Lessons from the Track

If you pay attention, you can learn something from just about every experience. I had that truism confirmed at the track this morning. From various walkers, I learned several lessons.

First, there was this man who was unbelievably jaunty. Walking energetically along, he seemed so full of vim and vigor that I began to feel a little envious. After all, I was moving at a pretty fast clip as he pranced by me with a merry, “Good morning.” By the time I’d gone another lap, however, I spied him again, and it appeared that his “get up and go had got up and gone.” He truly appeared to be depleted as he walked slowly toward the cars. The lesson: When we overextend ourselves, there’s nothing left to give. This is true in many areas, not just the physical ones. When our emotional, intellectual, social, or physical reserves are depleted, we’re left empty.

At one point I heard footsteps behind me, the chug, chug, chug type. I could tell that the jogger was trying her best but that it was somewhat of an ordeal for her. Soon the red-clad jogger plodded past me, head phones in her ears. Around the bend, she slowed a bit and then resumed walking. The lesson: There are times when we need to move ahead with gusto and give it (whatever the endeavor might be) all we’ve got, and at other times, we just need to keep moving steadily along. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Being a tortoise is fine sometimes.

Then there was this sweet (or so she seemed to me) elderly lady who appeared to be concentrating on each of her slow, laborious steps. Using her cane to help hold her steady and to propel her forward, her morning constitutional was an arduous task to her. I almost felt guilty when I quickly passed her, but she hardly seemed to notice. She was, after all, running her own race. Around the mile-long, tree canopied track I continued, and when I next came up the lady with the cane, she wasn’t moving…not a muscle. She was standing perfectly still, leaning on her cane with her eyes cast downward. The person in front of me asked her if she was okay and must’ve gotten an affirmative, for she continued walking. On my fourth loop, I spied her sitting on a bench, cane across her knees.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

With dignity, she replied strongly, “I’m fine.”

“Did you drive here?” I asked. “There’s a man over there who looks like he might be looking for you.”

“I drove,” she replied. “But I know who you’re talking about. He’s already been over here to check on me once.”

That was my last lap, and when I headed for the car, I saw her once again in motion, persistent and strong. The lesson: Actually, there are a couple of them, the first being that we’re all connected and that we need to look after one another and offer to help. The second lesson is that we need to stop, totally stop, sometimes and take a few minutes to sit down and look at the trees as we gather strength for the next lap.

Today after finishing four laps, I decided to do something that I occasionally do for old time’s sake. I walked a lap inside the small track. It unleashed memories of bygone days when a brother and I took our children there to play as we alternately jogged and walked the quarter mile track. We’ve got the pictures to prove it! My favorite is of Carrie, Elizabeth, and Matthew atop a picnic table, laughing and happy about being alive, about being kids.

The main reason I did the final lap, however, was because of something I’d read many years ago about the importance of going the proverbial extra mile. An Olympic medalist was being interviewed, and when the interviewer asked him for secrets to his success, he said that when everyone else went home after practice(s), he always stayed 15 extra minutes. That really doesn’t seem that significant, but 15 minutes a day is over 91 hours a year! Anytime I’m tempted to fritter away time, I think about the value of 15 minutes whether it’s in studying, talking to a friend, walking around the track, or playing with my grandchildren. I surely don’t want to spend my 91 hours watching television.

511 Chesnut

dcp_0013.jpg“There’s a lot of love in this house,” June said emphatically. “I can feel it.” We were standing in front of the mantle in the “front room” of my parents’ home and had just returned from the cemetery. My father’s graveside funeral service had occurred a mere hour before, and many friends and family had gathered at 511 Chesnut to share memories, condolences, and perhaps a piece of cake. That was nearly nine years ago, and June’s comment and the way she said it stays with me. Touching my arm, she looked at me with such intensity as if to say, “Listen, this is important. Heed my words.” I’m wondering if the reason this conversation has recently lodged itself (uninvited) in my mind is because somehow I’ve taken the house for granted, have neglected it or treated it with disrespect.

After my parents’ deaths, my husband and I bought the house from my siblings and lived there happily for nearly five years. We then found ourselves thinking of ways to downsize as we began the transition into retirement. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to put the house on the market. Things happened quickly, and we soon moved into another home, a smaller one with lots of character. Did I mention that we were a tad hasty in this change? KNOWING that selling the family home was the right thing to do, we quickly found the home of our dreams and moved in. Months later, 511 sits unoccupied and well, deserted. Or that’s the way I’ve begun to think of it.

