Tuesday, December 23, 2014

walls

Seventeen years ago, I took the train to Indiana to ring in the New Year with my boyfriend.

He said, "I want a house. If I buy a house, will you come for the summer?"

I said yes.

Over spring break I helped him move in to Rambling Farmhouse.

I can still see it as it was then with the avocado refrigerator and the goldenrod stove, the drop ceiling and the shag carpeting.

"The Brady Bunch threw up in this house," the realtor said.

We set up a Danish modern couch, leather swivel chairs, a pole lamp, and string art. And we owned it.

After that first summer we still loved each other, so the summer after that I moved all my worldly possessions to Rambling Farmhouse, and the summer after that we got married.

He carried me across the threshold. The next year, we carried Anna into this house, and the year after that, Sofia.

And then I carried him over the threshold.

Within these walls I became a wife, a mother, a professional, a widow. These walls have contained my adulthood.

Today begins my life beyond these walls.

The movers are coming to take the heavy furniture to our (temporary) new digs at Rustic Lakehouse. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the girls and I will sort our worldly possessions. Some things we will carry over a new threshold, some things we will part with forever.

Then, I will hand over the keys to a new family, who will claim these walls as we once did.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

remember

This year is the centennial of the beginning of the First World War, and today is the annual commemoration of the armistice that ended that war at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day and Veterans' Day commemorations have been more visible in the media this year as Europe marks the centennial and as the US grapples with issues in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. 

Some of my pacifist friends object to the wearing of the red poppy because of the way the tradition has become almost jingoistic. There is a compulsion to wear the poppy or make public thanks to veterans in social media as though one can not be a patriot if one does not. 

A peacenik myself, I understand the pacifist perspective, but as I was thinking about this today, it occurred to me that those who began the tradition of remembering on Armistice Day remembered not only the sacrifice of those who did not come home but also the horror of war for everyone involved. 

They knew that death for one's country was far from sweet and fitting.


Dulce et Decorum Est

BY WILFRED OWEN
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.


Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.


In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.


If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

For me, the poppy, this resilient flower that reclaims the scarred land, is a way to remember not only the valor of all those who have served, but also the horror of what it is we ask them to do. I look forward to the day when we have learned not to ask. 


Photo courtesy AU United Methodists



Sunday, November 9, 2014

donate

For hours after my husband died, the phone just kept ringing. People were returning my, "Hi, this is Kate. Please call me as soon as you can," messages. Each call meant I had to darken someone else's day with my terrible news, and each of these conversations made the horror more real.

In the quiet of the evening, a different kind of call came. Mark had heard the news already and, having processed his shock, called to sit with me. In addition to the tragedy of the day, we talked about normal everyday things, and this was a conversation that reminded me I was still alive.

Then came the best call of the day. When the voice on the phone said she was calling from Gift of Life Michigan's organ and tissue donation program, I said, "I'm so happy you called!" I think she was a little surprised to hear the word 'happy.'

I had known that Adam wanted to be an organ donor. However, that paperwork usually happens in the hospital. I never went to the hospital, and I didn't think to mention it to the police officers who came to the house. By the time Gift of Life called, organ donation was no longer a possibility, but I gave permission to harvest whatever tissues they could. This conversation was a reminder that even death contributes to life.

The woman who called me was the epitome of compassion, but it was still a difficult conversation. It was not easy to give permission for the body of my husband to be cut apart when a part of me wanted to jealously guard all that was left. It was not easy to talk through a medical history that carried with it so many memories.

I did it anyway because I know that donation saves and enriches lives. My uncle lived more than ten years with a second heart. A friend lives today thanks to a live donor's bone marrow. Somewhere there are people whose lives are better for Adam's donation. One young woman wrote me a letter to say that her new knee means that she can ride again.

I'm telling you about this now because Adam was included in Gift of Life Michigan's donor honors ceremony this year. We could not attend, but they sent this:


So many donors. 

So many young donors.

So much new life. 

It's gut wrenching and beautiful.

I hope you'll consider being a donor, too. 

Mark your driver's license, tell your family, swab your cheek. Save a life.

Friday, October 24, 2014

done not done

Recently, a friend mentioned that he was dissatisfied with his work, that his job no longer made him happy, that he was done with it. I was floored. This friend is excellent at his job, and I love my job so much that I can't imagine ever being done with it.

I've heard other friends express the same sentiment: that they wanted to move up, they wanted more, their company had no place for them to go. This craving has always baffled me. There's only so far up one can go before moving from doing a job to management or administration, and those roles require vastly different skills. For days I've been wondering if I'm just weird. I've been teaching for ten years now, and I really just want to keep teaching forever. Maybe I'm just wired wrong.

It occurred to me yesterday, though, as I was mulling over the game plan for getting through another Michigan winter in the country, that I can relate to being done. I am done living forty-five minutes from almost everything. I am done constantly dealing with mice. I am done with drafty windows and insufficiently insulated walls. I am done thinking about gutters and leaves and appliances. I'm so ready to move on that it's easy to resent the things keeping me here. It's so easy to descend into a spiral of complaints and shake my fist at the responsibilities I no longer want.

