We’ve been at war in various countries for 17 years, aka, for the entire lives of many of the children we have raised, are raising, or are speaking out on behalf of people they have lost through violence (many of our children or their friends have been deployed, even multiple times, though they may have enlisted in the National Guard, which was never intended to fight internationally -our children or their friends have seen things none of us could even imagine, and none of which they signed up for).
Standing in silence often speaks volumes
As you know, Saturday was Veterans Day. Bill and I have not served in the military, although a good majority of our family has. We’ve always respected those who have and do – for all they have done and sacrificed, and for all they continue to do and sacrifice.
We know the actual service is tough, for so many reasons, and we also know that the months, years and decades afterward can also be very difficult. We’re proud of and love our family members, friends, children of friends, and friends of our son, who have served. Their strength – physical, emotional and spiritual – has enriched us, and awed us.
This fall, a lot of things hit home. It was especially heart-warming to know that Bill’s dad, Harry, was able to go on an Honor Flight – a one-day plane trip to Washington, D.C., to honor vets (it used to be mostly, or all WWII vets – lately, it has included Korean-era vets and women who served). Bill’s oldest brother, Mike, was Harry’s companion on the trip.
The Honor Flight volunteers are pretty terrific. They make sure the adventure is unforgettable, from the sight-seeing, to the “mail call” on the flight home (family members and friends have the opportunity to write notes to the vets, thanking them for their service). When the flight lands in D.C. at the beginning of the day, the vets are met by hundreds (if not more) strangers, from schoolchildren to vets to choirs. At the end of the day, hundreds of people again greet them to thank them for their service.
From everything we’ve seen, this is one of the most amazing days many of these (mostly) men have ever had (and so much of the experience is unexpected).
We’ve never really had the chance to do something to show our appreciation. So when Bill saw the other day that our local veterans’ organizations hold a 24-hour vigil at the main flag of our Veterans’ Memorial Park – and that they look for volunteers – he asked me if I wanted to take part. Most of the one-hour shifts are covered by fellow vets, police officers, honor guards, firefighters, etc., but there is also a “patriot” category, as they called us.
This is the 25th year of our local vigil. It starts at each year at midnight on November 11, and groups of at least two people take turns standing guard – silently watching – over the flag for 24 hours, in order to pay tribute to those who have served (and paid the ultimate price) locally. We drew the 10-11 p.m. shift. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t excited about that, especially since the weather forecast was …… ummm…..not exactly hospitable.
But 10-11 p.m. last night, it was. And yesterday’s weather was actually pretty yucky here in Winona (dozens, if not more, people slid off roads all around us due to the icy weather mix – thankfully, no one was seriously injured). When I went to the grocery store about 4 p.m., and it was only 25 degrees with freezing rain, I was REALLY dreading it.
But – we made and ate some hot and filling soup ahead of time – we dressed warmly in layers (making sure we had gloves, scarves and hats, and kleenix for the inevitable runny noses) – and we stopped ahead of time for hot chocolate and coffee. We got to the appointed place about 15 minutes ahead of time (for Winona friends – it was in the bunker BELOW the bandshell – who knew this even existed??). There was plenty of hot food and beverages available, as well as information about the event itself.
Our host met us and the other people we were going to stand watch with. He told us what we could expect, then we headed out. It was pitch black (except for the lights illuminating the flags), cold (although it had actually warmed up to about 34 degrees!), and almost silent. We relieved the 9-10 p.m. shift (all of them were vets; the 4 of us on our shift were not). Then we stood, as tall as we could, in a straight line, and prepared to watch over the flag for an hour in silence.
All I can say is, “wow.” I thought the 60 minutes of standing, in the cold, in total silence, would be endless and beyond. But it wasn’t. It was 60 minutes of silence, and contemplation, and meditation, and realizing we were taking part in something so very much larger than ourselves. It went so much faster than I would have anticipated. When the next (and final) shift relieved us, I was surprised that we were done so soon.
I found myself thinking about all the people who have sacrificed for us, who have endured unspeakable horrors, who have quietly done their jobs, who have struggled with demons after they’ve come home. I thought about what a world without conflict would look like. I thought about how lucky we are, to have been born when and where we were (our “accidents of birth”). I thought about all those we love who have been in harm’s way – plus those we don’t know who have also had those same scary experiences. It was a very, to put it bluntly, holy hour.
I’m so grateful we had this experience. It was just a tiny glimpse into a large world. It took a long time for us to debrief when we got home. We would do it again. We would urge you to do something similar, if you get a chance.
If you have served, thank you. Thank you for what you have done, for what you have seen, for what you have experienced. Thank you for keeping us safe. Thank you for your service.
