ADVENT MEMORIES

OUR ADVENT WREATH

In this time of political turmoil – when will Trump stop claiming that he won the election, etc – it is renewing and spiritually uplifting to focus on the Advent season and the days leading up to Christmas. I have always loved this liturgical season. A week ago our two local families joined us for dinner . We placed our Advent wreath in the center of our socially distant family circle and lit two of the four candles since it was the second Sunday of Advent. Husband Jerry led us in prayer. It was a brief but meaningful start to our family gathering.

In the center of the wreath is a slightly falling apart Christmas angel. This is the first Christmas ornament that Jerry and I bought sixty years ago as we prepared to celebrate our first Christmas together. The angel used to have a place of honor on our Christmas trees but as it got more fragile we moved it to a more protected spot in the center of our Advent wreath. A lot of memories have faded for me but not when we bought this angel. Since we were newly married we had no Christmas decorations. One Saturday in early December 1960 we went shopping for Christmas decorations. It was so important to me that the first ornament we purchased would have special meaning. When we found the little angel, she fulfilled all our requirements. The angel is faded and a bit worn now – but then perhaps so are we.

The pandemic is not conducive to spending a lot of time on Christmas decorating because who is going to actually see the decorations. Though our local families come weekly to share Sunday dinner they are only in our house briefly because they are so conscientious about social distancing. We gather around the fire pit – weather permitting – on the patio, or in our garage with heat lamps. The garage might actually sound like a strange setting for family gatherings but we are fortunate to have an oversized two car garage which without cars in place is really quite roomy. Though as it gets colder and there is a weather induced need to keep the garage doors closed, the local families may each start coming on alternate weeks because social distancing in a garage where the doors are closed is not conducive to good social distancing.

My negative thoughts about decorating were actually short lived. We are not going to let Covid 19 dictate our holiday decorations. It will show its annoying presence in limiting our holiday get togethers but we are decorating according to our family traditions. The Advent wreath, the Creche or Manger, the wreath on our front door, the ropes of evergreens wrapped around our stair railings, the Christmas stockings I made for each of the children when they were small, the Christmas stockings that our daughter Maura crocheted for Jerry and me when she was a young teen, the Christmas star where Jerry, Maura, Joe, Jim and Meg each decorated one of the points of the star which has graced the tops of our Christmas trees since 1976, these and many more Christmas treasures are gradually being lovingly placed around the house. Grandson Jimmy started a collection of Christmas figures for us in, I think it was 2008. It is a collection which we treasure. We have so many Christmas treasures from our children, grandchildren and friends – we have always honored these treasures and will continue to do so this year.

When the children were small we had only one Christmas manger- along with the Advent Wreath it was a staple of our Christmas decorating. In early December we put the stable, with its animals on a prominent shelf in the far end of our living room. Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, and the Shepards and the Wise Men were placed on a table at the entrance to the living room. We talked with the children about the meaning of the Manger. They were allowed to play with the figures and as the days passed they were encouraged to slowly move them around the room, closer to the waiting Creche. With five small children playing with these ceramic figures, the figures gradually lost an appendage or two but Jerry and I were OK with that. We wanted the Christmas story to be real for our children.

We were not opposed to focusing on Santa Claus during the Christmas season. We just did not want the visitor from the North Pole to be the main focus.

From an early age, our children loved performing. They were very excited when we proposed a Christmas tableau of the Manger scene. The performance took place on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I think this tradition started the year son Jerry was 4. He was a natural to be Joseph; Maura age three was Mary; Joe age two was a shepherd; six month old Jim in his infant seat was Baby Jesus. The following year the tableau was repeated – Jim at age one and a half became a shepherd and 6 week old Meg was Baby Jesus. I don’t know how many years we repeated this tableau but it is a memory I will always treasure.

Our family was blessed to have two wonderful sets of grandparents who doted on their grandchildren. Jerry was an only child but I had two older brothers, Bud was a Jesuit priest who spoiled us with his love, his caring and his home masses. When he died several years ago he left a void that will never be filled. My brother Pete and his wife Louise and their four daughters have always been an amazing and meaningful part of our life and our holiday celebrations. With the passage of time and the growth in our family sizes we no longer spend the actual holidays together. But we continue to get together for a brunch and a Christmas sing a long. Though in this year of Covid 19 there will be no sing a long.

This past Thursday and Jerry and I went shopping for our Christmas tree. In our sixty years of married life we have always had a big tree. In recent years it has gotten harder for us to actually put up and decorate a big tree and to take it down when the time came. Just as when we were newlyweds we searched for a meaningful first ornament, now we wanted a pretty but very manageable little tree. Such a purchase was an unspoken acknowledgement of our age and our capabilities. It was a bit difficult to accept but it was the right thing to do. When we brought the tree home we placed it on the now empty sturdy storage container where we stored all our Christmas lights. Covering the container with a green material that perfectly hides the container, it provides a pleasing and stable resting place for the tree. And once Jerry put the lights on the tree and we put our cherished star in place we were captivated by the tree. It is truly lovely. The decorations that used to adorn our big trees are now displayed in various easy to manage ways around the house.

The restricted socialization brought about by Covid 19 is at times difficult to accept. But it does promote introspection during this special Advent time. As Fr Joe Brennan OSFS recently wrote in our parish newsletter: “As challenging as these times are for us, I pray that all of us live in the hope that our faith proclaims that our God loves us so much that he sent us a savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. May our hope be expressed in the way we treat one another, especially the least among us”

Photo by granddaughter Claire – last night’s family gathering around
the fire pit, as we said prayers for the third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete!!!

INTERREGNUM

Joe Biden speaking at Wilmington , Delaware rally the night he was declared President-elec and the interregnum began

According to the Merriam -Webster dictionary, ‘interregnum” is 1: the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes. 2: a period during which during the normal functions of government or control are suspended. Our beloved country is right now experiencing a bewildering interregnum. The current occupant of the White House has lost his bid for reelection but won’t acknowledge the reality of what has happened. In about two months he will either leave the White House on his own or be escorted from it. During the days leading up to the election and now with the election results being disputed by Trump with no evidence to prove his baseless claims, I still worry about our country and what the American future might have held for our children and grandchildren if there were four more years of Trump’s questionable leadership.

