Monday, April 26, 2010

Grief Simply Is

We learned last week of the death of a wonderful man, who played a very large part in the life of our youngest son, Matt.  While we lived in a very small mountain town in Southwest Virginia, I was very, very ill, and spent huge amounts of time in the hospital.  Ashley, of course, had the care of our sons during that time, in addition to a more than full-time job.  Also, during part of those months and years he was helping to keep watch over my mother.  She had moved in with us after the death of my father and was in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease.  For Ashley, keeping her from burning down the house (leaving forgotten-about pans on the hot stove) was a job in and of itself.  Our sons were quite mature and understanding of the problems much of the time. Each, however, expressed in his own way a type of anxiety over our very difficult situation.  Matt, in particular, felt the effects of the instability at home, and coupled with my frequent long absences had a very difficult time adjusting to high school.  The decision was made to transfer him to the high school in a neighboring town, and that decision was indeed a God-send. At the new school he became a new person.  He started enjoying learning again, and met some wonderful friends.  Three of those boys, now men, formed with Matt a team they called "The Four Horsemen."  Matt, Jason, "G," and Josh.  They did all sorts of interesting things together (some I'm glad I didn't know about at the time!), and were for the most part inseparable.  They have continued to get together at least once a year, when able, and enjoy their deep friendship, born out of mutual respect and affection. Now, years later, they have each followed different paths:  one became a physician, one a lawyer, one a Peace Corps volunteer and artist, and one - Matt - a musician and golfer. Two are now married, one of whom has a stepson, and the other along with his wife is expecting their daughter to be born in September.  Scattered across the nation and even the globe, they have nevertheless kept in contact with one another.  It has been a good thing -  a good thing that simply is.

Matt's best man at his wedding was Jason.  Jason, the Peace Corps volunteer, the artist, and the constant friend.  Matt began a friendship with Jason that extended to Jason's family.  Jason's Mom and Dad and younger sister, all became a second family to him, a very stable family when he needed it.  Jason's parents, Ann and Randy, very graciously and lovingly stepped in and filled a gap that Matthew was experiencing at a very difficult time in his life, and were able to strike the balance between being confidantes, while at the same time not trying to become de facto parents. Jason's family took Matt with them to their lake house, and Randy taught Matt how to water ski - or at least tried to.  Jason's parents were also very generous, not only with their time, but with their material resources, and as a high school graduation present, sent the two of them on a trip to Scotland - truly a gift of a lifetime.  Jason's parents were always spoken of together - "Randy and Ann," or "Ann and Randy."  It is hard to think of one without thinking immediately of the other.

Tragically, Randy died last week.  He took a terrible fall down the stairs at their home and died less than 24 hours later as a result of the injuries incurred.  We have all been in a state of shock, and trying to take it all in;  knowing that as deep as our own grief may be, the lives of Randy's family - including his own wonderful parents - have been dealt an even more serious blow - far beyond our own capability to imagine.  Yet this is the first  loss of this kind by  "The Four Horsemen." They are each trying to deal with it in their own way, and each is experiencing pain and grief that comes out of losing someone who was very special, and so very important in their lives.

Grief is an inevitable part of life.  We all face the death of family and/or friends at some point in our lives, but even knowing that it will happen is not a preparation for the enormous sense of loss that is experienced. The long fatal illness of a loved one is supposed to prepare you for the inevitable, but it never really does.  Because no matter how prepared you think you are for a loved one's death, you cannot imagine that staggering finality until it actually happens.  Tragic, sudden loss takes you completely unaware.  The world tips over.  Even knowing that life holds no guarantees for tomorrow, most of us exist in our own world of the willful ignorance of our mortality - we act as though there will always be another tomorrow, that we will always have another day in which to love and live.  When that rug of confidence is pulled out from beneath us, we fall; because even knowing what we know about the inevitability of death, we are still surprised by it.  W. H. Auden, in his poignant poem "Funeral Blues,"  speaks eloquently of that all-pervasive sense of loss:

Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The sorrow expressed in Auden's poem is a common feeling during the first few weeks and months following the death of a family member or close friend.  It seems impossible that the sun could come up in the morning ever again, because your own sun seems to have vanished. There is also denial.  After the death of the father of one of my own friends, and also at the death of my own father, I dreamed they were somehow alive again.  So real were the dreams, that each morning I had to face and experience anew the reality of their death. Pain attacked again and again. That all-encompassing sense of grief was ever-present, surgically sharp and precisely cutting  into every aspect of life. It is unbearable, yet borne:  grief simply is.

