Our Writings

Worship Our Image

For the past three years, I have passed these words scrawled into the blacktop on the Newark rail trail. I hike this trail frequently and often ponder the author’s intent in this choice of words. Always visible, these three words have survived several winters, as if to protest removal with words too stubborn to submit to change.  Does the author revisit this place at the first sign of warm weather to reinforce a statement apparently important enough to remain for years? What exactly does it mean to worship our image? 

The word “worship” is common to religious traditions, defined by the provision of reverence to an intended deity. To worship is to place in an exalted position, above oneself. Therefore, on the surface, to worship our image, could well smack of arrogance implying the lofty placement of self above the welfare of everyone and everything else.

I could dismiss the statement as ill-informed, but I pause at this statement every single hike. The statement gnaws at my brain, inviting me to consider other possibilities implied by the statement in search of a deeper meaning. What is the difference between the self and an image of self? Does the use of the corporate “our” in the statement denote the author’s intent to be inclusive, extending a privileged position to all humankind or even all living-kind? Do these distinctions make any real difference?

Perhaps any indictment is short-sighted and ill-advised. Perhaps I think too much. Perhaps, I should hike a different trail.

Or perhaps, a different and more positive meaning can be found beneath the surface of this statement.

Beyond the religious connotations, “honor” is but one alternate meaning for the word “worship.” And while the word “image” could be used to describe a physical object, such as a photograph or statue, image, in a broader sense, could refer to a reflection or extension of self. While, I will never know the author’s true intent, considering the possibility of worship and image from this broader context is intriguing. What if you and I truly honor the person we are and the life we have been given? What image would be produced if we truly live the gifts we’ve been given from the best self we can cultivate? 

Jane Pauley did a couple of segments on today’s Sunday Morning show that spoke to this idea of honoring our gifts. One segment featured comedians that had blazed the early television trail leaving a legacy for other comedians to follow. A second segment featured the iconic Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’s band album and the way in which the music from this album pushed the limits of studio technology, sound and even art in ways unheard of in the industry.  

In-between days of rain, I took a hike on the one sunny day offered this week. I had to see if the statement was still visible on the trail. Much like the artist’s legacy, I found it, once again, subtle, but still speaking from the same place it has occupied in year’s past.

I doubt any of the artists featured on this morning’s broadcast foresaw or planned for the impact their work might inspire. Like ripples in a vast sea, sometimes honoring our gifts by nurturing and sharing them with the greater world, reflects into the world in unimaginable ways. How would our world change if each of us decided to live through the gifts we’ve each been given? Could the reflection of each of our best selves change our world from the inside out?  

That’s one image that could truly make a lasting statement.

As Daylight Sleeps

It is 5 a.m. and beyond my seventh-floor balcony suite, I hear the deep groan of ocean waves against the shore. Most Gulf Shore mornings, I can see the ocean stretch before me. But this morning, I cannot see the ocean yet; the sky is black with night. Above me, scattered stars glitter, but directly ahead the sky extends in complete darkness like an empty void. Every few minutes, a bolt of lightning illuminates the dense cloud cover in the distance. Except for the anxious chatter of passing seabirds, the day begins quietly and without intrusion. Day still sleeps under the blanket of night.

There is stillness in these moments before dawn, a gift from the insanity of daily life. Yet under the cloak of a quiet night, a storm looms unseen in the darkness, revealed only in the momentary flashes of distant light.

Morning breaks slowly, and with the first rays of dawn, subtle light exposes a rapidly evolving storm. The storm has drawn closer and angry skies loom large overhead, moving ponderously forward over a wind-tossed sea. The wind is gaining strength. I pull my wrap tightly around my shoulders and retreat to the kitchen.

In many ways this morning was a metaphor for some of the more difficult circumstances encountered in life. Often, life storms remain unseen until they are upon us, even though they may have been brewing for quite a long time. Clarity is the child of light and in life, often the exception and not the rule. Consider recent events – those catastrophic, unexpected tragedies that ravaged our world with wildfires, hurricanes and human violence. In the aftermath of tragedy, a question remains.  What is the best way to avoid or at least minimize damage done by each horrific event?

