Walking into the quiet winter morning, the red-pink in the East draws my eye to the rising sun. The sky is blue-gray and purple clouds are painted across the Northern sky. The West is behind Beech Mountain, although my residence is considered on the “backside” of the mountain.
Birdie and I walk in the warmish weather. Fifty degrees feels a bit like a heatwave after the wind, ice, and snow of the weekend. As we walk up Northridge road, the woods and shady places are still covered with snow. Though we did not get more than an inch in accumulation, it was cold enough through the day and night to remain. This morning the trees and porches beginning to melt, or at least the snow on the snow on the trees and the porches. It’s not a Salvador Dali type of morning, but more like a Monet painting.
As I listen to the silence and Birdie tracks some creature’s footprint, I wonder how I could ever leave this heaven? There’s no current plan to leave but there are those who wish I would move to Boone or Stanly County so I won’t have to be alone while also battling health issues. Yet, each time I go to a new place and my health wavers, in returning home to rest, I recover. There is healing in this place.
Rounding the upward curve of the road, a brown head turns on the hill above us to see who makes a sound. The yearling is snacking on what green remains on the hill behind our treehouse. Birdie sees the deer look at us but has learned not to bark and scare them away. Even this quiet morning seems sacred to her. Then I see two more spring-born deer who glance our way, return to grazing, and then flick their white tails as they mosey up the hill to the others.
In moments like this, I think of vocation and what does that mean for me at this place
in my life. Not at the place on the mountain, for it is clear that this is the place to think, reflect, heal, and learn how to be present. But what does vocation mean for me at 58 as I finally learn to manage my disability with rest and quiet?
In the past few months, I have talked with my priests and also an Episcopal nun in a convent in New York. During more religious moments, I wonder if I should seek out the diaconate or return to the vocation of a pastor. When still in times of quiet contemplation, the urge to be part of a praying community like The Community of the Holy Spirit embraces me as an option. Then I remember a sentence spoken in my mind’s ear during one of my silent retreats.
You are an artist.
That simple sentence came to me as an answer to a prayer prayed for three days on vocation while I was still a pastor but seeking further discernment for vocation. At the time, I was certain that the answer would be something like a preacher, teacher, or musician. Though that sentence can certainly embrace all three of those options, it was one of those puzzles that the Holy Spirit gives us to ponder and consider.
It is only now, twenty-two years later, that I begin to see a way to live this path of vocation that is different than anticipated. Though I’ve mentioned that sentence and the need to understand its meaning for my life in these past years, it’s also been like I’ve tried to turn away from it. Why? Music, writing, painting has always brought me great peace. Yet, the reward of preaching, teaching, and being a musician was so much more rewarding. There. I’ve said it and now I see. At least, in this moment I can see the fear.
What fear you may ask? Fear of failure of course. Many artists work in oblivion during a lifetime. Some of their works fade into obscurity and others, like Emily Dickenson, become remembered for the art created in her life and created in silent obscurity. Early on it was clear to me that I did not want to be famous like those actors and musicians seeking the world’s accolades. Yet, somewhere in the past years I also realized that I didn’t want to be forgotten. What does it mean to trust G-d enough to be willing to be forgotten?
Having no human children means my pets, music, writing, and paintings are my children. There are memories I share with those around me and we all know that counts. Love always counts. Even in my divorce of recent years, it’s clear that LOVE ALWAYS COUNTS. Love finally showed that to me as I worked on healing and forgiveness. Though I lost my home and wife, the love we shared during those years changed me for the better and I will always have that beauty in my life even if I no longer have those people or that place.
In conclusion, this letter is not so much of one where I wonder where G-d is leading me because that continues to be clear. I only need to have enough faith to be obedient to G-d’s calling to be an artist no matter what else may call or distract me. My question is how can we see the Holy in each vocation? One of my favorite quotes from the theologian Frederick Buechner addresses the matter of vocation:
IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man [or woman] is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work
(a) that you need most to do and
(b) that the world most needs to have done.