Just as I was warming up for a solid session of fist-shaking, however, the words 'weed where you're planted' popped into my head. Because Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse have not sold, they remain my responsibility, like it or not, and these responsibilities tie me to this place. If I want to live well as long as I live here, I have to think about mice and windows and walls and gutters and leaves and appliances. In truth if I have any hope of walking away from closings in the black, I need to think about more than just those things. Even while planning for future change, it's critical to be a good steward of the things within reach and to do so with more joy than resentment.

It's a difficult position to be in, done yet not done.


Friday, September 26, 2014

breadwinner

Two Mays ago Old Cat's death was hard on all of us. It was especially hard for me to watch our younger cat Jack wonder where she had gone.  When Jack came into our lives as a strapping young boy, Old Cat was already old, and, although smaller than he was, she boxed his ears and told him in no uncertain terms that she was #1 Cat. She had first claim to my lap, to my bed, to any open doors, and to the food. For weeks after she died, when I set the food down Jack looked around to see if she was coming before he started to eat. He looked at me with disbelief that it could be just for him. This past January when Buttercup came into our lives, Jack went into a tailspin again. He knew he didn't want to be #2 Cat to this young brat, but he didn't know how to be #1 Cat.

As I've been working on job applications these past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm a little bit like Jack. While I wouldn't say that I was subordinate to my late husband, I had settled into my role as the trailing spouse, the one whose career would always happen in the space around the breadwinner's career. There were a lot of practical reasons that Adam would always be the breadwinner: Because his age and his co-op experience put him ten years ahead of me in career development, because he was an engineer, and I am a language teacher, because he was a man, and I am a woman, his salary would always have outstripped mine. For most of our marriage, in fact, my contribution to the family's income was ten percent of his.

When I started my PhD, the desired plan was that I would find work within daily or weekly commuting distance from Rambling Farmhouse, working as an adjunct until something full-time or tenure track came up. As things got worse for Adam at his workplace here, we started talking about my doing a national search for full-time work and moving the whole family to whatever I found, but it still had to be a geographic area within a daily or weekly commute to something for Adam.

My trailing spouse status was not only a result of our relative earning potentials, though. It was also about the difference in how driven we were. Adam always wanted to reach higher; he wanted to manage a group of engineers, to run a multi-million dollar project, to move the company from good to great, to start his own business, to work at the cutting edge. Me? I don't crave leadership. I don't burn to see my name on a publication. I don't aspire to eminent scholar status. I don't settle for shoddy, but I'll never be a rock star researcher. My elbows aren't sharp enough, and I don't own brass knuckles. I want to do what I love and do it well, and really, that's the perfect attitude for a trailing spouse.

I don't get to have that attitude anymore.

Insurance settlements and Social Security payments buy me some time retool the plan, but they will not last forever. As they cease to fill the coffers each month, I have to take this career that was intended to be secondary and find a way to support myself, my children, and our critters in the present while also preparing for college and retirement in the future. All of a sudden, I'm the #1 Cat, but no one is offering me first choice of the food each night.

I have to be the breadwinner, and it frightens me.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

still in love

This student meditation was delivered in the fall of 2000 at the Protestant Community worship in The American University's Kay Spiritual Life Center. The student meditation was then a new practice, and I was then a graduating senior. This text is almost arrogant in its simplicity, but when I found this brief meditation, the first sermon-like thing I had ever done, in a file recently, I was struck by the way it foreshadows much of what I have written since then. I am eternally grateful to the Reverend Joe Eldridge for the challenge and the inspiration. 

Nearly two years ago, my fiancé asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Shortly thereafter Joe got into the habit of saying, "So, are you still in love?" every time I saw him. This, of course, got me thinking about what love is. I searched out definitions and descriptions of love, and I found many:

God is love.
Love is one who lays down his life for his friends.
Love is patient and kind.
Love never fails.
Love makes the world go round.
Love means never having to say you're sorry.
Love is blind.
Love is when you care more about someone else's happiness than your own.
Love grows by works of love.

Joe's repeated questions made me think a lot, especially at a time when Adam and I were having problems, but my answer to Joe's question has always been yes.

I realized that the key to love is commitment. Love is commitment to being patient and kind, a commitment to persevering. A commitment to grow together rather than growing apart. This is the love we see in  lifelong friendships and successful marriages.

I think that I have this kind of committed love not only with my fiancé, but also with my friends, with many of the people here tonight. I only hope each of you can have it, too.

Joe continued to ask me the question in the years after I graduated when I visited campus first by myself, then with an infant Anna, then much later with Adam and both girls. The answer was always yes.

The last time I visited, Joe didn't ask. The answer would have been a complicated one. It is impossible to love an absence, and yet, it is out of love for the person who was that I care for his affairs and effects. 

So, no, I am not still in love with my late husband; I am, however, still in love with love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

chalk

I have a classroom again, and the happiness I derive from this is perhaps bordering on the ridiculous.

