The Blue Marble

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t looked up at the night sky and felt a sense of wonder, and well, sometimes smallness? Even as a child, I felt a connection to the heavens and always (yes always) included words of gratitude for the sun, the moon, the stars, and the rain in my prayers at bedtime. Now in my twilight years, the wonder and sense of connection are even greater.

On our first trip to Arizona a few years ago, we went to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Constructed high on a hill, the grounds and buildings overlooked the city below. Around and around the curves we went until we finally reached the top of Mars Hill. We oohed and ahed over the several telescopes, strolled down Galaxy Walk, and then donned our special glasses and stared straight at the sun without squinting or doing damage to our eyes.

We were entranced with the beauty, essence, and history of the place. Trees and rocks and century old buildings set the stage for adventure and discovery. Pluto was discovered there in 1930, and although Pluto’s status has changed since then, its sighting was historical. The morning we were at the observatory, astronomers walked about to and from their offices, and one of them willingly stopped to answer questions when our tour guide hailed him.

After learning there would be a lecture and a Saturn viewing that evening, we planned the rest of our day around the night visit. The lecture was enlightening, full of fascinating facts, but seeing Saturn and its rings up close and personal was surreal. I looked at the sky, then back at the telescope several times. How could that barely discernable spot above my head be so large, illuminated, and visible through the telescope lens? What else was up there that I couldn’t see?

I don’t own a telescope. But I do own an increased reverence and awe for our galaxy and the billions of others in the universe. Although I haven’t studied a lot about it since then (so much to learn, so little time), I’m not quite as ignorant as I was four years ago. I’m not a scientific person and don’t grasp concepts like gravity, cosmology, or black holes as easily as some people. Truthfully, I’m more into quotes like this one from Listening for the Heartbeat of God: “…the lights of the skies, the sun and moon and stars, are referred to as graces, the spiritual coming through the physical.” Ah yes, thin places…got it.

 But I’ve been learning. As I look at the night sky, I now understand that earth and space science studies connections between the land, ocean, atmosphere, and life of our planet, sometimes referred to as the Blue Marble. From Wikipedia: “Our Solar System consists of the sun and its orbiting planets, including Earth, along with numerous moons, asteroids, comet material, rocks, and dust.” It’s my understanding that until the invention of the Hubble telescope, we Earthlings thought our solar system was the only game in town. Now we know there are billions of galaxies in our universe. Billions.

I often go walking with a neighbor in the evening, and sometimes the stars are so numerous in the inky sky that we have to stop and stare. And a full, crescent, or half-moon causes the same reaction. There’s darkness all around and above us, and yet here we are in a galaxy floating, twirling around in space with everything we need to support life as we know it. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, stars. sun, moon water, birds, giraffes, trees, roses, owls, starfish—everything is connected and has what it needs.

And high above us is Saturn. But as far as I know, we’re the only planet with life as we know it floating around in the dark universe. A mystery beyond my comprehension.

Our Net Is Tangled

It happened again this morning. I picked up my earbuds to go walking and saw that the spaghetti-like cords were tangled. How did that happen? When I disconnected them from my iPhone after walking yesterday, I very carefully arranged them on the counter top in a way that surely would prevent any raveling. But something happened overnight, and by some mysterious process, the strings became an entangled mess.

The snarled strings brought to mind sections of the book Seven Thousand Ways of Listening by Mark Nepo. When writing about conflict, Nepo tells about garden hoses that get seriously tangled while resting in the garage. He patiently tries to untangle the gnarled mess and gets so frustrated that he feels like banging it on the floor. I’ve been there, done that and have learned that giving way to anger and frustration only makes matters worse.

Isn’t that also true with our conflicts with other people? Sometimes they just happen, and we don’t always know why or how the problem started. Was it something you said? Or maybe it was something you shouldn’t have said. Let’s make this even more complicated. After all, human relationships can be that way. Maybe the snarled knot got worse because of something you or the other party SHOULD HAVE SAID but didn’t.

What I especially like about Nepo’s passage on conflict is a story about fishermen and their nets. Nets left in the sea long enough will tangle. It’s part of what nets do (earbud strings too!). At day’s end, the fishermen stretch out the net between them and examine it for knots. With the open net between them, the fishermen loosen all of the knots that they can and cut those that are impossibly snarled.