If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a),
but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
That last line says it all, doesn’t it? The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. What I must ask myself is does the world hunger for writings on love and peace? Does the world hunger for music that lifts the Spirit and calls forth integrity? Does the world hunger for art that expresses one’s deepest heart and truest self? For me, the answer is yes. That should be enough. I pray to focus on that truth, and that I may have the grace and faith to see that love will be enough.
Cleaning up from making biscuits is not the task I anticipated. The dread of cleaning up the scattered flour was worse than the actual chore. The entire time I gave thanks for a friend who reminded me to be thankful when I had to clean up after cooking. She was right of course. Brother Lawrence in his book, Practicing the Presence, reminds us that with each chore we do to give thanks that G-d is working for us. It’s also a very Zen concept.
Before Enlightenment, you hate your life. You chop wood and carry water, but secretly wish to get out of it all. You bear with these activities through habit and out of hopelessness, but you really wish you could do something else. In a way, you are a victim, a slave – the wood chops you and the water carries you, and there is no way to escape. This could go for eternity, it is like living in eternal hell.
After Enlightenment, you are in harmony with the universe. You realized emptiness of it all, so you see that there is nothing more important than chopping wood and carrying water. All activities are equalized, there is no preference, no discrimination. ~Andrei Volkov
This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the ability to still cook my own meals. What is cleaning up but the last task of being a baker or a cook? I often think of my grandmas who lived before fast-food restaurants. Even had they been around, their era was that of the depression. Most were glad to have a piece of bread much less be concerned about cleaning up.
Thanksgiving’s historical reality is one that can be hard once we accept what the early settlers did to Native American populations. The Native Americans gave out of their abundance and compassion. In the years that followed, the whites took their lands and most often, their lives. It is important to accept the historical reality of that period of time if we are to ever rectify it so that all may give thanks.
Growing up, the pilgrim story was told in elementary school of course. But at home, the holiday was about family and giving thanks that we had enough. My family is not a wealthy one. We were probably middle-middle class; not quite rich and not quite poor either. My sister and I never wanted for the things we needed like food and shelter.
Indeed, we were quite privileged not only because we were white, but we came from a musical family. Because of that, we were given piano lessons and dance lessons. Though, I think I overheard mom talking to another mom wishing my tomboyish walk would be tamed by dancing. Perhaps it was. I also know it could have been my tomboyish self-making up reasons I was going to have to put on a stupid leotard. All I know is how thankful I am now for those opportunities. Music has been my life. Because of the dance lessons, I know the joy of musical movement and have long loved going to a ballet.
What does this have to do with Thanksgiving one might ask? Everything. Because the way our family celebrated was to give thanks for what we were given. We started each morning out with the Macy’s Day Parade. Mom was cooking something in the kitchen for a meal at Grandma and Grandpa Whitley’s house. We went there every Thanksgiving and then to her mom and dad’s at Christmas. The day was a lazy day of cooking and family.
When we got to Grandma’s, the house was full of great smells and since we were often late because of my dad, the house was full of relatives. The Whitley clan was big, and the house was crowded. There was so much food on the table and card tables in the kitchen, that all the pies and cakes were left in Grandma’s walk-in cooler; otherwise known as the back porch.
As I think of Grandpa washing his hands on the back porch, then walking into the kitchen to pray over the meal, I can see that our Thanksgivings were much like the scene Norman Rockwell painted in his images of the holiday. Grandpa Whitley wore his good overalls though and we didn’t use a tablecloth. They were farmers, so nothing was fancy though Grandma would put on her good apron on holidays where the family came over to share a meal. One never knew which relative was going to show up at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Though they invited the entire family, some did not come. Years passed before I ever met my Uncle Cletus and I don’t ever remember meeting his kids.
Because the family was large and had big age gaps, we had many generations in that old farmhouse. The cousins you saw regularly you ran to for comfort in the crowd because there was always someone there you didn’t know. Once mom counted and said there were like 100 people there that day. It meant that some of the men decided to eat on the porches. There were plenty of chairs on each porch. My dad was always hovering near the desserts so we always knew we could find him on the back porch.