A certain amount of training provides some degree of preparation for handling the aftermath of a broad-scale tragedy. For the record, I am forever grateful for the men and women who continuously risk their own lives daily for the sake of others. Yet, in the moment, when countless critical decisions must be made swiftly, I cannot imagine any amount or type of training that would ease the burden of making difficult choices with irreversible and potentially life-altering consequences. Given the right circumstances, how would one choose to save one life over another or decide to move forward with a risky imperative when the outcome is far from certain. Some decisions, however necessary, come at great cost.

On a personal level, storms find us when life fails us in some way. Perhaps, a loved one dies or leaves. Maybe, success in a business or other partnership escapes our grasp or we are forced to live with a disability or fight for life in the face of a chronic or terminal disease. There are many ways in which life can take an unexpected turn, often with little or no warning.

In such times, I have wished for answers written in the sky. Life might be easier if problems would present themselves with ample time for consideration. Life might be easier if answers were clear. Life might be easier without disability, disease, hurricanes, fires, death, and pointed guns. If only I knew what was coming, I could plan an effective strategy. If only I had known what was coming, I would have made a different choice.

It seems that the best advice is most often visible only through the lens of time. 

Life would be easier without the darkness, wouldn’t it?

But then, what meaning would there be in the light? Would light even exist if not for the darkness?

In the dark of night, we find time for both rest and refinement. The unexpected brings the need for action and quick thinking. If we are wise, what we learn becomes the catalyst for growth. Struggle challenges us in ways that only exists within the delicate tension of strife. Perhaps darkness is what shoves us into the light.

Still, I doubt many would wish for the darkness. Hardship is never pleasant, regardless of what lessons the night holds for our souls. Yet, the next time a life storm appears on the horizon, I may be wiser to look for the gift from the night, a reminder that life can be both unpredictable and insane, a subtle urge to remain alert, thoughtful, diligent and gracious in preparation for the larger challenges which still remain hidden in the dark.

May your 2018 be filled with gifts from the night to light your path with rest, refinement, peace and joy.

Happy New Year.

Thanksgiving – New Beginnings

Thanksgiving, always a wonderful family get together. I often wonder how interesting the first Thanksgiving was when I was a kid. I studied about the holiday that represented when pilgrims new to the surroundings of the North American Continent, joined with the natives of the land sharing a harvest. I would ask where are the Indians Dad? How come they do not come to our Thanksgiving dinner? I cannot imagine he gave me an answer to that question since we drove them from their lands, eventually killing them or forcing their assimilation into the American culture by placing them on reservations.   

The first Thanksgiving was a gathering to celebrate a good harvest and natives were present, and if it had not been for them, the pilgrims would have not made it through the winter of their first year. The natives and pilgrims ate fowl such as ducks or geese. On a trip to Plymouth, I remember reading in one of the museums, the turkey was just another name for ducks and geese, probably not any turkey as we know it now.

That brings me to wonder how the gathering went. You are in your first year in a new place. The plants certainly were different. There were probably animals they had not met with in their home country of England or even the Dutch countryside. The natives that they eventually met lived in different houses and dressed differently. The strangeness of someone entering this territory alone would cause the natives to be in protective mode. Oh, and the natives had a completely different culture and language.

Yes, the pilgrims, found a different climate for growing crops. It made it somewhat difficult to plant the seeds they brought with them. They were not so successful at first. The natives however, did not allow the pilgrims to starve and helped them with their crops, introducing to them squash and corn which can be stored and provide one with food all through the winter. I imagine that some of the food at that gathering and the way it was prepared would have been strange to both the native and pilgrim. The native allowed the pilgrims to settle on the land. With all this cooperative sharing the natives and pilgrims gathered frequently to share and learn from each other.

I know for a fact that to be true. Our Thanksgiving meal this year was probably like the first gathering. My wife and I have been eating a whole food diet instead of the American Standard diet. It is truly a healthy way of eating, but you must make concessions. We eat no meat, no eggs, and drink no milk. Yes, we do eat a lot of vegetables. Usually, when family comes over we have a large turkey, oyster dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberries. Sweet potatoes with cinnamon and butter are an option. Then pie, cherry or pumpkin topped with whipped topping for desert is always a favorite.

Now our meal had to be vegan. No meat, but we had a tofu turkey roll stuffed with wild rice. No dairy, so I used silk soy milk where milk was required for baking. Butter was soy based so it was not dairy. We could not eat oysters nor the turkey broth that mixed with the stuffing. We made a separate one with mushrooms and used vegetable broth. The green beans and corn are vegetables and needed no changes. The sweet potato was a good substitute for mashed potatoes and gravy.