Offering a word of consolation to anyone experiencing grief is next to impossible, but most of us long to be able to give some comfort, to offer some respite from the heartbreak. Those words, sincerely offered and gratefully received, still do not wield a magic wand of inner peace or a lifting of bereavement.  A terrible hole is carved out of a grieving soul's heart, and it is a hole that can never  be filled, or gotten over, but it is one that you learn eventually to accommodate into your life.  As time passes the joyful remembrances can block out or dull the sharp feelings of loss.  Life does go on, and  we wonder why it does, yet we wake each morning, and somehow continue to exist, to carry on.  Grief is still constant in its attention, it is around and within us, grief simply is.

St. Paul tells us in Philippians 4: "4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things...And the God of peace will be with you."  He goes on to say in verse 11:  "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through the One who gives me strength."  (Italics are mine)

God does offer us strength for the journey through grief.  While grief  often simply is, it is God's perfect love that always was, always is, and always will be.

As ever, Gentle Reader, I wish you enough...

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'm Never Quite So Dumb...

I have been through a lot over the past week or so, which is why this post is a bit delayed - there's no real schedule, I just like to write more often than I have lately.  But, all my busy-ness has been good.  As a matter of fact, I've been having a wonderful time.  For one thing, on April 15th, I hit the big 5 - 9!  Yup - I know you can't believe it by looking at my photo and all.  You all think I'm about 3-1/2, right?  (I certainly can think and write like one!) I feel that I should tell you that on that momentous day in history - April 15 - many tragedies have come to pass:  Abraham Lincoln died (shot on the 14th, died on the 15th); the Titanic sank (hit the iceberg on the 14th, sank on the 15th), Income Taxes became due (and my birth was way past due according to my Mom); then I was born...just one more tragedy in a long series!  I guess the world has made the best of it.  So this year, I began what I have come to call the "Magical Mystery Farewell Tour of my 50's." Yes, friends, after this year is over, I will no longer be able to check the age-range box : "45-59."  Soon it will be "60-74."  Actually it's not so bad getting older, and as my Mom always said, "Having another birthday sure beats the alternative!"  And in reality my life has only gotten better as I have gotten older.  While I admit to being a little misty-eyed at turning the corner, I do look forward to what's around it.

Now, I told that preamble for this reason:  Just before Easter, the desire to do some photography (at least I call what I do that - others would not!) struck me.  Spring here in Western North Carolina has been spectacular, and I just couldn't stand the thought of it not being recorded in some way, so I grabbed Ashley's camera and went at it.  He has an 8.1 megapixel digital camera by Kodak.  It makes nice snapshots, but any enlargements are generally a little grainy, and not fully satisfying when you are doing some photo manipulation. But ignoring that I went full speed ahead.  I took the camera outside with me every time I took our dog Princess out for a walk, (and she gets this bored look on her face when she sees me whip it out!), plus I took it with me whenever the notion struck to take a walk by myself. I was actually getting some photos done that I really liked.  No, it's not great art, but it appealed to me - especially trying to come up with good compositions and nice angles.  Ashley, seeing my enjoyment, had the bright and wonderful idea of purchasing me a camera of my own for a birthday present, and went for a bit of an upgrade for me:  He bought me a 12.1 megapixel Sony Cyber Shot.  It has made a tremendous difference in the quality of photos I have been taking, plus I am able to do a lot more with them.  So I have been spending a lot of time with the camera, and more so with my computer (I'm still at the desktop...Toshi is, as of now, dead in the water).  With the help of Microsoft, we finally got enough patches downloaded to make the desktop handle the DVD/CD-ROM drive (remember that debacle?).  It may be slow, but by golly on a good morning it works...that's enough for me right now.  So, I began to download my photos onto my computer, and upon the suggestion of my brother John, rather than buying Photo Shop-type software, I downloaded a free program called "GIMP 2.6."  He told me that it was basically a clone of Photo Shop and other similar software, and it is free!  Free of everything except frustration for a neophyte like myself.  The program really can do everything it can make any photo you've got in your computer look like a work by Ansel Adams.  You can, or, rather you can, perhaps, but not I.  It is almost completely beyond my ken.  Except for a few very elementary maneuvers (which I can do on the meager software I already had), I find I can do nothing, and I know that now.  When I first downloaded it, I did not know that.  As a matter of fact, I had become such a photo pro (thought I) that I could handle anything!  Of course I know how to do that!  The instructions just said to "click this, cut that, adjust this thingy, turn your head and cough, press save, and voila! You've got yourself a masterpiece!"  The problems started when I plugged my memory card into the computer...things went downhill from there. If it hadn't been for the Grace of God, and the one brilliant idea I had (duh!) that I shouldn't erase my memory card once it's downloaded, I would be a puddle on the floor, and you would no longer have to read this drivel.  So with my new-found humble perspective, having "dropped so low in my (own) regard" that the basement is a penthouse, I went back on the internet, and downloaded Picasa 3.  Now there's a program on my level.  Any three (or 59) year old could figure this one out.  John, I appreciate your confidence in me being able to use the GIMP program (he said "play around with'll catch on!" RIGHT!), but 9 out of 10 lines of the instructions are completely beyond me...I mean, they assume an awful maybe I know a camera lens from my elbow.  Well, sorry!  I haven't figured that out yet either.  You see I have arrived at the humbling fact of my life:  I am never quite so dumb as when I think I'm smart.