When we were young, we ate as fast as we could. Because the next thing we did on that day was to take a trip to the branch. Every cousin took the same route. You ran to the barn to see what Grandpa had in there. If Grandma had chickens, we would check to see if they had eggs. Grandma had usually gathered them already, but it was the fun of looking. Then we would trek down the tractor lanes to the branch, follow the branch up until the barbed wire fence, then walk back up the hill. We were thankful for that too. The branch was the joy of the children. It was rare that a parent went down with us, though I remember mom and dad down there with us once.
By the time we got back up to the house, the adults had cleaned up the kitchen and were falling asleep in the den. Grandpa’s antique mantel clock always tick-tocking the fed adults into sleep. When some of our college-age cousins were there, the sound of someone playing the out of tune piano in the parlor might be sounding softly through the house. Soon it was time to go home.
I don’t remember the rest of the day really. Perhaps we slept it away or watched holiday movies. That’s my guess. It was a feast day for sure, but also a rest day full of family. Sometimes we visited my Aunt Jewel who was shunned by everybody but my dad and his oldest sister.
In writing this, my memory wanted to put the day after Thanksgiving together with the feast day. The day after Thanksgiving was not a shopping day at all for my parents. It was the day we went to the Thompson’s for lunch and then to watch football. Neither of my parents liked to watch sports, but the Thompsons did. I learned to like sports by watching with my friend, Kim.
Kim was my age and her sister, Kelly, was my sister’s age. Kim and I were tomboys and Tracy and Kelly were not. In truth, I have no idea what Tracy and Kelly did on that day. All I remember is their running to Kelly’s room and closing the door while I plopped down on the floor to watch football with Kim.
When it was time to eat, the food was everything that was leftover from our families’ meals on the previous day. This was actually my favorite meal. Not because I didn’t enjoy the food cooked by Whitley relatives because I did. However, Linda (Kim’s mom) made rice and gravy that was the best I ever ate. To this day, I’ve never eaten gravy that tasted like Linda’s and I never thought to ask her how she did it.
Because of my family’s traditions on Thanksgiving weekend, the holiday has always been one of giving thanks for the gifts of food, family, and friends. There was never any talk of the pilgrims, only of the blessings of bountiful tables and blessed hands that prepared the meal. In every instance, it was the women who prepared the meals too.
This Thanksgiving, I will be sharing a meal with a friend and her husband from my church. They both live in our small mountain town. The hardest thing to deal with after my divorce was the loss of my own personal family; the family I married into. This Thanksgiving my heart rejoices to have known them and to have shared beautiful Thanksgivings with them. My ex-wife also shared some Thanksgivings with my family, though they were much smaller after my grandparents died. After the meal at my parents, we would walk down the dirt road behind mom’s house. Then, on Fridays relax and read.
My biological family and I have been at odds this year. Political alliances have kept us apart in ways we don’t address. The political and religious differences are some huge invisible wall we have not yet breached. But at times, we meet at the fence and reach hands and arms through to hug each other and say that we love one another. I’m thankful that we have at least that still. Maybe one day we can allow the love to tear down the walls. Until then, I give thanks that we are still reaching out to each other loving through the walls. My prayer is that one day, the wall will come down.
Love can build a bridge Between your heart and mine Love can build a bridge Don’t you think it’s time? Don’t you think it’s time?
It’s another rainy day in the mountains. The dog and I are enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. Who wants to travel outside on such days? Even Birdie isn’t fond of car rides on rainy days. Other than playing Van Morrison’s new album out loud, the day is not much different than any other day. It’s the life of living alone in a quiet place and living without a car.
One of my goals in life has been to move from a gasoline engine vehicle to being able to travel by cycle. In truth, it was an environmental goal instead of a financial one. Health challenges began to pile up this year and that meant more and more medical bills since Medicare and Medicaid were cut. In August, the worst time of the year for my asthma, it finally came down to deciding if I wanted to pay a car payment or pay for the medicine that helped prevent and manage my asthma.
Before making such a decision (which seemed inevitable since the divorce), there was a lot of time spent on research about how to get to doctors, church, and get groceries. Because of Watauga County’s AppalCart, I am able to get to appointments with planning. Some friends who go to Holy Cross have graciously offered rides to church.
I’ve also been blessed with wonderful neighbors who have helped me if I needed to call Fred’s for a missing item in a recipe. You know how it is when you cook, you’re in the midst of stirring ingredients and checking to make sure you added each item. Then, there’s often one important item that is out or not quite enough.
