George Bush Was Right!?!

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When our 43rd president spoke at the interfaith memorial service in Dallas on July 12, he expressed a powerful truth:

Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.

I abide by a similar notion—life would be far more pleasant if families, friends and colleagues chose to define and talk about us based on our best moments instead of those we undoubtedly wish never occurred.

graffiti-1472472_1920Over a lifetime, painful and embarrassing experiences stack up for everyone. How people acknowledge or disavow that reality is always interesting. I’m acutely aware of mine and would suffocate under the weight of humiliation if they were my sole focus. Thankfully, they are scattered among weeks, months and years bursting with everyday events and remarkable occasions that are infinitely more worthy of remembering.

Hence my hard time with those who choose to keep everyone’s most unpleasant incidents top of mind, not only singling them out as the default material for conversation but holding on to them as the irreversible benchmarks to forever measure character or assess intentions.

We do not elevate ourselves by knocking others down. Millions of us in full knowledge of our imperfections offer up many times more positive and colorful anecdotes with which to be judged.

I find it overwhelming that George Bush shared these remarks at this difficult juncture in our country’s history. I’m not one if his fans, but I’ll never forget his observation earlier this week. Neither am I naÏve, still I relish those words, and I’ll never be able to think about him again without recalling them.

There were many profound moments during that sad service. President Obama reminded us:

As we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things, not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.

Two US presidents from rival parties came together in Dallas despite the deep political schisms wrenching our country apart. Even with their many differences, together they appealed to the greater good. The recognition that we are all imperfect is a powerful first step in helping us do better at home and in the world, if we make the conscious decision to choose respect.

Is that too much to ask?

Learning to Share Your Journey

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Thirty-two years ago I married a guy I was certain I would love forever. After all, in your 20s you know that you already know everything about yourself and the world. Some parents try offering insight from the decades-bigger buckets of experience they lug around. But that journey’s bends and bumps are ours alone to navigate. How we manage the curves turn us into the Adults every 21-year-old adult believes is the marker into the all-knowing. Still, loved ones watch us confidently stride into our futures, acutely aware we don’t know that we don’t really know much of anything about ourselves and the world yet.

What I didn’t know marching down the aisle 32 years ago would have long ago destroyed rain forests if I printed out the volumes describing it. And the guy I married is long gone. He’s grown into a Husband, Father, Uncle, Grandfather, Coach, Teacher, Wage Earner, Partner and more. While at that, we hurled head first into multiple moronic mistakes. There were times we thought we’d implode if we stayed together. We couldn’t agree on a path, and they all seemed too narrow to fit us both.

Yet We Did It. In huge measure by his toughing it out despite all the potholes I drove straight into as well as the unanticipated twists and turns. I’ve been sick, sad, mad, hurt, angry, exhausted and more. We’ve managed through his share from this list, but we learn that every couple racks up its unique set of shortcomings. It takes two to neglect or nurture a marriage. Some survive, others don’t.

Still, I needed seemingly endless support from this one person. Having lost my parents and siblings in only a few years over a decade ago, he somehow survived my wanting from him everything you get from your immediate family, not your spouse. The unconditional love, keeping alive a history he didn’t experience, sharing my new family’s experiences with my original one, and trying to grasp my loss as he participated with his six siblings and I shifted through anger, sadness and jealousy.

My bad luck became his, and he tried with everything he had when he could have walked away with ample justification. How lucky am I? Beyond bucket loads.

We’re all imperfect. The sooner we accept that, the easier it becomes to be most mindful of the best in others. Remembering the great and not the worst moments is neither a lesson learned early or easily, something our parents knew.

Now we are the parents. Our two daughters are our greatest achievements and possess the best of us. Yet, they’re already on their own journeys.They visit with spouses, awesome grandchildren and significant others, and then they leave us, alone.

We haven’t experienced just the two of us for almost 30 years. Neither of us are the same person we were on August 14, 1982. We’ve grown—together, even when we didn’t think so—closer, despite the moments that separated us—grateful that we didn’t choose the fork in the road when it seemed easier—and wiser, at long last.

