I bought a pair of capris the other day, with ribbons on the bottoms that are supposed to be tied in little bows. These were not in bows, however, but in knots. Late for synagogue on Shabbat morning, I left them as they were, but as I started driving, I thought it would be a good idea to untie the knots as I drove, so that I could tie the ribbons in bows when I got to the parking lot. I figured I would have plenty of time in an hour’s drive to accomplish that task, even while driving.
I know that the thought of me driving with one hand and untying a knot with the other may make some people, especially my children and husband, nervous. But I was very careful to only work on the knots when there was nothing else going on on the road, and I always had at least one hand on the wheel. Explaining this makes me feel a little like Lucy from I Love Lucy, when she tried to account for some outrageous maneuver she’d tried, but, seriously, it was not that bad.
I discovered how hard it is to untie a knot with one hand. This may be something everyone else in the world already knows, but, at 68, I don’t recall ever having tried the one-handed knot-untie trick before. I started with my left side and got that one done in about 15 minutes. Surprisingly, the right side took longer, perhaps because the knot was tighter. Eventually, I got that one done, got to synagogue, tied my bows, and was good to go.
So what? may be the response of just about everybody. Who cares about untying knots with one hand, unless you are driving on the road at the same time as some nut like me is attempting this maneuver and want to know what to avoid? Well, the deal is, there is an object lesson here.
Now this is where my children might sigh. Being together so much due to homeschooling, they learned, besides how to read and write and other academic stuff, that Mom can find a song for almost everything and an object lesson for many things. After all, what is an object lesson but a teachable moment? It’s when you can link a concept, a principle, a moral to something tangibly occurring in real life at that moment. The songs were not that; I mean, they were just things that popped in my head and came out of my mouth, very often to my children’s embarrassment and chagrin, like when I sang “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie and the Dreamers, with arm and leg movements, in a parking lot. At least they didn’t have a boring mother. But back to the object lessons; I believe they are gifts from God, even when they are not especially deep or spiritual.
When I started thinking, as I was driving, about how hard it was to untie those knots one-handed, it gave me a picture of relationships. I’m sure most of you have heard the analogy about our lives being like a tapestry; we see the bottom with the knots and mistakes, but God sees the whole beautiful picture being made at the top. Knots in the right places are very useful, but knots can also tangle things up and keep things from moving smoothly. If knots develop in a relationship, it is so much easier to work together to untangle them. If they have become complicated and tightly knotted, it takes a lot more time and patience, but it can be done eventually with two hands, two people. Difficulties in a relationship, any relationship, are like knots that are most effectively undone as a partnership, working together.
However, one person can untie a knot. If you have enough patience and enough determination to do it, you can succeed at unraveling that which has become complicated and constricted. It just takes a lot longer and requires a lot more faith. If two people are committed to untying the knots in their relationship, it can be done. If neither cares to work at it, the knots will remain and the relationship will be in a hopeless tangle. But if one person determines to be the knot-untier, despite the difficulty of the task and the endurance needed to complete it, that relationship has a chance to run smoothly again.
Disclaimer: This object lesson does not apply to the following knot situations: stomach knots, tree knots, nautical knots, muscle knots, protuberant knots, or macrame knots. I can only stretch an object lesson so far….
I enjoyed reading the post “The Hardest of Christian Dispensations” on the blog Tantoverde, which discussed judging others. Although I could have shared my own experiences of being judged and found wanting, I commented instead on one of the things we did in our family to encourage our children to love and respect people; we practiced the Christian virtue of hospitality. I believe that hospitality is a gift that can be nurtured. In my childhood and earlier adulthood, I did not have this gift. I witnessed it in action with my first mother-in-law, Mamita Edith, who would welcome any one we showed up with at her house, with no prior notice, and feed us all. Her motto was: “Donde comen tres, comen cuatro,” literally, “Where three can eat, four can eat.” Pots of rice and beans were extended to make food for all.
While I admired this philosophy, I did not, in the early years of my second marriage, have the aplomb to carry it out myself. I remember the first time we invited a pastor and his wife to dinner. I was so nervous that, when I leaned in to take the chicken out of the oven, I singed the hair off my forearm; the smell of scorched hair added nothing good to our meal.
