Monday, January 25, 2010

Time Measured

I love clocks—the gentle ticking away of time as it measures our lives. Generally time is so orderly, so precise, so fair, so unprejudiced. Time marches us along like a well-disciplined John Phillip Souza holding us to the beat. Once in a while time slows down as though it were obeying a ritardando sign like when you’re in a dentist’s chair, for instance, or trying to get over a great sorrow. It can also be hurried along with an accelerando when you’re having an unbelievably wonderful time or facing a difficult deadline. Time can even stand still fermata-like or so dramatic stories tell us. Usually, though, time is at “a tempo”, steady and persistent.

My day goes so much better when I allow the clock to work with me. It keeps me on task and helps me focus. I always wear time on my wrist so I can say, “I only have to put these papers away until the big hand is on the ten.” Or “I will concentrate on writing this article for eight minutes and then I can do something else.” Or “I’ve got to leave in half an hour. I’d better get ready.”

When I let the clock be my friend, I can take advantage of the little snatches of time that it often permits. While something is heating in the microwave for 30 seconds for example, the silverware compartment of the dishwasher can be emptied. Or in the ten minutes before a guest is expected, a vocal solo can be practiced or a phone call can be made. My husband, Brad, keeps his juggling balls in a kitchen drawer and when he passes by he stops for a moment to practice his juggling. These well used bits of time have enabled him to finally keep three balls going quite impressively, the success of which didn’t look too promising when he first started. With a little thought, great things can be accomplished in a few moments here and a few moments there.

This clock watching mania might be a total mystery to some, but there are so many fabulous things to do in life and time is running out. I want to grab each minute and squeeze the very most from it. I mean, when you reach the unbelievable age of 60, you finally have to face the fact that you’re reaching the finale. When there are still so many things left to do, every measure counts and I want to play each of them well.

It is quite mind expanding to consider that each day, hour, minute or second will only get to be lived once in all the eons of time. I think we owe it to those intervals to use them in the best way possible because none can ever be retrieved. There are definitely some days that I am more than glad to be done with, but there are some amazing past days that I wish I could reclaim. I would put them in a bank and pull them out once in awhile to relive and savor. I wish those days came with a repeat sign.

It is my understanding that when our hours here are finally spent we will go to a place where there is no reckoning of time. That is way beyond my ability to imagine. No clocks? No watches? How will I focus? How will I motivate myself? How can I function without a to-do list and a time frame to do it in?! I hope all the rests aren’t saved for Heaven because even there I’ll need things to do. I’ll need deadlines to meet. I’ll need new ideas to absorb and new skills to conquer. The clock here helps me do those things. I’m sure the greatest of all Composers has it figured out so that we can continue to progress without the aid of time. He must. He seems to have figured everything else out pretty well. Until then: as soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to practice the guitar until the big hand is on the four!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's In a Name? A Lot!

“It’s Eileen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Eileen. The name of the woman that taught that parenting class. It’s Eileen.”
“What are you talking about that right now for?”
“You asked me the other day, remember? You wanted to know the name of the woman who taught the class and neither of us could remember. And now I remember. It’s Eileen. It just popped into my head just now. Eileen. That’s her name.”
“I don’t need it now.”
“Right. But there it is. Eileen. Just thought you’d like to know.”

That’s the problem with names. Your mind goes absolutely blank when your mouth is ready to blurt it out. But when you don’t need the name anymore, there it is blinking in your head.

Names are so important. It has been said that the greatest sound a person can hear is the sound of his own name. Some are better at giving that thrill than others. I am definitely deficit in name remembering while my husband, Brad, on the other hand, is very good at remembering names and using them. He says I should just push through my forgetfulness and say the first name that comes to me and it will probably be right. So I tried it.

“Hi, Nancy.” I said with conviction.
“I’m Arlene.” Was the cold reply.
Failing to use a person’s name is not good social strategy, but it is much worse to use the wrong name.

“Experts” have created lots of tricks to aid in name remembering. One is to say a person’s name directly after being introduced and then think of a physical feature that person has in relation to his name. Perhaps Charlie has charcoal colored hair or Carol might have an oval shaped mouth and you can imagine her singing. Ben might have a bend in his nose or Alice might have a lisp. But what do you do with Alexandria or Josephine or Harold? And it’s not like the new person is going to freeze while you come up with a gimmick for remembering his name.