The job of a professor is generally described as having three parts: the teaching part, the research and publication part, and the service to the university and to the profession part. While most professors do each part, rare is the person who excels at all three.

Me? I excel at the teaching part, and that's the part I love.

It's also the part that I was forced to give up when I became a widow, and I have resented that. A lot.

Having a classroom, I feel like a professional again. Feeling like a professional, I feel like a whole person.

It's only two classes and only for this semester, but I don't think I've ever been this excited about chalk.




Sunday, August 24, 2014

a glimpse of majesty

so. much. water.

The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from just below the Hurricane Deck.


So much water that it roars. So much water that it penetrates every surface. So much water that one feels privileged to stand so close to it.


So much water that it's hard to imagine the drought on the other side of the country.

There’s Power in the Word

This sermon was presented at Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference) on Sunday, August 24, 2014. The revised common lectionary texts for Year A, Proper 16, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost were Psalm 138Romans 12:1-8Matthew 16:13-20. 

I think sometimes we underestimate the power of words. We teach our children to say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” To tell someone to “put your money where your mouth is” is to say that financial support is more useful than spoken support.  To say that someone is “all bark and no bite” is to say that that person only talks, but never acts. To say that someone talks the talk but doubt that person can walk the walk is to doubt that person’s ability to act.  
It’s funny, though. The very existence of phrases like these, the way that we repeat them over and over until they accrue meaning greater than the sum of their parts is evidence of the power of words.  Repetition of the sticks and stones expression can bolster the confidence of a child being teased. All bark and no bite diffuses the power of someone else’s aggressive speech. Put your money where your mouth is and walk the walk challenge someone else to act directly. And really, if you’ve ever been bullied with words, you know that words have the power to inflict pain. They can leave lasting scars on our souls that inform the way we see ourselves, the way we interact with the people closest to us, and the way we live in the world.
            When I was looking over the lectionary scriptures for today, I was struck by two things. The first was the sheer quantity of references to speech acts via forms of the verbs say, sing, call and answer. The second thing that struck me was what speech acts accomplish. They create relationships, and they guide the way we inhabit those relationships
            In verse three of Psalm 138, the psalmist says, “On the day I called, you answered me” and this answer had the power to bolster the psalmist’s “strength of soul.” Throughout this psalm, speech creates a relationship between God and the people as speech and song connect the earthly and the divine. And in this psalm, the speech is reciprocal. God answers, the kings of the earth hear the words of God’s mouth, God’s name and word are exalted. In the same way that relationships among people depend on communication, our relationship with God depends on speaking and listening in prayer and meditation.
            In the passage from Romans, verses six through eight list eight gifts: prophesy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, and cheerfulness.  While each of these eight can make use of speech, three of them (prophesy, teaching, and exhortation) depend on speech to be accomplished. More than just valuing the power of speech in the work of the church, though, Paul puts words to work for him. With a particular sort of speech act, an extended metaphor, he shapes the way that members of the church interact with one another. We are, he says, members of one body, and each member has its function. This passage is reminiscent of first Corinthians chapter twelve in which Paul gives this body metaphor greater depth. “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” Human beings are often challenged by difference. We don’t know what to do with it; it makes us uncomfortable. This metaphor teaches us to value the contribution of each member of the community as we value the contribution of each part of the body.
In the gospel passage this morning, Jesus challenges the disciples to think about the power of words, names in particular. He asks, ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ And they answer, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ Now, Jesus, of course, knows exactly who he is, but in this conversation with the disciples, he is checking on whether what they say aligns with what he knows. Because Jesus knows that what people are saying about him shapes their relationship with him. To identify Jesus with John the Baptist or one of the prophets is to connect him to the past. To name Jesus as one of the prophets is to affirm the status quo, to continue an ongoing cycle of prophesy about a future not-yet-arrived. Peter’s answer that Jesus is the messiah, however, identifies him not as a reincarnation of one who has come before, but as the incarnation of Old Testament prophesy.  A prophet is not the messiah. To name Jesus as the messiah is a radical act that announces that the future is now. 
            All this thinking about the power of words has been timely for me. A friend and I have been engaged in a good-natured ongoing debate about the relationship of language and thought. Namely, whether our words and grammar inform the way we think or whether the way that we think informs the words that we have and the grammar that organizes those words. It’s been a lively debate for us and a sometimes contentious one among professional linguists. I come down somewhere in the middle. I don’t think that language is a rigid structure that prevents us from contemplating ideas for which we have no words, but I do think that our habits of speech become habits of thought, and habits, I’m sure we can all agree, once established, are difficult to change.
            Change is possible, though. As with Peter’s radical act of naming Jesus as the messiah in the gospel today, our speech acts can shape the way we experience relationships in our world. The passage from Romans uses beautiful words to create a vision of a harmonious body of different people, and this is a vision we are familiar with within the church. When we are doing well as a church, the body welcomes a variety of members and values their individual contributions.
            Words, however, also have the power to devalue the people with whom we come in contact. One only has to listen to the news to hear this in action. Conflict and violence can on occur when the aggressor views the victim as less than human. This is true in cases of personal violence like assault, murder, and rape; in cases of ritualized violence like political campaigns; and in cases of armed conflict like those in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, and Iraq right now.
            I’m not going to make any judgments about who is right and who is wrong in any of these conflicts. I am going to challenge you to pay closer attention to the way you hear them described, though. Language that compares people to animals, language that labels people evil or bad, language that treats people as objects dehumanizes those people.

