Just Sad

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We didn’t say fireflies
but lightning bugs.
We didn’t say carousel
but merry-go-round.
Not seesaw,
teeter-totter
not lollipop,
sucker.
We didn’t say pasta, but
spaghetti, macaroni, noodles:
the three kinds.
We didn’t get angry:
we got mad.
And we never felt depressed
dismayed, disappointed
disheartened, discouraged
disillusioned or anything,
even unhappy:
just sad.
~Sally Fisher “Where I Come From”  from Good Question.

 

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I felt sadness in that moment because, having been raised in a certain culture, I learned long ago that “sadness” is something that may occur when certain bodily feelings coincide with terrible loss. Using bits and pieces of past experience, such as my knowledge of shootings and my previous sadness about them, my brain rapidly predicted what my body should do to cope with such tragedy. Its predictions caused my thumping heart, my flushed face, and the knots in my stomach. They directed me to cry, an action that would calm my nervous system. And they made the resulting sensations meaningful as an instance of sadness. In this manner, my brain constructed my experience of emotion.

…if you could distinguish finer meanings within “Awesome” (happy, content, thrilled, relaxed, joyful, hopeful, inspired, prideful, adoring, grateful, blissful.. .), and fifty shades of “Crappy” (angry, aggravated, alarmed, spiteful, grumpy, remorseful, gloomy, mortified, uneasy, dread-ridden, resentful, afraid, envious, woeful, melancholy.. .), your brain would have many more options for predicting, categorizing, and perceiving emotion, providing you with the tools for more flexible and functional responses.
~Lisa Feldman Barrett from How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

 

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Emotions are fleeting. But they are unavoidable and they are the most human of all things. They are not universals; they are arbitrary. But if we feel them deeply and we share them with others, nothing in this life is more real.
~Eric Barker on his blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree

 

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If there is anything I’ve come to understand over the decades I’ve been a physician, it is that human beings have emotions that make them uncomfortable and that makes them more difficult to share with others.  Sometimes those feelings become so locked up that they leak out of our cells as physical symptoms: headaches, muscle tightness, stomach upset, hypertension.  Other times they are so overwhelming we can no longer function in a day to day way – labeled as rage, panic, mood disorder, depression, self-destructive, suicidal.

Somehow we’ve lost the ability to be just sad.  Just sad.  Sad happens and it happens to us all, some longer than others, some worse than others, some deeper than others.  What makes sad more real and more manageable is if we can say it out loud — whatever ‘sad’ means to us on a given day and to describe the feeling in detail can categorize and manage it — and explain it to others who can listen and help.

Strong emotions don’t always need a “fix”, particularly chemical,  but that is why I’m usually consulted.  Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs tend to be the temporary self-medicated anesthesia that people seek to stop feeling anything at all but it only rages stronger later.

Sometimes an overwhelming feeling just needs an outlet so it no longer is locked up, unspoken and silent, threatening to leak out in ways that tear us up and pull us apart.

Just tell me where you come from, who you are and who you are becoming and then, only then, we might be able to understand why you feel what you do today.  Then, armed with that understanding and how you might respond in a different way,  tomorrow may well feel a bit better.

 

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This Cataclysm of Making and Unmaking

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The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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Everything is made to perish;
the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so.
No, he thought.
The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place.
What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?

~Paul Harding from Tinkers

 

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Earthly contentment
~whether the house stayed dry in a flood
or a forest passed over in a wildfire
or a devastating diagnosis averted
or a bank account contained sufficient funds
or gray hairs remain successfully hidden~
won’t last.

May I not settle for comfort and contentment
but seek to fill
my continual need
with what will not perish,
even as the leaves turn yellow
and the light begins to fade,
and rest assured
as the seasons pass, altering the landscape,
I too must be changed.

 

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Strengthen Your Feeble Arms

from “Feats of Strength” by Tom Otterness at Western Washington University

 

In those days, we finally chose to walk like giants
and hold the world
in arms grown strong with love.

And there may be many things we forget
in the days to come,

but this will not be one of them.
~Brian Andreas

 

 

Now that I’m essentially one-armed for three months due to my broken “wing”, I’m learning that patience and letting go takes far more strength than holding on and pushing through.  I’m having to make choices about what is not as important as I thought, and letting things lapse for the time being.  I’m discovering how to ask for help because I’m in need when I’ve always been the helper before.

Others are watching me carefully to see if I’ll quietly go stir-crazy with my new temporary limitations or whether I’ll find new ways to live fully as a partially-abled person.  The jury is out on that but I already know I am seeing the world in a different light: that which I can do on my own and that which is impossible without assistance and I need to rely on others. For a stubborn person who thrives on self-sufficiency, this is a humbling reminder of my brokenness and frailty.

