literate priests and preserved ancient learning, so it became the main bearer of culture and the mediator between military rulers and their subjects. The landowning that defined Roman nobility merged with the military profession of the new regional rulers to define a warrior aristocracy that would dominate medieval society. Finally, the circumstances of the breakup meant that the new ruling class never saw itself as the conquerors or destroyers of Rome – since they weren’t – but as what they really were, the heirs of Rome, and therefore spent the whole of the Middle Ages trying to preserve and restore the glamor of Roman civilization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doug in the front of the room

Doug came out in the hall from the lunch buffet at the fancy hotel where we were leading a program and said, “I have to tell you something.” He had tears in his eyes. He had been tearing up already while leading this program for “Acme Manufacturing” executives. Before we met the participants, we thought they were big-dogs, but then we found out they were people. We always tear up when we start loving people, finding they are no longer strangers.

“I need to tell you something. I want you to know that I have never been so taken care of: lozenges, water, your getting the flip charts up on the wall, managing the hotel personnel. Susie wants to come talk theory on the breaks and instead of talking, you’re listening to what I need, leading from the back. I am so moved. I don’t have to be the only one watching out for my well-being. You have my back. I want all of our consultants to have this kind of support from the back of the room. I want you to write up how to do what you are doing. I want you to teach people how to look.”

I remembered Lila once saying, “I am a better program leader because of your being quiet, sitting there, tracking what is happening, being a kind of space.”

Mary, leading a retreat one weekend several years ago, said the same thing and started asking me what she should cover next as I was washing her grapes.

Happily and naturally.

I learned it from my mother. I learned it from watching her take care of my father and he her. Looking at the whole of a party. Seeing when someone’s water glass is empty. Offering another serving. Passing the bread on to the next person, not just saying no thank you and not passing it. We were taught that basic attention to others when we were six years old. Don’t just serve yourself first; serve the other first. Don’t start eating until we are all served. Hold the door. Say yes ma’am and yes sir. And no thank you. I am so glad to be here and so glad to meet you. Thank you for inviting me. We learned to say it whether we meant it or not.

I loved Doug in that moment. For giving me the distinction of service that I was blind to. I was just doing it.

A week later, at dinner, I told Gary and Laura that that was the best acknowledgement I could get– not necessarily the thank you, but noting the difference service makes and distinguishing that it works, really works, for us to take care of people, to care for people.

The Acme team went to Joe’s house for dinner and raised their glasses to each other. They stood up on the big coffee table and said who they were as leaders.

Joe went first and said, “Who I am as a leader is the possibility of trust, respect, service, learning and continuous improvement at Acme. I am responsible for the values of Acme being alive and well. Now I want to appreciate Anshu.” Then he said 10 things he loved about her, and she grinned and blushed under her brown Indian skin. Then, with a hand from Joe, Anshu got up on the coffee table and said “Who I am as a leader is a revolutionary who challenges the status quo,” and made a toast to another, who then got up. And it went on and on.

Joe’s wife turned to me and said, “I could do this all night.”

When people feel cared for, when they know someone has their back, it gives them the freedom to care–about their companies, about the people they work with, about people who don’t have to be strangers.

Davis in Chicago

Davis, 15, my grandson helped me unload my suitcases last summer in the driveway of his new house in Abingdon, Virginia.

Abingdon is where the Barter Theater is and he is in the Comedy Improv class. He is bursting, or busting out.

On the swim team,

telling his mom he loves her just out of the blue.

 

Singing beautiful tenor in the choir.

Taking golf lessons, rather how-to-deal-with-failure-and-frustration lessons.

 

Still playing computer games on the Xbox.

Still a teenager, sometimes knowing everything.

Taking piano now and knows all about scales and notes and don’t tell him anything.

Still missing his brother who died 2 years ago, 8 years old.

William had a serious ailment his whole 8 years.

Davis got in his bed with him and read to him and played with him and was his best big brother.

 

That is Davis. And close to everything. He roots for University of South Carolina while his father roots for Clemson. The other day he admitted he might have to switch.

 

Sweetness and humility to match his knowing.

 

Last summer, I had just gotten back from a business trip to Dallas that I had taken Davis’s cousin Alexander, 12, on with me. Alexander is another story another day except to say that at 11, he asked me to write a biography of his whole life, which is coming along nicely.

 

Davis helped me with my bags and said, “When are you going to take ME on a trip?” Well, of course, I was all over that request. How often do you have a 15 year old want a trip with you? We talked about the Grand Canyon and St. Augustine, Florida. Then settled on Chicago for its architecture, one of his interests although lately musing about being a policeman.