Election night was not a good sleeping night. When Florida was called for Trump I was really concerned about what lay ahead. I like to think of myself as someone who is open to opposing points of view in many areas including the political arena. But since Trump came into power I am not so open politically. He lies – his followers say that is fake news – but when you can yourself see the video where he is expounding falsehoods – how can these untruths be classified as fake news. He is demeaning of women, the handicapped, the men and women serving our country in the armed forces, war heroes, etc.

There is video proof of all these behaviors. I find it particularly annoying to be told “he is just rough around the edges”. And he has lied about his finances. His handling of the pandemic is absolutely disgraceful – thousands of lives have been lost needlessly.

I have always been so proud to be an American. Trump has successfully diminished that feeling in me and now with his refusal to acknowledge his election loss I am finding this “interregnum” period very stressful. Trump is a cry baby and a sore looser. So far his refusal to open the government to Biden’s transition team is both a national security risk and a health risk. There must be coordination between the two administrations so the Biden coronavirus team can” hit the ground running”. Trump has from the beginning publicly downplayed the significance of the pandemic. I have come to believe that while he might be a great showman he does not really care about the people he governs.

Pandemic cases and deaths are rising. But there is hope in the announcements of the viability of two vaccines. But they won’t be available immediately. There is a lot of preparation that must be done to facilitate the distribution of the vaccine. Trump has not been to a Covid task force meeting in five months. It is comforting that Joe Biden has made the pandemic one of his top priorities and has put together a team of top scientists.But there must be interaction between Trump’s pandemic team and the team Biden has put together. There is so much work to do and Trump’s delay in accepting the election results could be responsible for many more unnecessary Covid deaths.

The political and social devisions in the country today seem so glaring and at times almost insurmountable. I certainly have been aware of such divisions down through the years but they have never effected me so powerfully as today’s unrest. I think so much about what the future holds for our children and our grandchildren. I am taken aback by the number of folks who voted for Trump, How can anybody want four more years of his obnoxious behavior? I feel hopeful when Joe Biden says that he will be the President for all Americans – that is what the office implies, that is what it means. In Trump’s refusal to concede the election he exhibits the behavior of someone looking after his own needs and not those of the county he is supposedly serving.

Ten years ago Jerry and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. It was such a special occasion where our children , our grandchildren and precious friends gathered to celebrate with us. There was good food, lots of meaningful toasts, singing and dancing. One of our granddaughters called recently to chat and brought up the subject of our 50th celebration. She said that her memory was of such a happy gathering – she would have been eight at that time. We were planning on a similar celebration for our 60th which this year falls on Thanksgiving Day. I have always loved Thanksgiving celebrations and it just seemed so appropriate that our 60th fell on Thanksgiving when we had so much to be thankful for. Of course there is no way we can duplicate the 50th. In the past ten years we have lost dear friends; there has been the intrusion of health issues; some of our family structures have changed. Ten years ago we had a family portrait done and we wanted to update that to include the blessed additions to our family.

With the unrelenting pandemic we scaled back plans for our celebration. And then just started wondering if we should have any gathering at all. Finally our children decided that they would spread out their coming over three days to cut down on possible exposure. We wouldn’t have more than two families here at one time. It seemed like such a good plan but the more we reflected on our out of town families who would be making the trip back and forth on the same day we felt that it was too much of an act of love to let them do. We sent a group text to them all uninviting them and saying that it was old school to make a big deal about a 60th anniversary, that the modern way was to focus on the 61st.

Some might say that since the term” interregnum” was originally used to denote the time between the end of one royal reign and the beginning of another, it was not appropriate to use it as the title for this blog. I disagree. Trump has violated so many of our democratic norms he acts like one who believes he is royalty. He must concede. He must do what he can to promote a smooth transition of power. Where Trump’s focus appears to be focusing on promoting discord, Biden is focusing on bringing together the very divergent groups in our society.

It is inspiring that Biden even after his personal hardships and his failed Presidential attempts never let go of his dream of being President. I am very moved when he recites the words of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney: “History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. “

AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

According to the dictionary democracy is ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

Since I wrote about the importance of voting in my last blog I was moving to a different topic this time around but I can’t seem to – I am consumed by those who are casual about this election. I just do not understand where they are coming from. We have recently watched the leader of our country who was himself stricken with Covid 19 – the virus which he said was “just going away “- make a Hollywood type departure from his three days at Walter Reed Hospital to return to the White House. While still at Walter Reed the President blithely tweeted advice to the American public – ” Don’t be afraid of Covid – I feel better than I have felt in years.” This from the man who has had the best medical care that this country can offer. And who has been on high doses of cortisone which can promote a false sense of euphoria. It was hoped that his brush with Covid would lead him to a more realistic approach to this deadly virus. It does not seem to have been the case. When Marine One returned him to the White House, the president climbed the steps to the south portico, obviously short of breath as he stood there gazing out, and proceeded to remove his mask. This was supposed to reassure the American people???

The President appears to have no concern for those around him: how his travels, his campaigning events, his social events – all of which disregard public health guidelines for containing the virus – are super spreaders for this disease. Until we get a vaccine, the most effective tools we have for curbing the virus are social distancing and mask wearing. Presently over 224 thousand people have died from the virus. Trump seems oblivious to the reality that most Americans are living.

Jerry and I have already deposited our ballots in the drop box at our local Government Center. I have no patience with attempts to paint early voting and absentee ballots as fraught with the possibility for fraud. Our experience was of organization and competence.

This is our country, our democracy. It is a prize possession and we must not value it lightly. And we must not let the core beliefs and teachings of our democracy be taken from us. I grew up accepting that the United States was the greatest country in the world but I don’t think I ever really stopped to ponder what made it so. It was my nineteen years with the Naomi Project – the mentoring program for high risk pregnant and newly parenting women that I started, directed and co- directed – that really brought home to me the meaning and the many values of a democracy. The majority of the women we worked with had sacrificed so much in leaving their native countries to come to America for a better life. Their first hand experience of poverty, mental abuse, physical abuse, social unrest , political turmoil was for me a graphic lesson on the value of a democracy.