Compromise and substitution are necessary with a gathering involving food. The cranberries had to be made sugar free, but some people in the party had an allergy to artificial sweeteners and one person was diabetic. We made two cranberry dishes, one with artificial sweetener and one with sugar. We had vegan pies for desert and they tasted great, crusts made without milk or real butter. It was a different kind of thanksgiving, much like the real one, note that potatoes that the natives offered were considered by the pilgrims poison and some of the pilgrims would still not eat them. Some of the pilgrims at my Thanksgiving did not care for the tofurkey when we offered a taste. Everyone had a wonderful time and all the other food was eaten and consumed with much pleasure.  I am sure the pilgrims and the natives felt full and happy, too.

Jack is Back

This time of year, some people are dreaming of a white Christmas.

As for me, I am dreaming of salmon, specifically, plump juicy salmon filets Asian-Style, the way my husband fixed them for me when we were dating. It was our first home-cooked meal together as a couple.

These days, John’s focus has been on healthy plant-based meals and although I still occasionally feel a bit “fishy” his creative breakfast meals have never failed to delight my palate. New surprises seem to await me with every meal and on a recent weekday morning, I was introduced to Jack.

I have known many Jacks in my life. As a child, Jack was a character nimble and quick until he broke his crown and tumbled down the hill with Jill. Perhaps he was weakened by his inability to eat fat, saved only by his wife who could eat no lean. At some point, Jack ended up in a box, held hostage by the turn of a crank. Poor Jack! I just hope he found the music comforting.

Two years ago, Jack was born anew as a beloved grandson, a much better fate than living in a box, don’t you think? It was high time for Jack to make a comeback. So why should I be surprised to find Jack on my plate?

Move over salmon, Jack is back!

I had no idea that Jack is also a fruit and a very interesting one indeed. Jackfruit is a species of tree native to tropical regions, reminiscent of banana and mango when ripe and meaty when still green. Sounds like a bit of a rebel to me, perhaps a relative of the equally rebellious pirate Jack Sparrow.

In the plant-based diet world, Jackfruit is a versatile meat replacement and has been used to replace pork in pulled pork recipes due to the fruit’s string-like qualities. Jackfruit also works well in Asian dishes as was the case on this particular morning. The fruit is large with a rather prickly exterior. A formidable foe when purchased fresh, jackfruit can weigh up to 100 pounds (average is 30-50 pounds) apiece. However, you can find jackfruit in a can or in a pouch, just check the label. Some varieties are very high in sodium. The jackfruit we found at the Asian market was worth the search; as a protein source, jackfruit is low in calories and fat, as well as a good source of potassium and fiber.

Alas, this fruity namesake seems destined to replace my former Jacks, except my grandson, of course. I suspect that Jack might enjoy a fruity BBQ.

What Shade of Healthy Eater Are You?

Attempting to remain a plant-strong vegan in the deep south would make for a good comedy. Recently, John and I took a trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama for our semi-annual vacation. In the past, we looked forward to the many fresh fish choices compatible with our Mediterranean meal plan. However, we knew that adhering to a vegan diet in this area of the country might certainly present some interesting challenges.

We tried to plan ahead. The result was Plan A & Plan B.

Plan A – Have breakfast at the condo with our own foods and recipes. Our first trip upon arrival was to a couple of local markets. We were delighted to find a grocer near our condo with a decent supply of vegan-friendly food items.

Plan B – Research food options for those times (and there were many) when we would be away from the condo. I installed a vegan app on my phone to help locate appropriate resources and researched local food venues ahead of our trip. Not many choices appeared on my app, but many Asian, Mexican and Indian restaurants typically have vegan-friendly offerings or the ability to modify a meal to vegan specifications.

On our first evening, weary from many hours on the road, we visited the local pub at our resort.  The only food possibility on the menu was a crab-stuffed tomato.

“So let me get this straight,” said the waiter, “You want crab-stuffed tomatoes without the crab?”

“That’s correct,” I replied.

I saw his eyebrows twitch. “No fish?”

“No fish,” I confirmed.

“We have cheese,” he countered.

“No cheese,” I said.

Although his surprise was obvious, the waiter accommodated our request without any issues and the tomatoes were so tasty that we returned the next night for more.  Our waiter wasn’t there, so we proceeded to explain to the new waiter the events from the night before along with the complete set of instructions.