 

We headed to Chicago the weekend before Thanksgiving and were there 4 days.

 

We studied on Frank Lloyd Wright, a house in Oakdale and a house on the campus of the University of Chicago where the tour guide thought he was a college student. Very thrilling mistake.

 

We used Uber drivers and rated them on their conversational ability and driving safety.

 

We had Chicago deep-dish pizza, Lou Malnati’s, swooning and taking some back to our hotel for a movie and pizza later.

 

We rented movies in our room at the Embassy Suites. That hotel has suites so a bedroom and a living room. Perfect for us. We sat on the sofa and he put his feet in my lap for a rub.

 

We discussed Christianity and abortion and evolution and the presidential election. We discussed the Golden Rule and grass fed beef and what being a Buddhist is.

 

We laughed hard at the “Intouchables” movie about the ex-convict being the caregiver of a wealthy athletic newly quadriplegic, had hot chocolate and ice-skating.

 

We wrote in our journals each day. We went to a French bakery and got macaroons and a brownie that unfortunately had too many nuts.

 

We walked and walked.

We found Pokémon.

 

We rode First Class up and back. I told him he was my upgrade good luck charm.

 

The last night we were set for the steakhouse and he had a headache. I told him I didn’t want to go out to dinner and have him be miserable. Yet I didn’t want to stay in the hotel room and order room service and watch a movie either.

 

He said, “Let’s go to dinner and I will be in a good mood I will be good company I will be a good date I won’t be miserable.”

 

And we did and he did and it was a lovely evening with Willy the waiter taking care of us all the way through the meal at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on Dearborn Street.

 

He learned how to put on and take off my coat, how to hold the door on the elevator, how you stand back for people to get off the elevator, how to put his left arm in his lap. How to call an Uber. How to tell his mother she is beautiful.

 

We meditated and listened to Deepak Chopra. We gave money to the street people and to the Salvation Army.

 

We went to Macy’s and looked at the Christmas decorations.

 

It was 32 degrees. We were very wrapped up and happy.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright designed spaces for conversations and family meals and for playing children and for putting on performances. He designed rooms to have open windows across from each other. The fireplace areas had seating near the fireplace as an intimate little gathering spot for 2 or 3. There were no knick-knacks anywhere. All surfaces were bare and clean and beautiful polished oak.

 

That all is to say we did see his spaces. Davis loved his studio the most, with drawings on the tables we could get close to.

 

I came home and saw my clutter in a brighter light.

 

But first, I saw and used my writing table.

Hot-dogging

Hotdogging, Alexander

 

I was with the boys, Phillip and Alexander yesterday late afternoon to take them to guitar and to celebrate their birthdays at The Melting Pot.

 

I was on a tight plan from haircut to pick up Phillip to wrap presents to wait for Alexander to come home on his bike to take them to guitar to talk to Ginny about UPS while they were at guitar to change clothes at the guitar place to go to dinner at the Melting Pot to go back to Charlotte to another dinner at Deborah Noland’s.

 

The haircut is a miracle, visiting each time with Lenore and talking trash, talking the 12 steps, talking recipes and travel, and talking about William and the dog, Mollee, both of whom I have taken with me for the haircut so she is all ears for both of them. It is a joy to be with her. We trash talked the people who show up without their checkbooks to pay and then put off sending her a check and then died laughing that for the first time ever I showed up without my checkbook. I crossed the street to an ATM and gave her cash.

 

I got to Phillip’s school in Mt. Mourne early; he is graduating from 8th grade in 2 weeks. I did my email sitting in the car and starting reading for my Dwelling class, Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.

 

Picked up Phillip, while waiting while he was visiting with several girls, and rode home, asked him to tell me three things I didn’t know about him and he said,

“I had EOG tests today”

“What’s that?”

“End of Grade”

“Did well?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Okay give me another.”

“Aw, I can’t think.”

“What are you doing this summer with Scouts?”

“Oh, I am going to Moab Utah to hike, dirt bike, and swim. It is with Ventures.”

“Coed?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, one more”

“I played my bass at church and at the church spring concert about Noah and then played Star Wars at the school spring concert.”

 

Whew.

 

Then we got home, he headed to the computer, I headed to the dining room table to wrap birthday presents for them, Birthdays on the 2nd and 12th and this is the first time I can see them to celebrate.

 

Then I head out to the road to walk to meet Alexander on his bike, coming down the hill from school. I raise my hands high in greetings and he comes to a stop for a hug, always good for that. I said you go on home and I will walk back and get something to eat and drink and then we will go to guitar and piano. Okay.