One of the other things I considered before letting go of the car was looking at alternative and environmentally conservative means of alternative transportation. Once it became clear that this was doable, I even questioned if I needed any transportation at all. With today’s online shopping options, I can get most of what I need by mail. However, one of the joys of living here is a ride up to Fred’s General Mercantile or a trip down to Buckeye Recreation Center for yoga or a walk on its paths.
Growing up, biking was my favorite means of transportation. Even after getting my driver’s license at sixteen, I still loved cycling. Then, it was a dream of mine to cycle cross-country. This was before learning the limitations that my asthma put on me. Even though I was hit by a car when I was in college, cycling was always a goal. There was a freedom and peace is cycling through the countryside. Mountain bikes weren’t popular during this time or I would have had one of those too.
When I moved up to the mountains, I had given up my last bike. Not because I wanted to but because it was too heavy for travel on the landscape. By then, my hands had begun to have problems with grasping and lifting heavy hymnals. There was no way I was going to be able to manage such a heavy bike. The bike itself wasn’t much of a loss because it was an inexpensive model bought only to see if I liked how the mountain bike rode.
Though I looked for a bike while living in Sylva (they have a great bike shop there), another health problem prevented my return to riding. Like many women my age, vertigo has become the bane of my existence. Though the doctor helped me get it to the point where I could walk without the world swirling (faster than usual), it would not be safe for me to ride a bike. I watched the cyclists in the town with appreciation and a sense of resignation. Still, I missed riding and wanted to find a way to return.
One day I mentioned how much I missed cycling on Facebook and my writing teacher from undergrad, Heather Ross Miller, suggested a trike like hers. I started looking at them and then because they wouldn’t fit in the Fiat 500 Pop I was driving, I gave up on them. That is until it became clear I would have to give up my car. It wasn’t that I just couldn’t afford THAT car and pay my medical bills, it was clear I couldn’t afford any car. In December I will finally catch up all my medical bills so that I can start the new year free of old medical bills.
Giving up my car has also freed me to consider saving for a trike. I could see that possibility before giving it up. After a lot of research and talking to my cycling friends and Charlotte Cycle’s Brian Doolittle, it became clear that I would be able to find and eventually afford an electric trike. Brian has been great to answer all of my questions and also answer questions my friends bring to me when I told them of my decision. It made it easier to tell my family, friends, and church members of my decision.
Though I hadn’t gone into the details of my old environmentalist dreams of cycling, I had at least told those who I wished to visit that it might not be a possibility now. It’s amazing how beautiful people have been. People have talked to me about other options. A woman from church offered to give me an old car that needs work. A friend from Charlotte talked to her pastoral committee and ended up gifting me with some funds to pay off most of my medical bills. No one asked anything of me. They merely loved me and didn’t want me to be isolated from others.
To say I am humbled does not fully explain. A few years ago, when trying to encourage people to participate in global and local concern for others, I told a spiritual friend that I hadn’t lost faith in G-d. At the time, however, I was losing faith in people to make compassionate and justice-oriented choices. Selfishness seemed more rampant than ever. Then, about the time it seemed our world was turning to more openness to diversity and the need for conservation of natural resources, the current administration took over. Hatred became the norm instead of talk of justice and acceptance of all. This was all before my divorce.
Without going through that all, one would think the divorce made me want to give up on humanity totally. In truth, it did cross my mind except one thing continued to happen – people who loved me kept reaching out and reminding me of who they were and the good they bring to the world. By their lovingkindness, strength to go on came into my soul. Then I found Holy Cross Episcopal and joined their choir and a prayer group called Daughters of the King. These people too shared love, kindness, prayers, and often a listening ear. I could go on about the beautiful people restoring my faith in the goodness of humanity.
In short, because of the love my church, friends, and family, great healing comes to me. It’s been interesting too to find that things I thought were healed or forgiven from the past were healed on another level. My faith was already being restored in the goodness of these humans merely by them being themselves and sharing their own blessings and challenges in life. That made the presence of G-d even more powerful.
