Living Springtime

So the school year is over, the last recital is done, and springtime is in full swing. The trees have blossomed and are leafed out, bees buzz from flower to flower, frogs croak in the creek, coyotes sing their chorus, and anonymous owls freak me out with their various shrieks in the dead of night. It’s a sublime time of the year. Everything is bursting with new life.

Almost everything.

My elderly friend and fellow Fillmorian, Wilda, passed away a few days ago, and my heart aches. It’s not that she wasn’t well cared for or that no one loved her. She was loved and cared for. But when I last visited her…it was a series of painful goodbyes. I miss my friend.

Our mutual friend, Margaret, died last month. Our Afternoon Ladies-Teas with Wilda as advisor and organizer are over. The days when the kids could go to her house and do odd jobs, talking and chatting, asking questions, and keeping her company are gone.

When I sat with her the last time and held her hand in the nursing home, I wasn’t depressed. I had a lump in my throat I could not swallow away and an ache burning my eyes, but I knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that we have been blessed to know each other. For this, I will always be grateful.

As I sat by her wheelchair the other day in the central room, someone turned on music, the kind from decades ago—a 40’s tune—and suddenly one of the old men started to sing. Powerfully. His head was back, his eyes were closed, and he was singing gloriously at the top of his lungs. My heart rose.

I looked around the circle; I knew there was at least one couple. Many were widows or widowers. Some had their eyes closed, but several joined in the song too.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the ’40s have always brought up images of the war years, devastation, and hard times. Trials and separations. Fear and loss.

Yet these elderly people had lived through all of that…and much more. And, now, in a nursing home, with music playing, songs warbling from myriad throats, and with their eyes closed, they had a brief respite. They were living their springtime again.

I have another friend, always cheerful, that I visit. Helen’s pleasant, upbeat attitude never falters. She and her husband just celebrated their seventy-first anniversary. The lived together in that same nursing home for a time. Thank God, they are home now…my kids are able to help them manage through the week, so they have a different fate…one created by their children where they can stay at home in familiar surroundings, in the world they crafted through long years of love and hard work.

I’ve met a series of people recently who have told me about their baggage. Their divorces. Their mistakes. How they want to start over and try again. A new relationship. A new life. New hope. Springtime. Our hearts yearn for a new beginning. A chance to get beyond bad memories and live a new life. A better life.

But this one couple stands in testimony of the passage through the dark times. The light at the end. The hope that lives, not in the future, but as a committed ever present now.

All my elderly friends have their lives bundled up in long years of experiences. The good. The bad. Springtime warmth…and winter cold. Marriage and family relationships, like memories, are a collection of what was…and what is…not what ifs. Love and friendship is a passionate embrace of a thousand daily realities, hanging in there and holding on.

So, now, I’m sitting on my back porch, staring at the new onions, potatoes, peppers, and tomato plants, the sounds of nature vibrating in my ears, and yet, I can hear that old man singing. I can see that elderly woman cutting up her husband’s meat so he can eat his dinner.

I can feel Wilda’s hand in mine.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Love Anyway

I’ve never been particularly good with suffering. Avoidance? Insecurity? Hyper-control? Sure. Then my all-star qualities shine bright. But being insecure, hyper-controlling, and trying to avoid pain doesn’t a happy life make.

When I was twenty-one, I had the chance to meet my father after long years of separation at—of all places—the Art Institute of Chicago. I was meeting his second wife for the first time. And to make matters even more relaxed, I didn’t know a thing about modern art. But I did discover a latent sense of humor, which apparently shot to the surface like a geyser when under serious pressure.

I amused my dad, his wife, and even myself. Seeing absurdities in the uncomfortable world before me kept my eyes averted from haunting ghosts and garrulous gremlins. Our conversation never veered toward my mom, my brothers or sisters, loss of childhood, alcoholism, substance abuse, or neglect. The conversation stayed right where it needed to be, focused on pictures hanging on walls, which none of us understood.

Contrary to every psychological theory I knew at the time, communication was not the key to our relationship. After that initial reunion, I visited my dad regularly. He attended my wedding, got to know my growing family, and became a steady fixture in my life. Even at the age of ninety, we still connect at least once a week. He may not remember my name some days, but he always remembers that he loves me. And that I love him.

