Notes from an August Gardener

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that

within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

 

Saturday morning

and not one bird makes a sound.

They’re watching me

cut each gladiola down,

keeping silent in respect

for my grief over orange,

purple, white, and mottled pink.

Until next year, I relegate

each stalk to recycling.

 

I’m enamored with intensities

that startle and invigorate

before they slip away:

day lilies, four o’clocks,

Rose-of-Sharon trees,

lovers on rebound,

lightning strikes of poetry.

 

Still, around the yard –

patient and long-lived –

hostas, daisies, and geraniums

ride the summer out.

They’ll hang on until

first frost – if affection’s paid.

 

Just as the lid drops on

what has been, empathetic birds

turn their muteness off.

They remind me

when summer is invincible,

there’s no mystery in falling,

falling in love again.

 

(Previously published in The Poeming Pigeon: Poems from the Garden, May 2017)

 

New research suggests evolution might favor ‘survival of the laziest’

It happens this way …

Ain’t that a kick in the head!

As a child growing up in New Jersey in the ’40s and ’50s, the biggest sin I committed was laziness. It was a mortal sin, of course, earned by not completing chores on schedule, wanting to sleep in on a Sunday morning after babysitting until 3 a.m., or failing to get straight A’s in school.

With that message embedded in my psyche, it’s taken decades not to feel guilty when my partner is doing to any household task – from vacuuming to loading laundry – while I’m reading or working on the computer. I’ve had to consciously hold myself in my chair against the temptation to jump up and help. Now I assure myself it’s okay not to participate in her fine work and simply tell her how much I appreciate her.

Science is confirming I’ve spent much of my life shortening it by all that jumping up. A recent article in Phys.Org reports:

A new large-data study of fossil and extant bivalves and gastropods in the Atlantic Ocean suggests laziness might be a fruitful strategy for survival of individuals, species and even communities of species.

This study focuses metabolic rates. The higher the rate, the more negative the impact on longevity; the lower, the opposite occurs. Admittedly, this study focuses on those darling sea-dwelling bivalves and gastrospodes and not on land-loving vertebrates. But I’d like to think that guilt-free slowing down in retirement is actually adding years to my life. I’d really like to think that. Blessed are the sluggish who feel the fullness of their interior — as well as their exterior – lives.

Feelings

 

 

 

 

How a Tree Becomes a Bush

It happens this way …

Last fall we cut down a 50-foot-high sugar maple tree, two 12-foot Rose of Sharon trees, one 10-foot and one 20-foot vine maple. We hated doing it because we loved each one, but their lush overgrowth made it necessary. We believed Mother Nature would understand because we were making room for other trees and plants to breathe. That belief was confirmed this season when she gave us five new gifts: foliage growing out of each stump. The two Rose of Sharon trees are now bushes about to bloom. The vine maples have sent out branches we are keeping nicely trimmed and shaped. And, to our delight, in the past month the sugar maple has started to send out leaves along its slightly-above-ground root system. They are shiny and stunning, and we’re going to let them grow and see what they become.

Of course, there’s something metaphysical in all this and a poem will have to be written. For now,  I’ve learned that letting go and making space – like embracing boredom – opens us to possibilities we never knew existed. This fall I will cut down a 14-foot japonica – the daughter of our 35-foot tree. I can’t wait to see what she transforms into!

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Boredom

It happens this way …

“If my kids ever said, ‘I’m bored,’ I would say, ‘That is great. I’m so glad to hear that. Maybe you’re gonna get creative right now.’”  – Krista Tippett, founder and CEO of The On Being Project

Used to be when someone told me they were bored, I would arrogantly think to myself, What a failure of imagination! Boredom means you’ve lost your ability to dream and create.

Now, after reading Krista Tippett’s take on the subject, I have my tail between my legs. I realize that boredom doesn’t mean we’ve lost anything. It means we’re being offered the space to shut down distractions so our imaginations can breathe and expand.

