Ollie Horne’s I Simply, Smile

 

Ollie’s email informing me that Nancy, a Peruvian friend of my daughter’s, who I had never met, would arrive late. A kind gesture from a Delta flight attendant for a weary traveler who did not have a USA cell phone.

My response to Ollie

And the rest of the story…

Ollie responded to my email. He said the Wharton quote really hit home with him.  He shared I Simply, Smile, a poem he wrote in February 2012 on his first night in the hospital after he was diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer. He had three brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy and was pronounced in remission. His adopted life motto is: Watch me live! (Don’t watch for me to die..watch how I live, abundantly!)

 

I Simply, Smile

Barren of leaves, 
This windblown tree. 
Withstanding Winter’s toll, 
Firmly planted in the security, 
Of this gentle river flow. 
Let your violence buffet, howl. 
And bring your bitter snow. 
You’ll succeed to only dig in my roots, 
To fertile soil below. 
Your deepest threat, 
Your fear…dark and grave, 
Your empty, hollow chide, 
Evokes a smile, in my resolve… 
Exposing this passion that resides. 
Your power to take, Is taken away. 
Your plan revealed futile, 
For as you scheme to strip away, 
Fruit finds production… 
And mocks you… 
All the while. 
So bring your winters’ harshest, 
Though I tremble, 
Though I quake, 
And this fullness of life, 
This exuberant dance… 
Is found here in your wake. 
Full beyond containment… 
I simply, smile.

Ollie thanked me for the encouragement. He said, “No matter what, I will reflect light!”  You see, on Tuesday Ollie started chemotherapy again. Another tumor has formed. He wrote, “My purpose in life is to show love to everyone and to encourage everyone to live a full life. I believe we can change the world by showing love to the world…that’s my ‘crazy idea.'”

 

I’m crazy about Ollie’s crazy idea idea of showing love to everyone.

 

Please join me in sending some healing love Ollie’s way.  I, like Ollie, simply smile. I have been touched and am filled with gratitude. Thank you Ollie for sharing your poem, light and love.

Where’d You Go, Julie?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple’s novel started off my summer reading list. Remember childhood summer reading programs, when we would read a set number of books to earn a prize and a certificate? Now, for me, reading is the reward. And yes I have been reading much: spiritual books like Seven Thousand Ways to Listen-Mark Nepo, Immortal Diamond-Richard Rohr, How the Light Gets In-Pat Schneider, a few memoirs like Pieces of Someday-Jan Vallone and Life after Death-Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three who was wrongly accused of murder and released after years on death row, which can’t be confused with another book I read, Proof of Heaven-Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon’s near death experience. I rediscovered Jamaica Kincaid, author of “Girl,” which I happen to think is one of the finest examples of a single sentence, about 350 words of poetry and a complete story, at a public library reading from her new See Now Then: A Novel. And I have had the honor to read a dear friend’s complete memoir manuscript and poems, writings, blogs, book chapters and more written by writers in the two weekly and one biweekly writing groups that add much to my life. I can’t wait to read Terry Tempest William’s When Women Were Birds.

The other day, someone kindly asked about me and my blog, “Where did you go?” Hmmm…it’s July 20. There’s morning fog, so much fog that the white cloud is visibly pouring by my condo window. And I can’t see the red tip of Alexander Calder’s Eagle, six tons of marvelous twisted steel in the Olympic Sculpture Park, a place, actually my front yard, that keeps me grounded and uplifted. A good day to pause, reflect on “Where did I go?” and blog. Oh my! My life is so much more than reading and writing-so much more because of reading and writing.

Here’s the mid-summer report.

Gardners Gather in Oregon

1. Memorial Day officially kicked off summer with a week-long memorable Gardner gathering in the Mt. Hood, Oregon area where all three of our children, two who happen to live on other continents, and their loved ones, and my husband’s two brother’s families were present. Twenty three of us celebrated family and honored my mother-in-law Chris. We hiked on the Salmon River, sort of did yoga led by our son’s girl friend who really leads real yoga, ate, played games, visited, soaked in the hot tub, but the vivid memories are the Peruvian Pachamanca celebration where our son-in-law and daughter prepared their first earthen meal for us which was followed by sharing poems, songs, stories, memories and even a “Grandma Chris Jeopardy Game.” We took the highlights to Grandma Chris who resides in a memory care facility in Sandy, Oregon on Saturday. With her diminishing memory and body, she seemed to enjoy our shared time. The blessing that we all received from her was that she seems peaceful like she’s in a Zen Buddhist kind of space. Maybe it’s disease, drugs or a state of just being before non-being, but what an everlasting gift the time was to us all.

