Untimely: Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  coming, said, done, etc. before the usual or proper time; premature, unseasonable  (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language)

It is a perfect storm of reading:

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather:  A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda McGurk

The Hurried Child by psychologist David Elkind

Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger
At first glance, perhaps the first two would seem related, but the third not so much.  Yet all three have a common concern:  stress.  Hurry.  Busyness.  They delve into how chronic haste and stress can manifest in development,  mental health, and our physical bodies.
McGurk observed the changes brought over her American children when they spent several months in her native Sweden, spending most of their waking hours exploring the woods with friends.  They went from iPads to mud pies with alacrity, and she writes convincingly of the importance for all of us in being outside, not commuting from activity to activity, hurried.
Elkind was ahead of his time in addressing the pressure parents are putting on kids to excel, overloading them with extracurriculars, eroding free time.  He was dismissed when the book first published in 1981.  With the rise of teen suicides and depression, his book is now finding a receptive audience.
Dr. Rediger explores the factors surrounding spontaneous healing of various incurable, fatal diseases.  Many of those who made miraculous recoveries drastically reduced the busyness and stress from their lives, along with eating whole foods and exercising.
I’ve written before on the subject of busyness here and here, but I often feel like I’m speaking to a wall.  Our culture is suffused with this idea that movement=progress=success, so everyone is chugging along at breakneck speed so that they, and their children, don’t “fall behind”.  I feel like a mother walking her children through a meadow; we examine the flowers, the bugs, we feel the wind on our faces, and watch the slow drift of the clouds.  Past us flies a high speed train full of families, baseball bats and ballet slippers, sheets of homework, and bags of fast food are barely visible as they fly past to the town we’re slowly walking to.  They do get to the town first, but it seems like they don’t even walk the town, they run through it, hit the shops, and hop back on the train to the next place.  I am stubbornly insisting that racing through life doesn’t win you anything.  It may in fact cost you everything.
56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o51540122_10157396442668352_632964388566859776_oimg_4921img_0767 So my equation is slowness=presence=living fully.  I do not think this will secure for me any guarantee of perfect health, nor worldly success, nor that my children be superior to anyone else’s, only that I will be present within my life, within this time; that I will live in wonder and enjoyment, that peace will not be illusive, that my children will see this way of living which relies not on breathless hurry, but stillness, joy, and open time.

 

Preserve or Enjoy? Thoughts on Physical Objects

time2The creamy white wool blanket I found in the Goodwill bargain bins last week is still airing out on the wash line. It takes a good while for the moth ball smell to fade.  Some dedicated person embroidered their initials on it, and trimmed the edges in blanket stitch, in red.  Every time I go to a thrift store I find hand-embroidered table linens, handkerchiefs, and table runners.  There is pain and beauty in that; beauty in the handiwork and pain in the likelihood that the one who stitched it has passed, their careful, skillful work donated by family who didn’t appreciate it.

There was fine Irish table linen; the tablecloth and eight napkins in fine brocade.  It still had the noble, ornate label on each piece.  It sat among the broken laundry baskets, hangers, shoes, and textbooks like a queen atop a trash heap.  It was over fifty years old, but never once used.  Always saved for the most special occasion?  An occasion that never came?  It reminded me of a character in a  book I read long ago, which I’ve failed to track down.  She lay dying in her bed, and went on and on about her best sheets and linens being in the bureau; that she’d never used them; that they were in some way markers of her worth and good repute.  That to die without fine linen that had never been used would be shameful.

We were given a piece of blue and white china by a great aunt.  She explained that it had always been in her corner cupboard, with the other pieces of the set, never used.  Her mother had kept them in the same way, in another corner cupboard on the farm, only taking them out for a dusting once a year.  Beautiful dishes that never once held food, nor served at a meal.  This was strange to me.

One Christmas I was gifted a collectible Holiday Barbie.  She was magnificent, in a white sparkling ballgown, her blonde hair cascading in perfect curls.  I had asked for her, so earnestly, and there she was!  I went to open the box and was told not to; it was explained that she wouldn’t be worth anything if I took her out and played with her; that she was an investment of sorts.  I stared through the shiny plastic window at a toy I’d never get to play with and was perfectly miserable.

It wasn’t too long until I secretly freed her from her packaging and triumphantly (albeit guiltily) played.  I promptly lost her shoes, her brush, and her hair bore signs of brushing and handling.  My parents felt like it was a loss, but I felt as though it was finally a gain.

Preserve or enjoy?  I tend towards enjoy, I tend towards giving things stories and life.  I favor the Velveteen rabbit’s snags and bare spots, a loved object is more beautiful to me than a perfect one.

 

On Aging, Being Nearly 40

83243858_10158347247968352_8534731982934900736_nIt’s a battle I’m supposed to be fighting, I gather, from the women’s magazines in the checkout lines.  The enemy roster is long:  wrinkles, cellulite, gray hair, extra weight, saggy skin, drooping eyelids, age spots, untoned muscles.

The weapons of war are proferred up in glossy ads:  botox, implants, hair dye, alpha-hydroxy serums, specialized diets, plastic surgery, teeth bleaching, kickboxing.

But, what if I don’t see a battle at all?  What if I marvel at how the light reflects from the silver strands in my hair?  What if my wrinkles remind me of how many days I’ve spent squinting into the surf, riding waves, and laughing hard, with my whole heart?  What if my soft abs remind me of the many babies who lived within me; of being a house for another soul?