Did I mention that the tomatoes were fried?  Whoops – I think the halo just fell from my head. Technically, the choice may have been vegan (no animal products) and the tomatoes may qualify as a whole food, but the “fried” part is not the healthiest preparation option – just a tasty one.

Which brings-to-mind a couple of other recent dilemmas, such as:

  • The suspicious “buttermilk” strategically located in the middle of our pancake batter ingredient list
  • The eggs and dairy products that I “know” are hidden in restaurant pasta and bread

At a recent event, I spoke with another self-proclaimed vegan hoping to reclaim my halo.

“Don’t you feel so much better since you made this diet change,” she gushed.

“I do,” I replied.  “The tasty recipes have been a pleasant surprise.”

“I really like having salmon once a week to augment my primary diet of whole fruits and vegetables,” she added.

I suppressed a laugh. I am not aware of any plant by the name of “salmon.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks to my son’s wedding. Pizza and pop were on the rehearsal dinner menu. John and I loaded up on salad (after we removed the pepperoni) and fruit. I had brought a cup of iced tea and John opted for a diet soda. Still hungry at the end of the evening, John decided to have some pizza crust.

“I’ll bet that crust has egg and milk in it,” said one observant friend at the table.

“Is diet pop vegan?” one family member asked.

Both the observation and the question were thoughtful and valid, illustrative of two important points. 

  • Not everything that technically qualifies as vegan is healthy. In fact, you can follow just about any diet plan and still not have healthy meals. You can be vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, etc. and still consume a wholly unhealthy diet devoid of whole food, plant-based options consumed raw or prepared using healthy methods.
  • In an imperfect world, options present in shades of gray, not black and white. Many choices will have pros and cons. The choice will be yours to make.

Shades of Healthy Eating

When John and I embarked on this journey, we put in place one research-based absolute with one philosophical clause:

  • We would pursue a whole food plant-based diet as the foundation for our vegan aspirations. This means that our choices overwhelmingly favor vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, lentils and other naturally occurring foods over processed items that may qualify as vegan, but are not healthy. This also involves preparing foods, when not consumed raw, in healthy ways with attention to limiting potential pitfalls associated with the use of oils and sodium while favoring beneficial components such as fiber. Research supports whole foods and plant-based eating as key to obtaining and maintaining health. This commitment represents our research-based absolute.
  • From a philosophical standpoint, we would pursue this journey within the many shades of gray present in our choices and circumstances. This means that we move forward with grace and freedom versus rigidity and judgment, viewing our new commitment as a true learning journey. In a structure that provides excellent healthy choices at least 95% of the time, there shall be no chasing of halos after a rare diet soda, egg or other wayward item. The goal was never about perfection. The goal is health and enjoying the life we have been given.

If that sounds complicated, here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in your journey towards a healthier life, even if it includes salmon disguised as a plant. What does matter is the choices you make most of the time and whether those choices support health – mentally, emotionally and physically. Strive to be closer to that goal today than you were yesterday and closer still tomorrow. 

Note: The image in this post depicts a recent favorite breakfast – a medley of fresh asparagus and quinoa on a fresh bed of spinach complimented with tomatoes, onions, carrots, pumpkin seeds and a splash of Asian dressing. This delightful meal is no more difficult than many standard meat-based breakfast options but infinitely healthier. Don’t be afraid to experiment; learning is a process and can be lots of fun. Enjoy.  

 Did You Know?

We think of quinoa as a grain that we cook and eat much like rice. However, from a botanical standpoint, quinoa is much closer to spinach, chard, and beets, than it is to grain. What we actually consume are the plant’s seeds, although the leaves also are edible. 

Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. This lovely seed works well as a stand-alone alternative to rice or pasta and “sprinkled” on top of other dishes and salads.

Vegan? You Must Be Kidding!

My dad was an excellent provider. Each year, he joined a group of friends in Wyoming for a yearly hunt. My childhood was filled with images of dad armed with a hunting rifle, surrounded by friends in the brush and in barns filled with hanging meat. Trophies of past kills hung on dining and living room walls.  Wild meat was showcased on the plate, most often venison simmered in Worchestershire sauce, surrounding by ample potatoes smothered in gravy.  On the side, a minuscule serving of vegetables hid under mountains of gravy, usually canned peas with onions or French style green beans.