For those of us who grew up with the belief that we are of little value if we are not producing something – a clean house, piles of reports, crossed off to-do lists – boredom seems a counter-productive waste of time. Yet, what this mental state offers is some moments of calm so we can discover something astonishing about ourselves and/or our world; that is, if we can avoid the temptation to check email or Facebook again, read Google News headlines again, surf the Web for some DYI project we may or may not want to pursue – again.

My name is Carolyn and I’m a recovering work addict. Now in retirement, I’ve embraced a Spanish proverb as my daily mantra: “It is beautiful to do nothing and rest afterwards.” That’s not boredom. It’s the wide-open space to dream and imagine.

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Sermons ‘R’ Us

It happens this way …

In 1975, Levi Watkins, MD  began his career as a pioneering cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins, a teaching hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He spent every day teaching.

If you were to ask him, What do you teach? He’d say, If I had to prioritize what I teach, I’d say that caring is the most important thing. Any fine program can teach you surgical procedure.

And if you were ask him, How do you teach caring? He’d say something like, By sitting down on the bed by the patient. I touch their hand or cheek to reassure them, and residents can see the compassion.

And if you were to ask him, How did you learn to show compassion for patients? He’d say from a role model, the chief cardiac surgeon at the time of his residency. He was a sermon I enjoyed seeing.

And if you were to walk into his office, you’d see a framed poem by Edgar Guest on his wall that begins with: I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.

After having sat through approximately 1,867 sermons in my life – a few of them brilliant, most not, I appreciate those sentiments. For fun, I went to the dictionary to check out the word sermon and found the original meaning. It comes from an Old Latin word meaning a conversation and an Old French word meaning to link together. So a sermon is a conversation that links people together. And isn’t that what many of us yearn for: to have the quality of conversations that link us to one another? Of course!

However, the most enduring sermons are not those we deliver through words but through our actions.

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Photo by Kathy Richard

Some of my old sermons could easily have been titled:

  • Knock, knock. Nobody’s home.
  • My name is Carolyn. I’m a co-dependent, work-addicted perfectionist.
  • I’m lazy and feel guilty about it.
  • I’m ashamed of my body, so I ignore it.

What are my new ones? I’m working on them.

If you’re game, take a few moments. What are the titles of your sermons? You can’t help but be a sermon just by your existence on this planet. What are you role modeling in a caring way that will link you to others around you?

Are you a sermon people enjoy seeing? Are inspired by? Learn from? Pay attention to yours. You may inspire yourself!

 

In the Bathroom with David Sedaris

It happens this way …

I think self-esteem is overrated. I think a certain degree of self-loathing is good. David Sedaris, “Q&A David Sedaris” by Hugh Delehanty, AARP Bulletin, July/August 2018

Admit it: some of our best reading times occur in the bathroom – in the tub or on the potty. This sanctuary is conducive to getting through magazines that have piled up for weeks. I’ve learned to store the latest in our three bathrooms and enjoy multitasking: nurturing my mind awhile attending to my body.

Hence, my encounter with David Sedaris on a Sunday morning in our powder bathroom. In this interview, Sedaris discusses Calypso, his new book about aging; his sister’s suicide; and his obsession with walking. He also explains how his adversarial relationship with his father motivated him to create a successful career.

He explains:

Everything he ever said to me, I did the opposite. Everything. And I made a nice career out of reacting against him. If he had been my biggest cheerleader, I would be a nobody today. He’d say, “You’re a big fat zero.” But that’s exactly what I needed to hear because I’d think, Oh yeah? I’ll show you!

 That got me thinking about all people who motivated me by putting me down. There’s Sister Grace John, my first grade teacher, who gave me an “Unsatisfactory” in conduct for speaking too much in class. The English teacher who red-penciled the only poem I wrote in high school as “extremely maudlin.” The president of a business consulting firm I worked for who called me “a G-d-damn academic who’d never amount to anything!” Oh yeah?

Of course, I’ve had exquisite cheerleaders in my life when I needed them. But today, here’s to Sedaris’s insight. Let’s say, I’ll show you! to anyone who attempts to diminish the glorious beings we are!

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Last line: “Conduct” and that blue U!