I wanted to get actively involved in the election process earlier but health issues, the needs of some sick friends and some other commitments made that difficult. About two weeks ago I signed up for phone banking. The day before my scheduled phone banking commitment I went through a nation wide training ( over a 1000 volunteers participated) and was awed by how organized and scripted and over whelming the phone calling procedure is this time around. Four years ago when Jerry and I both made calls in the presidential race, we were handed a list of names and phone numbers, given a desk to sit at, a phone to use and encouraged to get started. The experience of going from almost no instruction to an overabundance of instruction was a bit daunting but definitely necessary. This time a phone calling tool would be making the actual calls and the job of the volunteer was to access this tool, to speak to voters and to quickly electronically record the results of the call before the phone calling device moved you on to the next call. There were about 45 seconds between calls. In this training there were so many electronic instructions. I could not help but think all these electronic instructions would be easier for Atar, our 13 year old granddaughter ! If I didn’t want to do this so badly – the present occupant of the White House must not be reelected – I would have given up.

Our son Jerry heads up his neighborhood Democratic Club in New York City. I decided to do my phone calls under the auspices of his club. There are so many opportunities for volunteering locally I was finding it very confusing. And since phone banks call various states decided on by the Democratic Party it really didn’t make much difference which phone bank I volunteered with. That turned out to be a smart decision on my part. Jerry, working with a co -captain, was heading up his clubs training. I only wish I had realized they were providing their own training. It was clear, concise and actually pretty easy to follow. After about a half hour training we started making calls. It was at times frustrating – when somehow a Republican’s name and phone number had made its way on to the only Democrats list that we were calling – but for the most part it was very rewarding. Our purpose was to stress to the Democrats we talked with the importance of this election and the value of their individual vote. If they had not already voted we urged them to make a voting plan. If they had voting questions we either answered them – if we could – or referred them on to those who would be able to do so.

Two calls stand out for me. Both of them were early voters. One was with a young man who felt so strongly about the election. He had a contagious enthusiasm for the privilege of voting. He kept thanking me for volunteering to be part of a phone bank. I wished that Gen Z members who are on the fence about voting could catch some of this young man’s enthusiasm.

The other was a with a woman who had just voted that day. She was very pleased with herself because voting lines were so long in her neighborhood but she had found a time to go when the lines were not that bad. She was sharing that information with her friends.

I will be phone banking one more time before the election. It makes me feel like I am doing something positive to preserve our democracy. As has been said, the best definition of democracy is “government by the people”. Every vote counts!!!

ELECTION THOUGHTS


“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words, and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” – Dorothy Day.

For me these words of Dorothy Day ring so true in this troubled time of Covid 19, mixed with pre election hype, worries and fears. As I write this there are thirty- nine days till Election Day. The current occupant of the White House has said that unless he wins he may not accept the election results. His attempts to discredit mail in balloting are particularly disturbing in this pandemic time. My husband and I do not wish to do in person voting. About a month ago we applied for our mail in ballots. They have now arrived and today we will fill them out and hand deliver them to the drop box in our election district. Within the next week we plan to start participating in one of the political phone banks in our area but if there is none that works with our schedule, we will join the one run by the local Democratic Club in New York City headed up by our oldest son. These electronic times make so many things possible.

Born into a politically concerned family and carrying on the family tradition, I confess to being a political junkie and to always being intensely interested in the national elections and in state contests. When the children were young I joined the League of Women Voters – an activist group which helped me to stay abreast of current political issues and had a not too demanding commitment for a young mother with an expanding family.

I so clearly remember the 1960 election which occurred just a couple of weeks before Jerry and I were married. John Kennedy was a Catholic. I appreciated and supported his liberal views and certainly took pleasure in his Catholicism.

Al Smith, in 1928, was the first Catholic to be nominated for President. My beloved Uncle Jim – Aunt Marg’s husband – was part of the law firm that bore Al Smith’s name. From early on my brothers and I heard of Smith’s qualifications to be President but that he had been denied the honor because of his Catholicism. So it is no wonder that I took pleasure in the nomination of the second Catholic, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I also felt a very remote but personal connection to Kennedy. His daughter Carolyn was born in 1957 at New York Hospital where I was a nursing student. Kennedy became friendly with Monsignor Wilders , the hospital chaplain who later officiated at Jerry’s and my wedding. Monsignor Wilders asked Kennedy if he would speak before the Newman Club – the Catholic club at the medical center for nursing students and medical students. Meeting attendance jumped from about thirty to over two hundred which with very short notice was pretty impressive.

Our daughter Maura was 7 months old and our son Jerry was 22 months old when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember that morning so well – going out to to our mailbox coincidently as the same time as our next door neighbor. She called over to me crying, “Have you heard the news? The President has been shot! ” I was in disbelief and hurried back in to my husband who was working from home that day. We turned on the TV and got the horrible details.

With sadness and determination the country eventually moved on from the death of Kennedy. With the ensuing years there have been many episodes of political unrest not only around the world but in our own country. But never in my memory has the political climate been so worrisome as it is in this election time.

Th United States has always been a beacon of hope, and of possibility and of democracy. We want our children and our nineteen wonderful grandchildren to experience the full possibilities of their country which is now definitely under fire. Can American democeacy survive a White House occupant who seems prepared to do whatever it takes to disregard election results and continue in office? I hope and pray so but it certainly is very scary.

Anyone who is eligible to vote must exercise this important right and obligation that comes with living in our democracy. This is not a special obligation of any particular age group. It is the duty of all who are eligible to vote. I have heard some, whose Democratic candidate was not chosen, say that while they do not want the current president to continue in office they can not bring themselves to vote for the Democratic candidate since he was not their original choice. There is not an option to not vote. The present occupant of the White House must be defeated by a landslide. our democracy is at stake!!!

As Al Smith famously said, “All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy”.