 

Am I am walking I watch him bike and cars come by on the country road passing both of us in either direction. Traffic dies down. He starts riding his bike like an S going back and forth across the lane.

A car comes up behind him and he doesn’t know it. He is having a fine time hot-dogging. The car doesn’t pass and parks in the grass on the shoulder waiting and he finally sees and straightens up. They pass. He pulls into his driveway, parks the bike and starts walking back to meet me, ready to take off his helmet and show me his buzz cut, grinning.

 

I say.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Did you see that car and what happened?”

“No.”

“You were going back and forth across the road in the shape of an S and they couldn’t pass you, so they pulled over.”

“Oh.”

“What was going on?”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“What?”

“Well, you see, I was pedaling in a little uphill place and when I am pedaling, I can’t help going back and forth like that.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“So you can’t go in a straight line when you are pedaling?”

“Right.”

“So I need to tell your parents then that you can’t ride in a straight line when you pedal and you shouldn’t ride you bike on Grey Road.”

“Oh I can ride in a straight line when I pedal.”

“Oh so it isn’t true that you couldn’t help it?”

“Right.”

“So you weren’t telling the truth about that?”

“Right.”

“Okay, so don’t do that anymore. It is really dangerous.”

“Okay.”

“And don’t lie to me.”

“Okay.”

“Great thank you and let’s go something to eat and go to music.”

 

 

Anyway, we went to guitar, I walked, talked to Ginny at 4:30, saw some old friends, my tea bag artist, changed clothes, got to The Melting Pot and had an outrageous meal and fun time and Thomas read me the 10 things people have always wanted to say to David Letterman.   And then he told me how a Scout Cubaree works with giant sling shots/catapults and other physics experiments.

 

And my miracle is Alexander survived the bike ride and we both survived the conversation.

 

He gave me his three things I didn’t know about his but I can’t remember other than that he was Noah in the church musical and had a solo singing part. I knew that because I went to it but I still liked to hear him tell about it.

 

 

 

My mother, over and over again

My mother, over and over again

What irritates me

How my mother can tell the same story

with the exact same detail

over and over as if it is new news.

 

How even she maintains an interest

for the fifth rendition

of her sister’s ham biscuit recipe

 

And of her brother’s-in-law white leg

showing because he won’t wear

over-the-calf socks “as every gentleman should.”

 

How she agonizes over every decision

especially a lie to tell a hostess

why she has to leave the party early

or to tell a man at church

she doesn’t want to go out with him.

 

How she had a gift of jewelry

from a suitor

appraised so she would know

how thankful and interested she should be.

 

What astonishes me is

how over my life

she has acquainted me with beauty:

Handel’s Messiah,

narcissus blooming indoors every winter,

angel candles on the mantelpiece

and elves that climb up lamps.

 

What astonishes me is how

she found hope and new life

in her young son’s death at 20.

 

And how she dignified

her alcoholic father’s life

by listening to his stories

over and over again.

 

How she didn’t have a mother

past age 24 to watch over her children,

to bake for her Christmas and

how she didn’t have a mother

to tell her about her life

over and over again.

 

 

Our Mothers are Clapping

Our Mothers are Clapping

9-21-14

“But there were still other and more vital practical influences at work” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Like the height of the steps, how did the mules do it?

The saying should be strong as an ox AND a mule.

Climbing up and down the Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail. The mules, Claire and I on foot, not on the mules.

As we were going up the hill, an understatement, we got to Indian Gardens, a rest area with shelter, toilets, running water, trees, and picnic benches.

And there was a corral for the mules, a rest area for them too.

The mules’ day starts at the top with their riders/tourists and wranglers and they all head down the 7.5 mile trail to the river then 2 more miles by the river to Phantom Ranch.

There is a corral there and they spend the night and rest a day and head back up with new passengers.  I think they “work” the mules 4 days of the week.

The Indian Garden rest stop was a welcome sight after 3 miles up.

I plopped on a bench, didn’t even take my backpack off yet.

Claire filled my water bottle, which she had carried.

I with my walking sticks in each hand didn’t have a hand for my bottle.  With it in my pack, it was tedious to stop, take off my pack and get my water so she said I will carry it, one more pound for her climb.

The walking sticks were lifesavers like railings on stairs; place them up on a step and then step up.  They sticks were lifesavers and Claire and our guide, David, were angels.  That is why it is called the Bright Angel Trail for them. The namers of the trail way back when must have foreseen the Claire angels and the David angels in the future.