We did not eat out often, but the year I turned seventeen, dad decided to treat the family to a steak dinner at the Ponderosa steakhouse on the westside of Columbus. This came as no surprise. Bonanza was dad’s favorite TV show; we often had dinner on tray tables in front of the television set while we watched the latest episode. I knew that dad liked steak, but in hindsight, I suspect he was looking for Hoss, Ben or Little Joe.

That Friday night, we piled in the car and headed for the Ponderosa. Once inside, we were greeted by a cafeteria style lineup of choices. 

Tray? Check.

Napkin? Check.

Silverware? Triple check. Wait!  I almost forgot the steak knife.

Next was a suspicious looking clump of greenery arranged in a bowl gingerly placed next to containers of some type of thick sauce.

I was first in line.  “What’s that?” I asked mom, pointing to the bowl of green.

“I think it’s salad,” she said.

“Do people eat that?” I replied. “Isn’t that rabbit food?”

“Just slop some of that stuff on it,” she said, pointing to the sauce.

“Which one?” I pressed.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said.  “Try the orange one.”

I scooped a generous serving of thousand island dressing from the container and drenched the salad until it looked like gravy on potatoes. Passable, I thought, but I really just wanted the steak and a baked potato loaded with butter.

It would be many years before salad would become a staple in my diet, much less consider that meals are possible without…gasp – meat.

John and I have followed a true Mediterranean diet for years with lots of fish, olive oil, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with smaller amounts of dairy, primarily in the form of skim milk, low-fat/sugar yogurt and an occasional dusting of cheese.  A substantial amount of our diet has been whole (defined as unprocessed and unrefined) and plant based foods for years, but no one was more surprised than me when we moved decisively away from meat, eggs, and dairy.

Which brings me to that word – vegan. The term has always conjured up images of bland overcooked broccoli on my plate or skinny bead-wearing people waving spears of asparagus in the wind.

My apologies, vegetable-loving friends. Please don’t write your senator or throw any tomatoes my way. As the good reporter once said, “There is more to the story than meets the eye or, perhaps, in this case, eyeballs.”  Let’s be clear and fair. It is entirely possible to be a vegan or vegetarian and not follow a healthy eating plan. There are plenty of refined and processed foods that qualify as “animal-free,” but are completely stripped of any nutritional value. Yet, there is considerable wisdom and evidence in support of plant-based, whole food eating.

Ah…I already hear the naysayers chattering in the background. What about protein? Calcium? Vitamin B12?  What about studies in support of fish, dairy, and other animal-based foods?  Was the move away from meat, eggs, and dairy necessary?  Weren’t you already including a substantial amount of plant-based, whole foods in your diet?

These are valid questions and ones that I have entertained and studied at length. Perhaps, these concerns are topics for additional posts, otherwise, my post becomes a book. For now, I invite you to a grand experiment. Let’s put the evidence to the test.

Despite my former and relatively healthy meal plan, and commitment to remain 27 years of age for life, I have not found a way to stop getting older. At age 61 (yes, I admit it), I am relatively healthy. My doctor says if it wasn’t for my snout, there would be nothing wrong with me. I would like to stay that way, but do feel and see the effects of age in the way I feel and in objective health measures that skirt the borders of “normal.” Then, there is the question of pesky genetics. I have watched too many family members struggle with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure, including my dad. 

Frankly, I miss him.  He would have loved all of the grandchildren and great grandchildren. There is a piece missing from life because he is not in it.

I know there will always be threats that could “get me” no matter what I do, but why resign oneself to a fate, whether real or imagined, when life is worth fighting for. I am worth it. Dad would have been worth it. You are worth it. Adding more whole and plant-based foods to your diet can only be healthful, no matter where you fall on the meat and/or potato spectrum.

Maybe, if we ask nicely, John will share some of his amazing new recipes. No bland, lifeless overcooked vegetables here. Maybe, we will invite Hoss, Ben and Little Joe for dinner – if we ever find them.  Since the Ponderosa closed, they seem to have disappeared.

 

In Search of Paradise

Like many folks, I have spent many hours this weekend watching the news cast as Hurricane Irma drew closer to the Florida Keys.  And on Sunday, I watched in horror as the media brought live coverage from various points in Florida during the storm.  Landfall, storm surges, and extreme wind brought fears of catastrophic damage, made more ominous by the storm’s western turn towards the gulf.  Original forecasts predicted the brunt of the storm on the east coast and while Miami prepared, places like Tampa and communities along the gulf coast had much less time to enact measures to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.