Lately I’ve started thinking more about the “soul” of that house, the home it was for all of us. Starting this week, I’m going to write about the life that took place there, the laughter and tears and conversations and heartache and joy. Maybe then it can let me go…and vice versa.

Scott Park Lesson

Since we’ve moved, I’ve changed my walking route(s). Occasionally I’ll walk around the neighborhood, especially on the days when I feel like I need a real workout that the hilly streets provide. The undulating hills and curvy, tree-lined streets are invigorating for both body and soul. Most of  the time, however, I find myself going to Scott Park, an area where people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds converge to walk, jog, play tennis or volleyball, or picnic with family and friends.

It’s SO COOL there. Trees of all kinds seem to peer down on the shifting population as they wend their way around the winding one-mile path or participate in sports. Sometimes it’s quiet except for chirping birds and the sound of one’s own footsteps. Other times, it’s a little more clamorous. Tennis balls getting whacked back and forth across the net and exuberant shouts of the volley ball players as they jump to punch the ball remind me that there’s more to sports than the solitary walk that I prefer.

What I really love about the place, however, is the variety of people there who are all trying their best to improve themselves in some way, whether it’s by socializing with others in sports or by walking or jogging their way to fitness. Since I’m a walker and occasional jogger, I’m keenly interested in and aware of those who share the footpath. They range from the young speed demons who dart past me to the elderly who slowly and cautiously make their way around the track. I’ve seen people limping, using walkers and canes, and even leaning on companions for support as they make “the loop.” Some are thin as rails while others are obese. Our socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, age, and state of health differ, yet I feel somehow united to all of these folks because I sense that we have many things in common. We see the connection between mind, body, and spirit and are out saying “yes” to our physical and spiritual selves.  

I never leave the track without feeling inspired or motivated in some way, and this morning was no exception. On my last lap, I saw two women ahead of me whom I hadn’t seen before. Both were struggling to make it up the slight incline, and as I got closer I could overhear their conversation. The woman with the cane was in obvious discomfort and informed her friend, “My heel’s ‘bout to kill me.” Her walking buddy encouraged her to go back to the car and wait for her to finish two laps and assured her that one lap was enough considering her pain. “No, I gotta do this, and I am,” she replied. I walked briskly by and heard the words, “You’re determined, that’s for sure.”

Yes, she was, and I admired her for it and was grateful for the lesson. It’s so much easier to take the path of least resistance…at least in the short run. It would have been easier for this walker to stop and rest while her friend went “the distance,” and yet would her health have improved? Perseverance and persistence are traits essential for any accomplishment, and as I walked on past them, this little quote came to mind: “How can you expect God to direct your steps if you’re not taking any?” Who said that, I’m not sure, but there’s a lot of truth in that pithy little phrase.

Baby Emma

getattachment.jpgI dropped by Mrs. C.’s house to drop off the latest pictures of Baby Emma and her brother and sister. Being three hours away from her great grandchildren makes it difficult for her to see them as often as she’d like, so pictures are the next best thing. Studying the baby’s features intently, she commented on her huge eyes and then told me that her mother, Baby Emma’s great-great grandmother, had big eyes too.

Interested in this lady whom I had never met and yet whose DNA influenced my children, I asked Mrs. C. about her mother and her early demise. One story led to another, and before I knew it, I was listening to the details of the budding romance between Mr. and Mrs. Crolley. She had been his nurse, a very proper one who believed in following the rules. He didn’t want her to bend the rules, yet having noticed her before, he seized upon the opportunity to get to know her a little better. Would she be willing to give him a back rub after her shift ended? She was…and did, and the spell was cast.

Even though the hospital where they first became acquainted has long been demolished to make room for houses, I can still picture the two-story brick edifice and visualize a young couple becoming better acquainted there. His “Crolley charm,” as my son refers to it, melted her resolve, and before long the neat professional nurse in the starched white uniform became his wife. 

Today as I look at the photographs of the most recent family member, Emma Elizabeth, I can’t help but think about this precious child and her heritage. Baby Emma’s mother Carrie has a sign above an entry into her family room that says, “All because two people fell in love,” and although she thinks of Rich and her, this afternoon I’m thinking of another couple who met six decades ago. As long as Emma lives, so will they.