I’ve tried keeping a “Name Journal.” When I met new people at some gathering, I’d come home and write down their names and a little bit about them. That lasted exactly one night. I already have a Book Journal, a Thankfulness Journal and a Tender Mercies Journal that I’m not keeping up with.

Not remembering someone’s name can cause a lot of trauma. It can make you hide in a grocery store so you won’t have to address someone you’re supposed to know well enough to have his name in mind. The worst situation is when you have someone with you and you are put in a position of having to introduce him to another individual that just seems to pop up out of nowhere. I have instructed my husband that he is to quickly say, “Hi I’m Brad,” so that the arriving person can introduce himself without me getting involved.

I personally feel that everyone should have come to this earth with his or her name embroidered on his or her forehead. Not that Heaven would know precisely what the parents wanted to call the child beforehand. But wouldn’t it be great if the parents could fill out a form and fax it to the Powers That Be and order a name just as if they were ordering a monogrammed hat from a catalogue? The name could lovingly be embroidered upon the child’s precious head. Hmmmm…..that might not work so well in the womb being as each being starts as a tiny speck. The name would have to begin as an even smaller speck and then start growing with the fetus. Arms do it and legs, and for that matter, foreheads do it—then why not a name across the forehead? No?

OK—I know, I know! Wait ‘til the child is born—yes this is a much better idea—and observe it for a day or two and see what name would be exactly right for this new little creature. Then take the new infant to a name embroidery place and…….Naaaaa. That might be a little painful and there is enough pain in the world as it is without inflicting more agony.

Maybe we could all just wear mandatory nametags wherever we go like the sales clerks do in Macy’s or Fry’s. They would have to be printed in very large letters, however, so that when you’re speaking to someone and want to use his name and should know it but don’t want him to know that you’ve forgotten it, you could glance ever so slightly at his name tag and read his name without him catching you. But there are already too many mandatory laws and too many things that already aren’t being enforced, so nametag policing is probably out of the question.

You’d think it would be OK to ask a person’s name and say that you’re so sorry you’ve forgotten it, but when it is someone that you grew up with, live next to, admire greatly, or have already asked the name of several times, it would put you down several notches on the social ladder to admit your carelessness.

Those who remember names have more friends and are more comfortable with the people around them. When you can say a person’s name with confidence, you are endeared to him. He is then more likely to make it a point of remembering and using your name and a bond is created.

Knowing the importance of something and being able to do it, however, are two very different things. So while I am trying to improve my ability to remember and use names, I think I will have to keep the great name remember-er “what’s his name”—oh yeah, Brad!—next to me at all times.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Conversations With Mom

“Now, how are we related?” Mom asks me as I drive her to her home from mine.

“I’m your daughter,” I say, probably for the twentieth time that week. It doesn’t matter—I could say it 500 times. A brain that can’t hold on to things just plain can’t hold on to them no matter how many times it is told something. I wish I could write it on a sticky note and somehow press it into the flesh of her brain where it could be absorbed and finally remembered. Usually Mom thinks I’m her older sister, Isobell and she thinks my sister Maxine, is her younger sister, Ruth.

“You never had to drive the derrick horse,” she has said often.
“I didn’t know about the derrick horse—I wasn’t there.”
“Well, why weren’t you there?”
“I wasn’t born yet. I’m your daughter, not your sister.”
“Oh, right. If you say so,” she says.

Maxine tells me I shouldn’t argue with Mom. It certainly doesn’t do any good, but it makes being with her a little more adventurous.

“I always had to drive the derrick horse,” Mom says. “Maxine never had to drive the derrick horse.”
“You mean Ruth?”
“Well, yes. What did I say? Ruth never had to drive the derrick horse. Mother favored her because she was sick. I always got the bad end of things. And you never had to drive the derrick horse either.”

I give up for a while. I try to ask her what the derrick horse is but she doesn’t tell me. I’ll have to google it some day.