Tuesday I’ll turn 40 and I am terribly excited.  I never expected to live so long. 167181_10150133539543352_4641677_n

My last turn of the decade was celebrated in Peru with a fantastic party put on by my fellow missionaries including dance performances, plays, and a concert by the kids.  It was glorious fun.  I didn’t mind turning 30; I was excited, even though I only had a few rogue gray hairs and just the hints of wrinkles.

It is okay to be happy in one’s skin; it’s okay not to buy any of the fancy weapons of war, it’s okay to skip on the battlefield and look at the wildflowers.

#bloginstead: Party Line

It could bear any title

As long as it were free

To snap to position all parts

Notch into notch, smooth gears agreeing

Mind the party line.

 

Well, unwelcome shock

Well, intruding doubt

Well, whole heart half-living

Well, quiet now,

Mind the manual, chapter 14, article 11, clause 3A.

 

The important thing is to move

Move the machine

The machine deserves

Power, please don’t question

And turn off the light.

 

Are we making the Kingdom?

Hopeful gears think now and then

To themselves as they fit together

Click, click, click

The main thing is moving intone the machinists

Move your piece, forfeit peace, axel grease.

onebreah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#bloginstead: The Hermit’s Lament

I cannot wring water from stone

There is no kneading of air to make my bread

And words, like water, must have a source

 

There has never been a carrot tempting enough, perhaps

To make me pump for water, rather

Than spill what must overflow anyways

 

A writer…I cannot deny it

But, the joy is all in the spilled writing, see it?

The math of my exultation, thoughts+attention+neural acrobatics=a translation of what is, filtered through one soul, though small, bringing some light, some beauty

 

Well suited to be a hermit

Lend me a shovel, for I have a talent I’d like buried

Why?  It is easier.  What if I offered it and they said it had no light, no beauty?

 

Who can put out their own heart on the auction block?

Tell me, how do you get the hermit

To give her littlest light?  To give such small beauty?

 

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Tipping Point, On War and Story

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It sits, leaden, heavy within me

Haven’t we read in our bloody history

Laden minutes like these, the push at the ledge

The point of pitch

The birth of irretrievable acceleration?

Headlong into war.

A new year, so freshly given and already

We’ve forgotten to live a different story

Egos flex and soldiers bleed, children die

Scars are carved into the earth, into our souls

And mothers, and fathers swallow grief, they eat tears.

-written January 7, 2020, after hearing the news that Iran had retaliated

 

This is my small record.  This moment of time on January 7, 2020, just after hearing that Iran has fired missiles at Iraqi bases where coalition forces are stationed, including American troops.

Tears tipped from my eyes and ran hot and free down my face.  War always tastes like this.  I look at my sons, curled up together on the couch.  I remember 9/11; I had cried in the shower.  I had thought of my brother, a soldier.  I did not want the story that seemed to rush downhill upon us.  He was deployed and for a year it felt like a suspended life; sitting but not sitting, sleeping without sleeping, eating without taste.  One feels as though life is held tenuously, so lightly, that a strong wind might carry it away.
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How much blood has to spill before we find a different ink, a different story?

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Voices of Adoption, Part Two

In honor of National Adoption Month, I’ve asked a few adoptive parents to share a reflection, something they’d like their communities to see, to know, about their journey in caring for foster and adopted children.  A note from the author of this post:  Sarah asked me to write for National Adoption Month. The topic turned out to be so painful that I am late.

mirror fragments on gray surface with the reflection of a person s arm

Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

We have three adopted kids and three kids the old-fashioned way. They are ten years apart. The oldest is 30 years old; the youngest is 20.

My wife and I have vastly different experiences of adoption because we are vastly different people. I will speak only for myself.

At the outset, I considered adoption as some mixture of obeying God (James 1:27) and using the considerable advantages of my life to help someone who is alone in a very cruel world.

And then there was arrogance. When the adoption process began I was in my 40s. I was a tank commander in my 20s, a bicycle racer riding 8,000 miles a year and sure I could be the inspiring kind of dad that would make a difference in the life of a troubled boy.

We planned to adopt boys simply because my wife could handle anything and I thought I would be better with boys. We already had three girls, so it could also have been balance.

At that point in my life I still believed parents had an influence nearly equal to heredity. Say, 50/50 Nature/Nurture. I now believe it’s 90/10. So much of who a child is and what children grow to be is set at birth. Ambition, manual skill, IQ, perseverance, and competitiveness are no more changeable than eye color, height, skin color, or natural hair color.

In the 20 years since we brought our youngest son home, my view of life, the universe and everything in has changed. He had stroke in the birth canal. The doctors said it was just bad luck. We had no idea the extent of the damage or what that would mean. He is blind in his right eye and everything on his right side has nerve-related problems. He has ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities and problems that grow from those.

Ten years later we adopted another son. He was 11 at the time. A year older than the first son. Second son was taken from a mother arrested for dealing crack and he was exposed to crack in utero. He had a different set of problems, but the same learning disabilities. Neither boy could or will ever be able to do the single-digit multiplication table.

We attempted and failed to adopt three other boys. One was with us until he went into a rage and threw knives.

Someone could read this and accuse me of focusing on the negative. I admit that. But the process of dealing with the ups and downs of the troubled children we adopted reminded me deeply of my own childhood with a bi-polar mother. Her rages were awful, but equally terrifying to my own little child self was when she was very happy. Nothing predicted a big explosion in mom’s psyche better than the slow burning fuse of happiness.

When the older son got into trouble in high school, I was waiting for the next problem and finally doing my best to keep him out of jail.

When people ask me about adopting, I never recommend it. I imagined I could be a good adoptive father, but I was run over by the wrenching difficulties. And I see neither unicorns nor rainbows in the future. Both boys are troubled in their own ways and I have little hope they can be anything like self-sufficient, independent adults.