            When we use dehumanizing language we participate in the violence, we perpetuate the conflicts and we are complicit in the tragic piles of bodies that result. What would happen, though, if we took a radical step like Peter and changed the way we talk? When we change our language, we expand Paul’s metaphor from the church family to the human family. When we change our language, we recognize that all the people we share the earth with are members of the body and each of them has a contribution. When we change our language, we take the fist step toward beating our swords into ploughshares.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

perspective

I've been thinking a lot about perspective lately, about how the position (physical or mental) from which we view something influences not only the way we see it, but the way we understand it and the way we talk about it.

For example, I've wanted to knit an Umaro blanket since Jared Flood first published the pattern years ago.
Photo Credi: Original pattern image ©Jared Flood
http://brooklyntweed.net/blog/?p=471

I've been waiting for the right time to cast on a project of this size (blankets are big, yo) but also waiting for the right yarn to cross my path. Some of this yarn was an impulse purchase when one of the yarn shops in Lafayette was closing. It's the right weight for the blanket, but I bought small amounts of three colors rather than enough of one color for the whole blanket.

For more than a year, I pondered how to introduce color work into this pattern. Horizontal or vertical stripes would be at odds with the lines created by the motifs. I like the idea of diagonal stripes of color, and over the holidays I pulled out the pattern chart to decide where it would be feasible to change colors.

None of the possibilities I came up with excited me because I was seeing this as a variant of tumbling blocks. One day while staring at the pattern, my focus shifted and I saw it in a new way: as cables on a seed stitch ground rather than a field of cubes.  I have a much better plan now, and all I had to do was look long enough and let my eyes relax.

Shifting perspective can be hard, though.

My grief counselor and I have a recurring conversation that goes something like this:

Kitty: So, how was your week?
me: I did a hard thing this week. I submitted the final stuff for estate task of the week.
Kitty: That must feel good. What did you do to celebrate?
me: Well, I checked it off on my list. ...hmmm... Then I did some knitting with Netflix. But now I'm thinking about next estate task. I'm really not looking forward to that one because reasons.
Kitty: Kate, you've accomplished so much, you need to pause and celebrate. You deserve the rest.
me: Yeah, I guess, but there's so much more to do. The list is still so long!

Kitty wants me to see the accomplishments behind me, but all I can see are the things ahead, the obstacles between me and beginning.

On the one hand, the fact that I see all the tasks ahead keeps me moving forward.

On the other hand, sometimes their sheer quantity and complexity is paralyzing. At those times, I remember Anne Lamott's advice to take it bird by bird.

On the one hand, pausing my relentless march forward to look back and celebrate accomplishments reinforces confidence in my ability to do things myself and to gather the right help.

On the other hand, inertia. (A well-intentioned pause is still a pause.)

So, although I am usually the sort of person who sits on the fence seeing both sides of any given question  (blessed are the peacemakers!), in the case of my own life this last year, I have kept my face  firmly pointed forward, focusing on the story of the tasks ahead.  Although this discipline has been useful, I am beginning to remember the danger of a single story, and I am beginning to really hear Kitty's call to pause and celebrate.

When I've settled in to this new perspective, I'll let you know what I see.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

and now, for a brief commercial break

Many blogs contribute to the livelihoods of their writers through sponsors who pay to be mentioned in blog entries. Some writers do this really well, and I actually look forward to their sponsor posts; other writers annoy me so much at sponsorship time that I stop reading their blogs altogether.

This blog contributes to my sanity rather than my livelihood, so there are no sponsors to whom I am beholden for support. However, in keeping with the generic convention that blog posts sometimes tell you where your money can go, I'm going to use this space to tell you about the causes that I sponsor in hopes that you, dear reader, might be inspired to contribute, too.

I promise not to do this often, definitely not more than once a year. To be honest, I'm not sure why I'm doing it now, except that I'm really excited about what Stephanie and Mark and Bob & Taylor and Rob & Kirsten are doing, and I'm proud of what my modest contributions help to accomplish.

1. I support Stephanie Pearl McPhee because she makes me laugh. Her blog Yarn Harlot offers up a constant supply of the spice of life.
I had to buy a new [air mattress] on account of the fact that last year I took my knitting into the tent with me, and my dpn poked a hole in the air mattress. The only reason Jen didn’t kill me that night was because she’s a knitter too. This year we have a “no needles in the tent” rule that seems reasonable to both of us.  There’s not much that can make the rally harder, but sleeping (or not sleeping) on rocks is right up there.
Stephanie, her best friend Jen, and her daughters are riding with team Psychlopaths in PWA's Friends for Life bike rally from Toronto to Montreal (7/27 - 8/1) to raise funds for AIDS support.