There are so many things to consider in this action. First, the fishermen put a little distance between them. Like people in conflict, the net of relationship and experience is between them, and yet sometimes people need to separate a little more in order to see things more clearly. Those in conflict often need the perspective that distance can provide before they can see all of the knots and tangles.

Sometimes people need to separate for longer periods. The strings in the net can then be cut and then retied in a different manner, one that works better for them. A child leaving home might be a good example. Cutting the apron strings is a way of looking at this. Though the connection is still there, the dependence on the parents is cut and retied, hopefully strengthening the connection.

 When looking at the outstretched net, the fishermen can see exactly where the problem area is. Sometimes we’re so emotionally tied to something that we can’t see things clearly. We can feel our pain, anger, or frustration, but we can’t necessarily see the cause of our angst. Distance can better help us answer the questions, “Can the tangle be unraveled? Can the web be made whole again?”

I’ll take up this theme at another time. For now, I need to ponder my net/web of relationships and check it for knots. What about you? Can the tangle be unraveled? Can the net be made whole again?

Caught Between Generations

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I spent some time visiting cemeteries today. I’ve often excused my absence there by saying, “My parents aren’t really there. Their spirits live elsewhere. In fact, I can sense their presence quite often.”

Still, I needed to go. I was somehow compelled to go. I parked in the church parking lot and ate a couple of Chick fil-A nuggets before summoning the nerve to get out of the car. I hadn’t been in a while and was feeling ill-at-ease.

“What’s wrong with you, Jaynie?” My mother often called me that, and I could almost hear her asking me that question. Not wanting to disappoint her, I got out and walked to the gate. I pushed it open and headed right. Seconds later, I was staring at my parents’ headstones. Their names and birth and death dates were clearly etched on them. I stared at them for a few moments, incredulous that it had been over 15 years since I’d heard my father’s voice. I can still hear him saying, “Never better,” whenever anyone would ask him how he felt. That response always struck me as strange because he had emphysema and died of COPD. Breathing was a challenge, a scary and painful one (I think).

The main thing that struck me while standing there, however, was how names and dates reveal so little about what a person was really like. She could sing so beautifully. She could dance too. And she was a little zany at times. She was a real lady, and I loved her so much. So did my children. Even now, it’s Granny, Granny, Granny. What about me??? And my father had this cool walk. He sort of loped along in a casual stride, and my son walks the same way. Gulp.

Before I get too carried away, let’s move on.

I then went to another cemetery about seven or eight miles from the first one. My little grandson is resting there beside his great-grandfather, and I needed to see his stone today. His mama, my daughter Carrie, celebrates Spencer’s birth on December 8th of each year, and I wanted to let him know that he hasn’t been forgotten. I think the little angel healed a lot of family wounds. Maybe that was the purpose of his brief mission.

I’ve always loved my son-in-law, but the day that he told me they wanted to bury Spencer in Camden marks the day that I fell even harder for the guy.  He said he knew that there would always be family in Camden, and thus a reason for coming back here to bring Spencer’s younger brothers and sisters to visit his grave. What hope. What optimism. What faith. My daughter had already had two miscarriages and a stillborn child. And yet, Rich was confident that little Spencer would have younger siblings.

And Rich was right. I remember his statement every year when I go with Carrie, Rich, and their five children to pay Spencer a visit.

It was a day of connecting with family. Whether still walking the earth or abiding in holier habitations, people continue to affect each other. Caught between generations, my mind awash with memories, I again marveled at the web of connections.

Rainy Day Thoughts

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Years and years and years ago, my brother Mike and I went for a walk around the block in the rain. Why we decided to do such a thing, I don’t know. Neither of us were particularly into fitness in those days, mainly because we were young and thin and healthy. Our mother was a stickler for the major food groups. We never even tasted pizza until we were in high school, not because our parents didn’t approve of it but rather because there were no places to buy it in Camden until the 1960s.

