Decisions, Decisions

Beatrix Potter’s character, Jemima Puddle-duck is one of my favorites in children’s literature.  I’ve referenced her before and probably will again because I can’t get the vision out of my sight, of her waddling to and fro squawking “what to do, what to do” in a fit of indecision.  This is something I can relate to.

“I don’t know.”  “I can’t decide.”  Or, my husband’s favorite, “I can’t make a decision about that right now,” usually followed by, “I need another cup of coffee first.”  These are forms of indecision.

Is indecision related to too many options, or not enough, as in I haven’t yet seen the option that tips the scale to decision?  Some people accumulate information, to maximize their options, in order to make the best choice, ultimately not having enough comparisons to feel finished.

Other people, look at a couple of options, find one that satisfies their limited criteria and stop looking.  Decision made.

Sometimes I make quick and easy decisions.  My yes is yes and my no is no, with rarely a maybe in sight.

In fact, I often differ from my husband with his hundred and one options looming over most decisions.  Maybe I’m hasty.  I’m sure I have been, but maybe he’s procrastinating.

What’s up with decision-delay?  Is it fear of being wrong, making a mistake, or diving in too deep?

Are we on the cusp of making a decision when a clip or newsreel of the past turns on in our heads flashing in high speed all of the poor choices we’ve ever made, one after the other?  This stuff can throw you right into a catatonic state of indecision in mid-step.

Let me supply an example.  I have a dress hanging in my closet, with the tag still intact, and a pair of shoes in the rack on the door opposite it, ironically from the same store.  The thing with both of these items is that I didn’t buy either of them when I first saw them.  I left the store, left town in fact, arrived home and couldn’t get them out of my mind.  I wanted them after the fact, a sort of opposite of buyer’s remorse.

So, after a telephone call to the store asking for them to hold the dress, the shoes, and my dignity, I drove 40 miles one way to buy them, on separate occasions, no less.  The kicker is, I wore the shoes once or twice and with the tag still on the dress, well, you get it, I’ve yet to wear it.  Which decision was the wrong one?

This is my newsreel when I’m feeling indecisive.  I know it could be worse, a lot worse.  I could have chosen the wrong husband.  I didn’t, thank God.  But unfortunately, many have, and I don’t even want the opportunity to be a fly on your mind’s wall as to your decision-making newsreel.

Then there are the few things I’ve thrown away, given away, sold, or donated that all of a sudden, I could use or wish I had back in my possession.  My pack-rat husband too quickly gives me the “I told you so” look, which I know, but ignore.

Also, there are those folks who make such a big deal of making a decision, involving charts and white boards and pros and cons lists that the time to make the decision passes and the decision is made through indecision.

If you didn’t say yes, then no was selected for you.  If it wasn’t black or white, then you got a muddled in-between, gray.  If not red or white wine, then there’s blush.  If you don’t like Democrat or Republican, register Independent and vote for the individual not the party.  If you want to go to the party, go.  If you don’t, don’t.

The simple facts are, we aren’t always going to be happy with our decisions, and will occasionally wonder what might have been, had we chosen differently.  What if we had taken those jobs in Germany instead of Kentucky?  Where would we be now?  What if I had majored in nursing instead of psychology?    What if we had moved to Iowa instead of New Mexico?  What would our daughter’s life be like had we stayed in New Mexico instead of moving back “home” to Pennsylvania?

We tend to like having decisions made, with either one or the other choice settled with absolute certainty and satisfaction.  But I’m thinking that the reality of life requires us to accept imperfection, uncertainty, mystery, failure, and probably a dose of chaos.

Peace with our decisions doesn’t come from achieving perfect order in our lives.  It comes from failing to obtain that which we would have preferred, and learning how to live fully, even creatively, with what remains.  Peace comes with surrender to what is, and reconciliation to the loss of what might have been in our expectation of an ideal world.

So, decisions decisions.  I wonder if sometimes we consider decision-making like war, or an argument.  One option is the winner and the other option(s) are losers.

In our American-way of competition, toward the best outcome, it’s hard to see arguments, battles, or decisions as something more like the French see, as a dance.  It’s not fitting to ask who won a ballet, is it?  In a dance there is no attacking, counterattacking, or defensiveness, but there is sparring.

