Am I smarter now?, Family Life, Uncategorized

Music, minor miracles, and more

My cousin Randy Plut (pronounced “ploot”) came for a three day visit last weekend – it has been twelve years since his last trip to Minnesota. Randy has always been an amazing guy. He is the oldest of my close-in-age cousins. His brother Rick and sister MaryAnn made up the trio of cousins with whom my sister Margie and I spent most of our time. Randy, Rick and MaryAnn had myriad talents, not the least of which was a great sense of humor – among the cousins, it was always thus. Their dry wit, an eye for weird comic situations, and impeccable timing made being with them a whole lot of fun. It was at my cousins’ home that Margie and I met many of Randy’s high school pals, one of whom was John Swartzwelder, who would become the legendary writer of the animated sitcom, The Simpsons. I think an off-kilter sense of the comical is part of what drew Randy and his friends together in high school. I recall great conversations and laughing many an evening away with my cousins and their friends in Aunt Lillian and Uncle Bob’s living room.

Greater than Randy’s talent in humor is his talent in music. Before he was ever a witty teenager, Randy was a serious and accomplished musician. His instrument is the piano, which he plays like a wizard, shape-shifting without a pause, by memory alone, from classical pieces to country western to ragtime to the Beatles, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips from time to time, the only evidence of the intense level of his concentration. It has always been thus for Randy, with family members and friends watching and listening in wonder over the years.

Randy is also amazing for having recently survived a cardiac arrest that was as near fatal as it could be. He survived it because, by the grace of God, just as Randy collapsed, his sister MaryAnn came to his house, understood the situation and called 911 for help. Randy spent quite a while in the hospital and has no recollection at all of the entire month of January 2013, the month his heart attack occurred. In fact, it was a great surprise to him to learn, as he improved during his hospital stay, that he had a new job! He had applied for, and won, a new position just prior to his heart event. Randy now has a pacemaker, an incredible invention in its own right, and one that should help Randy avoid another cardiac collapse, may it ever be thus.

We spent the last night of Randy’s visit to Minnesota at the home of one of my nieces, Michelle Rogers. Michelle and her husband Bill  graciously invited my husband, John, Randy and me for dinner.On entering Bill and Michelle’s home that evening, Randy noticed the piano in the living room, so after we enjoyed a delicious meal together, he offered to play the piano for us. We were all delighted to be a part of the audience, and Randy did not disappoint – he was phenomenal! It is a very rare thing to witness the level of skill and creativity of an artist like Randy, say, at a concert hall or on TV or the internet, but to experience performance mastery of Randy’s kind in the intimacy of a family home is mind-boggling. Bill and Michelle made sure their three children were part of the experience, and the kids enjoyed Randy’s playing along with us. Randy asked them if they had any songs they would like to hear, which he then played for them without hesitation, sheet music or batting an eyelash. We adults were astonished at Randy’s skill, whereas the kids took things in stride. What? Wait a minute – wasn’t this a minor miracle occurring before our eyes? But kids are kids. How could they gauge how remarkable Randy’s performance was? I know I was pretty oblivious to Randy’s immense talent when I was a youngster. I took his proficiency at the piano for granted and had no way of knowing the rarity of Randy’s gifts. Understanding of this kind only comes with maturity. It has always been thus, I believe.

There was another member of the audience who did seem to understand the unique quality of the evening, though. Max, the family dog, knew something special was happening. He sat by the piano, listening attentively while Randy played, and a after the recital was over, he left one of his favorite toys at Randy’s feet as a token of his appreciation. Is this a typical occurrence? Has this always been so, that dogs are aware of and admire the finer things of life?

On the ride home from Bill and Michelle’s, after saying our farewells to Randy and wishing him the blessings of health and happiness for the future, I thought about the wonderful evening we had shared, about the passage of time, and the sparing of Randy’s life in 2013. Life is an extraordinary gift, and the gifts God gives to us as individuals are also extraordinary. This is something that I want to grasp more completely. But perhaps one has to pray for the ability to comprehend this, … perhaps it has always been thus.

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:6

Thinking back, Uncategorized

“Houston, we have a …”

Surveyor 2 launch
Surveyor 2 launch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A young friend and mother of two little boys posted this on Facebook today:

“Watching my boys play with their hot wheel cars equals  a fun and priceless moment in time!!”

It always makes my heart glad when parents catch sight of  a quintessential moment that captures the joy of children at play. Those instances can occur fairly  frequently, but the demands of raising kids while trying to keep life fairly organized can throw a  veil over the fun of living with small children.

My friend’s comment brought this long-ago event to mind:

One summer afternoon at our home, when our grandson, Devin  was 7 yrs old, and his cousin, Ryan was 5, I observed a parent’s ability to discern when one of those happy childhood moments was facing a big challenge.

On this day, the weather was beautiful and all the nieces, nephews and grandkids were scattered outdoors making the most of the big backyard and wooded lot. The girls had been exploring our large vegetable garden, and went walking on the many trails that surrounded it.  The boys, Ryan and Devin,  had been busy manipulating deck chairs and other movable objects, arranging them to make a rocket ship and using an old blanket as a launching pad. This had been the focus of their play for a couple of hours.