But I digress. Yesterday morning I put on a hat, opened my bright orange IKEA umbrella, and headed out the front door for a walk in the rain. “Enough is enough,” I thought. “I’m not going to be held captive indoors by this rainy weather another moment.” Undaunted by the steady drizzle, out I went for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. It was delightful! With temps in the 60’s, the plunk-plunk of water splashing into puddles, and the cool rain hitting my calves, I was glad that I had decided to brave the elements.

Here’s what I noticed right away, the circles in the puddles. Puddles were everywhere, and the steady dripping of rain made some interesting circular designs. Some circles were big and some were small, and just about every single one of them overlapped or intersected with another, sometimes several others. Plus, ALL of them rippled out into ever widening concentric circles.

The puddle patterns made me think of my brother and our walk that day decades ago and of our parents and their love and care for us (not just the two of us, but all four children). All six of our lives intersected and overlapped, then and now. Today even the grandchildren and great grandchildren are affected by that original family of six and the experiences, choices, and interaction that we all had. Plus, none of the family members live a cloistered life. All are involved, even the young ones, in some type of work, church, play, or community activity, thus giving them the opportunity to intersect with even more lives.

Here is my point (at last). The choices we make and the things we do have a ripple effect, and some of them affect others with whom our lives are entwined and connected. Right now I’m getting ready to go on another walk around the neighborhood. Like Mike said, “I keep moving so I can keep moving.” I know exactly what he’s talking about. After my walk, I’ll get gussied up (sort of) for church. I know for a fact about the ripple effects of that experience. If I didn’t go, well, we don’t even want to think about how beastly I might feel and act.

I could go a lot deeper into the above, but if I do, then I’ll lose the time for walking and worshipping. Can’t do that. The ripple effects of exercise are far reaching. Plus, the interlacing of lives, just like puddles, will be made more pleasant for my family and friends after I spend a couple of hours in church.

What about you? What are some ripple effects of your actions? How are some ways that your life and the decisions you make affect others?

Web of Connections

All week I’ve been thinking of a few shining moments last weekend when 18 people were in my little bungalow at the beach. It was crowded, yes. And it was fun, yes again. Not everyone stayed for dinner, but everyone stayed long enough to choose a specialty cupcake that Elizabeth and I had bought the day before. Yummy! My favorite was called “Day at the Beach,” and it had a tiny umbrella perched atop the icing.

Since my daughter Carrie and I hadn’t had the opportunity to celebrate our August birthdays together, we chose last weekend, and I’m smiling as I remember the lively singing that went on in the kitchen as my brother Mike’s family and I sang Happy Birthday to me. Yes, you read that right; I sang to myself too. As a matter of fact, Sarah Beth claims that I’m the one who started us off. We sang to Carrie later that evening when she returned from the duck pond where she and her kids had sneaked off  to feed the ducks.

Within three short hours, just about everyone had gone home, and by the next afternoon, I was completely alone. And yet, I keep thinking of how although everyone had scattered and gone back into their separate lives by Monday, we had come together for a few magical hours. I can’t speak for my visitors, but as for me, those moments together have buoyed me up several times during the past week. If I need to chuckle, I just have to remember little Colton propped up on my bed watching television, my Kindle Fire clutched  to his chest as if he planned to read.  That was right before, grinning, he called me an egghead.

It’s nice to be part of a network of family and friends who genuinely care about one another. This past week marked the anniversary of the passing of a friend’s child. Much beloved by his family, this young man is sorely missed. As I told his mother, he’s still her son, and she’s still connected to him. Just because she can’t see him, that doesn’t mean that he’s not living his life somewhere else.

Later in the week, another friend told of watching an old family movie in which her mother-in-law was a young woman. Although her MIL (abbreviation I picked up from my DIL) left this life decades ago, she was there in the movie, young and vibrant as she laughingly walked towards the camera. The recipient of her DNA, one of her grandsons, also watched the film.

Living or dead, nearby or distant, there are people with whom we are connected. We’re all a part of a marvelous web of family and friends, and although we don’t get to see these folks on a daily basis, the threads of connection are there. My son sent me a picture of his infant son all dressed up for church this morning. “Who does he look like?” I asked myself as I thought of the web of which this precious child is a part.