BACKYARD VISITORS AND BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS

Butterfly visitor in our backyard

Jerry and I fully realize that in time we will have to downsize but for now we are enjoying our home’s many blessings. In this time of Covid 19 our local family comes once a week for an outside socially distant dinner – which they bring – always so yummy.

And then there are the animal and insect visitors, each with their own specialness : raccoons – one time I was sitting on the patio reading when I got the feeling that someone was watching me. I looked up to see a momma raccoon with four babies walking across the patio toward me. They were about ten feet away. I screamed in shock and scared the raccoon family. With much more dignity than I was displaying, momma raccoon made an abrupt turn and headed away from me and off the patio. The baby raccoons followed in single file. It was a precious sight which in retrospect I appreciate.

As I have noted in previous blogs the deer are frequent visitors. When we pull open the shades in the morning the first thing we check for is the presence of deer in our yard and hummingbirds at the feeder. A few days ago there were two deer nibbling at the leaves on the trees at the edge of the woods behind our house . They were quickly joined by two more who sauntered into our back yard. It is fine when they eat the wild plants that grow in the vinca at the top of our hill or when they lie down and sunbathe. For the most part I am moved by their majesty and grace. But when they come up on our patio and start nibbling on the tomato plants and the hydrangea and other edibles, I am not so pleased. Frequently in life we are faced with sorting out the good from the not so good. Deer for me fit into that category. I chase them away when they head toward the patio, otherwise I enjoy their antics.

Butterflies are incredibly delicate and beautiful insects. We have a butterfly bush which has been a perineal attractor of assorted butterflies – monarchs being the most common. This year we have been amazingly successful with our zinnia plants which I started from seed. Not only are the plants tall and proud but they are bursting with blooms and the butterflies just love them. So we got a twofer – beautiful plants and an assortment of beautiful butterflies.

We also have chipmunks, a fox and rabbits. The chipmunk is a frequent visitor who used to enjoy digging in the patio plant containers upsetting their plantings. One time after a particularly bad chipmunk attack I headed to our local garden center where they sold me ” the best spray to get rid of chipmunks” for fifteen dollars. The can was so small I thought I would be lucky if I got one meaningful spray out of it. I asked the salesman if there was anything available for less money and more content. He suggested I look at the ingredients on the can. The number one ingredient was red pepper flakes which the salesman said did equally well when sprinkled around a plant. I thanked him and took myself to the local grocery store where fortuitously red pepper flakes were on sale. Three containers cost in total five dollars and ninety nine cents. One container was equal in content to the spray can and just as effective. I know because I ran my own comparison test.

This year the chipmunks still seem to be very present in our yard but they devote themselves to scampering around and digging tunnels. On rare occasions the fox will spend time sniffing the yard but mainly we offer a cut through as he goes chasing after some animal smaller than he. One of its most favorite prey are the members of the rabbit family. We had so many wild rabbits in the spring. Haven’t seen any lately. The fox has been busy.

The best visitors to our back yard are family and friends,. Last Sunday we had the usual lovely socially distant Sunday gathering of our local families. Gatherings like this will be harder to pull off when we downsize. When they left they said to Jerry that when they came next they would celebrate his 85th birthday. Little did he know that they and our out of town children would all be gathering for a socially distant dinner birthday celebration the following Wednesday – in our back yard. The party was organized by our daughters Maura and Meg. I wondered if I could help facilitate the organization. Both daughters said “no”, just enjoy the celebration Their words seemed to be a direct reference to a line from a prayer in the book Our Daily Bread : ” Give us courage to embrace change, shifts and transitions with grace.” As parents we are used to being the organizers but then there comes a time when it is fitting for the children to take over.

Jerry’s birthday was yesterday. It was perfect in every way. There was a kind of rolling arrival of our children, which was great – and since the gathering was a surprise for Jerry he had plenty of time to bask in the pleasure of each arrival. They came from New Jersey, Pennsylvania , Richmond and locally from Falls Church with staggered arrivals starting at 2. The weather was ideal for eating outside and maintaining social distance. But best of all was the joy of our family gathering. Not only was Jerry being honored but also our grandson Jimmy. He turned 21 – another big milestone birthday. When Jimmy was born on Jerry’s birthday he was an incredible birthday gift.

We pray for the wisdom to accept change when it has to be, but for right now we continue to bask in the joys of our home of the past 30 years.

A taste of the birthday party festivities

THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE

Flowered kettle

When we left for Florida this past January I forgot to empty the water from our very serviceable kettle that we have had for perhaps the last twenty years. The morning after we returned home in mid March I was getting breakfast and picked up the kettle to fill it with water for making coffee. Only the kettle didn’t need water. It had enough water in it already to have successfully corroded its inside. Usually when we’ re going to be gone I am sure to empty the kettle – this time I forgot. We have always had very practical kettles with no bells and whistles, just very utilitarian. Our replacement has a musical whistle when the water is boiling; the handle doesn’t transmit heat so you don’t need a potholder to hold it ; and it is very pretty. A pretty kettle was never on my wish list but this kettle gives me such pleasure as I use it daily and it sits proudly on our stove. My feelings for the kettle have made me reflect on the small things in life that give pleasure.

We have a hummingbird feeder in our backyard. I had never seen a humming bird till we moved to our present home thirty year ago. It was our son-in-law Paul who introduced me to hummingbirds. He and our daughter Maura have a feeder right outside their porch. We were there one time when a hummingbird dined at their feeder. I was hooked. We got our own feeder and thus began my hummingbird education. Hummingbirds are the smallest of birds and they are native to North and South America. They live for from three to five years. The ruby throated hummingbird is found in the eastern half of the United States. They start arriving in the Washington area in the Spring. Paul and I have a fun competition going each year for the first hummingbird sighting of the season.