Over the years, we did have a couple of hard conversations about our family and the things that went so very wrong in our lives, but they were not all that productive. His simple admission, “I’m sorry,” was all I ever really needed to hear. And my, “I love you anyway,” was all he really needed to know.

In recent years, I have lost a husband, a brother, several friends, (I have a visitation to attend this weekend), my sense of worth, and even my heart, but in experiencing these losses, I have discovered that there is no fixing pain. There is only, “I’m sorry.” And “I love you anyway.”

Being truly sorry when someone is suffering shares the burden. It is one of the greatest acts of generosity that a human being can undertake.

Loving anyway explodes the walls of control, doubt, fear, hurt, avoidance, and insecurity. Love is not doormat material. Love demands decency, honesty, integrity, and heroism. But it doesn’t demand those qualities all at once in perfect order.

After a particularly brutal loss recently, my imagination conjured up the image of a wounded woman rising after tumbling down a hill. Not unlike Sam at the base of Mount Doom. How’s that for an “I’m sorry, and I love you anyway” scenario? But Sam rose again. Even when it was hopeless to do so. Even when pain had the upper hand. Even at the end of Middle-earth, he rose and loved anyway. And he wasn’t alone.

Pain and loss are twin hells that human beings experience in umpteen versions throughout the course of our journey toward heaven. We can’t fix reality, stop the hurt, make everything right, control outcomes, or even avoid tumbling down hills. Personally, I can crack a joke and laugh at absurdities to keep the ghosts and gremlins at bay, and that helps. Some.

But mostly, I can be sorry and love anyway.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Live and Learn

Thelma stared at her daughter and wondered if perhaps aliens had abducted her child and sent a brainless bot in her stead. She crossed her arms over her chest knowing full well that it was a defensive posture. “So, you’re going to move in with Brad without even a promise ring? A hint of a proposal? Without asking me what I thought—”

Bea grimaced and leaned against the kitchen counter, her hands cupping a mug of hot coffee. She shook her head, took a tentative sip, and then met her mom’s gaze. “Oh, Lord, Mom. I’m a grown woman, for Heaven’s sake. Brad and I are both starting out, and we don’t want to hike across the city just to meet up on weekends. Besides, it’ll save on expenses, and that’s a good thing. You’ve always been the thrifty one. You should be proud of us for saving money, not tossing religious dogma at us.”

The ache that had started in her throat had now risen to Thelma’s eyes. She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation. Where was the girl who had extolled C. S. Lewis as a brilliant Christian thinker? Who argued the merits of sincere religious faith over vacuous feel-good reasoning? The kid who went to Mass faithfully each week and Holy Days of Obligation? The one who—

“Earth to Mom…”

“Don’t you believe in marriage…the sacrament…what it stands for?”

Bea pulled a kitchen chair away from the table and plunked down with a sigh. She took another sip—a longer one—closing her eyes in apparent savory pleasure. “This is good, Mom. What kind—?”

“Don’t change the subject. I asked a simple question.” The morning sunlight hit Bea’s golden hair, highlighting it like a halo over the girl’s head. Thelma closed her eyes against tears.

Exhaling—a patient teacher waiting for her stubborn student to catch on—Bea tapped her fingers on the table. “Sit and relax, Mom. You’re getting worked up over nothing.”

Resentment burned her tears away. Thelma plunked down across from her daughter, her back ramrod straight.

“You know I haven’t been going to church for years. I still believe most of the stuff you taught me. And I like what the faith says, but I have to find my own way. I’m my own person. Brad’s a good guy. I really like him, and he really likes me. Sex is a natural part of our relationship, and I don’t think God disapproves of our enjoying each other. We’re human. God knows that. He made us this way. Your hang-ups about sex and marriage are from a different era. A time when women had no rights apart from a man. I’m not that kind of woman. So let me enjoy my life, okay?”

