Counting Squares

            This is what my life has come to.

I find myself looking for squares on the floor. They tell me where to stand in line. As I wait my turn, I watch other people find their square. And together we wait, six feet apart, trying to smile with our eyes because our faces are concealed behind a mask.

            Driving across the countryside today I watched a single file line of cows space themselves at the feed bunk. Several were already munching away, but a few remained distant, seemingly waiting their turn. And the thought crossed my mind, do cows know to social distance too? Then I catch my thoughts.  Seriously? This is what my life has come to?

            I used to visit while I waited in line. In fact, I’ve had some amazing conversations with total strangers while we waited together.  I used to make eye contact and smile at those who didn’t want to visit. And I used to greet those I knew with a handshake or a high five. But now we stand apart and awkwardly try to connect from invisible squares on the sidewalk that keep us socially distanced.

            It’s hard to communicate through a mask. The covering muffles the words and mask our normal facial expressions that come naturally with conversation. I miss seeing the faces of those I know and love. I miss seeing the faces of those I don’t know well! There is more than six feet between us when we want to connect but feel the limitations. We are not designed to stay apart. By nature, we are designed to interact.

            I stood on a square today in an unfamiliar place to pay a cashier wearing a mask behind a counter. She was chipper and friendly and I admired her sunny disposition on such a dreary day. Half of the people standing in squares were wearing masks. The other half were not. But we were all waiting together in our own lines, all spaced six feet apart. I shared my square with my husband, but people looked at us funny. To me it’s obvious we’re together, but I supposed to others they might wonder why we are standing so close when the squares give instructions to stay apart.

            Back in the car we share the hand sanitizer and relax in our own space. Our world has changed. It is still changing. There are still so many unknowns. Yet one thing remains. The new normal is not going anywhere very quickly. This is what my life has come to.

            At home I read the news and say a prayer for the firefighters and families under threat of losing their lives out west. I visit with a friend who has visited family in Louisiana. The remnants of Hurricane Laura are fresh in their minds and the damage is devastating. I hear from a colleague who is still recovering from the effects of the Derecho Storm from a month ago. Nothing is easy. Everyone is struggling to survive in their own squares.

            The news reminds us of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A day to never be forgotten, even though there has been a recent surge of suggestions that history be removed from our school curriculums. What happens if we forget? That question haunts me as I prepare dinner. Historically speaking, there is much to be ashamed of in our world, in our country, in our lives—but to forget is to deny. I would rather remember the pain than have it erased from our timeline. Not to recall, to not be reminded is much like giving permission that life is random and unpredictable. I guess I’m not ready to live that life. I prefer to remember, to hurt, and to be reminded of lessons learned from history lest we repeat the same mistakes again.

            Closer to home the date is a blatant reminder of the one who is no longer with us. Life changed forever when one heart stopped beating. Every 11th another month passes. Six months today feels like yesterday. I remember and the pain is real. Yet the world continues to carry us forward whether we are ready or not. The absent one is present in spirit every single day, but our hearts are still broken. Grief is the price we pay for love, and I wouldn’t change the depth of the love. But as my day draws to a close, I realize I would do anything to go back and change the outcome.

            Amazingly, we humans are quite adaptable. We survive. We continue to wake up tomorrow and do it again. We laugh and we cry. We stay connected in whatever ways we are allowed and by whatever means is attainable. Our crops are parched by drout, yet the farmers will still pursue a harvest. And even though the rains have come, only the grass will show any signs of relief. Up north, the corn crop is gone, and the beans are stunted by the lack of rain. But the fields will still be cleared, and the land will be prepared for another season. By divine design we are resilient.

            Late in the day I found myself counting squares again. Without thinking I am conserving toilet paper—a fear instilled by the initial response to COVID-19 lockdown. Seriously! I am counting the squares on a roll of toilet paper. Interestingly enough, during lockdown we learned how to make a roll of toilet paper last longer than we knew was possible! But in recent weeks as supply has increased, I’ve not been as attentive to usage. However, tonight I realized if I fail to conserve today, tomorrow I will be standing on another square waiting to purchase a new package of toilet paper! The saving grace is the fact there is actually toilet paper on the shelves in the stores now!