Love is as much a journey as is life. I was lucky enough to marry a guy I could learn about love with, despite our youth and the many differences we shared but wouldn’t see until infatuation morphed into Adult reality. And I’m blessed to remain with the man he became, who stayed connected as we realized we really knew very little about ourselves and the word around us when we began this leg of our journey.

Those Short Summer Breaks

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I have a princess visiting over this and next week. She’s everything one imagines of royalty: beautiful, poised, self-confident, someone you’re proud to say you know and be seen with. Of course, as is also true of royalty, she can be high maintenance. She prefers to be served her favorite food on her schedule. She counts on her wardrobe clean and at her disposal. She enjoys books read to her, arbitrary trips to her favorite stores, mani-pedis and at least one person with or near her at all times.

Those who know me have already guessed I’m talking about my six-year-old granddaughter, Princess Caitlin. There’s a three-week gap between camp and first grade. Her mom, the original princess and my oldest daughter, Jill, has taken off the third week. She’s excited to get her pix1354681652941daughter new supplies and wardrobe for the start of school, 12 years that neither of them realize zip by in such a distorted span of time it defies any normal understanding we have of days and years.

After all, it was only a few years ago we were preparing Caitlin’s mom and aunt for grammar school, then high school and finally college. And now they’re out in the world doing remarkable things without holding our hand or calling us for permission or even advice. So when Jill asked the family if anyone might be available to watch Caitlin during the two weeks between camp and her week off, I didn’t hesitate to ask for every one of those days.

Caitlin grows more independent by the minute. She prefers Justice, a clothing story, over toy stores, Buffalo Wild Wings over Chuck E. Cheese. She’ll ask for Nutella and crackers too close to dinner time. She has known every word of Olivia Helps with Christmas for at least three years, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. And if I step out of the room for more than a few minutes, a sing-song, “Grandma where are you? Are you coming back?” is routine.

Sure we’re spoiling her. But she’s a loving, caring, kind little person who somehow also knows this time together is special and doesn’t expect everyday life to be as accommodating. At the same time, her grandfather and I know all too well that being able to make this remarkable little girl content so easily is a finite ability. Happiness will be more complicated, her needs something only she can find a way to achieve.

Thankfully, Jill agreed to let us revel selfishly in the little time we have left to soak in all that is Caitlin, fighting over our own time to spend with her. Soon enough we’ll revisit paddy cake paddy cake and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with our new grandson while Caitlin follows her mom and aunt out into the bigger world where greatness awaits her, too.

I’m not the only one watching

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I’m alone today at Ragdale, or so I thought. This morning was a rush with everyone leaving. But I’d signed up for a workshop here tomorrow, so it made more sense for me to spend the night. I’m in the living room in the Barn, the building where my room is, and where I’d hoped to capture the last sunset. But it’s clouding over, so I doubt my phone camera can catch it.

I’ve sat in this spot on the couch nearly every day of the last 18, and only today saw that I’ve been watched all along. I’m not sure if this is a statue created by one of Howard Von Doren Shaw’s family or if it was commissioned or created by an artist-in-residence. Anything is possible here.

Shaw, an architect from the Arts and Crafts movement, built Ragdale in 1897 for his parents and his own young family. Many of them were creative. Bird Girl is a sculpture made in 1936 by Sylvia Shaw Judson that was featured on the cover of the 1994 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Either side are bird feeders, and it won’t be long before they will be doing their job, as they have for nearly 80 years.

As I suspect, the clouds hid the sunset but they can’t hide how pretty it is as the geraniums and I peek out at all that the grounds reveal without the blanket of snow covering them. 

I’m going to miss this little peace of heaven that is Ragdale, all of the great artists I met and a staff and cook who couldn’t be kinder or more respectful of the creative process. And I’m even going to miss that quiet little plaster boy in the corner who’d been watching along with me all this time. But I miss my family and all the raucous joy and love they fill up my heart with all the rest of the year. I am one lucky person. And, to think, gratitude is only one thing I’ve learned here. If that were the only lesson anyone ever learned, how wonderful this world would be.

Yes, indeed, I am one lucky person.