Now that I have some arthritis issues, I have given up back-hurting gardening. My focus instead is on pot planting on our patio. Aside from battling the deer who also seem to focus on our patio plants, this has proved to be very rewarding. This year I wanted to add variety to my typical patio plants. After a conversation with a gardening consultant from Greener Partners (a non profit run by our daughter Meg ) I started some zinnia seeds (not a favorite of the deer) which have now grown into some pretty spectacular plants. Before my conversation with the consultant I was not familiar with giant zinnias – not sure that “giant” is the correct terminology but that is what they seem to me. Their orange and deep red colors are so vibrant they give me much pleasure. As do the different herbs which she also suggested . Deer don’t like the herbs either. What fun to be making a recipe that calls for fresh parsley or thyme, or basil, or oregano and to walk out to the patio and just pick some. Could be my imagination but I think it makes the food taste better.

Two new additions to our backyard this year are a solar pump that sends up water spouts, and a squirrel proof bird feeder. The hummingbirds have given us so much pleasure that we wanted an environment that would entice a variety of birds into our yard. The bird feeder has fulfilled its mission. We have enjoyed cardinals, yellowbirds, bluebirds, and other birds that we have yet to identify. We were originally going to float the pump in a bird bath from our local garden center but after a month a waiting for them to replenish their bird bath stock , we purchased a large ceramic flower pot , filled it with water, put in the solar spray, and placed it in the bed of vinca which houses the squirrel proof bird feeder. So far the birds have ignored the chance to bathe in the water or experience the spray but Jerry and I love the spray. It is so responsive to the vagaries of the sun and is a classic example of solar power. When the sun is out the spray exhibits its spraying function. When the clouds come or nightfall starts to set in, the solar spray looses its power or just disappears. Guess this is basic solar spray functioning 101.

On days that we don’t golf ( arthritis has turned golf into a two day a week activity) we try to get in a good walk. Our neighborhood offers four possible routes that we favor, some more shaded than others. The outside temperature guides our route taking decision. One thing that makes these walks so pleasurable is the feeling of solidarity we have with fellow walkers. It used to be that most everybody was in their own little world. Now even with social distancing there is an exchange of warm greetings or hand waving with most everyone we meet. It would appear that the pandemic isolation has had a positive effect on our appreciation of one another.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said ” life is a journey not a destination. ” It is an appreciation of the little things that adds interest and excitement to the journey. The big things like landing the perfect job, taking that long planned for trip, marriage, having children – these big events are made more meaningful by the little events surrounding them.

That perfect job didn’t just come out of the blue – it was probably the result of hard work both in school and in the job market where there were many instances of the “little things” that made this period of life more meaningful. Marriage and having children provide daily joyful occasions built on meaningful little events. We had our five children in five and a half years. It was challenging and very rewarding.. There were and continue to be so many instances of positive “little things”. I remember one time when son Jerry was 18 months old and baby Maura was thee months old. I was nursing Maura and Jerry was playing with blocks on the floor near bye. After I got comfy in the rocking chair with Maura and she was nursing contentedly I realized I had forgotten a diaper to put on my shoulder when it was burping time. I said to Jerry who had just learned to walk ” Oh Jerry , I need a diaper for burping baby sister”. I was just thinking out loud. The next thing I knew Jerry – who had just learned to walk – got himself up and went toddling down the hall to the baby’s room. He returned with a diaper. I was surprised and pleased and, pardon my bragging, very proud.

I am not exactly sure of the proper definition of the “little things ” in life. Each day is made up of little things. The big events of our lives don’t happen each day – little things do. Some times they are obvious – sometimes we have to look for them. According to Google, ” an appreciation of little things means  practicing gratitude for those everyday things that are easy to take for granted or miss altogether.” As we age and health issues at times seem to take over our days it is easy to pass over the ” little things”. We must not let that happen!!!


HOSPITAL CHAPLAINCY

My Time AS A Hospital Chaplain

Recently my granddaughter Claire suggested I do a post on hospital chaplaincy. It got me to reflecting on that period of my life. I did my training at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland and then worked at Georgetown Hospital in DC. All this was in the 1980’s.

Looking back I can not remember any lightbulb moment that immediately drew me to chaplaincy. Our five children were getting older, I was starting to have a little more free time and I wanted to have a plan for that free time. I had loved my nursing experience – perhaps that was a hint of the direction I should be looking. Then I read about the chaplaincy training program at Holy Cross and felt confident that this was the avenue I should explore. I knew that I would feel at home in the hospital environment and I knew from my Cornell days the significant role that could be played by a caring hospital chaplain.

Monsignor James Wilder was the main chaplain at Cornell / New York Hospital in my student days. He and I became good friends. I had many opportunities to witness his kindness and his caring. When Jerry and I were married a year and a half after graduation we asked the Monsignor to be the celebrant at our wedding. My brother Bud who was studying for the priesthood was also part of the ceremony but since he was not yet ordained he could not be the official celebrant.

I started the training at Holy Cross in early Fall of 1980. ( Our son Jim was born at Holy Cross Hospital in 1966 – that made it even more special to be going there for chaplaincy training.) It was a new program at Holy Cross and the training class was limited in size . We were a mixture of lay men and women and religious Brothers and Sisters. I enjoyed the classes and the on floor training experience. And then we started a learning experience that some of my classmates had already experienced in their college days. I had not and it was tough. The specific name I can’t remember, but I can easily describe it. As I look back I believe there were eight of us in this class whose purpose was to make us aware that the words we use might mean one thing to us and something very different to our audience. This is a basic concept of communication that as we grow and develop becomes more apparent. It certainly was woven into the fabric of my nurse’s training. And now even more so into the pastoral care training where it was emphasized – that listening and talking were two of our most valuable tools. The basic structure of the class was to focus on individual members and their various sharings. You never knew when it was going to be your turn.

And then my turn came in the last class before Thanksgiving break 1980. I got there early, along with the facilitator and several of my classmates. I remember wondering who would be “picked on” that day. There was social chit chat while we waited for the rest to arrive. A classmate with whom I was particularly friendly asked me what my family was doing for Thanksgiving. I launched into how excited I was for the holiday, that it would be the first time we would be seeing our son since he started college, that we also would also be gathering with my brother and his family. And then the facilitator started class. After getting some administrative stuff out of the way she turned to me and said, ” I was really upset by your Thanksgiving conversation”. She then proceeded to say her college daughter was not coming home for the holiday, that she and her husband were so disappointed. She wanted to know if I thought everyone had happy holiday plans. The facilitator said that she knew my Thanksgiving remarks were in response to a question that I was asked, but that in working with patients we must always be aware of our words and of the possible frame of reference of the receiver of those words. In spite of the fact that I felt like I had been hit with a verbal sledge hammer it was a point well made.