Many of us think stereotypically of the French, that they believe some of our ways are somehow inferior or primitive compared to their own.  But I think this may be a cultural misunderstanding.  I wonder if maybe they just want to dance with us and we reply with an argument.  We find it difficult to imagine a disagreement without a fight.  They find both sides of the disagreement, a stimulating back-and-forth dance, toward enlightenment.

Sparring is a sort of dance training, or preparation for the real bout.  So could arguments, battles, and decisions, be.  We could consider our next decision-to-be-made, a dress rehearsal toward achieving balance, the attainment of which there is no wrong or right, but movement forward in an enjoyable dance of life.

“Speck-hunting” or Logging Operation

I’m personally more inclined to contemplate the idiosyncrasies of my own navel than to notice yours, let alone find fault with it.  When I notice something – anything, my first reaction is to hit the inward search bar and examine myself for fault.  Yours is yours – I’ll let you be, but mine, I hone in on.

Moments when I’m stymied about why things in life aren’t going my way, or the way I expect, the hymn I hum or the Scripture I go to is: Search me O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Some time ago some folks on social media declared that using the exclamation, OMG, is a sin; not just a shortcoming, fault, miss-deed, or less than creative use of the language, but a sin. Interpreting the saying or writing of OMG as a sin, is based on one of the ten commandments: “do not take the name of the Lord God in vain.”

Using God’s name frivolously or with a lack of attention, is the gist of taking the name of G-d in vain.  Jewish people, the original recipients of the ten tablets on Mt. Sinai, to this day do not write out the full name of God, giving scrupulous homage to this command.

I say and write, OMG (an acronym for O My God), on occasion.  When I saw the social media post declaring this utterance a sin, I started thinking in overdrive – and hit the search bar.

Don’t you know, I found a bit of something in my eye, the size of something between a log and a speck. 

Jesus’ words, in the Matthew 7:1-5 part of His Sermon on the Mount, “Do not judge and criticize and condemn others…. Why do you see the speck that is in our brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” – is the source for the particle I spied in my eye.  Jesus pleaded with us not to be speck-hunters, but to first examine the log in our own eyes.

“O my God,” might – depending on where your heart is, be a prayerful plea, albeit desperate.  “O my God,” might be genuine praise for an everyday miracle such as a beautiful sunset, an animal’s extraordinary or anthropomorphic act; an expression of delight, an act of noticing someone’s extreme sense of humor, gratitude, or surprise, etc.

Speck-hunters, on the other hand, have an eagle-eye towards wrong-doing, the things they see on the outside of other human beings.  Behavior might be the manifestation of what’s in the heart or it might be something else entirely.  Who are we observers, to know what stimuli fosters the behaviors of others and to judge said behaviors as sin?

When, years ago, I taught Marriage and the Family courses to college students, I was particularly struck by the then, novel idea of focusing our study on healthy marriages as opposed to the usual focus on what was wrong with the family.  The trend, prior to positive psychology’s genesis (1990s), was to study the dysfunctional, then back track; find the root of wrong-doing, fix it, then teach and counsel, “what not to do,” to achieve fluent families.  Prior to that we took Freud’s tack of studying prostitutes in order to define healthy sexuality.  Speck-hunting, for wrongdoing.

Perhaps, our speck-hunting days ought to be numbered, in favor of a logging operation The following is a comparison of the speck-hunt with the summer camp initiation of newbies, via the snipe-hunt.

I was once the recipient of a snipe-hunt* practical joke, or prank.  I’m not a fan.  Frankly, I’m a rather serious person, by nature, and I’ve never witnessed a humorous prank.  I inherited a dry, sarcastic sense of humor from my mom, who once said, “just because I don’t laugh out loud doesn’t mean I’m not happy.” There were not a lot of LOL’s in our household, but there was humor.

In fact, “joke” is a total misnomer, in my opinion, for a prank, because they are never truly funny; unless, by funny, one means “making fun of,” or intending to embarrass, isolate, perplex, confuse, humiliate, or make someone feel foolish – in front of a group.

Being laughed at by a group is hardly a joke.  Isn’t that called bullying

A *snipe-hunt is a practical joke originating in the1840s, wherein an unsuspecting newcomer to a group is duped into hunting for a non-existent animal (snipe) in the dark, outdoors, alone, making noise and holding a bag, until the “joke” is discovered.

There must be a kinder, more benevolent way to initiate a newcomer into a group.  There is also a better way to alert people to wrong-doing and lead them to repentance; for example, goodness, kindness, and patience (Romans 2:4).