2. I support the American University's United Methodist Community because it was my spiritual home on campus, and because the Reverend Mark Schaefer's sermons continue to inspire me to question and to think about my faith. My experiences there helped to create the person that I am, and many of the relationships that sustain me now started there because
We aim not to be simply a place of worship, or a place to study faith, or even a place to serve, but to be a community in which all the elements of faith are lived out fully. And part of building community is building real and authentic relationships with one another. So whether we’re spending time in worship or prayer, or lending a sympathetic ear, or grabbing a bite to eat or going out to see a movie, we are intent on building real relationships that will be a source of strength and comfort.
Mark is raising funds for the ministry this summer by riding his bike around Lake Ontario.

3. I support Friendly Planet Missiology because they give me hope for peace and community in the aftermath of war. Bob, Taylor, and their Congolese counterparts
work alongside local community leaders as they create unique solutions to local problems. Each village is different in personality and assets, and yet, all have the kind of creative wisdom it takes to turn their lives around. 
While their work is now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I hope that their methodology can spread to other conflict zones. Contributions can be made on their website.

4. I support the Huss Project because it makes my city a better place. By repurposing an abandoned school lacking heat, air conditioning, and running water and located in a difficult neighborhood, Rob and Kirsten and their team are building a space for community to flourish.
We hope that the Huss Project can become a space that illuminates imaginative possibilities for people of faith living into God’s Kingdom in a particular time and place.  We hope that people from throughout North America will converge there with their stories and questions about Christianity as a way of life to inspire and learn from one another.  We hope that the neighborhood around the Huss Project will experience God’s goodness through all five senses as they participate in activities that engage the body, mind and soul.  We hope that a community kitchen and garden, arts programming, off-campus opportunities for college students and other projects will exist in playful synergy and that such synergy will provide rich soil for experiential, connected, imaginative learning by people of all abilities and backgrounds.
Saturday, July 19th is their fifth annual Future Fest, and I'm looking forward to seeing the progress that has been made so far and to glimpsing the dreams that are to come. Contributions can be made here.

So, dear reader, thanks for letting me share these causes and organizations with you. I hope that I haven't annoyed you so much that you stop reading altogether. Please consider contributing your prayers and gifts, or even your service, if you're in one of the right places. If there is a cause that is close to your heart, put a link in the comments.

P.S. I apologize for the mixed bag of fonts in the block quotes. I tried to make them all conform, but the HTML defeated me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

conflict

The news these days is dominated by stories of conflict. In Syria. In Gaza. In Iraq. In Ukraine. In the US Congress. On the steps of the Supreme Court. In Indiana.

In so many cases, conflict is perpetuated by misuse of religion. It is  beautiful when faith is the guiding  principle of discipleship and reverence for the creation. It is horrific when faith is twisted into a tool for violence and destruction.

It is unfortunate that in the midst of conflict, when we most need our principles to guide us, human beings are most likely to surrender to our emotions. We let anger and fear take control of our actions. We demand retribution instead of offering forgiveness. We forget that the Other is also a Self.

At Velveteen Rabbi today, Rachel Barenblat wrote:
I have been watching the news (and reading blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates) out of Israel and the Palestinian territories with a sense of unbearable heartbreak. It brings me to the brink of something like a panic attack: my chest tightening, my throat choked with tears, the embodied feeling that the grief will wash me away altogether. And I am aware that those who live there are experiencing something far more powerful.
The only thing which brings any comfort is poetry and prayer. Bethlehem Blogger posted A prayer in times of violence, which though it is explicitly Christian speaks to me nonetheless. Wendell Berry's poem The peace of wild things speaks right to my heart. I daven the oseh shalom blessing -- "may the One Who makes peace in the high heavens make peace also for us" -- with particular fervor.
To prayer and poetry, I would add music.




I have faith that one day will come. 

Today the news of conflict I've been reading has been accompanied by updates from a friend traveling through a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo that was ravaged by war in recent years but is now home to community and hope.

UMC Kyubo, DR Congo. Photo credit: Bob Walters, Friendly Planet Missiology




fear

Last year, several weeks after my husband died, I had dinner with an old friend whose summer travels brought him past Rambling Farmhouse. At the end of the evening, as we made our farewells with a hug, I suddenly felt safe, and it was such a relief. Until that moment, I had not realized what a frightening place my world had become or the degree to which  fear was informing my decisions. Though the world was no less frightening when the hug was over, that brief solace made it possible for me to see, and seeing is the first step toward coping.

I used to say that I had lost my invincibility when I became a mother. In the moment that I realized another being depended on me for sustenance and protection, I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable human beings are, how we take risks as we live our daily lives. It was frightening at first, but life is worth the risks, and I learned to live with this new awareness.

