Tag Archives: Reflection

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

Advertisements

April 15 – My Grave Concerns

by Ariela Zucker

This morning  I look at the old oak tree towering over the yard and realize that the snow is receding. At the bottom of the tree, I can see a small heap of stones. It is there that we buried, my cat, Sheleg (snow) last October.  She died before the snow came and the ground was still soft. My husband and I rushed her, in a shoebox all the way from the motel where we spend our summers, to our winter home, two and a half hours to the south and dug a small ditch under the tree.

Meir, my other cat, the one we shipped from Israel is buried on the other side of the same tree. He died several years before, in the dead of winter. The ground was frozen and for hours I tried to create a shallow ditch to bury him in.

I tried everything. I lighted a small fire on the exposed soil. I read somewhere that even if the first 4 inches from the surface are frozen solid underneath the ground becomes warmer and softer. When this didn’t work, I tried an assortment of digging instruments, I found in my husband’s toolbox, resorting from time to time to stamping on the ground in frustration. I even considered storing Meir in the freezer until the spring thaw, but the thought of having to face him every day gave me renewed strength to continue.

Do graves makes a person feel more connected to the land, I wonder.

Eighteen years since we left Israel, the long, gloomy winter brings back images of the house we left, clinging to the side of a cliff. The road, a narrow strip of black asphalt meandering until it gets lost in the desert. And the small cemetery, at the bottom of the hill, only a dozen of graves, marked by a few Salt Cedar bushes with their broad unruly crown, and low to the ground stature, engulfing the soft whispering desert wind or bending with resignation to its immense power.

My husband does not think that burial is an issue. He told me many times when we had these bizarre conversations that he wants to be cremated and his remains spread in several chosen locations. Cremation is against the Jewish religion I remind him. We Jews go back to the earth where we came from and preferably in Israel, so we will have a first-row spot when the promised resurrection of the dead will happen. And besides, I always had an unexplained affection for land.

The thoughts of my final destination trouble me. Will it be back to Jerusalem, next to my parents, on the hill looking over the city? Or perhaps in our small town in the desert, the one where we lived for twenty-five years? Or under a big oak tree in this land that I see now as my home, covered in winter with a blanket of snow.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

February 19 – After the Weddings

by Kali’ Rourke

I wrote about “Weddings, Finances and Your Kids” in my personal blog, and now that our second (and final) wedding couple is approaching their first anniversary, it is time to check in with some of the takeaways from our particular financial decision.

Our decision was to simply give our daughters the money that we planned to spend on each of their weddings and to give them the choices that went along with it. No strings attached, other than that we expected to be present to see them wed. Of course, we would be there for any involvement (wedding dresses, venues, whatever!) they wanted from us!

Our daughters are very different women, but some of their choices were quite similar, including the most important one.

They both chose spouses who cherish them, make them laugh, and make them want to be better people. These are men of high intelligence, integrity, and character…hmm, a bit like their Dad!

Dani and Jason chose hunter green and gold for their fall wedding in Nashville, and Devin and Charlie chose emerald-green and daffodil yellow for their spring wedding in Austin.

 

Both couples made excellent food, drink, and energetic dance party receptions features of their weddings, and they both chose to exchange personal vows with their spouses.

There was not a dry eye in the house at either wedding as each couple declared their love and committed their lives to each other in front of family and friends.

Both couples chose to spend money on memories. Photographer and Videographer were top line items in their budgets after the venue and refreshments.

After all, over thirty years later, Dad and I no longer remember all the tiny moments or even some of the people who were at our wedding, but pictures are forever.

Both couples invested in fun photo booths that encouraged their guests to loosen up and have a great time, and Devin and Charlie even had a “pop shot” basketball set up for all of the “hoopsters” in his group of friends who came from all over the country to celebrate his wedding.

Both couples invested in a “month of” coordinator who worked behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly, and as busy professionals, this was a very wise choice.

Each feature of their weddings was carefully chosen by them, to be meaningful and make their guests feel welcome and appreciated. My husband and I could not have been prouder, and we had a marvelous time while relishing the additional joy of gaining two awesome sons and their lovely families.

So, was this financial decision successful?

We think so. There were no meltdowns, no major mishaps, and virtually no family drama. Each of our daughters got a dream wedding and they did not have to run anything by anyone except their future husbands. We think this bodes well for their future as partners in life.

Thanks for inviting us to the parties, kids! We had a blast!