Have you ever been in the car listening to the radio and singing along?   I love it!  Since we listen exclusively to NPR stations now, I don't get the opportunity very often to sing's hard to sing along to  Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32.  But I remember my high school and college days, when singing (loudly) with the radio was a big chunk of my life, my very soul!  That part of my life started to break down a bit, however, when I was blithely riding along and singing what was then a very popular song by Gilbert O'Sullivan called Alone Again, Tangerine.  At least that's what I thought it was...turns out a DJ brought me to the correct title one afternoon by OVER-pronouncing it.  Turns out the title is Alone Again, Naturally.  I felt my face get hot and knew the red was climbing up from my neck...good grief!  How many times have I sung that incorrectly in public?  I can still remember the feeling of utter embarrassment upon learning that I was not as "cool" as I thought I was.  As a matter of fact, in some senses, I was just a dumb nerd!  You'll be happy to hear that I have let myself off the hook on this issue, however, because I have found that - lo and behold - I am not the only one with this embarrassing problem!  My husband, a now retired pastor, used to wear blue jeans on days he knew he would not be making any house or business calls.  Whenever he put them on we would hum the latest Neil Diamond tune Reverend Blue Jeans.  It wasn't until sometime later that we found out the song is actually Forever in Blue Jeans.  We sing it our old way, though...fits us better I think.  But we still laugh ourselves to tears over it.  We have a great friend who used to love what was a very popular song known as Oh! A Tree in Motion!  It took her a while before she learned it was Poetry in Motion.  Somehow, I like the sound of her version better.  Our youngest son, Matt, fell in love quite early on in his life with Mozart's Requiem.  He had seen the movie Amadeus, and heard parts of it in that film.  From then on, he tried to find the opportunity to sing it with a large choir and orchestra.  His freshman year in college, he finally succeeded in talking the local community choir director into presenting the Requiem as the program for the year.  He became a member of the chorus because of that. He had the piece fairly well memorized almost before rehearsals began because he had been listening to his cassette recording for so many years.  He was ready!  Now, the Requiem is in Latin, and although he had taken a year of Latin in high school, he knew that he was not fluent in it. Since he started singing the music before he had the score with him, he sang the words as he heard them, even though he was certain that what he heard could not possibly be correct.  For instance, from the movement entitled  Domine Jesu:   "I don't eat broccoli, I'm only sixty!"  Surely the Requiem would be deeper and more meaningful than that.  He was relieved to find that the real words are:  "Quam olim Abrahae, promisisti..." (which means, "as Abraham promised...").