“Where do you think my husband is?” she asks.
“Mom, you know where he is,” I say.
“No, where is he?”
“He’s in Heaven.”
“How long has he been gone?”
“Ten years.”
“That’s a long time. You have no idea what it’s like to not have a husband.”
“No,” I say, “I don’t. And if that time ever comes it will be awful.”
“But you’ve had your husband so long and I had mine such a short time.”
“You had him nearly 60 years,” I say.
“That long? Well, it wasn’t long enough. Was he sick?”
“How long was he sick?”
“About seven years.”
“Really? What did he have?”
“Oh, that’s an awful thing to have. A lot of our family had that didn’t they? Did I ever have it? I can’t remember.”

I am so sorry she’s like this—she used to be very interesting to talk to. Now we just re-hash the same things over and over and over again.

“I just want to be with my husband,” she says. “But I don’t think he’s interested in me anymore.”
“Why do you say that, Mom?”
“Well, he doesn’t come see me.”
“How can he come see you when he’s in Heaven?”
“I think he’s found somebody else.”
“No, Mom. They don’t find other people in Heaven. He’s waiting for you.”
“Oh, do you think so? That makes me feel better. How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“OK. I’ll take your word for it. You’re sure about that?”
“Yep, I’m sure.
“How do you know so much?”
“You taught me, Mom.”

“Did you like him?”
“Of course. He’s my dad.”
“Oh, right. Well, I liked him the first time I met him. I didn’t want to go. I told myself I would never go on any more blind dates. But they told me I’d be sorry if I didn’t go on this one. So I went. And I liked him the first time I met him.”
“He’s a good one, all right,” I tell her.

Another day on the phone she might say, “You’ll never guess what I’m reading.”
“Anne of Green Gables?” I venture.
“How did you know?”

I know because she has been watching that movie every day for about a year now. She isn’t reading it, she is watching it. It gives her great pleasure.

“I remember when Vada came to school one day and said she had the most wonderful book and that I had to read it. It was….Now what was it called?”
“Anne of Green Gables,” I remind her.
“Oh, yes. Anne of Green Gables. And I just had to go right out and get it, too. I loved Cedar Point. Didn’t you love that school?”
“I didn’t go there,” I say.
“You didn’t? Why didn’t you?”
“Because I wasn’t around. I’m your daughter, not your sister.”
“You keep telling me that. Well, those teachers were so dumb. They put me up a grade. They never should have done that. And my parents just let them. Then I didn’t fit in anywhere.”
“They put you up because you were so smart, Mom.”
“Well, it was the wrong thing to do.”

Mom had been very smart and once in awhile her shattered memory will rally and she’ll do something astounding like recite “Little Orphan Annie” in its entirety.
She also never forgets to be grateful or kind or offer to help.

“Don’t you have something for me to do like rake all the leaves?” she asks.

Somehow letting a 94 year old woman who is very wobbly on her legs go outside to rake leaves doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Neither does letting her walk part way home when she announces two miles from our destination, “You can just let me off here. It won’t hurt me to walk.”

“I thought I’d be going this week,” Mom says.
“Going where?” I ask.
“To that other place.”
“Do you mean Heaven?”
“I guess that’s where. How can I get there? Could I take a train?”

That stops me in my tracks so to speak. I can’t think of anything intelligent to say to that. A train. I know older people wonder a lot about just how they’re going to get out of this world. Taking a train wouldn’t be a bad idea.

“Will you come with me?” she asks.
“I’m not quite ready,” I answer. Actually, some days I’m ready but not today.

Too bad I can’t just escort her to Heaven, look around a bit, do a little visiting and then come back. Once she got settled, Mom would be delighted to stay.

But she is going to have to ride that train alone. I pray that it will be a smooth and comfortable ride. And I hope for her sake that the train stops for her very soon. She’s had her ticket for a long, long time.

Trudy Q.

Trudy Quinlan Barrett gathered her white robes and ran soundlessly to the edge of Heaven when St. Polly turned her back for a moment to pick up a fallen halo. Trudy knew they’d come looking for her again, but polishing halos was not what she felt like doing at the moment. Looking down she saw Earth’s beautiful blue roundness and her heart longed to be on it again. Then, as she had done many times before, she stepped up to the nearby Heavenly Telescopes and focused. She first narrowed her view to the North American continent, and then focused on the United States, singling out the state of Arizona and zeroing in on Gilbert where she had lived so happily. Finally, she searched even further until she was looking directly into her own earthly family room. There, as she knew it would be, was her little family sitting on the couch watching Sponge Bob without her. They weren’t laughing.