A happy memory that stands out from this time was the intimate celebration when training was complete and Catholic Hospital Chaplaincy certification was obtained. My husband was in Japan on business but our daughter Maura, at that time a senior in high school, said that she wanted to come and represent the family. It meant the would be missing a day of school but she was such a good student that missing a day was not an issue. I was touched and honored that she wanted to be there.

At that time Georgetown Hospital was looking for lay chaplains and I applied and got one of those positions. I loved my work at Georgetown. It was thirty five plus years ago so I don’t remember my actual dates of employment but it was under two years. Why did I leave a job that I loved? It was because they started requiring the lay staff to rotate working nights and weekends. I gave it a try but I was a very sleepy failure. When I would go home after a night rotation, if the kids were not in school or if Jerry was at home, I wanted to be up with them rather than get my much needed sleep. Summertime was particularly bad. I wanted to be with my family. I sadly but realistically gave my letter of resignation.

What did I love about Georgetown? In nursing sometimes your patient load was so great you could not spend as much time as you liked with each patient. That was seldom the case with chaplaincy. A patient who stands out in my memory was a woman in her 80’s – the age that I am now. She was a retired reporter for the Washington Post. It had been a very successful career for her and when retirement came she was not prepared for it. She had lots of friends but most of those friends were themselves in questionable health. She had no family. In chaplaincy some visits were spiritually focused, some were to provide a caring, listening presence for a lonely patient. She fell into the later category. I was happy that we connected, that she felt she could share her concerns with me.

In both nursing and in chaplaincy and in life it is important to keep the needs of others in proper perspective. It is impossible to be a source of comfort and meaningful help to others if you let yourself be overcome by the tough times they are going through. Sometimes I found it hard to maintain that empathy balance. My husband’s law partner’s wife was a patient at Georgetown during my tenure. They had four young children and she was dying of pancreatic cancer. She and I were very good friends. I had a hard time being a meaningful source of comfort to her family.

I was working at Georgetown on January 28, 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger broke apart just shortly after take off. That morning was particularly busy for me. When I was moving between floors sometimes I took the stairs , sometimes the elevator. This was an elevator day. I pressed the buzzer and waited. When the elevator doors opened I heard the sound of crying. When I got on the elevator – everyone was crying – some softly, some loudly. The person next to me, realizing my confusion, whispered -” It is the space shuttle Challenger – it has crashed – there are no survivors”. I also cried.

It was in an earlier blog that I spoke of my friendship with Sister Jean . She was a fellow chaplain at Georgetown. Her softness, her kindness, her unassuming manner were her trademarks. When I left Georgetown we maintained our friendship. When she died I was devastated but comforted by the standing room only crowd at her funeral. The professional staff and housekeeping were all equally represented. Jean had touched many lives!!!

In my last days at Georgetown I reflected on how grateful I was for my time there but realistic that I just could not cope with the mandate to work evenings and nights. I would take away with me many learnings. I had seen first hand the courage of those facing death; the fears of those facing death; the resilience of those on losing a loved one. I prayed that I had been some source of comfort to those who had allowed me to share in their most vulnerable moments.

It is important in all stages of life to be honest about our individual capabilities. I had come to know so many wonderful people – both staff and patients – but it was time for me to move on.

” IF IT IS TUESDAY IT MUST BE BELGIUM” AND WHEN PLANS GET INTERRUPTED

TRIP HIGHLIGHT – AUDIENCE WITH POPE JOHN XXIII

This post started out as a continuation of the previous one giving more details of my trip to Europe with nine friends in 1959. We were part of a preplanned tour that offered a number of options. There was the option to start off the tour by flying to Europe, but knowing how busy we were going to be with the end of our senior year at Cornell’s nursing school, plus the marriage of two close friends, plus prepping for and taking the RN exam – all before we left – we felt travel by ship would provide the rest we needed as we prepared ourselves to conquer Western Europe.

My writing plans got side tracked when I made an unexpected trip to the emergency room of our local hospital. That was two Saturdays ago. I spent that night and most of Sunday in the hospital. It was an attack of atrial fibrillation. Some folks when they get Afib don’t even know they have it and it is only in making a doctor visit for some other reason that it is discovered. I fall into the group that knows immediately that something is wrong and an emergency room visit is imperative. This was my second attack – the first was six months ago. It followed an amazing and very special five day visit in New York with our son Jerry , his wife Teresa, granddaughter Lilly , and other wonderful friends and family members. This most recent attack also came on without warning, when I was feeling great.

The unexpectedness of both these attacks was a reminder to appreciate the uniqueness and gifts of each day. Who knows what is around the corner? Reflect on the past – but don’t dwell on the past; enjoy the present, ; and plan with curiosity and hope for the future – being well aware that future plans may be rudely interrupted.

The trip to Europe was a blast. But maybe in retrospect a bit much following our very demanding senior year at Cornell. Perhaps we all would have been better off just going to the beach and vegging out and catching up on missed sleep. I say that now , some sixty one years later, but I don’t think anyone could have convinced us to do differently back then. We thought the world was ours to embrace and meet head on.

It was an amazing trip, and since it was a tour, we didn’t have to worry about making arrangements. I can’t remember now how many countries we covered – I think it was nine but it may have been eleven. A jam packed travel itinerary was very popular back then, hence the saying, ” If it is Tuesday it must be Belgium.” Sometimes we moved so quickly between countries it was a bit hard to be sure what country we were in. Two of the countries we visited were San Marino and Monaco. Small countries – I am not sure that we spent a whole day in each but when the tour company was promoting its itinerary, it included all the countries whose borders we crossed. The number of countries visited was supposedly a big selling point. We were the youngest members of the tour and though we socialized with everyone, we were our own self contained group.