Speck-hunting is one way, but it isn’t the better way.


Purging Stuff

I feel like I’ve been oozing stuff for years.  I’ve given stuff away, sold stuff, thrown stuff out but stuff seems to leech out of the walls of our home.

I’ve done this whole purging of extra stuff, since I read “Living Simply,” back in the 70s.  I have to conclude there are fairies bringing stuff into this house while we sleep.  But the stuff looks vaguely familiar when I pull another hoard of it from the crannies of this structure, we call home.

I promise I’m not a hoarder.  In fact, I’ve believed that I haven’t kept a lot of stuff over the years.  I’m not a collector.  Uhm, however a certain someone I’ve lived with for forty years, is.  But I’m telling you I’ve purged one closet after another and we still have boatloads of stuff to get rid of.

I’ve been in our basement for what feels like months, peeling away layer after layer of stuff: broken stuff, waiting to be fixed; obsolete stuff threatening to tell on me and reveal how old I really am; and my husband’s stuff that requires just the right turn of the moon to obtain a consultation about whether he needs to keep this and that for another three decades or can I throw it out.

The collection in our basement includes: my white roller skates complete with black and white furry pom-poms with bells on them;

our first computer, a Mac Plus;

my first big girl paintings, as opposed to posters – two from a market in San Francisco and one big one from a furniture store in Woodbury, PA – it was a start toward art. 

There is box after box of software for this computer or that; and my “round chair” and brass lamp that I bought at Pier One for my first apartment without rented furniture.

Yesterday I instituted a household policy about stuff.  It goes something like this: if we haven’t unearthed this stuff in twenty or thirty years, it’s time to either fix it, bring it to the surface and appreciate it, or throw it away.  Nobody else wants it and apparently, we don’t need it either, thus the long past use-by date.

Our house is relatively compact.  And, anyone whose been in our home would say it is usually tidy and uncluttered.  So where is this stuff coming from? 

Our closets are small.  Like most houses of our vintage, there is an attic, a basement, and an attached garage.  These are invitingly dangerous, potential “storage” places for stuff.  Have you heard the Scripture about building barns for more stuff?

I cleaned out the garage a week or so ago and made massive progress in relieving my life of unused stuff.  It’s much improved and growing in efficiency and order.  But I’m sadly aware that there remains more to be gone through and too many things semi-hidden, jammed into corners, recesses, over, under, beside or on some such prepositional place (as in all “the things the bunny does”), in that garage.

The attic contains the things of our grown daughter’s early childhood.  These are things I will never throw away and she wants, “someday.” The baby Dior onesie, toddler huarache’s, “real” diapers and adorable diaper covers, stuffed-lion rattle, a million stuffed animals, blue sky & cloud crib linens, the Barbie doll house her dad built for her (complete with the dozens of Barbie’s and their necessary accoutrements), and books and more books, etc.  My heart melts when I go up there.

The basement stuff is mostly that of my husband’s and my past professional lives, and our daughter’s home-school materials from nearly twenty years ago.  There are videos of every performance of my spouse’s jazz bands and percussion ensembles, spanning two or three university careers.  I just unearthed huge posters of music festivals we organized,

charts of the reproductive system

and stages of gestation from my human sexuality classes that would fit right into the décor of your and my gynecologist/obstetrician’s office;

posters from poison control used at a booth at a health fair my college committee on the environment sponsored

;and a board game I created for my American Subcultures class.

There are programs and posters from every recital, concert, and musical performance featuring my artistically prolific husband or one of his many ensembles.  And books.  Don’t get me going on books.  I’ve given away so many books.  But they grow like weeds in our house.  And, these books are from my pre-policy of using the library rather than buying books, for the most part.

Speaking of weeds.  I kid you not, I discovered a living, breathing ivy vine thriving through the garage wall.  I haven’t yet purged that little sucker because it would involve moving a metal filing cabinet, weighing a ton, full of my spouse’s sheet music collection from his early career as a performing jazz and classical musician.  That will have to wait for another more manic clean out, maybe next year.

Speaking of from one year to the next, there are boxes and boxes of CDs from our venture waiting to find a new home and we’ve got floppy disks, cassette recordings, and CDs from the first titles and every one to this day, in our catalog of hundreds of percussion performance pieces at HoneyRock Publishing.