May the Lord have mercy on all those with broken wings who still endeavor to lift up the weight of the world and fly as high as ever.  May we find our strength is in Him, not in our feeble arms.

 

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No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
Hebrews 12:11-12

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She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
~Proverbs 31:17

 

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I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
~Philippians 4: 12-13

 

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Some of us think holding on makes us strong;
but sometimes it is letting go.
~Hermann Hesse

 

 

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The Cathedral to Memory

 

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I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
 
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
 
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
 
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
 
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they’re so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
 
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.
 
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where
 
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
~Catherine Essinger “Summer Apples”  from What I Know About Innocence

 

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A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. 
~Welsh Proverb

 

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It is at late summer and harvest time when I most clearly remember my mother – she is standing for hours at the kitchen sink peeling yellow transparent apples, readying them for sauce, and always a pie.

The apples were only part of her daily work:  she canned quarts and quarts of green beans, peeled the peaches and pears for canning, sauced the plums, pickled the cucumbers, jammed the strawberries and raspberries, syruped the blackberries, froze the blueberries, cut the kernels off the corn cobs, baked up the zucchini into breads and cakes, dried the filberts, dug and stored the potatoes,  dehydrated the tomatoes.

Over the years I’ve stood by the sink and the stove and have done what my mother used to do, usually not as well but with the same mission of preserving what I can for another day.  We have been fed from our summer labors.

I know well these trees and vines from which the fruit grows.  I plant the seeds which somehow know to produce when tended and nurtured.  I stand and peel and wash and boil and stir as this is what generations of my family’s women did before me.

May it ever be.

 

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The Suspense of August

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No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.
~Lizette Woodworth Reese,  “August” from A Branch of May: Poems by Lizette Woodworth Reese

 

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August suspends me timeless. There is little that is new on the horizon, only a fading and withering of that which is already spent.  The carefully woven web frays and shreds, the blossom wilts, the dawn flares in, the twilight flames out.

I wake to dry stillness – no wind, no bird song –  the suspense of waiting and wondering what is coming next.

I prepare as best I can: today I gather.  Today I waste no time.

 

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Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, 
Old Time is still a-flying; 
And this same flower that smiles today 
Tomorrow will be dying. 
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, 
The higher he’s a-getting, 
The sooner will his race be run, 
And nearer he’s to setting. 
That age is best which is the first, 
When youth and blood are warmer; 
But being spent, the worse, and worst 
Times still succeed the former. 
Then be not coy, but use your time, 
And while ye may, go marry; 
For having lost but once your prime, 
You may forever tarry.
~Robert Herrick “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”

 

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Plum-Tuckered

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And somehow <she> thrived anyway–the blossom of our family,
like one of those miraculous fruit trees that taps into an invisible vein of nurture
and bears radiant bushels of plums while the trees around it merely go on living.

~Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Dreams

 

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There is a plum tree on our farm that is so plain and unassuming much of the year that I nearly forget that it is there.  It is a bit off by itself away from the other fruit trees; I have to make a point of paying attention to it otherwise it just blends into the background.

Despite not being noticed or having any special care, this tree thrives.  In the spring it is one of the first to bud out into a cloud of white blossoms with a faint sweet scent.  Every summer it is a coin toss whether it will decide to bear fruit or not.  Some years–not at all, not a single plum.  Other years, like this one, it is positively glowing with plum harvest– each a golden oval with a pink blush.   These plums are extraordinarily honey flavored and juicy, a pleasure to eat right off the tree if you don’t mind getting past a bitter skin and an even more bitter pit inside.   This is a beauty with a bite — sweet surrounded by bitter.

I think the tree secretly grins when it sees puckering taking place all around it.

This tree is a lot like some people I know: most of the time barely noticeable, hanging on the periphery,  fairly reserved and unobtrusive.  But when roots go deep and the nourishment is substantial,  they bear a bounty of fruit, no doing things half-way.   The feast is plentiful and abundant, the meal glorious despite the hint of sour.  Maybe it is even more glorious because of sweet within bitter.

If “tucker” describes a great down-home meal, then being “plum-tuckered” would be eating our fill of the bitter-sweet.  Even when the bitter in this life is plentiful,  the sweet will always overwhelm and overcome.

 

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Heaven-Flung

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We sleep, but the loom of life never stops and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up tomorrow.
~Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman in the 19th century and nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe)

 

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Now burn, new born to the world,
      Doubled-naturèd name,
   The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
   Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
      Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
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We tend to forget we are heaven-flung and God-woven;
each of us plain and ordinary and numerous as the weeds of the field
until the Light comes upon us from the shadows,
illuminated dazzling rays of gold,
fire-awakened, hard-hurled and reclaimed as His own.He calls us each by name,
knows each slender thread of hair on our heads.We may wander, oh do we wander,
but are not lost
as long as our faces remain turned toward Him.

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