Aaron was Trudy’s handsome and true husband of 32. They had only been married for eight years. Adam was her funny and very smart son who had just turned 7 and Tyler was her baby. He was three now but had only been two when his life of security had been snatched away. They needed her so much. And Trudy needed them. She only had time for one lonely tear when St. Polly came bustling in on Trudy’s sorrow.

“I knew I’d find you here,” St. Polly said with great agitation in her voice. “This is the seventh time you’ve left your post. There is so much to be done. We can’t have angels running off whenever they feel like it. There are rules to be followed.”

Trudy knew that St. Polly had held her tyrannical position for a very, very long time. She must have totally forgotten all about the loveliness of earthly things like hugs and watching Bye- Bye Birdie and planning vacations and going on picnics and laughing at dumb knock-knock jokes. Heaven was not all it was cracked up to be, especially when the ones you loved—more than anyone could ever be loved—couldn’t be with you.

Trudy had arrived in Heaven early; much earlier than she had planned anyway. And she felt like she had left lots of joys and unfinished business behind on that glorious planet Earth.

When she first got to Heaven, many angels gathered around her and tried to make her feel welcome. They let her know how things were run there and instructed her on some of the more important points. For instance, Trudy learned that angels really don’t use their wings or halos except for special occasions like the Christmas Celebration or the Easter Extravaganza.
They even invited her to join with them in their activities.

“Now really Trudy,” one Sweet Angel had tried. “You must come with us to the movies. Guess what’s playing now—it’s called Moses Parting the Red Sea! This one doesn’t star Charleton Heston. It stars Moses himself! And actually no one is acting—it’s the real thing. And next week they’re showing the one of Daniel shutting the mouths of the lions. And the movie about Jonah is really awesome; you won’t want to miss that one.”

But the Sweet Angel could tell that Trudy wasn’t interested.

“What is it Trudy?” she asked. “What are you missing so much? Is it your beautiful jewels? Is it the business of life—the running here and there and getting things done? Is it the fabulous “Brownie Obsession” at TGI Friday’s? I really miss that, too!”

“No, no,” said Trudy, trying hard not to roll her eyes in exasperation. “You don’t understand. Come with me and I’ll show you.” The two angels had slipped away before anyone could ask them to brush the wings or hang up the robes. Then Trudy had showed the Sweet Angel her favorite view—the inside of her own home in Gilbert. The one she was looking into right now.

“Sometimes I just miss the laundry,” Trudy had said to the Sweet Angel. “You know, making it smell good and folding it neatly and putting it away. I miss my friends. I loved them so much and they loved me. I miss the everyday things that made life so wonderful. But most of all I miss my boys. I need them. And they definitely need me. Do you see them there? How can I not be with them everyday? I love them much more than any jewels or business or dessert.”

The Sweet Angel had stood by Trudy for a little while trying to feel what Trudy was feeling, but finally she put her arm around Trudy and headed her back to where the other angels were currently making welcome signs.

So now here was St. Polly with her hands on her ample hips waiting again for Trudy to get back to Heaven’s business.

“Wait! Please let me stay a little longer!” Trudy kept looking through the telescope as the scene before her changed. “That’s Marmie there. Here, look!” Trudy stepped down so St. Polly could look through the telescope. St. Polly was anxious to look but had to act extremely disinterested considering her position and all. “Do you see her? Marmie, I mean. She didn’t want to be called Grandma because she thought it made her sound too old. Really, a name isn’t going to help her much. But do you see what she’s going to have Adam wear to school today? It’s picture day—he can’t wear that! Please, let me see what I can do here before I go back to halo polishing.”

St. Polly sighed and put a “why me” look on her face. “Trudy,” she finally said, “You’re needed in Heaven now. You’ve got to let your boys go for awhile.

“But they need me more,” Trudy protested as she reluctantly left the telescope. “And it really wasn’t fair, you know, me coming here so early in my life.”