“What to do, what to do,” chanted Jemima Puddle Duck from Beatrix Potter’s tales, and so said Bev Barton LeVan as she trots up and down the stairs to and from the basement a hundred times a day, some days wearing out my Fit-bit activity-tracker.  One thing I am determined to do yet, as this summer dwindles, is get through everything I’ve unearthed in that basement.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, but “stuff,” you listen up, I will conquer you!

The Times

Times tables.  It’s that time of year.  Back to school time.  “It’s time to get up” kiddos.  I get a smidgen of anxiety just thinking about it and I’m old, by comparison.

Time has a whole slew of meanings.  One of my favorites is from Esther 4:14, “for such a time as this.”  This saying speaks to destiny.  Esther came out of some sad circumstances into some favorable ones because time was fulfilled for her.  We all look forward to time-fulfilled.

Then there’s marking time, “a sign of the times.”  I remember marking time back in our high school’s military-type marching band.  Marking time was marching while standing still.

Not moving forward seems a bit scary to us go-getters.  But we all have to mark time from time to time.  We exclaim, “it’s about time,” when we finally get the signal to move.

It has been said that “time is the great equalizer.”  You and I have been given the same number of hours in a day as the greatest and the least among us.

The elite, the disadvantaged, the youngest and the oldest, the world over, have the same amount of time to spend, each day.  We are all equal in this one thing, time.

Race, ethnicity, success, failure, riches, poverty, intelligent or dumb-as-a-door-nail, are all irrelevant to how many hours are in our day.  We’re all on the same budget, as to the spending of time.  We all have the same parameters, the same rough outline.

“The times, they are a changing.”  Will these be “good times?”  Do you “have the time?”  How much control do we have over time?  We all know that “time flies.”

Of course, we can carpe diem, seize the day.  Or for you, is there “so much to do, so little time?”  Then again, we can “take no thought for tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34).

How much do you let others control your time?  What do you do if “time and again,” “they won’t give you the time of day?”

“What time is it,” for you?  Do you focus entirely on the future, which is subject to change?  Tomorrow is where anxiety lives?  What if?  I have a saying posted on my office telephone, to remind me to stay present, “next week has been exhausting.”

Or is it the past, where you spend most of your time?  From a television show, Imposters, I once heard something like this: “your past can’t hurt you now.  You already lived it.  Just go back for an occasional visit.” 

To mix Beatles song lyrics into one bit of contemporary psychobabble: “don’t let the shadow of yesterday prevent you from following the sun, today.”  Take some comfort in knowing, certain things are timeless, like beauty, art, music, kindness, exercise, words, faith, hope, charity….  Think on these things.

It’s roll-call time.  Raise your hand and say “present,” when your name is called.  Otherwise it will be assumed that you’re absent.  “Time and again” I have to remind myself to live in the present, another word for a gift.

No matter where you spend most of your time: in the past, the present or the future, spend it positively, wisely, generously, and with a thank you on your lips, because “time is money.”

Thank you for reading this edition of The Times and remember that life is not tied to a timeline, and it’s never ever too late.

Back yard Self

I was reminded of something I heard years ago, “Everybody has three lives: a public one, a private one, and a secret one” (A Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez), when I blurred the lines, walking to the mailbox in my slippers and sleep shorts.

Our mailbox is located along a well-traveled rural route, but I was hoping I could get away with it this once, but no.  Not one, but two vehicles passed while I deposited my mail, hoping to do so invisibly.

It was decades ago, when living in a downtown apartment across from a popular night-spot, my husband beckoned me to the sidewalk to see something, the sky perhaps.  I had just applied a facial mask, which was doing its thing to tenderize my skin.  He assured me that we would be seen by no one.

Not so much that time, either.  Some relatives of relatives were entering the bar and hollered a cheery greeting.  I was caught both times that I relaxed the rules on my public versus private self.

I’ve worn makeup to go out since I was a teenager.  Even though I work from home, I get up and dress every day, and when I go out to run errands, I dress in business casual attire.

I’m not sure of the motivations of other people, but mine, on that day, was not an “I don’t give a hoot what others think,” or “I’ll wear whatever I want to my own mailbox.”  It was a practical rather than a rebellious act.

It was such warm weather, it bordered on hot.  As an aside, back in the 70s, before the word was used to describe “sexy,” my friend’s boss once told her that the word “hot,” was crude and should never be used to describe extreme heat.  Instead, the more appropriate descriptor is “very warm.”  It seems a little Downton Abbey-ish to avoid a word for the sake of decorum, but I still halt for a moment before saying it’s hot outside.