            Tomorrow is a new day. I will wake up on the 12th and move forward into another month. Life changed. I will breathe in and out and count my blessings.  I will carry a mask in my purse and in my car for when it is needed and required. I will stand in the square and wait my turn. I will smile with my eyes and attempt limited conversation with strangers who are also waiting. And together we will all move forward.

            This too shall pass.

            A passage of scripture has been lurking around in my head all day. I looked it up when I got home today. Luke 19:38-40. Jesus is on his way into Jerusalem to face his death. People are praising him and welcoming him as he rides past on the colt of a donkey. But those who oppose him demand he get his “people” under control. They tell him to make the people stop! And Jesus replies, “If they stop, the rocks will still cry out.”

            Even in the midst of all of this—in the midst of death, in the midst of masks, in the midst of fires and hurricanes, derechos, and riots—even as the earth cries out in agony: for those who hope in the Lord, who hope in the “more” of this life and the life eternal—there is hope. If in the midst of all of this the rocks will still cry out in praise, then I choose hope over despair. I choose remembrance over denial. I choose love over grief.

This is what my life is coming to.

Blinded by the Light

There is a fine line between Light and Darkness.

Yet somehow, they define one another.

The contrast is bold and blunt.

The lines, defined and thin.

As the Light changes, the Darkness diminishes.

Even without the blinds fully opening, the Light still wins.

As the Light filters through the blinds, casting shadows on the ceiling I am aware of the irony.

The blinds are designed to keep Light out, yet it still filters through, challenging the Darkness to give way.

Darkness, blinded by the very light it is designed to keep out.

How ironic that the blinds actually cast the Light.

Even more ironic when the Light is so bright it blinds.

Isn’t that how Grace works too?

Grace infiltrates the darkness that blinds us, shames us, and even threatens to change us.

Grace penetrates in spite of Darkness and forges new openings, new beginnings, and new hope.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Let the Light come in!

Let it penetrate, infiltrate, and define.

May you be blinded by the Light that overcomes the Darkness.

And may you be filled with fresh Hope as the blinds give way to Grace.

Spring Emerging

Household Faith

Standing on the edge of the newly uncovered deck following 14 straight weeks of snow and ice cover, I heard new sounds.  After the long silence of winter, the neighborhood was slowly coming alive.  Someone rolled a trash can to the curb for morning pick up.  Two voices were conversing down the street.  A dog barked.  A car splashed in a mud puddle as it drove by.  A different dog barked.  Someone walking their dog in the pre-dusk light jingled a set of keys as they passed by.

Fourteen looong weeks of bitter cold, harsh winds, every kind of precipitation possible.  I’d almost forgotten the sounds of spring. 

Another day passed.  Suddenly there was a set of robins hopping across the leftover snow streaks in the front yard.  Orange and purple painted the western sky at dusk.  And the once frozen soil was becoming mushy with the thaw that comes with spring.

Later that night.  The wind howled and the sky flashed!  Out of nowhere an unfamiliar crack of thunder startled us from sleep.  The sounds of spring were emerging. 

Then days passed and the rains kept coming.  Not forty days and forty nights, for that promise had been made long ago, but the rains came anyway.  Unceasing, relentless.  The yard only half thawed became first a stream, then a river, and then a small lake.  The streets were full. The rivers broke their banks.  The miniature icebergs scraped at the bridges and underpasses.  The rains came.  The water stayed. 

And then, without warning, on a mid-afternoon it came.  Faintly at first, but the colors brightened, then doubled, then connected one span of the sky to the other.  A full double rainbow graced the Eastern horizon.  Hope was restored.  Spring was emerging.

Tonight, a quiet surprise.  Somewhere beyond the housetops echoed the coo of the doves.  Our town has an abundance of doves, but they have been absent since winter set in.  But tonight, they were here, calling to one another, calling to us.  Spring emerging brings the coo of the doves, which in turn brings hope and inspiration and courage.

Spring emerging is bittersweet.  No more ice and snow in which to complain, but rather sunshine and rain in which to accept.  Never perfect yet always right.  Spring emerging in sound, in site, and in life.

