Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

the little things we do can be BIG to someone else

via flickr

via flickr

Today was a Starbucks day. I realise that Starbucks isn’t everyone’s fave. It’s not local (but it employs a LOT of locals!), and it’s not trendy. Still, I like Starbucks. They’re always (well, almost always) nice to me, and I like the coffee. When folks give me small thank-you cards from Starbucks? I’m ecstatic!

Back to today: I dropped in at one of my nearby Starbucks. There are two equidistant from the house, and depending on if I’m going south or east is which one I use. The very nice lady at the counter took my order, and we chatted.

What’s on your calendar today? she asked. And I told her — a very sad day, I said. Not that I can share w/ you guys (not mine to tell), but I could tell a kind woman at Starbucks, who almost certainly won’t remember me.

We talked about framing bad news, about how to focus on good in the midst of sorrow, about what we don’t know that waits over the horizon. Obviously a devout Christian of the best — Jesus — type, she reminded me that we can’t know why things happen the way they do. I agree. And we both agreed that makes it no easier. Then she took my hand and said she would hold me in prayer. And gave me my two drinks free.

I can’t begin to tell you how much that kind act on the part of a complete stranger meant to me. She reached out w/ both her heart and her hands, and comforted me. I tried to pay, touched by her generousity, and she just shook her head. This is my gift to you, she said. God loves you; you just need to keep that in mind.

And because she was so very sure, I am. Keeping in mind that whatever differences she & I may have about who or what orders the universe, we both agree on this: love is at the heart of it. And sometimes, love takes the fragrant shape of a familiar white cup, steaming hot and comforting. Thank you, nice lady at Starbucks. You made my day.

Happy Birthday, Mom

via google

When I count the many elements of my life for which I’m grateful, my mother-in-law (and father-in-law) are BIG. I recognise that many women don’t even like their mother-in-laws, much less love them like a 2nd mother. Not me. For years, my mother-in-law has been one of my best of friends, a cracker-jack mentor, and the most present of rôle models. In her prime, she was a Shakespearean scholar, a great cook, a rose gardener, a feeder of birds, a lover of mystery novels, and the best friend & grandmother you can imagine. Not to mention her husband of 67 years died holding her hand… Who wouldn’t see Mom as flat-out amazing?

Now? She’s far quieter, the victim of her longevity, in some ways. Today she turns 95. Wow. Almost a century, Mom. How did you do it? You ate things the docs said weren’t great for you (margarine, ice cream, a LOT of homemade chocolate chip cookies). You didn’t take vitamins until your 60s, to my knowledge. And you never ran or did any ‘scheduled’ exercise.Mom & me

But here you are, 95 years old on Ground Hog Day. Which tickled you to tell folks: my birthday is Ground Hog Day, you’d say. And then laugh. Now, when your beloved son & I tell you ‘you’re no spring chicken!’ (in response to your desires to feel more active!), you ask how old you are. When we tell you, you make that face: the one w/ the raised eyebrows, the shake of the head, and loud ‘AAAAH!’ How, you ask, did that happen?? And when?

I’ve been with you for 45 of those years, Mom. You made me welcome, treated me like another daughter, and taught me how important it is to listen. So often when I called you for a recipe (long distance from the Middle East, no less — $1 a minute!), or to ask about a child’s illness, or to complain about your son’s boneheadedness, you just listened. Then would gently pull back from advice, offering only the recipe, or your love. ‘Only.’ The best stuffing in the world. The experience of decades raising three children. The knowledge of what it takes to make marriage work.

I love you, Mom. And I hope that all these years you’ve had an idea just how very important you are to me. My own mother was a wonderful person, but not a teacher. Not a scholar, not a lover of poetry (although my father was). When I got my degrees, you & Dad were as proud of me as any parents. And you never asked me ‘what will you do with them?’ You knew that isn’t the point to knowledge.Mom at our wedding 2

So here I am, these many years later, Mom. A far better person/ teacher/ friend/ mother-in-law (I hope!)/ wife and friend and grandmother and all of it…because of you. As you become less & less distinct, fading like a well-loved photograph, I am struggling to just be there for you. As you have been for me, so many many times. One of the many many lessons I breathed in just being with you…

It’s a hard lesson in beginner’s heart. But you deserve anything and everything I can offer. And on this day, dedicated to the great gift of YOU, I’m so very grateful. For every visit to the lake, every time you taught me a new skill, every time you listened to me rattle on. I can’t imagine the paucity of my life w/out you.