2. I returned home to begin summer writing groups at Mary’s Place and a sizzling summer WritersGathering, really an amazing group of writers who hold each other and each other’s words beautifully. All June I worked on a memoir about my relationship with my mother-in-law. Our gathering gave me plenty of material.

3. Did I mention the hours I spent trying to get our fiscal house in order after someone was able to make charges from our checking account? Now closed.

4. Celebrated graduations. Bainbridge Graduate Institute’s graduation is the best. Amazing program and people who are changing and will change this world for the better. In full disclosure, my husband works for BGI. His work matters.

5. A June bike ride to the Ballard Locks for one of their every summer Saturday and Sunday afternoon free concerts introduced us to the Eastside Modern Jazz Orchestra.

6. Helped to celebrate by cocreating and acting in a “Curves skit” for a friend’s 70th birthday party. We all met at Curves, a place I still try to get to work out at three or four times a week.

7. Did I mention the toothache that turned into excruciating pain which was relieved with the application of some miraculous product used by my dentist? She said it may be just buying time before a root canal. So far so good.

8. Seattle is a great place to visit from mid-July through mid-September. Thanks to friends who feel the same, we get to be tourists in our own town. A friend from Missouri came at the beginning of July. We strolled along the waterfront to Pike Place Market, watched the Salmon joyfully leap in the salty waters of Puget Sound on the west side of Ballard Locks before they struggled up the ladders to get into Lake Union. Our visited culminated by celebrating the Fourth and our freedom with fireworks at Lake Union. A dear friend who lived well and battled cancer for years died early as the day began. Through colorful bombs bursting and tears, I remembered her, our brief friendship and shared writings, her life’s ending and freedom from pain and her new soulful adventure with life after bodily death. Did I mention that John and I have been working on our Last Will & Testaments? We haven’t decide what to do with our bodies after death and haven’t taken the document to be witnessed and notarized.

9. A month after seeing our children in Oregon, Elie and her husband Oscar, both photojournalists in Peru, continue to discuss the possibility of going to Jordan (they are already studying Arabic); John(ny), after some tough beginning days battling Lyme disease, is improving with antibiotics and plans to join his girlfriend’s family in Hawaii at the end of July; and our daughter and son-in-law who live in Lausanne, Switzerland are traveling the continent of Europe. I think Kate’s working on the Mediterranean Island of Ibiza, Spain today. If not, my question is “Where’d you go, Kate?”

10. Another little, really big, thing I love about Seattle is the giant red Popsicle sculpture on the southwest corner of Fourth and Blanchard which I make sure to include on as many of my daily walks as possible. It gives me joy even on cloudy days. Someday I may  stop and take more than a photo, maybe a lick. It’s that delicious.

11. On July 6, we headed to Oregon for the first grandniece’s or grandnephew’s (unidentified gender) baby shower. Nephew Zac and Erica are going to be awesome parents. It was held in the lovely garden apartment of Jesse and Tiffany, another loved nephew and wife. We are so lucky to have awesome nieces and nephews on both sides of the family who live close. Three nephews, two wives and a grandniece and grandnephew live in the Seattle area. After the shower we rested at Skamania Lodge on the Columbia River Gorge where we watched kite surfers, windsurfers and took a light hike.

10. Did I mention the perssitent sore throat and lymph glands and that I have spent more time dealing with another fiscal mess someone created for me to clean up, someone who made charges on our credit card? Card closed.

11. I spend too much time, almost daily, playing WORDSwithfriends, Scrabble and getting glimpses of moments in friend’s lives on Facebook thanks to the iPhone. And I’ve managed to squeeze in some walks, talks, coffees, lunches and dinners with friends in Seattle.