So, just in case you find yourself in the same state as I am in - learning the true depth of your intelligence - I want to set your mind at ease.  No, I'm not telling you that you are smarter than you think (when you are never quite so dumb!), but I am going to tell you that WE ARE NOT ALONE!!!  For your pleasure, I present the following lyrical misunderstandings, or mondegreens (an excellent, useful word you can look up for yourself!):

  • "There's a bathroom on the right."
       "There's a bad moon on the rise."
       Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater
  • "Excuse me while I kiss this guy."
       "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."
       Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix
  • "Dead ants are my friends; they're blowin' in the wind."
       "The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind."
       Blowin' In The Wind, Bob Dylan
  • "Midnight after you're wasted."
       "Midnight at the oasis."
       Midnight at the Oasis, Maria Muldaur
  • "The girl with colitis goes by."
       "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes."
       Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, The Beatles
  • "Sleep in heavenly peas."
       "Sleep in heavenly peace."
       Silent Night, Christmas carol
  • "I blow bubbles when you are not here."
       "My world crumbles when you are not here."
       I Try, Macy Gray
  • "I got no towel, I hung it up again."
       "I get knocked down, but I get up again."
       Tubthumping, Chumbawumba
  • "She's got a chicken to ride."
       "She's got a ticket to ride."
       Ticket to Ride, The Beatles
  • "You and me and Leslie."
       "You and me endlessly..."
       Groovin', The Rascals
  • "Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble; tres bien ensemble."
       "Sunday monkey won't play piano song, play piano song."
       Michelle, The Beatles
  • "I'll be your xylophone waiting for you."
       "I'll be beside the phone waiting for you."
       Build Me Up Buttercup, The Foundations
  • "Are you going to starve an old friend?"
       "Are you going to Scarborough Fair?"
       Scarborough Fair, Simon and Garfunkel
  • "Baking carrot biscuits."
       "Taking care of business."
       Takin' Care Of Business, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
  • "Donuts make my brown eyes blue."
       "Don't it make my brown eyes blue."
       Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Crystal Gale
  • "Got a lot of lucky peanuts."
       "Got a lot of love between us."
       Let's Hang On. Frankie Vallee and the Four Seasons
  • "What a nice surprise when you're out of ice."
       "What a nice surprise bring your alibis."
       Hotel California, Eagles
  • "Hope the city voted for you."
       "Hopelessly devoted to you."
       Hopelessly Devoted to You, Grease
  • "I'm a pool hall ace."
       "My poor heart aches."
       Every Step You Take, The Police
  • "Just brush my teeth before you leave me, baby."
       "Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby."
       Angel of the Morning, Juice Newton   
So I find myself, being in such company, feeling a little cheered by it all!  I mean I'm not so dumb as to think that a wonderful song called Hopelessly Devoted to You, could ever be Hope the city voted for you.  I mean, come on now!  Even I am smarter than that.  Then again, I'm never quite so dumb...

Gentle Reader, as always,
I wish you enough...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reading the Fine Print

The CD-ROM Drive on our desktop computer has not worked for several years.  Since the rest of the computer has been quite serviceable, and still is, we elected not to replace the computer, and just work around this deficiency.  For a while this was acceptable because I had my good old "Toshi," which read and wrote CD's very well. (Although I am afraid that Toshi is very near to the graveyard, where all computers eventually go...) Also, any software that was really needed on the desktop could usually be downloaded from online sources.

Last week, we caved in and purchased an external DVD/CD-ROM drive, in particular one manufactured by Memorex (now Imation).  The tech at the office supply chain store (you guess which one) said that this indeed would do everything I needed it to and more, so for a fairly reasonable price (under $100), we bought it and took it home. I was anxious to get it hooked up, because I had some music and photo files that I wanted to both upload from and download onto disks.  Any excitement I had was soon quashed when I saw that the only instructions that came with the device was one folded piece of glossy paper, written in 4-column fashion, each column in a different language.  The print was about 3 or 4 point, which means that unless one has perfect eyesight, there are very few who could read or decipher it, even in perfect light.  Not only that, but neither on the box, nor in the box was there a single notation of  the model number of this particular recorder.  I went online to the Memorex site to try and get some customer support.  Alas, they have only 8-hour days, and they don't work weekends!  How nice for them.  I'm sure all of the families of the workers are thrilled to have them home each night for dinner.  Well, I went to the FAQ site to try and get some information.  I finally was able to make out the Model and Serials numbers, again in extremely fine print, on the back of the unit.  I entered that into the appropriate space on the site, and guess what?  There is no such thing as the piece of equipment I was holding in my hand.  Poof!  It did not exist...even in their list of "retired" products!  Feeling very chipper at 2 a.m., I fired off an e-mail to this wonderful customer support team and requested some help.  I received a "bounce-back" e-mail informing me that "we really care about our customers' concerns," and to that end they would get back to me within three business days (that means today).

