Half a Lifetime Ago

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On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress,  grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car to head north out of Seattle. I don’t recall looking back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months earlier to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health family practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle. I was leaving the city for a new rural home and a very uncertain professional future.

I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family was on its way, and we were going to actually live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with a few acres and a barn. A real (sort of) starter farm. Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two tortoise shell calico kitten sisters peering up at me,  just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that simple commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed very complete.

I will never forget the freedom I felt on that drive north. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential even though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting (the most diverse zip code in the United States): an ideal family practice with patients from all over the world: Muslims from the Middle East and Indonesia, Orthodox Jews, Italian Catholics, African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all into the Mazda and driven them north with me, I would have.

We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding an ethnic diversity of farm animals:  Belgian Tervuren dog Tango, Haflinger horse Greta, Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Scottish Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. Again, we had new commitments and life felt complete– but not for long, as we soon added little brother Ben and seven years later,  sister Lea. Then it really was complete. Or so I thought.

Thirty three years later our children have long ago grown and gone to new homes of their own, off to their own adventures beyond the farm.  Our sons married wonderful women, our daughter is in her third year of teaching fourth grade a few hours away and we have a granddaughter growing up in Tokyo.

A few cats, two Cardigan Corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now both gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends.  My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fits me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day.

My husband is happily retired now,  volunteering, serving on boards and being a full time farmer on our larger 20 acre place of fields and woods.  Retirement looms closer for me:  I have never not worked outside the home and don’t know how I can stop when the need in health care is greater than ever.

There was freedom that rainy Halloween day over three decades ago as Seattle disappeared in the rear view mirror. I would no longer sat captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams.  I celebrate my daily commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano and teaching at church and serving on various community boards. Our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon becoming more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet us in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids us good night.

It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin sitting beside me in a little Mazda, my husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, thirty three years and three grown children and one granddaughter later, we celebrate this Halloween transition anniversary together, still pregnant with the possibility that life is never truly complete when there is always a new day just around the corner.

 

 

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October

The Whole Journey

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Night is drawing nigh.  How long the road is.  But, for all the time the journey has taken, how you have needed every second of it. 
~Dag Hammarskjöld

 

 

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It is easy to be grateful for the pretty times of life: those picture-perfect moments that end up on Christmas photo-cards and in detailed descriptions in holiday newsletters.  What we want others to see and what we wish to remember does not always reflect the experiences of the whole journey.  We are naturally programmed to concentrate on “The Best of…” rather than surveying the whole shebang, warts and all.

It isn’t all glorious sunsets, rainbows and happy endings.  We don’t usually take pictures of the potholes, or celebrate the obstacles and flat tires along the way. It is rare to acknowledge and honor the failing grade, the chronic illness, the rocky relationship, the mortifying mistake, the tragic accident.

Yet it is all a part of the journey, every second of it, even the moments we try hard to forget are worthy of our appreciation.  Even the difficult times move us a little closer to our destination, perhaps looking bruised and scraped, still making our way slowly, shakily yet surely.

How long the road is.  And night is coming.

How fortunate we are to be heading home.

 

 

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Both Stone and Star

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Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs–

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
~Rainer Maria Rilke  “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy

 

 

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We are born with one hand still grasping tight to the star-studded heaven from which we came, still dusty from creation.  The other hand grabs hold of whatever it finds here on earth and won’t let go, whether the riches of relationship or the coldness of stone.

It can take decades, but our firm hold on heaven loosens so that we forget the dusty origins of our miraculous being.  We forget Who made us and why.

We can’t decide, tangled up in the threads of life:  dust of earth, stone heart?  Or dust of stars, child of Heaven?

We are daily reminded by the Light which clothes us in new colors – early in the morning as it crests the eastern hills and late as it descends in the west.  Heaven still reaches down once again to grasp our hand, making sure we know the way home.

 

 

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Ah, What Then?

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What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
~Samuel Coleridge  “What if you slept”

 

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This mountain, this strange and beautiful Shuksan flower that appears suddenly as we round a corner on the hour drive up the Mt. Baker Highway:  this mountain has one foot on earth and one foot in heaven – a thin place if there ever was one.

The only way to approach is in awed silence, as if entering the door of a grand cathedral.  Those who are there speak in hushed tones if they speak at all.

Today Mt Shuksan wears autumn lightly about its shoulders as a multi-faceted cloak, barely anticipating the heavy snow coat to descend in the next two weeks.

I hold this mountain tight in my fist, wanting to turn it this way and that, breathe in its fragrance, bring it home with me and never let go.

Ah, what then?

Home is not nearly big enough for heaven to dwell.  I must content myself with this visit to the thin edge, peering through the open door, and waiting until invited to come inside.

 

 

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The World Too Beautiful

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O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,– Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,– let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay “God’s World”

 

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Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. 
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute? 
I’m ready to go back. I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are!
Just blind people.
~Thornton Wilder, from Emily’s monologue in Our Town

 

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Let me not wear blinders through my days.
Let me see and hear and feel it all even when it seems too much to bear.

Lord,  prepare me to be so whelmed at your world, that
Heaven itself will be familiar, and not that far,
Just round the corner.

 

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Recovering The Lost

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The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk. The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf.
Busy with costs and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here—a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware. The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still.

I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced. As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree. A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home
again. Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money. 
~Wendell Berry “The Sorrel Filly”

 

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I am reminded at the end of a long work week in town
-when it is dark and wet and cold
and chores aren’t done yet
when horses are waiting to be fed-
of the value of moments spent
with long-lashed eyes, wind-swept manes, and velvet muzzles.

True, it appears to be time and money wasted.
But for a farmer,
not all gold is preserved in a lock box.

Golden treasure can have
four hooves, a tail, with a rumbling greeting
asking if I’d somehow gotten lost
since I’m a little later than usual
and they were a bit concerned I’d forgotten them.

I remember then where home is
and how easy it is to wander from the path
that always leads me back here.

 

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Thirty Seven Years Ago Today

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Before God and this gathering, I vow from my heart and spirit that I will be your wife/husband for as long as we both shall live.

I will love you with faithfulness, knowing its importance in sustaining us through good times and bad.

I will love you with respect, serving your greatest good and supporting your continued growth.

I will love you with compassion, knowing the strength and power of forgiveness.

I will love you with hope, remembering our shared belief in the grace of God and His guidance of our marriage.

“And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”

(our wedding vows for our September 19, 1981 wedding at First Seattle Christian Reformed Church — the last line adapted from Thomas Hardy’s  “Far From the Madding Crowd”)

 

 

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I want to remember us this way—
late September sun streaming through
the window, bread loaves and golden
bunches of grapes on the table,
spoonfuls of hot soup rising
to our lips, filling us
with what endures.
~Peter Pereira from “A Pot of Red Lentils”

 

 

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I cherish the moments that are most basic, plain, and simple and have the best chance of happening again.  I’m not talking about exotic travels, nor the extravagant meal out, nor the once in a lifetime experience. My most cherished moments are everyday, and I store them up to fill the decades full.

Most cherished of all is “that look” that says “I want to look into your eyes forever and get lost there.”

I am lucky enough to know what that feels like.  I get that butterfly in the stomach feeling anytime it happens.  My husband held my eyes with his from across a room early in our relationship, and thirtyseven years later, he still holds them when he looks at me, even over bowls of soup at the kitchen table.

And I look at him just that way as well.  The eyes say what words cannot.  The eyes don’t lie.  The eyes never change even though the years bring gray hair and crow’s feet.

It is what endures. I want to look at you forever, just like this, just as you are, wherever you are because of who you are.

 

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