One of the places directly in the storm’s path was Marco Island, one of our favorite vacation spots.  On our first trip, I remember a visit to the Welcome Center.  A retiree from the North talked a lot about her life in this tropical paradise.

“What about hurricanes?” I asked.

“Not worried,” she said, “We’ve been lucky. They never seem to hit here.”

She is not alone in her optimism.  Many people decided to stay put in defiance to evacuation requirements and repeated warnings.  At one point in a televised broadcast, a convenience store owner along the southern shore stated, “At some point, you just have to think that it really will not happen.”

Are folks simply in denial or is something else at play here?

On Saturday, I spent the day with my daughter.  As we discussed the approaching storm, she told me about one person who had moved to one of the Florida Islands. 

“I like living too much,” I said.

“That’s exactly what she said,” my daughter replied.

Point made. 

Later in one of the televised broadcasts, a reporter spoke with a woman who had decided to remain on Key West. “I have lived here all of my life,” she said. “This is home.”  She reminded me of the young business man who had just opened a bistro close to the shore on Marco Island.  The excitement in his voice was obvious as he described his hopes for this new venture.  There was no separating his dream from his life. They were, in fact, one and the same.

Like a captain who would rather sink with his ship, perhaps for some, the idea of paradise lost is inconceivable.  The thought of leaving is no more possible than leaving your own skin and surviving.

Tonight, my thoughts are with the realtor who found a retirement home on Marco Island and the millions like her living in Florida.  Tonight, my heart is with the young man and his bistro; and the woman who has lived her entire life on Key West. 

We could all use a little more paradise.

Ordinary Moments, Extraordinary Life

On a recent Thursday morning, I made a common detour onto the access road headed for McDonald’s to collect my dose of unsweetened iced tea.  On many mornings, I pass several semi-trucks parked along the fence lining this road.  I typically do not see the drivers, but on this day, I observed a trucker attempting to parallel park a double semi-trailer between two other trucks.  I admired his skill as he competently slid this big rig into a tight parking spot.  Contemplating my own experience with parallel parking a small SUV, I imagined how difficult it would be to maneuver a vehicle of this size.

My father was a career truck driver until he retired after forty-years from Terminal Transport. He took great pride in his ability to drive the big rigs and considered himself a professional driver.  This identity took on new dimensions when my teenage-self reached driving age.  He was my teacher and he was tough.

Driving, like many life markers, is ordinary because it is a common rite of passage for most teenagers.  Yet driving also is extraordinary because it marks the beginning of new freedoms and responsibilities.

This relationship between the ordinary and extraordinary seems woven into life’s fabric. While we may long for extraordinary moments, adventures planned and otherwise, simple hindsight often attests to the impact of those ordinary times in life revealed in extraordinary results.  Small and seemingly insignificant choices and events often have big consequences.

Perhaps that is what my father was really trying to teach me all along.  But, my teenage-self did not appreciate my father’s tutorage.  “Dad it’s a Mercury Cougar,” not a semi-truck,” I whined, in response to his seemingly incessant corrections.

“When you have been driving forty years, you can have an opinion,” my father retorted.  “Until that time, you will do it my way.”

Several months later, the brakes failed in that same car as I was driving my mom to the grocery store at Central Point Shopping Center.  I was in the center lane and traffic was heavy.  As a new driver, my instinct was to panic, but I could hear my dad’s voice in my head telling me to stay calm regardless of the circumstance.  Methodically, I reached for the turn signal and thanks to the kindness of a stranger in the next lane, I was able to change lanes and swerve into a nearby parking lot burying the front end of the car into a set of hedges.  No one was hurt and the car escaped serious damage.

Meditation

It is often said that hindsight is 20/20.  Extraordinary moments make for lasting memories.  Yet, in looking back at life, like a grand tapestry, clearly it was the countless decisions made within the context of the ordinary day that has the most profound impact on life. Ordinary moments provide the foundation for the extraordinary life.

So today, I raise my glass of iced tea to those ordinary moments and ordinary days. While we can certainly celebrate the extraordinary events of life, so should we also cherish those ordinary days that fill life with substance. 