Gratitude and Receptivity

Connie introduced me to this great blog by songwriter Christine Kane, and I’m so happy about it. Every time I go to Christine’s blog (I feel like we’re on a first-name, buddy basis already), I read something else new and neat. Her overall outlook and world view are similar to mine, but her writing puts a slightly different twist on things.

I’m a BIG believer in gratitude and make it a point to write in a gratitude journal on a regular basis. One of the tidbits I picked up from Christine’s blog is that gratitude makes a person more receptive and concave, much like a vessel waiting to be filled. As soon as I read this I thought of two beautiful bowls I have. One is green and was specially chosen for its decorative purpose; its jade green color and rippled texture made it a perfect accessory for the dresser in the bedroom. On the inside rim, there is a single small flower that adds just the right touch of beauty. Simple and understated, the bowl is lovely. Er, that is, I think it still looks lovely. Right now it’s filled to overflowing with paper, coins, nails, screws, and other miscellaneous contents from my husband’s pockets. The other bowl is larger and flatter but just as lovely in its own way. Made of polished wood, I placed it on a shelf near the back door just to be pretty! However, at this moment, it too is filled with mail, pictures, keys, and other paraphernalia that somehow gets put there.

We’re not bowls, but we are vessels hoping expectantly to be filled with blessings, and the more grateful we are, the more receptive and “concave” we are. To quote Christine, gratitude says, “I am receptive. Send more!”

Sallie

Standing in the cross walk between the maternity wing and the delivery room, Jenny and I were entertaining ourselves by taking pictures of the clouds and the beautiful blue sky. Sultry and steamy outside, it was cool and comfortable in the air conditioned crosswalk. Surrounded by windows on all sides, we got a little carried away taking pictures of the various cloud formations from different angles. It was so beautiful! I even snapped a photo of a building across the way because the clouds were mirrored on its sleek side.

Did I mention that we had been in Lauren’s hospital room for over three hours waiting for the doctor’s availability to perform her C-section? The anticipation and anxiety had been steadily building, and these sky views from the crosswalk helped to calm our spirits. We knew the moment when we’d see the baby was speedily approaching, and we were excited about the probability of being the first to see her.

I had just snapped my cell phone shut when I glanced up and saw Charlie and a delivery room nurse approach the double doors leading to the crosswalk. Cradled in the nurse’s arms was the little neonate with her precious, scrunched-up little face. Sallie was here at last, and there in glass-enclosed crosswalk surrounded by sun and sky, we got our first glimpse. I’m not sure what Otis and Jenny were thinking, but my thoughts were how awesome it was to behold the face of one who had so recently left her Heavenly Father’s presence. If she could only talk, what stories she might tell!

I’ll forever associate the birth of this child with my “heavenly” photographs and the sunny day she entered the world.

Contagion or Compulsion?

It was an innocent remark, or so I thought. An innocuous, off-hand comment about a family situation unleashed a torrent of angry words from my daughter “Mom, when are you and Dad going to learn that we’re adults now? You can’t tell us what to do anymore.”

Taken aback, I nonetheless felt that the issue was “on the table” and needed to be discussed. “You’re right,”   I told her, “you are too old for us to be telling you what to do…at least in the way we did when you were a child.” I then went on to tell her of something I’d read about the impact of  influencing by catagion as opposed to that of compulsion. It reminded me of Brigham Young’s comment that you can’t flog a man into heaven. You can’t force a person to live the commandments or to walk the straight path, but you can influence by example, by love, and by kindness. I then reminded my lovely daughter that the only reason her father and I kept dispensing parental advice is because we loved her and her siblings very much. From now on, however, I promised to use less talk and more action in the hope that my behavior would be contagious.

Nevertheless, as I was putting the finishing touches on my Sunday school lesson this morning, I was stuck with how replete the Scriptures are with instructions from our Heavenly Father to us, His children. Not only are the commandments and reminders there for us to read and apply throughout our entire lives, but there’s also the fact that many of them are listed over and over again. If our loving Father felt the need to give us continued and repeated instructions, isn’t it permissible for us as earthly parents to do the same thing with our children that He has entrusted to us?