Though some of the trip with the passage of time has become a blur – two countries stand out – France and Italy. I loved Rome, and its surroundings, and its history for the ages. And with my Catholic roots there was so much to draw me in. John XXIII was Pope at that time and as part of the tour we got to have an audience with him. – along with several hundred other tourists. Since it was summer time the Pope was at his summer residence, Castle Gandolfo in a town of the same name about 16 miles from Rome located on the Alban Hills overlooking Lake Albano . I remember it as a beautiful area. We were ushered into the papal residence to a reception hall which easily fit the excited tourists. No one was more excited than me. I truly felt that John XXIII was God’s representative on earth. I hoped that I could get close enough to him. l need not have worried. There was a roped off pathway through the hall. Shortly the Pope arrived and traversed this pathway. I think I was no more that five feet from him as he slowly walked by blessing and smiling at the assembled throng. It was for me a very powerful spiritual moment.

Our time in Paris is another potent memory. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Follies Bergere, shopping, etc. These all were very memorable. But my sweetest Paris memory is of a cablegram that I got from my parents. Though we all strove to forget the RN exam we had taken prior to starting on our European adventure, as it got closer to the time for results to come out, we had a hard time totally banishing exam thoughts from our minds. We all felt pretty good about the exam but there was the added pressure that Cornell grads had a history of acing the exam and we didn’t want to change that trajectory. Once we checked into to our Parisian hotel there was a little wait as our rooms became available. To pass the time I was walking around with a friend checking out the lobby. Suddenly I heard a bellboy calling out my name – saying there was a cablegram for me. My parents had followed our trip by the itinerary and maps but they had made no attempt to contact me. It was from them. I was concerned there was something wrong. And then I realized the cablegram was addressed to Margaret McCloskey RN. That was my Dad’s touch. It was so special to get my RN exam results in that way.

These past days of doctor visits, hospital visits, blood tests and golf playing have gone by quickly. And they have put an emphasis on my spiritual life. I have been thinking of those moments when I have truly felt God’s presence. One of those powerful times, as I have said, was the audience with John XXIII in 1959. In reflecting on this blog I find the following John XXIII quote to be very meaningful, ” If God created shadows it was to better emphasize the light.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE OLD?

MY COUSIN JIM SEEING ME OFF TO EUROPE IN 1959

IN 1959 I graduated from Cornell ‘s Nursing School and right after taking the RN exam nine of us headed off to Europe for six weeks. I had already lined up a job as a public health nurse starting in September. When my friends first started talking about this trip I had no thoughts of going. If I did anything like that I wanted to pay for it myself. After all I would soon be a working woman. But when my parents heard what my friends were up to, they insisted I go.

My great Aunt Rose died when I was about 12. She left me money to get braces on my teeth. She told me she was going to do that. Unfortunately Aunt Rose did not specify in her will why she was leaving me the money and since I was a minor my parents were not only not allowed to use the money, but my mother had to go through a court procedure to be appointed my legal guardian. And once a year, till I was 18, she had to file papers with the Court detailing her care of the money. In the end my parents paid for me to have braces and when I reached eighteen and the Aunt Rose money came to me, I gave it to them. It was about two thousand dollars. As far as I was concerned the money was theirs. Unbeknownst to me, Mom and Dad put it in a bank account for me. When they learned of the planned European trip they insisted I use that money and join my friends. I insisted the money was theirs. What finally made me change my mind was their saying that Aunt Rose would be so happy to have me going on such an adventure. I knew that was true. The picture above is when my cousin Jim surprised me by coming to see me off.

Jim and his wife live in California. He called today. Growing up we spent so much time with Jim and his sister Fran that I often thought of them more as my brother and sister rather than as first cousins – probably pretty understandable since our identical twin sister mothers were so very close. Jim is two years older than me, the same age as my brother Pete. We were all very close. Jim has dealt with some tough health issues but has never lost his sense of humor. I have always enjoyed his take on life and since I was planning on writing this blog about feelings on being old I probed him for his thoughts. He laughed. He certainly did not think 80 was the new 40. We both agreed that aging was easier when you retain your mental capabilities. But under that scenario you are also very aware of the aging process chipping away at your health – sometimes in a minor way sometimes making a more major inroad.

About two weeks ago I went for a skin check by the dermatologist. Might have cancelled the appointment in this time of Covid 19 but there were two spots on my face that were red and irritated and sometimes given to bleeding. I had pointed the spots out to the dermatologist on a previous visit and had been told it was just aging skin. Since I have a rather robust history of basil cell and squamous cell cancer I pay close attention to skin aberrations.

I am proud of my Irish heritage but fair skin combined with a childhood where many hours were spent in sun-filled outdoor pursuits has made me fertile ground for skin cancer. The doctor decided it was time to biopsy both spots. I was told I would get a phone call if the biopsies came back positive – that I did not need to call but of course could if I wanted too. Since about thirty five years ago I had the experience of not getting a call back when a test result was positive I have always followed up in these circumstances. I was glad I did. Though the doctor’s office said they had tried to reach me there was no record of such a call on my I-phone. It turned out the secretary had the wrong number. The smaller spot was a basil cell , the larger was squamous cell. I took their first available appointment for Mohs surgery – a week from today – thanked them , said goodbye, hung up the phone and started crying. The tears were strictly vanity tears. I have been down this road before. It was not a matter of life and death. I am a breast cancer survivor – this was definitely not a matter of life and death.

My last Mohs surgery – about a year and a half ago – was down the center of my nose. l had handled that well. After a little rest at home following that surgery I had gone with my husband to an afternoon of bridge – with a large pressure dressing on my nose. This was a local bridge group of contemporaries that Jerry and I belonged to. I figured everyone could care less about how I looked – they were into their bridge. Why was I being such a baby about this new skin cancer? Pure unadulterated vanity. Maybe vanity gets worse as you get older. I had a vision of my face filled with ugly craters that gradually got worse with the passage of time. Fortunately at that moment our son Jim called. He is partially named after cousin Jim. Though I tried to act like all was fine – Jim quickly sensed that it was not. And I finally succumbed to his concern. He said all the right things. And between Jim’s words and my husband’s hugs – he had been working in the other room and was not initially aware of what was going on – I got my head on straight again. That night Jerry and I played on line scrabble with our son who is sheltering in place with his family at their beach home in New Jersey and with his daughter and her fiancee who are in California. In the chit chat before the game began I never even thought to mention my impending Mohs surgery.