In addition, living here, close to the woods as I do has been a lifelong need. Though I lived near hiking paths and woods, most of the walking paths near my home were paved. Issues with arthritis and other challenges make it impossible to get out on paved or concrete paths. Here, there’s a dirt road that would take me to the top of the mountain if I could walk that far. The walking on a dirt road can still be challenging but it has helped my mental and physical health tremendously. My condo is like a treehouse and living in solitude the life of a semi-hermit is enlarging my heart.
As we approach Thanksgiving, gratitude is the word that stands out for me. Gratefulness for what IS (not what could be) has changed my life drastically. The last time I had a conversation with my ex-wife she even said that she missed my gratitude. A practice of gratitude was started for me in a new way when I was a Vicar in Tallahassee, Florida. I had been assigned to a small wonder-filled church called St. Stephen’s Lutheran for my internship.
Though naturally a thankful person, practicing gratitude then was part of a stewardship program we were required to do for a project. Because most of us argued that it was a flimsy attempt at fund-raising (we were the first class required to focus only on stewardship), the way I decided to outline my project was to focus on writing about the gifts we already had. What did it mean to use our time, talents, and treasure without coming across as one of the televangelists we love to hate? For me, that meant to focus on gratitude for what we DO have?
In other words, though I am a musician I’m not famous and rich. What does it mean to give thanks for how this gift of music has totally enriched my life rather than focus on the lack of remuneration prevalent for musicians? Once I began to be thankful for what I did have, it became clearer how wealthy I was. Forbes wasn’t going to come knocking on my door, but I had enough. Not only did I have enough, but when I recognized that I had enough, there always seemed to be a way to share.
Though I lived in a one-bedroom apartment at the time (and not the house I had bought), I had a roof over my head when it rained. There was air-conditioning when it was suffocatingly hot. There was clean water and I always had the food I needed as well as a warm bed to rest. When the person I was dating at the time broke up with me depression tried to get its hooks in me. Yet, because I had been practicing gratitude, each time I feared or hurt, I gave thanks for the things that I did have. The love I DID have from the wonderful people at St. Stephen’s saved me in many ways.
Because the gift the continue to BE in my life, when my friend there asked about setting up a GoFundMe account in order to help raise money for my trike, I told them there was no need. After getting my medical bills caught up, any extra money would go to the purchase of a Joy Trike from Carolina Cycle. I was quite excited about the cycle and that it was now an option. It will even have a basket so that Birdie can ride with me. She has missed the car much more than I do, that’s for sure.
A few weeks later, while checking Facebook, I noticed that one of the members of my vicar committee had posted a GoFundMe request there. Of course, it was a request to go fund our old vicar. They still thought of me as their vicar. Gosh, that alone is priceless to me. Then, I saw that people I don’t even know have donated to the fund. Then, one of my professors from seminary posted it.
Gratitude. What does it mean? It means, of course, to be thankful. Thankfulness is also an act as well as a state of mind or feeling. To be thankful is to be willing in such situations to set aside pride and simply say thank you. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in my later years is how prideful I’ve always been. Once, I let that pride hurt a man in a church I was serving. He kept giving me gifts. Sadly, instead of continuing to thank him for his generosity, I said something to the effect that he didn’t have to buy me gifts for me to love him. Immediately clear that it was hurtful to him though it wasn’t my intention. My pride and lack of gratitude became throwing his gifts back in his lap. I might as well have said, thanks but no thanks.
Who knows if this GoFundMe thing will be completed? In truth, I don’t care if it is or not the gratitude in my heart exhorts me to write of this congregation’s great love and generosity. This is not the only way they are generous. They have always given to each other, their vicars, priest, and community. They have from the day I met them been the best example of what it means to be a people of G-d in the modern world. They are willing to stand up for those who are poor, LGBTQIA, of a different race or nationality…and the list goes on and on. Love abounds.
When I am so loved, all that I can do is give thanks and then love in return. No matter the outcome, this great act of love encourages me to love more and to trust more. Their long-time support reminds me of all the things I know about my friends in faith who have supported others quietly. They don’t let their left hand know or others know of their generosity. I do, however. I see the good they do in the world and I want to be just like them.