Now, let me say that up until this particular instance, I have had excellent customer support experience with two or three other electronics product manufacturers, so Memorex is up against some stiff competition for my brand loyalty.  Those others all have telephone and/or on-line chat technicians available to their customers 24/7/365.  It has been very helpful to me to know that when my brother John is sleeping, or our son Adam is not answering the phone, that I can get some help when I need it - usually around 2 or 3 a.m. - however, I have been known to need service during the late morning and afternoon hours as well.  I am particularly fond of online chat services, because then I don't have to worry about trying to understand the Indian or Pakistani accent of the person speaking with me from their native land. I will say that those to whom I have spoken speak English far better than I will ever be able to speak Hindi, so I have to give them credit, but the melodies of their English, combined with the distortion of trans-world telephone connections, can make it very difficult to understand or to be understood.  I have not encountered this problem with written, online chat communications, and every time I have used such a service, whatever problem I have had has been resolved satisfactorily.  My brother says that "yes, that works very well for people on your level of computer/electronics knowledge, but I have seldom gotten satisfactory answers, and generally end up giving them information, as I know more than they do about their own products." Well, SORRY, "brud," but I'm one of those people who is never quite as dumb as when I think I'm smart.  I have made some of the STUPIDEST blunders while using computers and the like, generally causing myself no end of frustration and hair-pulling experiences, all because I thought "I can figure that out by myself!"  No.  Way.  Jose.  Now, at the first hint of a problem, I'm online, or on the line.

Memorex got back to me this evening by e-mail.  A really nice gentleman (I presume) stated that he wants to address my problem with recording CD's, so he attached a PDF file of their manual for the use of this piece of cra..., er, equipment.  Now I ask you, why wasn't there a manual provided with the thing in the first place?????  Why should I have to stand on my head and gargle peanut butter, just to be able to get and read cogent, precise instructions on a product they wanted me to buy (I assume, since they're trying to sell them - more's the pity).  I hold this truth to be self-evident:  that all electronic equipment end-users are NOT created equal, that a manual should always be provided with the corresponding product, in type large enough for anyone's grandmother to be able to read, and that we all have the unalienable right to decent customer support whenever needed.  Am I the only idiot roaming the planet, and therefore not worth their precious paper or time?  Surely not!  As a matter of fact there are a couple of people I can think of right now who make me look, act, and sound like a genius. (The names of these people are being withheld in order to leave them with a shred of dignity.)

So, you ask, have I gotten my rant out?  Well, maybe.  I sent back an e-mail this evening, stating in precise detail their deficiencies in manufacturing, packaging, and customer support.  I also told them grudgingly that before I returned the product ( I had already put it back in the box and uninstalled the software - the only time it worked was with that one installation), I would reinstall the software if possible, read the manual that I had downloaded, and see if I could get it to operate in a useful way.  If not, the product goes back, and no one I know or with whom I have contact will ever purchase a product by Memorex or Imation.  That is, if it is within my power to stop them.  I hope it is. For their sakes.

Life goes on, with or without a working DVD/CD-ROM drive (the one linked to this post is probably better, and certainly less costly.  Word to the wise:  research before you buy!). God is good all the time, indeed all the time, God is good!  Me?  Not nearly so often, but I have my moments!  This isn't one of them.