I thought that motherhood had allowed me to see through the illusion of my own invincibility, but widowhood showed me that the illusion of invincibility, albeit in fainter form, was still with me. Part of the tenacity of the illusion comes from the way we talk about risk, I think. When we hear statistics like the risk of death in a car accident is 1 in 6,700, it's easy to disregard the one. That one will be someone else, someone distant, someone unconnected to us. But someone has to be the one.

It has been harder to learn to live with the new awareness of vulnerability this time, in large part because I don't have a partner to lean on.

Though I recognize that fear is a normal part of grief, I find that it manifests itself in unexpected ways:

Like the way my mind gets caught in a hamster wheel of worry and doubt over things that shouldn't be worry worthy.

Like the way I avoid making estate-related phone calls because I imagine they will be awful, even though they are almost always less bad than I build them up to be.

Like the way I don't send pages to my dissertation committee because I worry they will say my work is awful.

Like the way I make poor choices about how to spend my work time because finishing my degree is frightening, even though I simultaneously really want to be done.

Everything is harder when lived through the lens of fear.

I sometimes wonder if we need the illusion of invincibility, if it is that illusion that allows us to rationalize the risks that we take every day. I'm not sure, though. Perhaps it's not an illusion of invincibility that we need, but confidence in our resilience.

Friday, July 4, 2014

a glimpse of ferocity

These are my fierce shoes. I wear them when I need to remind myself that I am awesome and powerful.


Most recently, I wore them to do estate paperwork at the bank. It went well. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

angry

The way we Americans talk about the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) makes them seem like a linear process, but the experience of grief is anything but direct. Labyrinthine would be a better word, perhaps. Recursive is also not inappropriate.

For most of the last year, I've just been sad. Not really depressed, not bargaining, not in denial, just sad.


Lately, though, I'm angry.

I'm angry at Adam.

I hate all the tasks that are suddenly my job.

I'm frustrated by the estate process.

I resent my continued responsibility for Adam's things when he is no longer here to be my partner.

Adam's forgetfulness and his disorganization, the things that always drove me crazy, are still problems, but his wisdom and helpfulness no longer mitigate them.

This last year, for the first time, I felt like my marriage had compromised my career, and I'm not even married anymore.

I'm angry that he left me. He reneged on our deal.


I know that Adam's death was an accident, and that he didn't leave me by choice. Really, I do. But grief is not rational. Logic is not operative in this wilderness, and, in truth, there are far worse targets for my anger than someone who is not here to feel it.

 I get to be angry.

a glimpse of midlife

It used to be that the yellowed paperbacks in my life had come into my hands with their own history, having been read and loved and given up by someone else first.


This was new when I bought it.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

sable letter

Typeface from Charbase http://www.charbase.com/1d4b2-unicode-mathematical-script-capital-w
Sometimes lately I feel like I have a giant black W tattooed in the center of my chest below my collarbone. 

Sometimes it aches. Like when I spend time with couple friends and feel lonely. Or when the kids are being awesome, and Adam isn't there to see it. 

Sometimes it burns. Like when people ask "how are you" more for their own benefit than for mine. I know they are trying to be compassionate and helpful, but this is not compassion.

My closest and best friends, the ones with whom I actually want to talk about Things and Stuff and Feels, rarely ask. Instead, they wait for me, knowing that when I have something I need to say, I will find them, and they will make themselves available.

Because here's the thing, asking is an implicit command for me to perform my grief, and that is not helpful. I refuse to access my vulnerability on command. I refuse to perform my grief so that someone else can feel more comfortable with theirs. 

There's been an uptick in these interactions as the one-year mark approaches, and it pisses me off.   

I get it. If you are grieving Adam's death, this week is hard. But I refuse to occupy the hole he left in your life. I refuse to be sucked into your stage of grief, because it's yours, not mine.  And I'm not sorry for protecting myself this way.


Monday, June 16, 2014

in the joy of fullness

There were eight extra people at Rambling Farmhouse this weekend, and it was glorious.

My friends being my friends, much of the long visit centered on the many meals we prepared and shared together. Even in the work of feeding five adults and six children, there was joy. The quotidian mysteries of prepping, cooking, and cleaning are a solid foundation for deepening friendships.


Today, we are back to three at Rambling Farmhouse, and I am tidying up, still so happy to have shared this time with Chris & Kendra and Erin & David.  These table linens on the line are a testament to friendships newly made and further deepened.

Monday, May 26, 2014

unniversary

Today is not my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and that feels strange.

With my wedding present, Adam gave me a fiftieth anniversary card because he believed we would see that day. Even in our rockiest moments divorce was never an option, but because of that card we used to joke that we'd renegotiate the deal when we made it to fifty years. These days, when I'm frustrated with the estate process, I grumble that he reneged on our deal.


This has been one of the more challenging days for me in this year of firsts without Adam because there was not a logical thing to do, no traditions to guide the choice of how to mark this day. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are all holidays which continue to be celebrated even without Adam because each of those days contains its own reasons and rituals. This anniversary, in contrast, commemorates a marriage that ended when death did us part.