Dancing to Violin (or Fiddle) music on the roof of art installation at Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park

12. Friends from North Dakota came for a six day weekend last week. Took them to the quintessential Seattle places I went to with my friend from Missouri but added the Bill & Melinda Gate’s Foundation, Seattle Center, Museum of History and Industry to the itinerary and we attended Seattle Art Museum’s Summer at SAM kick off at the Olympic Sculpture Park. We enjoyed the bands Art of Jazz and Comfort Food and a violinist (or fiddler) and dancer on the roof of the summer installation of art, “Western Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof off the Mother.” Really, it was a tear the roof off kind of evening. Food trucks, a picnic, friends, sunshine and a sailboat regatta. Remember this is my front yard, home of the Eagle’s red tip which I can now see along with Bainbridge Island’s long green line across the waters of Elliot Bay and the Puget Sound. Fog lifting. No sun or Olympic Mountains visible-yet.

Raven at Hurricane Ridge National Park

13. On Saturday we took the ferry from Anacortes through the San Juan Islands to Sidney, British Columbia and enjoyed a night stay at  a fully appointed and not too expensive hotel, The Oswego, in Victoria.  We sauntered around the harbor and city. On Sunday abundant and colorful flowers at Butchart Gardens exceeded my expectations. I swear the begonias were on steroids. Sunday evening we took the Coho Black Ball ferry across the wavy Strait of Juan de Fuca which induced mild motion sickness to spend the night in Port Angeles.  On our way home Monday we drove to Hurricane Ridge and Sequim spotting some lavender fields. That night, when I wrote with others in my awesome summer WritersGathering group, the black ravens flew into my writings as crows.

14. Did I mention that my energy is low and throat and lymph glands settled into another sinus infection and I had to go on antibiotics and steroids, again? The good news is that I don’t have mono.

15. My brother is holding is own after the loss of his father-in-law and a medical event; another brother celebrated his 50th with a big margarita, maybe more; another brother is enjoying his family, exploring ancestory.com with his son and anticipating a family mission trip to Guatemala; and one of my sisters is dealing with chronic pain; another has returned home to her small Kansas town after years of working in Washington, D.C. and seems to be in her bliss making pies; and another sister is weathering the wicked summer storms in New Mexico as she wickedly beats me in Scrabble. Where’d you go, Bob and Jackie?

16. On Thursday I had to cancel my day with friends on Vashon Island because the sinus, face and head pain made for a sleepless in Seattle night for me. Too bad it wasn’t the movie.

Paul McCartney “Out There” Tour July 19, 2013 Seattle

17. But last night, I rocked on with Sir Paul, as in the Paul McCartney, at Safeco Field’s first held concert. Three hours, 39 songs, complete with two LED screens and more projecting artists, instruments, the crowd and artful images accompanied music, lights, fireworks and smoke. Three Nirvana members joined the show towards the end for what a critic has called Sirvana. Wow! So many highs. “Blackbird” which was written by McCartney as a reaction to the USA’s escalating 1960’s racial tensions moved me to tears as he sang and played guitar solo while artful images of the moon, a blackbird on a wire above a rooftop on a mostly blue background were projected. The contrasting images and music illuminated the personal pain I am fighting and the shared pain we, in this country and throughout the world, are holding as we all struggle to be free or to live freely with the all of life.

18. On the nearly two and a half mile walk home with the moon nearly full and our hearts and souls full, which gave me the ability to ignore my waning body but not my need to pee, my husband and I stopped at a Taco del Mar in historic Pioneer Square. We ordered a bottle of water, a beer and chips and guacamole as we visited reliving the concert, McCartney’s life, the Beattle’s lives and ours.