Gentle Readers,
I wish you all enough...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Being Misunderstood

I recently typed a post onto a friend's page on Facebook.  It was a message that was attached to a card I sent  wishing him a happy birthday.  He lives in and is from Brazil, so while the card was in English, the message I typed was in Portuguese.  I am certainly no expert or regular speaker of Portuguese, so I went to a great site online and found the translation for what I wanted to say.  I asked him (within the message, and in Portuguese), if the language was correct.  I also told him that I did not have a keyboard that had on it all the diacritical marks important in the Portuguese language.  He very kindly wrote back his thanks, and also told me that the Portuguese was indeed correct!  Hurrah for me!  I was understood.  It's a good feeling. I love trying to communicate with people in their own language.  It's a challenge for me to remember certain words or phrases in a lot of different languages, but generally I can get at least one or two out.  Everyone seems to be able to speak English!  How embarrassing for us as Americans.  We seem to hardly try to reach out to others in their own language, and it is certainly not a requirement for us to be fluent in another, as it is for many citizens of foreign nations to be fluent in English.

I took 6 years of French in High School.  I enjoyed studying the language, and for a while, as long as I kept it up, reading or speaking, I remained fairly proficient.  My Freshman year in College, I took one semester of German.  I did quite poorly, as I did in everything else that semester, having had a hard time adjusting to college those first few months. (I did a lot better the next - and even made the Dean's List, on which I stayed every semester after that.)  The Summer after my Sophomore year in college, our Concert Choir (at the University of Connecticut) was invited to participate in a Symposium on 20th-century choral music that was to take place in Vienna, Austria over a period of 2 weeks.  We accepted the invitation, and before arriving in Vienna, took a tour, primarily of Eastern Europe.  (My favorite city in all the world is still Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic - back then, in 1971, it was still Czechoslovakia.)  Vienna is an amazing city, and just two weeks there was not enough to take in all it has to offer, but we saw quite a lot.  I of course tried to use my German, and even got better at it as we went along, using it in East and West Berlin and Prague as well.  We closed our trip with about a week in Paris.  Because I had been speaking my own form of German for many days, I suddenly found that I was almost completely unable to speak any French!  I was so frustrated, and spent most of the time there using German, and poor German at that (even though improved, I had not become very good at it!)  Slowly, I began to remember a bit more French each day, and soon felt confident to tour the Louvre on my own, and knowing that I could read and understand a lot more French than I spoke, I was certain I would get along OK.  Prior to leaving home for the trip, my Dad (the consummate European traveler), helped me to map out the museum so that I could see the paintings and sculptures first that I wanted especially to see, and then I could see whatever else I could in the fairly short few hours that I had on my own.  At the end of my all-too-brief visit, I went to purchase some postcards in the gift shop before I left.  The shop had a number of nice ones that included prints of some of my favorite paintings.  As I went up to the counter to pay, I had to stand in line.  I used that waiting time to count out how many I was going to purchase, and to put together a correct French phrase that would inform the cashier that I thought that I had 14 cards to purchase.  I had it down!  I knew exactly what to say, and smugly, when I got to the head of the line, I said, "Il y a quatorze, je pense." ("There are 14, I think.").  To which she very wryly replied, "Mademoiselle, en France, nous ne pensons pas, nous croyons."  (Miss, in France, we do not think, we believe.)  My face went red.  I knew of course the difference between thinking and believing, but had not taken into account that while in English we interchange the words quite frequently, it is not so in French.  The two words are quite separate.  The verb penser, to think, means pondering, cogitating, reflecting - as in "I won't think about that today, I'll think about that tomorrow." The verb croyer means to believe, and means to feel, or have faith, or have a reasonable certainty in or of something, as in "I believe in God the Father, the Almighty,"  or I believe that I'll go for a walk," or "I believe that the custom in France is to think (penser) before speaking, and then to believe (croyer) you'll express it correctly!"  The cashier looked at me with a small smile, and I excused my poor French, paid for my postcards, and left - hopefully wiser, if not chastened.  At least I did not misunderstand her meaning - in French or in English! (Some day I'll have to relate to you the story of how two guards at the Louvre stopped me and asked if I was alone or not...they thought I was "casing the joint!")Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary,Larousse Student Dictionary: French-English / English-French (Larousse School Dictionary) (French Edition)