What To Do, When Each Day Seems Overwhelming.
Just a quick note tonight, my friends, as I watch in disbelief the raging horrors of the California wildfires. Every night recently seems to bring new awful news.
These last few months of natural and other disasters have almost been beyond belief, haven’t they? Hurricanes, droughts, massive wildfires, and mass shootings – and that’s only in our country. People internationally are also facing horrible situations on a daily basis. Some of it we know about; some of it we don’t.
I know people don’t know what they can to do to truly help, or to heal their own hearts at the same time. My suggestion is to breathe deeply first, then let things settle just a bit (unless, of course, they – or friends or family – are personally affected).
All of these disasters/crises will have long-term recovery efforts. Take some time to find out what the greatest and longest-term needs are, then decide what you can and want to do. Or, if you decide there are issues in your own community that need attention, spend your resources (time, money, items) there. We are all in this together, and we can all work together. Thoughts and prayers are a start, but thoughts/prayers/actions are even better – whether they are local, regional, national or international.
And your actions don’t need to be large – you don’t need to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist. Every dollar makes a difference, to someone, or to a family, or to a community.
Do your research (or send me a message to help you wade through all the “radio chatter/static” to see what might be most meaningful for you and/or your family).
In the meantime, do what you can to protect your own heart and your sanity, along with those of your family (especially your children). Let’s see what we can do together to make at least a bit of sense out of all this uncertainty, chaos and sadness.
Hurricanes, Compassion, and Kindness
Hello friends – I apologize for being away from this site for so long. I have missed our conversations, and I don’t plan to be away for so long again. I love chatting with everyone, getting feedback, hearing what makes people happy, makes them think, makes them tick.
So – a huge topic – Hurricane Harvey was bad enough – for people, communities, pets, economies, etc. And now comes Irma – could be even worse. Friends in the path, we’re thinking of you and hoping you are able to get away if possible.
Rescuers, responders, volunteers – keep up the good work.
We’re all in a state of “compassion fatigue” right now. What to do? How to help? Who to send checks to? What else can we do?
Even if we can’t do anything to directly help people impacted by Harvey and/or Irma, we can be kind and help our own neighbors locally, in small ways or large. We can smile at a stranger, we can pay for someone’s coffee, we can tell a mother with a screaming toddler that her babe is a beautiful child. You get the picture.
Beyond that, we can take a bit of time to figure out the best way to help our far-away neighbors. First piece of advice – don’t send “stuff” unless it’s specifically requested. The logistics of that (collecting, sorting, distributing) put way too much pressure on the teams on the ground. Send money, gift cards, etc. to organizations you know and trust.
Secondly, you don’t have to do anything immediately; there will be LOTS of time for long-term recovery (even our *small* flash flood in SE MN in 2007 took about 18 months for this to end, with not everyone being made completely whole) – there are organizations that deal specifically with this.
Take your time – figure out what resonates with you – volunteer in the affected areas if you can – donate if you can. And if you can’t do anything directly, as I mentioned above, take care of your own neighbors and your own community.
Kindness is appreciated and valued, no matter where it is directed.
Ready for a New Book in the Library of Life
Today we reached page 365, the last one of Volume 2015. I, for one, am ready to shut this particular book and put it away for good. It wasn’t particularly well-written, and some of the subplots pushed the edge of credulity. Many of the chapters were heart-breaking, soul-numbing and filled with unwelcome surprises.
There were, of course, many sweet paragraphs scattered throughout the book. Some of them were known ahead of time and a significant number were unexpected; the unanticipated ones, in particular, brought so much joy I re-read them many times over.
The themes were similar during the chapters: love, loss, family, grief and growth. Any and all of those can be – and were – bittersweet.
I didn’t want to read a lot of the pages – much less some of the chapters – but I did, plowing through them with determination. I completed the book, and am much stronger and wiser for it. My heart has stretchmarks as I review the book on the last page of this volume.
Tomorrow is the first page of a brand new book. There’s nothing better: the fresh pages, the knowledge that there are complete new stories and plots waiting for us, the anticipation of not knowing what’s to come.
I know there will be unexpected surprises written in Volume 2016, as there are in every book in this library of life. My hope is that most of them are joyful, and that the difficult ones are well-written enough they are at least readable.
For those traveling the journey with me in Volume 2016, my wish for you is that you have the grace, strength and courage to read it fully and thoroughly, reveling in the knowledge that we are all in this huge book club together.
Peace to all of you, my fellow readers.
You have my permission to just say “no”
For many years, if you had looked up “people-pleaser” in the dictionary, you would have seen my picture, starting at about age 2 (seriously – I know; what toddler doesn’t say no? Ummm…..me, apparently). What else would you expect? A Scandinavian Lutheran growing up in the Midwest, the oldest child of two oldest children. Of course I would be responsible, set an example for my younger siblings, take care of other people, and so on.