As for my dad’s advice – of course, my dad’s words were a bit more colorful at that time and it has been more than forty years.  So now I get to have an opinion.  Guess what, dad?  You were right.

Going In Circles

Have you ever been lost or ended up somewhere completely different from where you thought you would be?  If so and if you are like me, you may recall feeling uneasy, even fearful, when you realized that you were not where you should have been. Finding yourself in unfamiliar territory, even temporarily, can be a bit disconcerting.
 
Years ago, heading home after a date with John, I made a wrong turn on Route 37.  I remember the anxiety I felt when I failed to recognize any of the scenery.  But, I ignored my gut and kept traveling until I reached the first sign for Marietta. For those of you unfamiliar with Ohio, Marietta is very close to the state border.  Only then did I realized how far I had traveled in the wrong direction.
 
It was a long way back home as I had quite literally more than doubled the time I would spend on the road. Beyond shook up, I also felt a bit disoriented, caught in a situation that seemed surreal.  Seeing that sign for Marietta reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode I watched years ago, the one where a couple wakes up after a night of drinking in a strange house and an unfamiliar town. As they explore their new surroundings, they find that everything is fake. The only phone has no connective hardware, kitchen cabinets are simply boards tacked to the wall and the nonworking refrigerator contains fake food. Outside no birds are heard. As they leave the house, the women reaches for a squirrel perched in a tree only to find that the squirrel is stuffed and the tree is a standing prop. Grass is made of paper mache. No one is in any of the homes or the church. Understandably, they are relieved when they finally find a parked car with what looks to be a human being behind the wheel. But on closer inspection, they find that the car has no engine and the human being is a mannequin. Towards the end of the episode, they hop a ride on the only moving object in the town, a train, only to be returned to the exact same spot they had left behind.
 
No matter what action they took or which direction they chose, the destination would always the same. They were trapped in this small town with no hope of escape.  
 
I literally felt shaky until I was back in Lancaster and headed home on a familiar road.
 
John and I spend many summer mornings sitting at the table in our backyard enjoying the various critters and creatures that inhabit our garden. One Friday I spotted the ant in the picture on the rim of the table.  He scurried along the rim for hours, passing me several times, but never changing directions. I finally brushed him into my hand and placed him on the ground.  Yet, on Saturday, again, there was a single ant circling the rim of the table. 
 
Meditation
Certainly, my situation on Route 37 was in many ways, different, from the Twilight Zone episode and my visiting ant. Once I recognized my error, I knew the way home. I just needed to turn around.
 
So why the fear?
 
Maybe familiarity and direction were never the issues. Perhaps, my emotions were more connected with the need to be in control of my circumstances. Control is comforting and it is hard to navigate situations when information is lacking or inaccurate. I like being the master of my own universe. But the truth is, I am not, and unfamiliar instances are uncomfortable reminders that all may not be as it seems.
 
Maybe, I will visit the Twilight Zone and emancipate that couple trapped in the small town, unless the giggling child finds me first. Oh…I didn’t tell you about that part, did I? Well sorry, no spoiler’s here. You will have to visit that unknown place all by yourself.
 

The Pirate’s Curse

To live a pirate and a smuggler’s life meant a dangerous path to eventual doom.  A constant fight with other pirates and smugglers along with the crown seeking your head.  All this for a hoard of treasure that had to be hidden and the secret of its hiding death to all who would choose to seek it.

There is a garden in Charleston South Carolina that is in the courtyard of an old Inn.  It is said to have been visited by many pirates who would meet and make deals with what they smuggled from their attacks upon the merchant ships. It is said Blackbeard frequented the inn to do business with other pirates and smugglers.

The garden itself is enclosed with a fountain with a pirate’s face that is green from age and stares from a fountain. It is a warning to all of those that might be near what will happen to you if you give up any secrets you may hear. The pain shows up on the image of the pirate trapped in the bricked-in fountain, that he be an example to all who enter the courtyard. The secrets must be kept avoiding being trapped in the wall for eternity with the pirate’s curse.

All ye who enter here, speak not of the secrets ye hear.

Let no coward tell who be here by name. Let no blood be drawn here.

We barter and make plans for the sale of booty for profit.

Here we be brothers’ smugglers and pirates all.

If ye tell of treasures and secrets, a pirate’s curse be upon ye,

For ye will be trapped in the garden wall for eternity.