Being misunderstood is, to me, one of the most difficult, if not often impossible, things to overcome. Tone of voice can often mean the difference between being understood as you intend, and not being understood at all.  My mother had a similar problem as I have, and that is not to recognize a certain tone in your own voice (we don't hear ourselves objectively) that can be taken in at least two different ways.  My mother would drive me crazy with this particular quirk.  Little did I know that I suffered from the same thing.  My husband has pointed it out to me on more than one occasion that many times I sound very harsh when speaking to another when that is not at all how I intended to be heard or understood.  My children have said the same thing to me.  When I am told this, I am usually completely taken aback, because the intention of harshness never entered my mind - usually I am just stating what I believe to be correct, or whatever.  Taking these admonishments into consideration, when I took the job as the adult choir director at one of the churches we served, I made a small speech before we began rehearsal for the first time.  I said, "If I ever say anything to you individually or as a group that sounds to you at all mean-spirited, please understand right now that I guarantee that will never be the case.  I have tried my entire life never to hurt anyone's feelings, or to insult anyone's intelligence or beliefs.  If you feel that way after listening to me, please tell me so, in order to give me the opportunity to make myself clear, or to apologize, and often I'm just trying to be funny (and often failing at that too)."  I'm pretty sure that I was understood, because except for one occasion over those 7 years, most of my comments were either taken to heart kindly, dismissed completely, or laughed at totally!  That one occasion hurt me very much, and it was so totally unintentional that I was beside myself trying to "undo" what had been said and done.

The problem with being misunderstood is that, once misunderstood, the person to whom you are speaking will shut you out, and be unwilling to hear anything else you have to say - even if it's a sincere and heartfelt apology.  Suddenly you are cut off from, and out of, someones mind, heart, and - worst of all - someone's friendship.  My husband served for more than 40 years as a pastor.  In those years, (34+ years as my husband), this wonderful man, with not a mean or judgmental cell in his body, has had to experience several misunderstandings, some of which have cost him dearly. The people to whom he most wanted to minister simply would no longer listen.  He has found, as I have, that this particular situation is very, very difficult to overcome.  If it is overcome, it happens because you patiently and prayerfully bide your time, and seek opportunities in which to interact with that person or group and hope you are given a second chance to make yourself understood.  Sometimes it happens,and alas, sometimes it does not. 

So, the next time you read something I have written or, when with me in person, you hear, overhear, or listen to something I have said that causes you to perhaps change your impression of my sincerity, or question my motives or intentions - before you take offense or allow yourself to feel hurt, please write or speak to me! I guarantee that there will be an explanation, apology, or a change of tone in my voice.  This is important to take into account when interacting with anyone, especially children.  Listen carefully to yourself, and allow yourself time to listen to all the other has to say before making any judgments about his or her intentions.  It can mean the difference between friendship or enmity with another. I want to be understood, and to always, always, as St. Paul said, "speak the truth in love."

Gentle Reader,
I wish you enough...

Monday, April 5, 2010

The King Still Has One More Move...

Long's Chapel United Methodist Church and her visitors (almost 2000 total!) were treated yesterday to an extraordinary sermon by an extraordinary preacher, our Pastor, Dr. Chuck Wilson.  He related to us the following story, which has to be one of the best Easter sermon illustrations of all time!

Two gentlemen friends were visiting a city one day and decided to tour an art museum together.  They were both business men, but one of them was also a former chess champion.  They were walking slowly through the gallery and came upon a painting called "Checkmate."  While both looked at the painting, the former chess champion was fascinated by it, and could not turn away from it.  It depicted an ordinary man, with a sad countenance, sitting across a chessboard from a jubilant "Satan-like" opponent.  The pieces (as seen in the photo above) on the board are arranged in such a way that the man's king was left in a losing position and to cause the devil to shout the title of the painting - "Checkmate!"

The more the chess champion looked at the board, the more he was perplexed, and his companion was getting very impatient.  The chess champion said to his friend, "you go on...there is something puzzling me about this painting, and I can't quite figure it out.  I'll catch up with you later on."  So his friend went off to tour the rest of the museum.  The chess champion gazed at, thought, gazed some more and studied very closely the unusual painting.  After quite some time, his friend returned and found the chess champion smiling, and noticing his return, the chess player said, "I've got it!  This painting has the wrong title.  I've been studying the arrangement of all the pieces (not seen in the photo), and the devil hasn't necessarily won, because 'The king still has one more move!'"