“Fair?” St. Polly winced at the word. “Fair isn’t something that we talk about up here, young lady. Now we do talk about Justice and we do talk about Mercy, but you can’t find the word “Fair” in Heaven’s Dictionary.”

“St. Polly, please.” Trudy grabbed St. Polly’s hands and looked into her eyes. “Help me out here! How can I be with my boys? How can I help them get through life without me?”

“Hmmm.” St. Polly’s brow furrowed and she thought with great deliberation. Everything she did was done with great deliberation. Finally, shaking her hands free and straightening her hair, she said, “I’ll have to take this up with a higher power.” St. Polly as always would have preferred to solve the problem herself to add to her sense of invincibility, but luckily she knew when she was in over her head.

“St. Peter is awfully busy these days,” St. Polly considered. “Seems like so many are coming here lately—what with all the hurricanes and tsunamis.”

She pulled her white electronic Blackberry out of her large robe pocket and entered a few things in it as she let out yet another sigh.

“I’ll try St. Peter’s office to see if he’s available first. But you might have to settle for an answer from St. Paul.”

“Ahh, they’re quick,” she said turning to Trudy as new writing appeared on the Blackberry screen.

“Let’s see now. The answer is….” St. Polly got very quiet as she read and her eyes got rather large.

“Well?” asked Trudy, “What does it say?”

“It says that you are to have whatever you want!”

“Really?” Trudy was ecstatic. Now this was more like Heaven ought to be.

“This has never happened before,” said a humbled St. Polly, running her weary hand across her unbelieving brow. “Most people have to pick a number and do what ever it says.”

“Is that message from St. Peter?” Trudy asked, surprised that such an important Being would take time to help her specifically when there were so many others needing assistance.

“No,” said St. Polly and her hands raised to the even Higher Heavens and her face shone with wonder. “The message is from God!”

Just then a voice came from that most Heavenly of places, quiet yet piercing. “St. Polly,” the voice said with great love and patience, “I’ll take it from here!”

As the voice continued, Trudy’s heart filled with an overwhelming peace.

“Trudy, you are one of my dearest of daughters because you lived your life with love and compassion. Always your thoughts were about others as you tried to make life so much better for so many. I know your heart. I know how much you miss your boys and I know that through the years their hearts will ache for you. Although I can’t send you back because that would upset my Eternal Plan, I do have another plan for you. Let me whisper it to you and you tell me if that will help you feel better about being in Heaven.”

Trudy closed her eyes and listened to a very still voice that only she could hear and a soft, lovely smile lighted her face.

“Will that do?” God asked at last out loud.

“Yes,” Trudy’s voice trembled as she looked upward and answered through her now happy tears. “That will do.”

After that miraculous event, Trudy never again was assigned to polish halos. She didn’t even have to hang up robes or sing in the choir or make welcome signs—although she was the very best in that last mentioned department! Once in awhile she was asked to visit some new-comers and teach them a few of the truths they’d missed on earth. But most of all Trudy was delighted to be busy with what she cared about most—her family.

When Aaron was tired and weary and felt like life was a little too burdensome without her, Trudy would stand beside him. And even though Aaron couldn’t see her, he would feel her strength and he would push forward with more energy and purpose.

When Adam was discouraged and wished that his mom could be there to watch him play baseball, she would be on the sidelines cheering him on. And even though Adam couldn’t see her, he could feel her love for him and he would try even harder.

And when Tyler refused to go to pre-school because he needed his mom so much, Trudy would lightly take his hand and he would know that she would always be with him.

Even the rest of Trudy’s family—her sisters and brothers and parents and in-laws and all of her friends, too—could feel her presence with them, helping them decide what to do when choosing was hard and giving them comfort and encouragement.

And when it was time for another beautiful person to come into her family’s life to help love and take care of them, Trudy was right there making sure that the very right one was chosen.

Whenever she had a few minutes after everyone seemed to be well taken care of—which wasn’t very often—Trudy would work on the mansion she was getting ready for her family. It was a beautiful heavenly home that was big enough for all those she loved and plenty big enough for everyone her boys came to love, too.

So Heaven became a place of peace for Trudy. And Earth became a place of peace for all of Trudy’s family and friends.

And even in the Highest of Heavens God smiled and said, “Yes, that will do.”