Eventually it was time for a meal.  Ryan’s dad went out on the deck and called all the kids into the house to wash their hands and eat. Immediately, Ryan ran up to his dad and said, “Wait Dad,  please wait!  Devin and I are just about to blast off!”

“Oh,Oh,” I thought. “Houston, we have a problem.” I had been watching the boys, and knew this play time had been an especially exciting afternoon for them.  I wondered what would happen now, since there was a distinct possibility that their plans to fly into outer space would be scrubbed.

His dad looked intently at Ryan for a few seconds and said,

“You’re just about to blast off?”

Ryan nodded his head vigorously.

“OK,” dad said, “I’ll give you boys 5 minutes to blast off. But then you have to land, come in, wash your hands and eat dinner.”

Ryan was completely satisfied with this answer, and ran down to the “rocket ship” to pass the good news to Devin. The mission had been saved! And to my mind, a “fun and priceless moment” in childhood had also been saved.

Looking back, I can see what wise a decision Ryan’s dad made. Wish I would have thought to say this at the time: “Houston, we have a solution.”

Am I smarter now?

Remember to breathe

Empty nest of a White-tailed Eagle, location s...
Image via Wikipedia

There are all kinds of transitions in life; one thing that most of them have in common is that they are difficult. A friend of mine is going through a big one right now, as her youngest child moves far away from home. In thinking about what this means for her, I am reminded of another type of transition – one that occurs during labor and delivery.

Here is a definition of ‘transition’ from http://www.babycenter.com/stages-of-labor:

During active labor, your cervix begins to dilate more rapidly and contractions are longer, stronger, and closer together. People often refer to the last part of active labor as “transition.”

 

A definition is one thing – living out the experience of the definition is another. I would guess most women who go through labor remember something about  transition. Here’s what I recall:

It’s hard work; it’s painful. Emotions run high; there may be outbursts of tears and words; there are great fears about being able to make it through; strongly worded prayers and questions are directed at God. It is easy to forget all the lessons learned about breathing correctly through labor –  you know you should listen to your breathing coach, but the pain is escalating.  I think that if there were an easier way through transition, most of us would take it (caudal anesthesia, anyone?).  Whether anesthesia is used or not, the truth is there is no going back once the stage of transition begins. A chain of events has been set in motion that cannot be reversed. Eventually transition ends for the mother and the baby; the start of a new life is the hoped for joyful end. Once the work is finished, the worst of the struggle and pain is forgotten; our perspective is changed and there is an entirely new world before us and our child.

I see many similarities between the work of transition that occurs during labor and the one that happens as the last child leaves home.  The transition from a home with kids to one without is difficult and painful. Emotions run high; there may be outbursts of tears and words; there are great fears about being able to make it through; strongly worded prayers and questions are directed at God.   I think that if there were an easier way through this transition, most of us would take it – but there isn’t. For all of those involved, a chain of events has been set in motion that cannot be reversed. Eventually, this transition time ends for the parents and child; the start of a new life is the hoped for joyful end. Once the work of transitioning out the parents’ home is finished and everyone can catch their breath, the worst of the pain and struggle is forgotten; those involved have a change of perspective and there is an entirely new world ahead.

Today my friend whose youngest child is moving away from home is on my mind and heart, and in my prayers. I know she will make it through this transition, but it will be painful, and it will take time. I hope we can spend some of that time together. Maybe we will practice our breathing.

Before Starbucks, Thinking back

Of siblings and schools

Holy Ghost Catholic Parish School in Dubuque, Iowa
Image via Wikipedia

As a first grader at St John’s Elementary School, I remember clearly  how impressed I was by the speed and sound of hundreds of kids as they came thundering down the stairs at the end of the day. The metal edging on the steps clanged as students’ shoes met the stairs, drowning out Sr. Mary Davidica’s warning of “NO Running!” Scores of bodies whizzed by me in a blur, and before you could say “saddle shoes”, the school was empty and quiet.

It was my older sister Margie I was waiting for outside my first grade classroom; she was going to pick me up and walk home with me. Our school didn’t  have buses to transport kids – we all had to walk, whether our homes were near or far; ours was far. There were 10 city blocks between home and St John’s, with a very large intersection across a busy  highway at about the halfway point. At 5 years old I had not yet been granted permission to cross 4 lanes of busy city traffic, even with a light, by myself. Margie, at 7 years old, was my guide and protector, at least at the beginning of the first grade year.

Margie was my hero all of my life in Seattle. She had red hair and freckles, was very smart, could play the piano and sang beautifully. We shared a bedroom, a small doll collection, and short tempers. As sisters we fought constantly, and drove my Mom crazy. But as friends, we were shirt-and-pants, doing virtually everything together until Margie left St John’s for highschool.

Still, there were plenty of years before she went on to highschool for sibling rivalry to reign supreme. But that is another blog post.