Claire is the childhood best friend/cousin I spent part of the summers with.  We rode horses, ate tomatoes like apples, had talent shows for our parents at 5 cents each where we showed them how we could climb trees and hang upside down.

Our brothers, Buzz and Tommy (now called Lindsay and Tom and also in their 70s) did magic tricks.  Our parents clapped and oohed and ahhed and were enthusiastic about our great shows.

I imagined our mothers clapping for us as we climbed the Bright Angel Trail, a big deal for both of us.

We were at home at each step, each switchback, and another switchback. Claire said look up, there is a rest house we are coming to soon.  I said, I need to look at this next step and love this next step.

I had previously learned a walking meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk. Walk slowly and be in each place before moving on, saying to yourself, I have arrived, I am home.

Claire and I talked as we walked, Guide David behind us a bit, kindly giving us room to talk to each other on our own. We talked not just about being with the walking but being with any challenge and not hurrying to move away from it, in this case, being with her mother’s decline into dementia and that loss of our dear mother and aunt.

Being with my bad knees, being with our judgmentalness about how we thought other people should be. Laughing at ourselves.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I will do it again and I will do it with camelbacks, that is, water bags with drinking straws that come from my backpack around to the front.  I will have the walking sticks, I will weigh 20 pounds less so I won’t have that to carry, I will have done more hikes in North Carolina, and I might even have a couple of grandchildren with me.

I will definitely have Claire walking and singing, “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” to ourselves and the people who pass us. We did sing a lot and hymns we had learned from our mothers and one time as people walked past us singing, we told them the National Park Service had commissioned us to sing to the hikers on the trail, giving encouragement to continue.

We will do it again.

Our mothers will still be clapping.

 

Shirley, 2013

 

Shirley wants to go to the funeral

It is November, 2013.

“Are we going to go to the President’s funeral in Washington tomorrow?”  Shirley asks several times.  We have, after all, spent quite some time watching the memorials to John Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death.  Watched his son saluting after his mother leans down and whispers to him.

I am in Virginia, not that far from Washington, visiting my aunt Shirley and her daughter, my cousin Claire.  Her mother used to call us girls Snow White and Rose Red, Claire the blonde and I the brunette.

After Shirley asks about the funeral, I say to Claire, losing her mother bit by bit, “Let it roll, let’s see where this conversation takes us.”

 

Let’s see where any conversation takes us for that matter.  We are a family of quick and clever and funny commenters, sometimes having a hard time with slow conversations that don’t make immediate sense. Conversations that we can’t yet belong to.

Shirley suits me just fine.

After we exhaust the funeral subject, Shirley asks, “Do you have a beau?”

“Do you want one?”

“What kind of man do you want?”

At 93, she says, “There aren’t that many men around now for me. But for you…”

So we paint a picture of our ideal lovers while I finish knitting my grandchild’s   Christmas stocking, the TV on mute.

“Do you watch television?

How is your love life?

Do you enjoy your pool?  Has it outlived its luster?

How is your love life?

Are you gainfully employed?”

And several times, “How many people are coming to dinner tonight?”

Then she, out of the blue asks, “Do you still feel the death of your brother, Bo?”   My brother died in a car wreck at age 20,  about a year before Kennedy was assassinated.  Shirley knew Bo, she one of the few people in my life now who ever did.

“Can William talk?   Can he walk? Will he ever?”  (William, another story, at 7 ½ doesn’t talk among other things.)

“Do you still work?

Are we going to the funeral?

Do you have a beau?”

“This is the best dessert I have ever had,” eating Claire’s crème caramel she made from scratch.  Then again, “This is the best dessert I have ever had.”  Claire beaming and happy.

“I miss ‘Chick’, my husband.  I didn’t like football, then he taught me to love it.”

And I love football too, watching all those men run around and grab and knock each other down and then help each other up and pat each other on the butt.  She laughs.

“Why do I need to change clothes?   I am not going to.  My clothes are fine.”

Food on her sweater, dog footprints and a little blood from a hurt place on her white pants. 

Because you do.  Because we have company coming.  Because Claire would like it.

Then, the next day, “Why do I need to wash my hair?”

Because you put lotion in your hair, thinking it was hair spray.  And now your hair is all stiff. 

“No, it is not.”

And she does change clothes  and the next day takes a shower.

Then

Somewhere in the middle of this she says, speaking of old age,

“It reaches out and grabs you and takes you down,

and then there are tender moments that I like to see.”

Singing another hymn to her dog in her lap and grinning and clapping her hands together.  

Singing “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”