At any rate, to excuse my wearing sleepwear to the mailbox, it was hot outside.  I don’t react well to heat and humidity, physically or cosmetically.  I was simply not ready yet to dress in my going-out clothes, and the mail needed mailing….

You and I have both seen many a male wear pajama bottoms, as day-wear.  “Lounge-pants,” some guys call them.  Don’t get me started on the regular trooping of pj’s at Walmart.  To each his/her own.  But, that’s not me.

I grew up even more rural than I live now, with no immediate neighbors.  So, I’m not sure where I learned the concept of the private back yard versus the public front yard.  But I know the concept in my bones.

In this unspoken protocol, family, friends, and neighbors come to the back door and strangers, service professionals, and acquaintances are welcomed at the front door.  It’s to distinguish between one’s public and private selves, I guess.

It’s similar with the back yard versus the front yard.  The front yard is usually formal and doesn’t disclose who you are.  The back yard is, in contrast, casual and separated for play, projects, and open to people who know you: family, friends, and neighbors talking over the, sometimes imaginary, fence or hedge.

Neither of these selves, the public nor private one, are secret.  In fact, I imagine the secret self is relegated mostly to the unconscious – secret even to the self.

We’ve been working feverishly on our yard throughout this pandemic quarantine period.  To say that we have a lot of trees, would be an understatement.  We’ve been the collection point for several teenagers of friends and acquaintances from the area, completing a science assignment to assemble leaves from a wide variety of local trees.

I’m not whining about yard-work being a lot of work, because we made our bed and are happily lying in it.  But it’s still a lot of work and not being native to 90-degree weather and oppressive humidity, it’s been work that is taxing on our growing-older bodies.

We pretty much have the front yard, including our side yard with a small apple orchard dominating it, under control. The side yard with seven new apple trees, trellised and espaliered, and the rotting grape arbor torn down and replaced by training poles to make grape-trees out of the plants, is also well on its way to the new norm.  That’s with the exception of the semi-annual shed clean-out.

We’ve made our way to the back yard, which requires a number of seemingly trivial projects, but again each one will be backbreaking but will massively clean up the casual space where we welcome friends, family and neighbors.

Speaking of neighbors, what is it they say about neighbors?  I know what the Scriptures say, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” But, it’s the other one that just slips my tongue, oh yes, “good fences make good neighbors,” from a Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall.”

Our neighbors are welcomed to our back yard.  We’ve all shared tools and tips, advice and condolences, picked some folks up when they’ve fallen in the vicinity, literally, and retrieved one another’s wind-tossed belongings: “here’s your lamp globe;” “your cat’s collar was under my truck;” “we saved your grill cover in that wind storm.”

And, we share stuff, or I guess it’s technically borrowing the proverbial cup of sugar: “do you need some green beans?”  “Here are some tomatoes.”  “May we borrow your extra-large wrench?”  “Do you have an egg I can borrow until I get to the store tomorrow?”  “We’re never going to eat those popsicles the delivery man gave to us; would your kids like them?”

Neighbors have come and gone over the nearly thirty years we’ve been in this spot.  Some have been here about as long as us.  And, we’ve had disagreements over the years – always involving boundaries, thus the fence/hedge cliché, but always mended our differences into a neighborly configuration of friendliness, if not agreeing to disagree.

I guess that’s where the “love they neighbor” thing comes from.  It’s a version of the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  We’re all flawed.  We all make mistakes.  No one is perfect.  We’re only human.  These are the truths that live in the back yard as opposed to the “date face” that we present in the front yard.

I’ll leave you with this placard, which my neighbor mentioned when she recently dropped over to our work-in-progress back yard, “backdoor guests are best.”  This sentiment, along with its mentality, has been around since the olden days and we’re fortunate to live in a rural area where the idea of neighborliness and the Golden Rule, still rule.  Amen?


Empathic Knowing

I’m not Native American and my husband is not African-American.  But 23 and Me has stated that hubby is 1% African and I am 1% Native American – both of us having respectively, a full-blooded African and Native American relative some generations back.  Move over Nelson Mandela and Elizabeth Warren, here we come.  Just kidding.

My husband taught Jazz at a traditional black, land grant university.  I taught a Sociology class called Contemporary Native Americans at a college steps away from the Navajo Reservation.