Thelma didn’t even know where to begin. Nothing in her homeschooling manual had prepared her for this conversation. After all the years of Catechism and spiritual nourishment, how could things turn out like this? How could all her loving examples and heartfelt teaching be wiped so effortlessly away?

The sensation of drowning overwhelmed her. From the crucifix on the wall to the painting of Archangel Michael above the archway, she sought support…inspiration…hope of any kind. O, God, have I believed an illusion?

As she clasped her hands, her attention fell on the faded white skin around her ring finger. Ron had died two years ago, but she could still feel the symbol of their love. Her thumb pressed against the soft flesh. She peered at her daughter. “The day your dad proposed, he knelt on one knee and held out a gold ring, his hands shook so hard, I was afraid he’d drop it. He didn’t. But the ring wasn’t the important thing…his declaration of love and fidelity was.”

Bea leaned back, her eyes scrolling the kitchen ceiling as if begging patience from the white stucco.

Thelma leaned forward. “Marriage isn’t about a piece of paper or an ancient ritual. It’s about what human beings believe and are willing to sacrifice for. You’re right; God created us as sensual beings, and I’m sure He highly approves of a union based on love and respect. So much so that He wants us to treat our relationship with great honor.”

“Save the lecture, Mom. I’ve heard all this before. I’ve read the manual on marriage and the whole John Paul II Theology of the Body thing. I just don’t want to be tied down to rules. God is bigger than rules.”

A cloud swept in, obliterating the glorious rays of sunshine.

Thelma stood and poured herself a cup of coffee. She doused it with brown sugar and creamer and then leaned against the counter. “But, you, my dear, need rules. You’re not God. Neither is Brad. As it stands now, you two are simply using each other. And that works for a while. Until it doesn’t anymore. What about when one of you gets laid off…or sick…or bored? What if Brad sees another woman who’s more attractive to him? Or you find another man? What then?”

The line of Bea’s jaw hardened. “I know plenty of divorced Catholics. Their marriage vows didn’t save them.”

“But they should have. If they had lived marriage as it’s meant to be.”

Bea offered an exaggerated yawn. “The unbreakable union between God and His people…yadda…yadda…yadda. Yeah, I know. Sounds good. But, frankly, Mom, you’re not listening. I don’t care. I want to live with my boyfriend. I don’t need a long-term commitment. I just want convenient sex and a man I can rely on—”

Thelma’s jaw ached. “You’re not listening to yourself. You want someone to rely on without being honest about what it takes to depend on each other. Relationships are hard. They take work, sacrifice, and commitment.”

“Maybe for you. Not for me. I find relationships easy. Maybe that’s your problem, Mom. You ruin love by overthinking everything.”

The knife went deep, and Thelma knew she couldn’t pull it by herself. She set her cup on the counter and strode out of the kitchen. As soon as she was out the front door, she started walking toward the only answer she could depend upon.

It took nearly an hour to reach St. Bridget’s on foot, but she didn’t care. At least, she had stopped weeping long enough to wipe her eyes and enter the Adoration Chapel with a semblance of composure. An older man, probably in his 80’s, sat in a chair before the Monstrance, his hands clasped, his eyes closed. For a moment, Thelma wondered if he was awake. She couldn’t see his chest rising or falling. Oh, God, could he—?

The man opened his eyes and met her gaze. He blinked and grinned. “I concentrate better with my eyes closed.”

A blush rose over Thelma’s face. She bowed, made the sign of the cross, and then sat three seats away.

The man straightened and cleared his throat. “My granddaughter was supposed to be here today, but she broke her hand in a game yesterday. Stupid accident. I warned her, but the young never listen to the old. Think we’re fools and has-beens.”

Thelma nodded through a forced smile.

“Everyone’s got to make their own mistakes. Live and learn…then face God with the balance.” He sighed. “I didn’t listen to my grandpa either. Probably why I’m doing so much time in church now, eh?” He rubbed the small of his back. “Could you take the next hour till Judy comes?”

Thelma nodded. She hadn’t listened to her mom much either. Funny how that goes. She knelt down and bowed her head.