Somehow, though, as our four younger children were growing up, our family started reaching out to other people with food. First it was bread. I had learned to bake bread with my ex-husband, when we had a bread baking business first on the Lower East Side and then in Woodstock, NY. I scaled down some of the recipes so that I made six loaves at a time instead of twelve, and my children eagerly got involved in the baking process. One loaf disappeared as soon as it had cooled enough to eat, and we kept another one or two, but the rest we gave away. We evaluated the loaves together, giving away the best looking ones and choosing on whom we would bestow them. Sometimes we would take bread with us when visiting a friend, or pick someone from the list of our bread fans; occasionally we realized that a person totally unexpected needed a loaf of freshly homemade bread. I remember only three times in about 30 years when the offer of fresh bread was refused.
Our son Matt was attending community college when he heard of a church just beginning, comprised mostly of young singles and led by a young pastor whose messages were good. We went as a family to check it out – my husband and I the only people of our age there, and our three young girls some of the few children. We ended up becoming part of that church community and found that we could invite young people from church over to our home for dinner on a moment’s notice and they would gladly come, eat a lot, and take home leftovers. It warmed my Jewish mother’s heart and was so casual that it never made me nervous.
At some point we decided as a family to institute a monthly Saturday evening open house. We made a big batch of bread and a big pot of soup, usually black bean, minestrone, or chili, and sometimes had dessert or salad. Then we put the word out, and people started coming, perhaps bringing more food, perhaps not, but all welcome. The most fun part was that often people would show up whom at least some of didn’t know….some of these people became very much a part of our family. My son Matt and daughter Cathy were both in college at the time. When they came home for a weekend visit while we were having an open house, they remarked with some irritation that they’d been greeted at the door by people they didn’t know, welcomed into their own home which was crammed full of people, and asked how they knew our family! Matt also said that he was getting really tired of that ever-present minestrone soup….
We have had many other opportunities to open our home to welcome guests wherever we live. Each opportunity enriched our lives and taught our children to minister to other people, to share what we had, and to learn from and respect our differences. One Thanksgiving we invited some Chinese international students and friends who had triplets, among others. The Chinese students had not known it was a meal and had eaten before they came. Our friends were worried about their kids eating too much, so they’d fed them first. We’d never had so many leftovers from a Thanksgiving meal before, but the meal became not the focus of the visit but the excuse to bring us all together to enjoy each others’ company
When we moved to the South, we thought we would find that Southern hospitality would take the form of ours, and that we would be invited to eat and to fellowship frequently. That was not the case, and we realized that, if we wanted to experience the kind of hospitality and fellowship we’d left behind, we would have to initiate it. We started inviting people to drop in and got a pleased yet surprised response. The idea of the open house seemed strange to people, yet they enjoyed it once they participated. Picture this: tables laden with fresh loaves of bread and butter; a huge pot of soup on the stove; desserts, salads, and snacks set wherever there was room; water, juice, coffee and tea up high where the little ones couldn’t reach. Rooms full of people, sitting, standing, conversing, eating, in a shifting kaleidoscope of relationships. Children everywhere, playing with each other, with adults, being held, being fed. Age no barrier to interactions, as children might get involved in a conversation with adults, and adults would get into playing games with the kids. People of all ages, colors, backgrounds, beliefs coming together in a shared experience of food for the body, the soul, the mind, and the heart. That is the community that hospitality fosters, where cold judgment stays outside and warm fellowship reigns.
Lillie, the mother of my best friend from high school, has been writing a wonderful blog about her life, and that inspired me to start a blog in lieu of writing those sporadic group emails. I kept putting off the first entry, but getting a note in my inbox that “theoldyard,” Lillie’s blog, is following mine has shamed me into starting.
So here goes the latest of my mental meanderings. Someday maybe I will write down my life story before I totally forget it, but that will take time, which brings me to my subject.
At the age of 64 (and yes, I did put the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” as my general ringtone for this year), most of my life is past, the future begins to be measured in smaller time frames, and living in the present becomes easier to do. I think of the passing of time often these days, especially as it is lived out in our little corner of the world.
It is interesting to me how we personalize time, not just as “Father Time” in New Year’s cartoons but with every verb we use to describe its movement. We say it marches on inexorably, flies swiftly, drags depressingly; these are just a few of the expressions we use which, in reality, do not apply to time itself, an impersonal constraint here on earth. Rather, these expressions indicate how each of us views the passing of time in our lives at any given moment.