Were we illegitimate?  The schools that employed us certainly trusted that we had the expertise to carry out our jobs with professionalism.  My husband was well-respected for his development of the Jazz program, by students and teachers, administrators and the community.

As for me, the aforementioned Sociology course that I taught was already on the books when I was asked to teach it.  I considered the offer to teach the class, with trepidation.  But I really felt I could improve upon the extant lesson plans which focused on field trips to trading posts, pow-wows, fry bread festivals, and arts events – just a tad “fluff” as to the sociological nature of those plans, in my opinion.

Having taught quite a few Introduction to Sociology sections already and loving Sociological Theory, I restructured the course around such concepts as bias, racism, prejudice, and contemporary examples of these toward Native Americans, in our regional media (the Four Corners of NM, UT, CO, AZ).  The Hispanic Dean of Students sat in on one of my classes, apparently to check if the white girl teaching it was legitimate.  He shook my hand on the way out.

Like everything else I’ve ever taught, I learned more about the subject matter having organized the course material, than the students did hearing it.  But how does one teach something you haven’t experienced?  How I did it, was in a small way my educational preparation, but in large part, it was EMPATHY.

Sort of like walking in someone else’s shoes, and just short of psychic knowing, is an acute psychological and imaginative experiencing of a place or people, vicariously not literally.  It’s empathy.  By the way, have you ever tried to walk in someone else’s shoes?  This is especially evident with a worn pair of shoes and if your pattern of walking is opposed to theirs.  It is a striking experience if their weight is more on the outside of their foot (supination) and yours is pronation, which is when your weight is more on the inside of your foot.  It feels literally like you’re wearing the left shoe on the right foot and vice versa. Awkward, but you get a minuscule sense of how it is to be them.

I’ve been fascinated with Greece for years but I’ve not been there yet with my feet.  Acquaintances may think I’ve been there because I talk with such empathic familiarity about the culture.  I promise, it’s not a fake it ‘til you make it exercise.   It’s like faith, the conviction of things unseen and it’s as sure as what is observed with one’s eyes.  It’s empathy.  I intensely feel like I’ve been there, I know the place.

In fact, in my first demonstration speech in college, I explained how to make baklava.  It was student days and we were married students on a student budget so I cracked black walnuts from a tree on Uncle Vaughn’s property for my sample baklava for my teacher.

Have you ever cracked black walnuts?  Well first of all it was a miracle that we had any to crack since a whole team of squirrels confiscated nearly all that we gathered to dry on the driveway.

A hammer and a resistant surface are the tools I used to crack those hard-as-a-rock nuts.  I managed to retrieve enough nuts for the Greek nut and honey filled pastry.

The problem, I learned, with using those free black walnuts was, the nuts and the bits of shell look alike and my hammered nuts were the same size as the obliterated shells.  Uh-oh.  My teacher nearly had a dental emergency from my black walnut filled baklava.  But I got an A on the speech!

Before I’d been to England, I spoke with familiarity about the place having read so much English literature – empathy.  I loved Italy through the magic of television, primarily PBS travel shows – Rick Steves Italy, and food shows – The Frugal Gourmet, long before going there.  I read and loved A Room with a View, uniquely and wonderfully English and Italian, and Under the Tuscan Sun, until the books tattered.  I even managed the niceties of the language enough that the locals thought from our dialect that we were from Canada, at least it was the right continent – empathy.

I’ve traveled the world and in many an era, through books and films.  I feel like I’ve been there – empathy I’ve traveled so much more with my imagination than I have with my feet; but traveled, I have done nevertheless – empathy.

There is no excuse not to “feel” for another.  Everyone can “know” what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes, through empathy, if we only care to.  Take care, y’all.

The Mountain or Mole-hill Dance

Let’s get this straight, right off the bat.  My mountains can be your mole-hills and your mountains, my mole-hills.  But, both mountains and mole-hills pose some sort of obstacle, which we perceive as either something near-impossible to overcome, or something on which we stub our toe or trip over, causing temporary discomfort.

Either way, every obstacle is dealt with first, through perception.  My obstacle today was clearly a mole-hill, brought on by a frustration resulting in the statement, “I feel like I take one step forward and three steps back.”  My husband said, “that sounds like dance steps.  You’ll probably write a column about it.”