When I first tried dealing with the loss of my pastorate, I remember asking my priest in Oklahoma about the power of love. I told her that I thought love was supposed to conquer all. She understood where I was coming from as I spoke of love, loss, and the grief of finding a new way. Her answer was that in her experience, love DID conquer all. Wise priest that she was, she offered me no platitudes. Today as Van Morrison sings of love conquering all, all I can think is that it does. Though we may not know how or when, love wins. I am thankful to be loved.
It’s a cold day on Beech Mountain, yet, also warmer than the past days. We had a wonderful snow on Tuesday and the ski resorts are blowing snow to get ready for ski season. The dog and I love snow even though we don’t ski. Who knows why Birdie loves the snow? Some dogs do and some dogs don’t. She has finally decided a coat is nice in such weather though.
The year has flown by quickly. All in all, it’s been a very good year in that it’s been a creative one. The summer was filled with singing, teaching, and preaching. Throughout, whenever there was a moment, I was writing. Meeting some new poets in the area has been inspiring. If you’ve not read Lisa Creech Bledsoe’s poetry yet, I encourage you to check her poetry out. You can get a sense of her poetry on her website Appalachian Ground. She also posts wonderful things about nature and foraging.
The music from Holy Cross Episcopal has been phenomenal this year. Elaine Kallestad has an amazing ministry there and she utilizes local talent from Appalachian State University (ASU) which takes it a step further. The musicians at ASU feed into many of our local congregations. High Country United Church of Christ has music that is also good for the soul if you prefer the less formal service and music. The other great thing about both of these churches is that in addition to great preachers, they are also both congregations that are welcoming to all people. As a lesbian in this rural setting, I especially love this part.
Being surrounded by all this talent and all the beauty of the High Country is bound to be an inspiration to any artist. This mix of people and location have also inspired a collection of prayers I’ve wanted to do for many years and couldn’t decide where to begin. It is my hope to be able to offer this book in December of this year, but at the latest, we will have it out by January 6, 2020.
The book’s title will be, Praying Together, and it is set up as a prayer book but also a journal. Moving from the Lutheran tradition to the Episcopal tradition has been a blessing in many ways. There are things that I love about each group of believers too. There are things that are similar and a few things that are different. It is the hope of me and the contributors to the book that the prayers will touch your heart and also be easy to access.
Its format will be smaller than the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church or the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Lutheran church. As we age, many of us who value these prayer books begin to have challenges handling both the weight and the thickness of both books. Therefore, the size of the book will be thin and lightweight so that all who value prayer may be able to handle it with ease. This will also be a great book for travel because it also fits easily in a bag or folded inside of another larger book.
There is more inspiration abounding in these mountains than there are words or songs. Yet, those of us who create are willing to keep trying. Please support local artists, musicians, and small businesses as we enter into the gift-giving season.
There have been several times I’ve started to write for the website. Then the muses bombard me with ideas, poems, songs. This isn’t a complaint though. All artists want their muse or muses talking. Mine can be quite stubborn when I don’t listen because I am ornery. Today it seems they will allow me ginger snaps and coffee if I keep writing. I’m good with that.
“A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.” ~Kate Baestrup
Ginger snaps are good at any time of the year for me. However, fall is my favorite time for ginger snaps. As I bite into a cookie, I remember all the times my sister and I came home from school, grabbed the ginger snaps mom had bought and a glass of milk. We snacked while watching our favorite after school television shows. When Andy Griffin came on, we knew we had to hurry and make sure our chores were done before mama got home.
Our world is flavorful, isn’t it? There are flavors we don’t like for various reasons. Perhaps it’s merely a dislike of the taste or the taste is associated with a bad memory of sickness or hurt. We avoid those (if possible) of course. Then there are those tastes like ginger snaps or molasses cookies that remind us of those we love. Times gone by that were good and safe.
Tastes bring back memories. Molasses cookies were the only soft cookies I liked growing up. They reminded me of the taste of ginger snaps and were another after school snack. However, anything molasses made me think of Grandma and Grandpa Whitley. Molasses were a staple at their house and there was nothing better than pouring that earth brown syrup over fresh hot biscuits.