Friday...Saturday...all seems lost.  The one in whom you had put your hope and trust is finishedDefeated. DeadIn the stone-sealed tomb.  The Romans are laughing at this so-called "INRI"  (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).  It's all over.  Some King...some Messiah... some Savior!  But: The King Still Has One More Move.

Sunday morning!  Resurrection...Triumph...Empty Tomb...Victory over Death!  Hope does indeed live, and death is not the end. Mel Blanc, the voice of many, many Warner Brothers cartoon characters, has as his epitaph the immortal words of "Porky Pig:"  "That's All Folks!"  What a blessing to know that our death is not all - that whenever we feel that all hope is lost, when there is nowhere left to go, that joy is gone, that there is nothing or no one in which or whom to put our faith...when we feel swallowed up in the darkness our own problems, concerns, failings, and sins - The King Still Has One More Move!

In her beautiful song of praise, "Hymn of Promise," Natalie Sleeth, a talented and prolific anthem and hymn writer (both music and lyrics) closes with this final verse:

"In our end is our beginning, in our time, infinity.
In our doubt, there is believing, in our lives, eternity!
In our death, a resurrection! At the last, a victory:
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see."

Thank You, most loving God, for this freely-given Offering of Your Amazing Grace!

As ever, Gentle Reader,
I wish you enough...

Addendum:  My brother sent me a photo (on 4/7/10) of the painting mentioned above  (Thank you, John):

Friday, April 2, 2010

Weekend of Passion: Sorrow... Silence...Joy

Last night Ashley and I had the wonderful privilege of being a part of one of the most meaningful Maundy Thursday services I have ever experienced.  It was a service designed/planned/written by our Worship Ministries Director, Caroline Merrell, at Long's Chapel UMC in Waynesville, NC.  She so obviously poured her heart and soul into this service, striving to reach out, to all who would hear, of how what some saw as  defeat would be turned into the ultimate story of Victory.  That Victory could only come at a terrible price, and that was so eloquently expressed last night, our "Mandate" night...Maundy Thursday.

Jesus said, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you." (John 15:12-14 NRSV)  This commandment, this mandate, is for all time.  We are being commanded, when we make the choice to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, to lay down our lives for our friends, indeed  all our neighbors - and "who is our neighbor?"... Jesus says, "Go and do likewise."  (from Luke 10:29b-37) Love one another. We are all neighbors.

Caroline, who in addition to all her duties (she would say privileges) as Worship Ministries Director, is also the music and choir director.  She organizes, is one of the instrumentalists for, and leads and directs two choirs each Sunday, at three separate services.  She has extraordinary gifts in music and leadership, but more than that, much more, she is a lover, and a true disciple of Christ. All of her gifts were so evident last night in the inspired service of  remembrance of our Mandate.  The reading of the Gospel accounts of the last two days of Jesus' life, before resurrection, and his agonizing death, were interspersed with music from the congregation, soloists, combined choirs, and a men's chorus, as well as projections of paintings of eight of the twelve Stations of the Cross, presented by the artist herself, Nancy Sandgren.  I cannot speak of our music and worship ministry without mentioning our organist/pianist, Mary Neill Rogers, as well as the contributions  last night of our oboist (and singer) Judy Dodson, and our marvelous dancer of faith, Stephanie Wilson.   Each piece of music pointed directly at the events that occurred that weekend over 2,000 years ago.  We still celebrate that incredible sacrifice and joyous Gift of Resurrection each and every Sunday as a community of followers, and each and every day in our individual lives.  This great span of time reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons. It shows two Roman soldiers who have been guarding Jesus' tomb over Saturday night.  You see them just waking up, and one of them terrified at being punished for failing in his job, as they both noticed the stone rolled away from the tomb.  The other soldier says to the frightened one:  "Oh quit your worrying...100 years from now, who will know the difference?"

This weekend, we celebrate that difference.  Time was divided in two by the events of the weekend of the very first Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that Resurrection is celebrated each and every day by all disciples of Christ.  There is no reason not to be joyful, even in the remembrance of Jesus' agony on this Good Friday, because as Christians may be Friday, but Sunday's coming!  Thanks be to God!