Mostly, I did it uncomplainingly and without thinking about it. After all, pleasing people helps ensure they are happy with you and (if I’m being honest with myself) heap praise on you.
As I grew older, I wasn’t always as happy about saying yes to other people and what they needed or wanted. But I mostly always did it, even when resenting it. At the same time, I often let others off the hook and – in fact – sometimes encouraged it. “Oh, no, it’s ok; I completely understand. Don’t worry about it.” Spending much of my life working in the non-profit sector and with volunteers, I never wanted to impose on others or put them out. Especially in that arena, I was more than willing to let people say “no” to me. It carried over into most areas of my life.
I admit no one forced me to be this way; it was mostly self-imposed. I never stopped to question it, though.
The game-changer came when I was diagnosed with cancer at age 41. But I still wanted to be a people-pleaser, not to make my journey a burden for anyone else. Guess what? That’s not possible. When you have cancer or any other significant medical issue, it affects everyone around you in some way – your spouse/partner, children, parents/siblings, friends, co-workers. For those who are used to you always being strong and being there for everyone, it can have even more of an impact – no matter how hard you hope and wish otherwise.
I still wanted to do everything – work, be in the public eye, take care of others, volunteer, not cut back on my schedule, or do anything to impose on others. I still kept trying to yes to everyone and everything, even when it wasn’t easy. That didn’t always work so well, as you can imagine.
Then I realized – cancer could be my “out.” I didn’t always have to say yes. Who’s going to make a cancer patient feel guilty (except maybe the patient themselves)?
So, I started to say no occasionally to things I didn’t want to do. “No, I can’t attend that event.” “No, I can’t help you with this volunteer task.” It wasn’t comfortable at first, but it turned out to be quite freeing. It also allowed me to say yes to things I really wanted to do, even if they were difficult – for example, I was extremely miserable after one particular round of chemo, but I NEEDED (for me) to attend the baptism of my twin infant nieces. And I was flat-out exhausted after another round of chemo, but I NEEDED (again, for me) to travel to Minneapolis to watch our 13-year-old son participate (and do very well, she says proudly!) in the state Geographic Bee.
That phase of my life taught me many things. One of the longest-lasting, and quite possibly the healthiest, lessons was that you hardly ever HAVE to say yes, and you can quite often say no. Sometimes, in fact, it’s better for everyone if you do say no (hopefully, you won’t have to get cancer or have another major life issue to really learn this lesson). No excuses; no rationale. Just don’t be rude.
Practice with me. “No, I can’t do that, but thank you for asking.” “No, that won’t work.” “No, that’s not something that fits into my schedule.”
Oh, you don’t have time or the desire to practice this with me? That’s ok. Really. I would rather you have your heart into it, rather than know you are doing it out of guilt and ending up with only resentment.
The Thanksgiving Feast
It’s been a long time since our nuclear family has been together, almost 4 years, I think. We celebrated our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in December 2011, and everyone was there.
We weren’t planning to be together this Thanksgiving; originally, we were going to be in 3 different states. But life and some medical issues intervened, so we will all gather at my parents’ house.
The littlest ones are the most excited. Five-year-old Victoria delights in telling each of us, every time she talks to us, that she is coming to Minnesota for the “Thanksgiving Feast.” What, we ask her, does she mean by the “Thanksgiving Feast?” Well, I don’t know, she says. But it apparently involves a lot of food and inviting VERY MANY people!
Obviously, they’ve been talking at school about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. We’re trying to decide if we should dress up and do a re-creation. And, we ask her, what kind of food should we have at the Thanksgiving Feast? Mostly, she says, we need a BIG turkey leg. And pie. Lots of pie.
Seven-year-old Erik is also excited, except that he doesn’t like potatoes, in any form (and we all know the major role potatoes play in this holiday dinner). Not baked, not mashed. French fries are ok, though, he says with a twinkle in his eye.
The must-have food for Erik is – as he decribes it – that stuff like a soft shell taco, but you put butter and sugar on it and roll it up. Oh, you mean lefse? we ask him. That’s it – lefse! (We’re not telling him it’s made from potatoes.)
So, we will have a traditional Thanksgiving, with my parents, my siblings and their kids. (We will be missing Nic and Diego, though.) We are all a little older, a little wiser, and a lot more weary than the last time we all gathered.
But the company will be good, the food will be awesome, and we will be thankful for so many things. (Don’t tell Erik about the sweet potato casserole – its new name is yam casserole.)
Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, filled with love and good food, and a chance to make some good family memories.