19. On August 7, 2013, John and I will celebrate 37 years of marriage. Last night we remembered a July 19 Jesse Colin Young, The Beach Boys, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert we attended 39 years ago at Royals Stadium in Kansas City. It was so hot I fainted before the 1974 concert. I was in lust with John and beginning to learn about love. Oh my! After nearly 40 years, we are learning to love. “Something,” another song McCartney sang last moved me to tears last night, and thinking about it now is making for watery eyes, evoking feelings. But more than feelings.  As I held hands and shared stories and memories with the man who I have loved, sometimes not so well, since I was 15 years-old, I know the answer to the song’s question, “Will my love grow?”  There were hints in the song, “believe” and “stick around.” We’re doing that and our love keeps getting better. He’s scrubbing the toilet now. After going to bed at 1:00 AM and living fully for the first 55 days of this summer, it’s time for a midsummer night’s dream, the life I’m living.  Today, that means a day to rest, heal, pause, and write.

So, to answer the question “Where’d you go, Julie?”, I am here fully alive in the Pacific Northwest. I am currently reading John Wood’s Creating Room to Read A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy a man who did what an earlier book was titled, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. All of the board members of VoiceFlame are reading and finding inspiration for our work empowering girls and women, right now in Malawi, through writing and creative expression. I envision us creating Room to Write, but why stop there when there is A World to Write?  I imagine a world where everyone’s voice and stories matter and are respected and honored by others. I want to live in that world. I must begin by fully inhabiting my life even if it’s in my bathrobe, reading and writing.  It’s 5:01 PM. I am living fully and happily with fatigue, pain, stories and healing.

20. The fog, my fog has lifted. The sun is parting the clouds. The world, the Olympic Mountains which I can now see, and the cruise boats departing for Alaska beg me to come out and play. I have not left my condo today. I write. I will rest and I will read which brings me back to me.

Epic summer making for an epic blog post breaking all the rules.  It will likely be the only blog post until September. I invite you to send me your writings and I will post them. Today, I begin a mid-summer at home retreat. I must rest. On the first day of August I’m off to California for a Napa anniversary with my husband, time with his cousin(maybe a San Francisco Bay sail), a week long writing class with Pat Schneider founder of the Amherst Writers & Artists method (the method I use in my writing groups after attending training in 2011), a reunion with the people I traveled to Malawi with and a VoiceFlame board meeting. Living, reading, writing, writing, reading and living fully. Gratefully. I am here. I wish a full life and reading and writing for everyone on this planet.

Remembering My Dad

Robert Edward Abare

Today is Father’s Day and I want to honor my father Robert Edward Abare. I love the picture of my dad in his Marine uniform. I call it his “stud muffin” picture.  I never knew him when he looked like that. The Dad I knew had already suffered polio, was partially paralyzed on one side of his body, had a tracheotomy scar which he called a “war wound,” had lost most of his hair and drank a few too many screwdrivers.

Robert Edward Abare (left)
L.S. Starrett Co.

The Dad I remember made sure we, all nine kids, were sheltered and fed. He worked his entire career for the L.S Starrett company, a precision tool manufacturer since 1880, based in my Dad’s home town of Athol, Massachussets. Dad never graduated from high school, but he was an arm chair philosopher. As I reflect and honor my Dad today, this is the one of the biggest gifts he ever gave me.  My dad always had time to sip a cup of “joe” with me, to tell jokes or stories (often whoppers), and to indulge me in conversations or debates about the true color of the clouds and the sky. For years I tried to learn more about his military service, his polio days but he always stayed in the present.  Only now, I realize what a gift staying in the present is.  Then I felt like my dad was withholding, hiding his true self. Funny, he was there all along.  Dad had this uncanny ability to change the questions and the conversation in such a way that I was forced to examine myself-not others.

At the kitchen table with Dad

Today I am grateful for my Dad sitting at the table with a cup of “joe” or a vodka and orange screwdriver.  Once I gave my Dad a rock with these Satchel Paige words, “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” I wonder where the rock is today.  I will sits and thinks, and just sits today to honor him.  Though my Dad was not the type to push his faith on anyone, he often told me to “keep the faith.”  Khaled Bentounès, a Sufi Master, said, “Despite the materialism of our modern century and the infernal noise of its mechanical, industrial, nuclear and military power, there still exist a few representatives of that superior type of humanity who in silence inquire, meditate and pray.”  My mother showed me how to belong to a community of faith.  My father showed me, without words, how to sit in silence, inquire, meditate and pray.  Today I pray that both of my deceased parents can feel my delayed and overflowing gratitude.