Later that night, Thelma dialed Bea’s number. She leaned against the counter and waited. When Bea answered, she knew that they wouldn’t talk about marriage, boyfriends, or God. There was only so much a mother could do. Even as she listened to a catalog of her daughter’s eventful day, the old man’s words rang in her ears: Live, learn, and face God with the balance.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Another Season

So I took up an old pail, a sponge, and cleanser and scrubbed up the old chick pen this morning. The sun shone and birds chirped to the glory of springtime. After the long, frozen winter, freedom from thick sweaters and heavy coats felt like being released from prison. Dirt, dead spiders, and unmentionables fell away from the wood as I scrubbed foamy detergent over the rough surface. It took a couple of rounds, scrubbing, rinsing, and scrubbing again before I found the pure white paint under all the accumulated grit and goo.

Though I wasn’t exactly getting cleaner as I continued the process, I did identify with the sensation of dropping old cares and worn out worries. As warmer weather arrives with its windy arms out like a long lost relative, boots, coats, gloves, and all the assorted outerwear can be washed, sorted, and put away. The woodstove can be cleaned one last time and shut down for the season. My kids will finish their final tests, close their books, and head outside like soldiers returning from a long campaign in the trenches. The animals will shed their winter coats, and new grass will spring up through the brown and lifeless stems of last fall. Birds are nesting, and frogs have already assembled on the brink of the pond like a church choir ready to croak their hearts out.

I tend to think of autumn and winter as the contemplative seasons of the year, but that is not necessarily so. In the turning of each season, there is a process of ending before the new beginning.

I watched a new mother proudly showing off her new baby the other day. I could feel her exultation. In the early days, I’d hear stories of mothers sending their kids off to college…or planning weddings…or welcoming grandchildren…and I couldn’t comprehend their joy. I could only identify with the new mother.

But now I’ve lived through enough parental stages that I can join the proud mother’s moment, sigh in relief at a graduation, grin at a kid’s first paycheck, and know that in time, the rest will come.

I can also grieve in lost innocence and cry in shared pain. Sometimes winter storms break branches and tear whole trees from the yard. Sometimes the power goes out, and it seems like it will never come back on again. Sometimes loved ones get sick—or old—and they pass from the current of our lives. At times, selfish weakness rears its ugly head, and innocent souls suffer. In the worst of dark winter, the cold seeps from the blustery outdoors into the marrow of my bones, and I wonder if I even want to see another season.

But despite wintertime sorrows, eventually light breaks through the clouds, warmth revitalizes my skin, and, as the gleaming white pens soak up the brilliant sunshine and spring buds burst from the tips of trees, I can respectfully put away the worn out season. I’ll pack it neatly away where it belongs and let it rest. After all, each turn of the year, like a chapter in life’s book, is unique and precious, deserving a gracious goodbye before facing the future with a hopeful hello.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Learn As I Go

So I was sitting in the doctor’s office and a mother comes in with the world’s cutest toddler. This child could have ousted Shirley Temple off the stage for sheer adorableness. It wasn’t just the white bow wrapped around her head, her moccasin slippers, or her bright blue eyes…it was her bubbling enthusiasm for everything and everyone in the room. She was absolutely certain that the world was a wonderful place, and everyone was her best friend.

As I watched the mini bundle of energy scamper to the nearest toy, her mother followed close behind, her hands at the ready for any slips or trips. Soon mom had her little one ensconced in her lap and helped her baby push the colored beads along the complex wire arrangement that probably made some toy maker rich.

In my lap, I gripped my latest to-do list. Among all the usual tasks of the week, I had outlined jobs and assignments for each of my kids. Since my children have an age range from 23 to 10, I have to consider their abilities in relation to their experience and natural inclinations. A kid who loves animals to distraction is better at remembering to feed the dogs and cats than a kid who would rather spend the morning reviewing Italian Cuisine recipes.

Over the years, I have altered and re-altered my mothering techniques to the point where I am very reluctant to tell another mom how to do it right. I vividly recall a couple that presented to my husband and me their most successful childrearing philosophy—“Use common sense.” Right. Sounds great. But what does that mean when facing a screaming baby whose diaper is dry and tummy is full, a toddler with a purple ring around his mouth who can’t seem to remember what he ate to get the vibrant hue on his face, a little girl who has packed her bag to go to boarding school without telling mom a thing about it, a son who asks what to do with his life, or grieved kids when they discover that not only is life not fair, but human beings can be vicious without cause.