The molasses were actually considered “grandpa’s” but he always shared with us. Grandpa liked the type of molasses found in the mountains. They were not the jars of blackstrap molasses that one can find in the store. He liked the molasses best that were sweeter and with no bitterness. The viscosity of his molasses was such that it poured like honey and when it was poured, a line of gold shone at the lip of the jar. Just to talk of pouring molasses reminds me of all the times we four of my family sat at grandma and grandpa’s table eating fresh vegetables from their garden or my dad’s. Then, dessert was molasses over biscuits.
The only time we didn’t have molasses and biscuits for dessert was at this time of the year when grandma made persimmon pudding. Though, growing up, we pronounced it as “persimmern pudding”. Seems that we Southerners add syllables unconsciously when we speak. It was only after I had gone to college with many Northerners that I began to hear how our brogue was different from “the yankees”. Returning to work at the fish camp where I had worked in high school one weekend, I laughed to discover that the number four could have two syllables as in “fo-er”.
As the taste of ginger lingers in my mouth, I dream of grandma’s persimmon pudding. Most who have never tasted persimmon pudding turn their noses up because its color is brown like ginger snaps. Grandma’s was a simple pudding made of persimmons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Mama can make one like grandma’s and so can my sister. I’ve made them years ago when I lived closer to farmers who had persimmons.
A persimmon is a fruit of the South. Maybe they have them elsewhere, but even some of my friends west of the Carolinas had not heard of or tasted persimmon pudding. One of the first things you do for a friend is to let them know not to taste the uncooked/unsweetened persimmon. Without the sugar, they are a bitter fruit that turns the mouth inside out. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Teeter, taught us this as we took a nature walk one day and she spotted a persimmon tree. I’ve always been thankful that she warned us so that no one would be able to play that cruel joke on us.
Waking up in the dark this morning, the sun rose in my heart filling it with love for all of creation. Some days are simply like that. Then, during meditation, memories of being loved returned flavoring my soul with the sweetness of memory, more love, and the realization that love transforms everything bitter into something sweeter.
We all know that life can be bitter. Yet, there is a sweetness to be found as the sun rises and birds begin to sing. The pink of the sky kisses the mountains and light begins to glow in the darkness. The day will pass with the good and the bad. Then, as night falls, there is rest and starlight and a safe warm bed. Not everyone has a safe warm bed or food to eat. Some awaken blind and deaf to the world around them. Yet, even then, there can be sweetness in life when it is allowed.
The thing is, is that love is not aggressive. Love works for the well-being of another and if that other says no, or, leave me alone – love listens, hears, and respects the other. In my life, I wanted to give love to the world my heart full of idealism and hope. Then, as is prone in this world, hurts occurred, and dreams were torn apart. The remedy I was told was to love myself. That made no sense. Yet, time and again the message given to me by priest, counselor, doctor, friend was that real love for others could not occur without first loving one’s self.
The love they suggested was not that of narcissism but being as willing to work for my own well-being as I was to work for another’s well-being. This was hard to learn because it also meant being willing to express my thoughts and feelings even if and even when they were different from those I loved. There were fights and disagreements. The lesson is not one to be learned overnight and one born of loving friends and community. Through that lesson, after several decades of struggle, my own eyes were opened to see that I was not alone; that others loved me even with my faults and insecurities.
Being blessed with friends willing to challenge me in the best and worst of times also taught me that working for the well-being of another or of one’s self means taking the
time to look at mistakes and misconceptions. Now it becomes clearer why it’s so hard for us humans to accept love. Why? Because accepting love changes us, and we humans are too afraid of change expecting it to be bitter and painful.
There is pain in the acceptance of love given to me and love I have accepted in and for myself. There’s no special cruise that love boats us to a better place. We have to unlearn bad habits or let go of unhealthy practices, people, friends, and sometimes family. Sometimes it’s merely looking at those people, friends, family members in a different way and seeing that they are afraid too.
Love changes us. When we can trust in love and that real love leads us to health and well-being, we can allow the sugar of life to mix with the bitter chemistry of pain, loss, and fear and cook up something as delicious as a life well-lived. Of course, the persimmon is a passive fruit being what it is. As humans with will and choice, we can always say no to love. My only question is why?