 We live in four seasons.  The calendar marks the days, but the seasons put a mark on our hearts. Acutely aware of the passing time, seasons forge their own path in their own time, which then becomes our time.  We don’t choose the timing or the path, but we are full participants in both. 

To welcome the spring is also to embrace the fall.  To bask in summer is also to anticipate the winter.  In seasons we are tested, bruised, battered and torn, yet somehow restored, made whole, and at last completed.  Not in our own time, but in Time as it’s given.

News Comes Callin’

Unspoken-ness

Close to Home,

Far away,

News comes callin’

Passed away.

Feel the pain,

Start to Pray,

Mind is racin’

Snatched away.

Reaching for words to give comfort,

Struggling to understand Grace.

Livin’ with hope for the future,

Yet limited by this time and space.

Hope will know the answer.

Faith will mark the time.

Love will keep us searching

For the purpose in this life.

Close to Home,

Far away,

News comes callin’

Passed away.

Feel the pain,

Start to Pray,

Mind is racin’

Snatched away.

Learnin’ to live for the moment,

Tryin’ to live life today.

Thinkin’ about no tomorrow

Isn’t the way we’re taught to play.

Who’s to know the reason,

The time, or the place?

Who’s to know the season

When we meet Love face to face?

Close to Home,

Far away,

News comes callin’

Passed away.

Feel the pain,

Start to pray,

Mind is racin’

Snatched away.

In loving memory of our dear friend, Roger Gilles LeBel–Gone too soon.

Keeping the Mind Busy

Diagnosis Dementia ~ Prognosis Hope

In the world of Dementia there is a fine line between keeping the mind busy and keeping the loved one occupied.  It would seem busy work might stimulate the senses over and over without a memory to keep track of passing time.  

Seriously.

I’ve been told so many things about needing to keep activities on hand to keep my mom busy and/or occupied. We have adult coloring books from every genre. We have word find books, crossword puzzle books, and Sudoku.

They work for a while, depending on the day. I was looking for activities that might help on the days Mom was bored by the books. I stumbled upon Dementia-minded dominoes and color/shape matching cubes. They’re interesting, but haven’t held Mom’s attention for long at a time as of yet.

My sister-in-law was looking for something Mom might enjoy at Christmastime when she stumbled upon this “new” version of the old number-slide game. Remember these?  This is one of the first handheld devices used to entertain little hands and it didn’t even need recharged!  It was about 4” square in size and was “church-approved”. My grandmother carried one in her purse. My aunt remembers playing with one in church when she was a child! And I am sure all of my cousins remember it too! It was always a challenge to get the numbers in order from 1 – 15 and probably took a good deal of the sermon time to make it happen!

My brother and sister-in-law brought this little gadget to our house around Christmastime and Mom spent hours getting it in order. She’d mess with it until she got it all in numerical order, then proudly leave it on the table.  Sometimes it would take her all afternoon, but she’d stick with it until it was in perfect order.  A day or two later I would mix up the numbers. Before bedtime, Mom would have it back in order. We did this off and on for a couple of weeks! It seemed to be very satisfying for Mom while she worked to get it exact! 

This morning the number slide was in order. I had a little time so thought I’d mix it up so Mom would have something to do with her hands if she got bored this afternoon. But today was different.

The numbers would not move.

In fact, they wouldn’t even budge! 

I took it to my husband for closer examination. I thought maybe Mom had bent the edges down with a pair of pliers to keep it in order. But when I handed off, I realized something else! Discolored, sticky streaks on the bottom of the otherwise shiny surface.

Yep!

Glue residue. With perfect fingerprints!

Mom had GLUED the numbers down. In numerical order.

Now NO ONE could mess up her work this time!

Or EVER again!

The first handheld, church-approved, family heirloom is forever glued into perfection. Not ONE number square even wiggles. It is one solid, handheld device in perfect order from one to fifteen!

Which brings me to a whole new set of questions!

  • Where is heaven’s name did she find glue?
  • Where is the glue now?
  • And when did she do that without someone catching her in the act?!!  (Have I told you we have a nurse on duty 48 hours a week and my mother is NEVER left alone?)

Quite obviously, in the world of Dementia, keeping someone occupied does not correlate with redundant repetition!

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