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kali´stays busy working in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. She blogs at Kali’s Musings where this post also appears, and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

February 11 – Growing Pains of Grandparenthood

by Ariela Zucker

My daughter asks if my husband and I can babysit for her for a few hours while she and her husband participate in a class for parents who have behavioral issues with their toddlers.

In the past I would say;

“Why do you need a class, an outsider, to give you a piece of advice when here, in front of you stand two people who raised you and your three sisters with decent results.”

In the past, I would offer my opinion.  As a savvy educator, and a parent I would give a detailed lecture on what will work and what will not; accompanied by true-life examples;

“Remember how your youngest sister used to cry all the time?”

“And how your older sister never went to bed without resisting it for hours?”

“And how your gramma, my mother, got me to stay in bed on Saturday mornings by leaving sweet surprises?” this one she remembers but nods her head in disagreement.

Wiser with the years I know better. I just smile and say, “Sure, no problem, whatever you need.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see how my husband looks at me and winks. We finally got it, he says without words. If we want to stay part of our grandchildren lives it will not be in the role of a sage, but that of the sitter.

The readers may raise an eyebrow with surprise or perhaps disagreement. Grandparenthood so I learned on the know-it-all net is nothing but a bundle of joy. It is life fulfilling, it’s a unique, sweet connection, it is everything we were not as parents. In other words, it is a second chance to do it ‘right,’ now that we are older and wiser and have a lot of free time.

When I reflect on my frequent conversations with my friends most of whom grandparents themselves, I realize that here again, I am witnessing a marketing ploy of a product that is not real, a bit like the golden haze around the final stage of life – the golden years of our retirement.

I have no qualms about my years as a full-time parent. In fact, I am still a parent only now my children are adults who are themselves, parents. They matured into ‘know it all’ contemporary, Facebook-style parents. This change makes me almost overnight – a relic.

It took me some time to understand that what I once considered true and trusted ways of parenthood are looked upon as old and useless, even though the proof of their success is standing right in front of me holding their own children.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

February 1 – Me and My Shadow

by Sara Etgen-Baker

It was just before dawn as I ran along the wooded trails adjacent to my home. I was making slow and painful headway against a stiff winter wind when dense fog settled all around me. Suddenly, I felt as if something was coming up behind me. My heartbeat quickened as did my pace. Who or what was following me in the silent darkness?

Was it a small animal searching for food? Was it another lone runner seeking refuge and contemplation in the predawn stillness? I turned around and looked behind me and thought I saw the black, shadowy figure of a woman following me. She trailed me, hushed as the night, dancing between the trees as the sunlight flickered. So I moved aside to avoid her presence, but I couldn’t escape her. She was the immaculate outline of my shape, an echo of my movements, and my lifetime companion. She was my shadow swirling in the mists, brought into being by the little flashlight I carried with me.

But she’s more than my silhouette that disappears at night. She’s also my shadowy little self who, day in and day out, dogs me at every step adding her loud voice to every thought I think, every word I say, and every word I write. She cares too much about what others think of her. She’s an intolerant perfectionist; prideful, strong-willed, and compulsive often holding me captive to my own fears, doubts, anger, and worries. She’s also weak and, therefore, feels she must control a situation or others. She shields herself from vulnerability, infiltrates my relationships, and occasionally keeps me awake at night. She sometimes ignores the truth and lives in denial. She overshadows my spiriting and obscures my creativity. Unlike my daytime shadowy silhouette, she lives in darkness knowing that the light I carry in my heart steals her very life. She is my ego.

Although the light I’m carrying with me is small in comparison to the darkness surrounding me, I turn and confront her. “Not everything is about you,” I say.

“Possibly,” she replies, “but you do have to admit that the majority of things are.”

“From your perspective, yes. But you’re an ugly part of me and a burden; I’ve tolerated you way too long. I need to let you go and contemplate the deeper significance of life.”

“You disappointment me,” she says. “Enlightenment and transformation are highly overrated. You need me. Just you wait and see. You’ll come crawling back to me.”

“No! You’re wrong! I won’t need you. Just YOU  wait and see!”

Pshah! was her response as she disappeared in the early morning sunlight.

I was transformed that morning, my ego shattered. Over time, many of the things that concerned me diminished. Many of the superficial, material things that mattered to me before, suddenly ceased to matter as much. I came into being that morning no longer caring what my ego or the world thought of me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.