Today may not be day to celebrate thirteen years, but it can become a day to remember the twelve amazing years and one month that we had. So, this evening, I pulled out our wedding album and tracked down the music Fellowship of Sound sang for us that day.

Fellowship of Sound (May 26, 2001): Nate, Stuart, Kate, Kate, Brad, Chris
Then, I opened the envelope of memories.


I am so grateful to the friends and family who took the time to answer my call for stories. For most of this year, though, I hadn't been able to bring myself to read them. As they arrived, I just slid them into their designated manila envelope, saving them for a nebulous 'later.'

I'm really glad later was today. Your stories capture Adam's boundless creativity,  his gracious hospitality, and his joyful laughter. Thank you for writing his portrait. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

a glimpse of cousins


She's waited a long time for a first cousin. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

seeing myself

Adam used to reflect me back to me, so that I saw myself in his eyes. Not in the sense that I let him define me, but in the sense that he was the reality check on the person I thought I was presenting to the world. He could separate the insecurities in my head from the flaws visible to others. He could see the potential that I doubted.

Now, I feel like I triangulate the feedback of others to get the same picture.

Like when John wanted to help me sell Rambling Farmhouse right away because he knows it was never my house, never the place I would have chosen for myself. Which reminded me of the first time Mark came to visit, and said, "Kate, I don't know what I expected your house to be, but this is not it."

I saw myself as free to leave this house behind.


Like when Erin talked about me balancing into the burdens of the last year.

I saw myself making progress and gaining confidence.


Like when Dorrie's words about the writing process made me realize that my problems aren't grief problems, but writing problems.

I saw myself making excuses.


It is so hard to dwell in this wilderness between end and beginning. Sometimes I feel like I imagine Moses must have felt, able to see the promised land after many years' wandering, but unable to cross over.  I yearn to move on, sometimes blaming paperwork and sorting for keeping me here, sometimes resenting Adam for leaving so many loose ends.

In more insightful moments, I understand that I'm still here because I'm still learning to see the self I am becoming.

Pardon me while I gather today's manna.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

turning chickens into quilts


I recently rehomed our flock of chickens, who are now happily clucking away at Bluebird Farm. They are also laying prodigiously, so we know they've settled in and are happy.

Back in March when Rachel and David took the chickens, I couldn't come up with a cash value number. I really had no idea what they were worth, on the market generally or to me personally, so Rachel offered me three Romney fleeces from the spring shearing. Sold!

Shearing happened last Saturday, and I spent a pleasant couple of hours this afternoon picking over the fleeces with Rachel, removing balls of lanolin and bits of hay. (Also poop. These are sheep, after all).

Thank you, Lady Baa Baa.

These three fleeces are destined to become quilt batts, the innards between the pieced top and the counterpane bottom, the innards that make the quilt warm. Adam's friend Jen offered to make quilts from his prodigious collection of interesting t-shirts for the girls and a quilt from his button shirts and some of my old clothes for me. There is enough fleece to make batts for these three quilts and also batts for Jen to keep for her own use.

I will have to pay the mill actual cash for processing, but the other exchanges in this chain are forged by friendship, trust, and the barter economy. Each trade is equitable because each party has a surplus of the other's need, and each is satisfied at the end. It's a pretty great way to turn chickens into quilts.


Monday, April 21, 2014

soapbox: bats & rabies & shots (oh, my!)

Pardon me while I turn this blog into a soapbox for a moment.

ahem

Rabies is one hundred percent deadly in humans once symptoms appear. This fact is key, and you should keep it in mind as I tell you the rest of this story.

The Adventure:

When I went to bed Friday night (Saturday morning, really), Sofia was already in my bed, so I pushed her over to make room for me, and then Buttercup and Jack stood on me until I made room for cats. All in all, a normal night.

I hadn't been asleep for long when I woke up to the sounds of thumping and chittering. Buttercup was hunting something underneath the old sewing machine table that I use as a nightstand, and I had no idea what it was, but it didn't sound like a mouse.  By the time I woke Sofia up and got her moving toward the door, Buttercup had chased whatever to the coat tree. When I followed her intense gaze upward, I saw a little brown bat hanging from my dress.

Even not very awake, I knew I wanted to isolate the bat, so I got Sofia to her room and closed the girls' bedroom doors. Then, I crawled back into my room, got both cats out, closed the door. So far, so good.

I sat down in the hall to wake up and think:
Fact: my bedroom door doesn't latch closed (we never got to the doorknob installation part of that remodel)
Fact: bats can fly through spaces as narrow as half an inch (like the gap around my door)
Fact: Buttercup was pretty determined to get back in
Fact: bats are challenging for cats to kill because they can wrap themselves in the leather armor of their wings

Buttercup's been fully vaccinated, so it was tempting to let her have at, but she's not actually very good at killing things. (Hunting and maiming, yes; killing, not so much.)

I peeked in and saw the unmistakable shape of bat swooping near the ceiling.

New plan: I woke the kids up, and took them and the cats downstairs and closed the stairs door. Then I army-crawled across my room to open the window that doesn't have a screen, grabbed my blanket, crawled back out, and went to sleep downstairs on the couch.