 

Considering language

Today, I’m taking action. There are so many things we commonly say or write that do not seem to be carefully thought about.  Sometimes they’re not considerate towards others rights and feelings. Some of the things I hear, find myself saying or writing, come from my family-of-origin’s and culture’s language.

Language, for the purposes of this post on considering language, refers to a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.  Each day I find myself with a growing list of things I want to stop saying, stop writing.  Maybe it’s a pet peeve, something writers and counselors pay attention to, or maybe it’s time for all of us to enter into considering our language.

A few examples follow.

“Shoot me an email.” Shoot sounds violent to me. Reconsidering, “Send me an email,” or better yet, “Please send me an email.”

When someone is looking forward to someone’s arrival or an event, often we hear, “I’m so anxious to see her.” Anxious? Really? It may be accurate when one is expecting someone who they have a stressful relationship with or for persons suffering with agoraphobia. Usually that is not the case. Reconsidering, “I’m so excited.” Or why not share some joy and happiness? “I’m so happy.”

Maybe you have some expressions that cause you to pause. You are invited to share them. Lets have some fun reconsidering language. Who knows? We could create a Reconsidering Language Dictionary working towards a world where we say what we mean and mean what we say – for a kinder more authentic world.

And, if you’re wondering why I chose considering, with an ing instead of considerate it’s because I believe language should evolve along with humans and the world – ever considering and ever changing.  Do we still have insane asylums? Do we dial up people on the phone? Geez, we rarely call someone. We text, tweet, have blogs, Facebook post (like and comment). Thank you.

The ever present mother

A mother & young elephant on the bank of the Shire River in Malawi, Africa. Touching is an important form of communication.

My mother died on November 1, 1999 at the age of 72. Always, she is with me. I see her in ocean waves and yellow forsythia,  hear her when someone chews gum loudly or belts out  the hymn “Jesus Christ is risen today with a long drawn out Alleluia,” smell her in Coppertone sunscreen and violet water bottles, and I taste her in guacamole and rice pudding with raisins. And touch, well, touch is a little more complicated.

My mother wasn’t the touchy-feely kind. In fact I don’t have many childhood memories of hugs or “I love yous.” They did come later. My mother’s mother died when she was an infant. Her sea captain father remarried but was often away leaving  my mother’s Bible banging stepmother to raise her. Needless to say my mother’s childhood was void of touch and “I love yous.”

We both have had to grieve losses and learn how to love, touch and express love.

I’ll never forget the last time I was with my mom. It was an idyllic (except we knew she was dying) week at the seashore. One night, Mom was tired and weak so I assisted her bathing. When I rubbed apple scented body wash on her wrinkled arms, I expected them to feel rough. Instead, I found myself melting into my mother’s soft skin, baby bottom soft. Through tears Mom told me something she had never told anyone, “My father died of syphilis. At least your father never cheated on me.” Oh my! What a cleansing ritual.

My parents separated off and on during my adolescent years and divorced when I was in college. My dad later married a woman named Barb. After he died, my mom and Barb became friends. In fact Barb was with us that week. I never referred to Barb as my stepmother. She asked us to call her “frother,” a combination of friend and mother. And she was a frother.

The greatest gifts my mother ever gave me were with us that week, are still with me. My mother showed me how to suffer, heal and forgive, how to be there for others and how to let others be there for you, and how to enjoy life from eating lobster with a bib to weeping at sunset.

In Mom’s last Christmas letter which was read by her spiritual adviser at her funeral Mass, she wrote, “Now, I am entering into eternal life and I want you to realize my joy! I am now to meet the Author of Life, He who created me and He who redeemed me and He who sanctified me.”

Those words just made me cry more.  How could I feel joy? At the time, eternal life was there where Mom’s body was, not here with me. I could no longer touch her. She could no longer touch me.

I still wonder about the Author of Life.  Is it a He or a She? Or a He/She, more like a Oneness? And redemption and sanctification make me swallow hard.

But eternal life seems to have staying power. It seems my mother continues to touch my life. She is ever present.