Easter, Other Holidays, and the Love My Parents Have Always Given Us
Two things about me. First, I grew up in a very traditional Christian family. Secondly, my parents always provided fun and magic (for lack of a better word) to us, no matter what.
Several years, during Dad’s active-duty Air Force gigs, we moved or traveled a lot. Often, these trips or adventures coincided with religious holidays.
We went to church every Sunday (and sometimes on Wednesdays; we siblings always attended evening services or youth groups), no matter where we lived. (And, every summer, we attended up to three weeks of Vacation Bible School, but that’s for another blog post….)
The churches we attended were always Protestant, but the denominations occasionally changed – from ELCA (Lutheran), to Methodist, to Baptist, to Evangelical. Sometimes, we attended services at multiple churches, of multiple backgrounds, during a single week. And – sometimes – my family provided the musical portion of the service (singing, piano, and/or other instruments).
Tonight, the night before Easter, I remember how we always had treats on Easter morning. Mom was the architect of this, but Dad was always supportive.
In other words, the Easter Bunny ALWAYS found out where we were and made sure to leave treats for us.
Consistency is important for kids. It’s important for them to know that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny (or whatever other mythical, yet amazing and strong characters) know how to find them, no matter where they are. Huge kudos and props to my parents for recognizing this!
A couple examples of consistency on our Easter mornings, thanks to the Easter Bunny (or, my parents? Can anyone prove the complete truth?):
- The year we were on Jekyll Island, Georgia. We attended a sunrise church service on the beach. Those in charge of the services placed three crosses in the sand exactly where they would be lit up by the rising sun. That year, the Easter Bunny brought our gifts in Frisbees. Amazingly enough, this allowed us to all throw the Frisbees on the beach that afternoon.
- The year we were in Virginia Beach, VA. Our rental cottage was just a few houses from the beach, where we found baby sharks and baby stingrays. Church was traditional, but the Easter Beagle “sniffed us out, because he knew where to find us” and left us treats while we were gone.
- The year we were in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. That year, the Easter Badger found us! It was awesome.
Another (random) note….. Among other yummy treats and items, the Easter Bunny (or whatever animal appropriate to the terrain) always left my sisters and me a new pair of nylons, to wear to church with our Sunday-best dresses.
Cheers to my parents, for always making us feel comfortable and safe, no matter where we were.
We Weep Tonight For A Man Who Made Us Laugh
We Weep Tonight For A Man Who Made Us Laugh
Wait, what? Robin Williams is dead? What? And it was suicide, death by his own hand? What?
That seems to be the reaction we all had today, the reaction of people across the country. We can’t believe that one of our heroes, our laugh-makers, our comedians, our connectors…. is dead. And we really can’t believe that he is dead by his own hand.
But that’s what the news people are saying. And that’s what’s being reported on all sorts of news outlets. And that’s the information that is flying around the social media world. ROBIN WILLIAMS IS DEAD AND IT APPEARS TO BE SUICIDE.
We are stunned. We take a deep breath when we see the breaking news. We can’t wrap our minds around it. Because, we say,……. why would he, of all people, take his own life? Why would he, one of the funniest people we know, take his own life? Why would he, a person who everyone LOVED so much, take his own life? Why would someone so loved take his own life? The questions will probably never be fully answered.
We are all stunned. We have no words, no answers. Our social media sites are lighting up like so many fireflies. We are sad.
What we do know is that our comedian friend and hero had been battling depression. And we do know that’s a significant factor that often leads to suicide. It doesn’t make our loss any easier, though. And it definitely doesn’t make any losses we may have suffered of people closer to us any easier.
But, we do know that depression is an illness that can strike any of us at any time. So, what can we do about that, especially since it might mean that we lose fewer loved ones, or heroes, or both?
It’s both easy and hard…. We can listen. We can ask questions. We can pray/meditate/do yoga. We can call for help when we or someone we love needs help.
I thought I had a good handle on this post. Then I read the FB post of my son, which showed me that all of us collectively, and across generations, are mourning… not just those of us who remember “Mork and Mindy.”
My son said,”Robin Williams taught us all so many life lessons growing up, through his characters and through himself. For those we will be forever honored and grateful. What did he teach you?” And his friend Tom replied that Robin Williams said, “I used to think the worst feeling was feeling alone. But the truth is the worst is being with people who make you feel alone.”
And then Tom told his FB family, “So I have amazing friends who fight that. And make me laugh and love life daily.”
What a legacy from a funny man, a man who made us laugh until we cried tears of joy. And whose death today made us cry tears of sorrow and of pain. RIP, Robin Williams. And may our wish be that no one else is so sad they end their own lives.