Being a parent is a little like being God. But without the power and the glory. For a time, a parent has a say about everything. To the point of utter exhaustion. But little by little that power erodes, as well it must, and the child grows into his own decision-making being. Then the parent must step out of the way. The child must lead.

But what about when they don’t see the need? What if mom or dad have been so good at what they do and the world so darn comfortable, that it is simply easier to continue in the comfort zone? Truth be told, it’s no fun getting out of the perfect-parent zone either. It’s peaceful and enjoyable to hold a baby in your lap and move their hand, as you know it should go for the best effect.

As I consider our world today, I think of all our comfort zones. A world where so much is given to us. Where our feet are directed to schools. Our minds are directed in classes. Our passions are directed through media. Our faith is directed through traditions and habits. I have to wonder, when does direction become strangulation?

The cute baby I saw today charmed everyone in the waiting room. In the best scenario, she’ll grow up and better the world through her chosen passions and abilities. But to get to that point, she’ll have to sit by herself, and mom will have to let go of her hand.

I don’t have a quick formula for parenting. Like my kids, I learn as I go. But the key is—learn to let go. We have to allow our kids to grow up and make their own choices and face real-life consequences.

Though we’re never far behind.

For even if our hands don’t touch, surely our hearts do.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

A New Heart

My dad turned ninety years old recently. That milestone made me think. I counted up how many of my friends or family are now in their nineties and the number surprised me. Almost two handfuls. And if I add in friends and family in their eighties, the number jumps much higher. Middle-aged friends make up the vast majority of people I know.

Most of these people are active, still drive, and have their wits about them. Yet they can’t live forever, and I know that I’ll be attending a lot of funerals in the future.

One thought led to another…

I don’t see many pregnant women anymore. In fact, if I see a pregnant woman or a woman with an infant, I tend to feel surprised. Why? Because there are so few.

I did some checking and stopped counting after eight Google pages of recent reports stating that fertility rates have dropped drastically in the last few years. Though it didn’t surprise me, it did send a chill up my spine when I remembered how old most of my friends are.

I find it troubling to think that in the most prosperous age in human development where we have the greatest labor savings devices, the best nutrition, the widest variety of entertainment, astonishing medical advancements, the largest food production ever…we also have a rising suicide rate and a declining fertility rate.

In our current world, we tout the glorious possibility of eliminating children and old people…Downs Syndrome children, a baby with health issues, unwanted kids. We tell elderly folks that they don’t have to live sad and depressed lives…they can kill themselves. Legally. And we’ll it progress.

But I wonder. Who are we killing?

Our nation is obsessed with political issues and social causes. We are a nation at war with itself and within itself. But we aren’t an isolated nation anymore. If you haven’t noticed—our problem is the world’s problem. The world’s problem is ours.

We’re in trouble. But we can’t seem to stop screaming at each other long enough to realize that the ship we, and our kids, are on is going down.

I don’t have a family-therapy solution big enough to fit the whole world. Sure wish I did. But then, I’m not sure we need to fix the world. Perhaps…we just need to stop hating the people around us. Even the ones who disagree with us…he ones who drive us crazy with their policies. Hate won’t plug our leaky boat.

I imagine that when Christ told the angels that He was going to become a man, they probably thought He was crazy. Stupid. Irrational. After all, God had angels! What did He need with a bunch of corporeal beings trapped in time with limited intelligence?

So I suspect that the cosmic break wasn’t over belief in God…it was over belief in human beings. After all, the devil knows who God is. But what He doesn’t know…is who we are. Who we are called to become…

Nope. He’s pretty sure we are disgusting beasts who can’t be trusted with anything important.

Question is…who do we think we are?

If we continue to hate each other and kill our children, our elders, and ourselves…the answer is a sad one indeed.

Perhaps we need more than a change of perspective. Perhaps we need a new heart.

One that doesn’t kill.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00