What does it mean to be old? Is there a number that can be attached to that pivotal point when one passes from the first half of life to the second. I believe it is different for different people. And what makes for the difference? The first half is a time of family, school, focusing on a career, perhaps raising a family. It is a time to gain wisdom and set priorities for what is truly important, to work on becoming comfortable with our inner self . The second half of life flows much easier when we see a purpose to our lives; when we are able to share the wisdom and experiences that are part of aging; when to the best of our ability our focus is not on the physical aspects of aging but rather on the opportunities for growth and learning that abound in our world.

I believe the meaning in being old is to be found in setting proper priorities for what we want from life and what we feel we can give to life.

LIGHTBULB MOMENTS

AN EARLY APRIL PICTURE OF THE TWO DOGWOOD TREES IN THE FRONT OF OUR HOUSE – TO THE RIGHT AND TO THE LEFT OF OUR FRONT DOOR

Recently I celebrated my 83d birthday. Birthdays are a good time for reflection and the dogwoods pictured above provide good material for reflection. They were both planted thirty years ago. I have not always loved dogwoods. As a child when I learned the legend of the dogwood – that it was the wood used to make the cross that Christ was crucified on, I didn’t want to have anything to do with dogwoods. And then I learned the rest of the legend. After the Crucifixion God punished the dogwood and shrunk it in size and twisted its branches. But God also gave the dogwood a beautiful flower whose four petals could be thought of as being in the shape of the Cross. With the passage of time I decided that in giving the dogwood such a beautiful flower God was ok with my being a dogwood fan.

The two dogwoods pictured have always had very different growing schedules. The one to the right as you come out our front door is very robust. In early spring as soon as the weather starts to warm this tree with its new leaves and buds is truly magnificent. The tree to the left is about two weeks behind in its growth schedule but when it finally reaches full bloom it is just as magnificent. Perhaps not quite as robust but it definitely has a very appealing delicate beauty. Makes me think about the various stages of human growth. So often our physical growth does not match our internal thinking, feeling, intellectual growth.

When I was in sixth grade I was five feet six inches tall – the height I stayed at till my seventies when I started to head back down again. There were nine boys and nine girls in my class. We were part of the last class of February students in the New York State school system. I started kindergarten in February, grade school, and high school and college – all in February. February students spent the Fall of the school year sharing a room with the incoming September students as the oldest in the class. And then in February when we moved up a grade we became the youngest in the class as we now shared a classroom with those a half year ahead who would be moving to a new grade in June. The September students were at least forty in number – so that made the average class size about sixty with just one classroom and one home room teacher per grade. It was a small parochial school with an amazing cast of teachers. The lower grades were on the first floor in four separate classrooms , the higher grades, fifth to eighth were on the second floor.

I remember standing at the bottom of the school stairs, looking up, longing for the day when I would belong on the second floor. I was shy and very conscious of my height. My best friend, Gracie, was several months older and about five inches shorter than me. When we were thirteen we decided that the upcoming halloween would be our last “trick or treat” outing. I only went this time because Gracie asked me to. Since I looked older I was very conscious of the hype that painted going “trick or treating” as a fun time for young children. The first house we went to was a cruel blow to my self confidence. The woman who opened the door “oohed” and “ahed” over Gracie’s costume and though she gave me some candy, she also asked if I didn’t think I was too old to be making the halloween rounds.

I don’t know what years are the toughest as we struggle to develop and learn our God given gifts – I believe they are different for different folks. The two dogwoods in front of our house are both equally beautiful and each has come to their beauty on their own tree life schedule. When I was young I thought school was the source of all knowledge – that when you graduated you just rounded out your school knowledge. Little did I realize the scope of the world knowledge that awaited me.

By senior year of high school my social development started to catch up with my academic side. To my parents delight I now cared about my appearance. I am not sure if I had ever focused on the fact that I had a lot of freckles. Once after a basketball game I went with some friends to a pizza parlor. There were about ten of us who went. We were seated at a two sided table where those on my side were facing a mirrored wall. This was not the nerdy group that I usually hung out with, but they were very friendly and I was happy to be there with them. As I looked in the mirrored wall there was one girl who for a second I didn’t recognize, and then I realized that freckled face was my own. How many of of us go through life without ever really taking a good look at ourselves. This was my lightbulb moment.

High school graduation was on a Sunday night and then two days later I started college. I was in a rush to move on to the next phase of my life. My plan was to be a teacher and eventually to go to law school. The teacher part was because I liked school and the law plan as I now look back was probably because that was what my parents did. I commuted to college in New York City. One morning when I was riding the subway and hanging on to one of the ceiling straps since it was rush hour and I had been unable to get a seat, to pass the time I started reading the many ads that lined the walls of the subway cars. I kept going back to one posted by the American Red Cross that advertised a home nursing course. I found the content of the course very appealing: first aide; how to cope with a medical emergency; signs and symptoms of various illnesses. Later that day when again on the subway, heading home, I looked for the Red Cross ad. It was truly another lightbulb moment for me. It was early March, I was in the process of making a novena that I choose the right direction in my college courses. Within about a week, with my parents blessing I made an appointment with the college guidance counselor to learn about various nursing programs. I was very excited. I felt like my prayers were being answered, that I was being directed into a nursing career. When I learned of the nursing program that Cornell University – New York Hospital offered, I never applied anywhere else.

Lightbulb moments are special times of clarity – I have always looked on them as answers to prayer. There are unexpected pleasures in aging. In this second half of life I find meaning in the words of Harvard professor, Dan Gilbert: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished”.