Then, as thoughts can tumble, I thought about a local young man’s mountainous fight with lymphoma, whose family relies on a different dance, a Chinese proverb, “fall down 7 times, stand up 8.” 

This column could be subtitled – How to See a Mountain, but I avoid the phrase, “how to.”   Like a plague, I avoid it.  I’ve grown over the years to detest “how to – in 10 steps ….”

The “Mountain-dance,” is about perspective.  It’s about how one can see mountains, metaphorical ones, from different perspectives. Seeing from another perspective is perhaps a greater feat than climbing the most challenging mountain.

Mountains, from my long-held point-of-view were to be climbed.  How far up we are, marks our progress.  The mountaintop is the goal.  Having reached the top denotes success.  The pinnacle is the culmination of our journey and the view is the reward for our effort.

Mountaintop vistas are coveted the world over.  From the top, there are no more obstacles to obstruct one’s view.  You’ve made it when you’re at the top of the mountain.

We climb the ladder in our careers, for what?  To reach the highest point possible, where the view from the office with many windows is unimpeded.

For years I thought I wanted a chance to live uphill or on a mountaintop, having lived for years at the bottom of the hill where all the debris blows, the water drains, and the dirt settles.  I’ve thought it might be nice to dwell atop the mountain instead of just taking walks there to get a taste of its freshness, wildness, and peaceful views.

But then I had a dream.  It was one of those dreams where instead of a scenario with setting and action and such, it was a matter-of-fact statement:

Downhill skiing – grateful for the law of gravity –

                            We will always make it to the bottom of the mountain.

I have a documented fear of downhill skiing.  Part and parcel of that fear was that I would be unable to get back to the top of the mountain, having fallen somewhere mid-mountain.  “I’ve fallen, and can’t get up.”      

This dream suggests a different, even paradoxical perspective of mountains; namely, the bottom of them.  I’ve lived down here forever, adapted to the conditions and become acculturated to its challenges so much so, that I hadn’t considered, prior to the dream, that there’s another way to see living at the bottom of the hill.

It’s like getting driving directions from a local.  They don’t see distances accurately because they’re so accustomed to traveling those highways, that their perception is skewed by familiarity“It’s a mile or two; turn right at the big oak tree.”  It turns out your destination is five miles and the oak tree no longer marks the spot where you should have turned.

When we were driving through the English countryside in 2008, we asked for directions and were told to turn on to “Bah-ole” road, which we first interpreted in American English, as “Battle” road.  Having found no such road on the map or otherwise, we found another road starting with B and ending with an L – “Bauxhall” road.  I don’t think it got us where we wanted to go, but we muddled our way.

That travel experience illustrated quite clearly that we don’t all share perceptions of direction.  We also probably should count it all joy when we share any perception with somebody because that might just be kind of rare.

Always having been preoccupied, and with my sight firmly focused on the long, hard climb uphill to reach my goals – I couldn’t see that perhaps my reward is located at the bottom of the hill.  The lovely law of gravity demands I make it to the bottom of every hill I descend, even if I get there sliding on my backside the whole journey.

This perspective is reminiscent of Jesus’ many paradoxical teachings like, the first will be last, etc.  I will have triumphed when I make it to the bottom of the mountain.  In another dream focusing on descending the mountain, we were triumphant in reaching the bottom of the mountain trail and sort-of pitied the people we shimmied past who were just starting the climb.

Might the conquest of some mountains be to raze them rather than to climb them?  One could see the bottom of the mountain not so much as a valley, but as the bottom of a shoe – overcome, conquered.

Life could be seen as razing said mountains rather than climbing them, about breaking down obstacles rather than overcoming them.  I can envision myself struggling for eons to climb up over big boulders on the mountain.  Then, I change my perception of the obstacle, dig a little trench around the boulder, put my weight against it, and presto, it rolls down the mountain.

A Scriptural piece of inspirational poetry, concerning the razing of mountain-obstacles is found in Zechariah 4:7, where an angel showed a ruler named Zerubbabel a new perspective of his obstacles.  “What are you, O great mountain [of human obstacles]?  You will become a plain, [a mere mole hill].”

My hope is that you will conquer your mountains and mole-hills.  Whether your dance is one step forward and three steps back, or seven steps forward, fall down, get up, and hit step eight, hard; it matters not whether you’re ascending or descending the mountain, start with step one, and let the dance begin.  This is how to see a mountain.