Happy Birthday, Mom. May all your dreams be of the love you inspire.

distractions, friendship, and childhood places

thai klong

via wikicommons

I am blessed w/ the most thoughtful & generous of friends. As anyone who has the slightest contact w/ me (through this blog or otherwise) knows, this has been a very rough week. Deaths, heart attacks, ugly lawsuits, and more. Not my happiest week!

So here comes yesterday’s mail, only retrieved from the mailbox this afternoon. Did I mention it’s just flat hard to even get out of bed (although to be fair, the arthritis precedes the bad days)? But after I cooked, cleaned, did bills, and all the other junk that fills average days, I decided to venture into the freshening winter chill and collect  yesterday’s mail.

And there it was: my friend Misha’s gift. A HUGE book of travel writing all about Thailand. In case you don’t know, I grew up in Thailand. Travelled all over central & southern Thailand, spending summers shuttling between our home in Bangkok and my father’s two other residences — one in the then-tiny town of Phuket (spelled Bhuket back then), and the other in Nakorn Srithammarat, over the mountains about 5 hours or so from Phuket.

the author's

my sister (in front) riding an elephant at a school fair

In those days, you took a ferry from the mainland to get to the island. It was a true backwater, only one hotel, serving only Thai food (if you exclude my father’s mainstay of tough steak). We rented a villa nestled cosily between a crematorium and a pig slaughterhouse. Daddy got it cheap. In Bangkok, each year we moved to a different residence. Alternate years we went ‘home’ to Oklahoma. The house in Nakorn was arguably the nieces one of all, but we spent very little time in it. A house on a beautiful island meant we could go to the beach! What could compare to that?

Since my younger childhood was spent in Saigon, most of my childhood memories centre on Southeast Asia. I first visited Bangkok at 9, when my mother & father went for a short trip. So many years ago there were still occasional elephants on the outskirts of town, ridden by slim young men and even boys, who guided the giant beasts w/ a short stick and well-developed leg muscles. Years later, my sister would ride one at a school fair.

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getting the humanities out to the humans

via google

via google

If you’re not realllllly sure what the humanities are, you’re in good company. When I tell folks I work w/ the state Humanities Council, they look almost as uneasy as when I tell them I write poetry (I don’t confess to either much in public gatherings). They’re just so… humanist, those humanities. Or so we’ve come to believe, egged on by legislators who find nothing to profit from in the arts & sciences that make us human.

Me? I’d sooner give up air conditioning in a hot Okie August than give up the humanities. In case you’re wondering, almost everything you like falls under that broad umbrella term: Language (try doing w/out THAT), law (or THAT), faith (so much bigger than any single one of us), philosophy (to make sense of it all), ethics (so we do it with compassion), archaeology, architecture, music (what would we do w/out music?), history, the environment, the sciences, media… It’s a loooong list of very human interests & accomplishments.

Sooooo, if you were engaged in this wondrous field, wouldn’t you want to share? Wouldn’t you want to take something this cool to everyone? But academics (and I’ve been one for years, as I am reminded at every family gathering…) often fail us here. And even though I am proud of my hard-earned degrees, and the research I’ve done over the years in sometimes abstruse fields. But I work equally hard at taking that knowledge home, as it were. Finding ways to use it w/ folks who may think they could care less about poetry, or Ezra Pound, or translations, or gender, or any of the ‘odd’ things I’ve obsessively read.

via google

via google

Why is my passion for bees okay, but not my obsession w/ poetry? I have (conservative count here) 20 or more books on bees. This doesn’t include the class I took, the listservs I lurk on, or the books I checked out from the library. That’s perfectly acceptable, most of the time (although I do get some teasing). But the lengthy bib I read on the poet Ezra Pound, translation, Chinese culture, and assorted arcane topics? And put to use in an article for publication? That’s weird, by popular acclaim.

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