That open window was a critical tactical error, friends. Critical.

When I talked about this adventure online, a field scientist friend pointed out that I should have caught the bat and turned it over to appropriate authorities for testing, and that since I hadn't, I should probably consider rabies prophylaxis for Sofia and for me. I was skeptical, so I did some research.

The nurse on call at my doctor's office on Saturday morning said no shots unless I could find bites or scratches on myself or Sofia, but she couldn't really tell me what to look for. I looked but couldn't find anything suspicious.

But then I read The Washington Post's article about a woman who had an experience very similar to mine and opted for the rabies prophylaxis series despite the lack of visible wound. The CDC guidelines suggest the shot sequence even if there is no apparent wound when a bat is found in a room where someone has been asleep.

I went to bed Saturday night resolved to make a decision on Monday when animal control and the doctor's office would be open.

And it happened again. 

Same time of night, same thumping and chittering in the corner. I made sure the kids' bedroom doors were closed, got the cats downstairs, and closed my latchless bedroom door, hoping to trap the bat so I could have it tested this time.

The county animal control voicemail message directed me to call county dispatch after hours, but county dispatch was no help and little comfort. The officer I spoke to said that animal control won't come out "for just a bat," and he didn't know who would test it for rabies if I caught it. He suggested an exterminator and a local vet. I thought, Um, thanks a lot. Don't you know that rabies is nearly always fatal in humans?

So I called my sister (who lives next door and works second shift and was still awake).  My awesome sister and brother-in-law and I thoroughly and carefully checked the room for a roosting bat, but saw no signs. I slept on the couch, and we checked the room again during the day Sunday, but still found nothing.

Today I called the county health department whose rabies expert said that Sofia and I were definitely candidates for post-exposure rabies prophylaxis and then helped me make arrangements with the local emergency room to get the shots. Three cheers for Julie at the health department. She is awesome!

Dear heaven, the shots! Though, it's not as bad as it used to be (many injections through the abdominal wall), it's still a lot of painful (and expensive) pricks. The standard of care is now immunoglobulin at the wound site on day 0 and vaccine in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 21. Since we had no apparent wounds, Sofia and I got the immunoglobulin in the glutes. Being small, Sofia got one on each side. At 155 lbs., I got two on each side. Immunoglobulin is thick, and there is a lot of it.

The Lesson:

It is highly unlikely that bats will bite humans without provocation. It is highly unlikely that bats actually have rabies (less than 1% of the population in general, 6% of those tested in Michigan). The bat (or bats) that were in my bedroom probably live in my attic and were trying to find their way out, having just woken up from hibernation. There is a strong impulse to live and let live; nevertheless, as the CDC notes,
Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.
There is no possibility to wait and see.

Unless you are one hundred percent sure that no one was bitten or one hundred percent sure that the bat does not have rabies, get the shots. Someone who was asleep can not be one hundred percent sure. It is possible to not notice being bitten during sleep, and the bites look like small cuts that could be mistaken for other things.

The first people I talked to, my family doctor's nurse and the county dispatcher, did not see this situation as critical at all. These two people made me think perhaps I was overreacting. However, once I spoke to people who were knowledgeable about rabies and the CDC guidelines, Julie at the health department and the ER nurse and nurse practitioner, the tenor of the conversation shifted to one of urgency. Shots. Definitely. Today.

Even people who work with and respect bats agree that bats found in rooms where people are sleeping should be caught, euthanized, and tested for rabies. I'm frustrated that the health care worker and the first responder I spoke to first did not know this information. They should know.

We should all know, because when you're woken from a sound sleep at two A.M. by a bat in the bedroom, you're operating on instinct, not on Google, and my instinct was to get the intruder as far away from my family as possible. When this happens again (as I'm sure it will), I'll know better.


Monday, April 14, 2014

girl power

Because it's spring, I had to prune the grapes. Because I've never pruned grapes, I called in reinforcements.

me: Rachel, can you help me prune the grapes?
Rachel: Sure! Kate, I've never pruned grapes. Do you know what to do?
me: I have no idea. I've never done it before, either. I'm going to ask You Tube. We'll figure it out. I believe in us.

Girl Power Day often starts like that. Sometimes one or the other of us has done the task of the day before, but even then we're not experts. So far we've refilled propane cylinders at the gas company, hauled mill ends from the Amish cabinetmaker, spread manure on the pastures at Bluebird, taken junk to the dump, pitched canvas tents, baked in the masonry oven, and pruned grapes.

Girl Power Days have taught me several lessons:

1. I can do almost anything if I educate myself and get the right support.
2. Just because I can do a thing doesn't mean that I have to like doing it or that I should commit to doing that thing all the time.
3. Sometimes the right support is just someone to make decisions with.

Because Adam and I had worked so hard to be interdependent, and because I had gotten so used to having a partner, it has been hard for me to remember what I'm capable of. It is the confidence generated on Girl Power Days that carries me through some of the physically and emotionally challenging tasks I undertake on my own.