For those of you who have not been following our adventures here in Stedman for the past four years, and for those of you who have found them hopelessly confusing, I will explain a little about where we live and the people who are close to us, geographically and relationally. Stedman is a small town in Cumberland County, North Carolina, about 15 minutes east of Fayetteville, traveling along NC 24. Fayetteville is most known for being the home of Fort Bragg. We are also only about 15-20 minutes away from Salemburg, in Sampson County, which is where we lived for two years when we first moved to North Carolina.
The trailer we live in, a single-wide built in the 1960’s, was first made available to us as a place to stay on our weekends off from our position as houseparents in a maternity home. We became a part of Stedman PH Church when we first moved here, and our pastor told us about this place. When we came to look at it, we were told to look for the blue and white trailer that was across the road from the place with all the animals. Despite the leaks in the roof in the dining room and the back bedroom, only when it rained, of course, the place seemed like a haven to us. We could leave things here that would make it seem like home, and we wouldn’t be continually moving from temporary place to temporary place. George and Patty, our landlords, fixed it up for us, with furniture, curtains, linens (including one of Patty’s first quilts on our bed), and even matching dishes and silverware Patty purchased at a thrift store. When we decided t0 leave our position at the home, we asked George about the possibility of staying here full-time, and we worked out that we would pay him rent and the electric bill, and buy our own propane and heating oil.
The road we live on is off 24 and is called Magnolia Church Road because Magnolia Baptist Church (which I found out last night has been here since the mid-1800’s) is on this road. From Magnolia Church to Maxwell Road, which borders us on the other end, a good portion of the land is Honeycutt land. The Honeycutts are Patty’s mother’s family, I believe, and so our neighbors are all related to Patty and to each other. The animals across the road are owned by Pete and Martha; Martha is Patty’s cousin, and Martha’s mother, Nellie, still lives in the original home they grew up in. George and Patty live across the field, and their daughter Ronda and her son live right in front of us.
Over the course of the past four years, we have become very close and now consider each other family. It was thinking about Patty and Nellie that got me started on my thoughts about time. Patty is now in end stage dementia; during the past six months her decline, physically and mentally, has been overwhelmingly rapid. When we first moved here, Patty could easily beat us in dominoes and cards, still quilted and did jigsaw puzzles, gardened, cooked and cleaned. Now she is bedridden, unable to do even the simplest thing for herself. George’s life has slowed down in keeping with hers; his life is homebound to a great extent as he patiently cares for her daily and tries to keep her from slipping further away.
Miss Nellie has also begun to show signs of aging, though she refuses to leave her home. She recently had another hospital stay and is increasingly fragile, but, though her short-term memory is going, she retains her sense of humor. Last fall she was pushing a wheelbarrow and picking up pine cones. Martha is her caretaker and will not go far from home.
We are thus very closely surrounded by the evidences of the ravages of time. On the other end of the spectrum, however, I am in contact with new life and growth on a daily basis. Living in the country is part of that, but the major part is spending so much time with little ones, not just the sweet little boy I babysit for, but the children at church, where I work in the nursery once a month. Here time is measured in milestones of growth rather than signs of aging: turning over, sitting up, crawling, a first tooth, a first word. I find all of it delightful, and it fills my life with joy and laughter. I read somewhere that a six-year-old child laughs 300 times a day (or maybe it’s a three-year-old who laughs 600 times a day? Obviously I am still losing brain cells more rapidly than I wish). Spending time with children slows down the effects of time on my mind and body, not just because I have to move around so much. It is because they make me laugh. Not just the little ones, but the older ones, like my grandchildren and my great-niece. Children know how to have fun; they know how to live in the moment; they can appreciate the ridiculous.
The neat thing about babysitting is that every activity is an end in itself; we can take as long as we want to bathe or eat or play, because we do not usually have to be anywhere or do anything other than what we are doing at the moment. What a luxury! Raising children was a much more serious affair; we had to eat lunch at a certain time to get somewhere else, for example. We still managed to be ridiculous and have fun, but living in the moment was a lot more elusive. There were also tasks to be accomplished, goals to be achieved, dreams to realize.
Whatever has not been fulfilled of those tasks, goals, and dreams I have passed on to the next generation; my children will do some of the things I never got to do, and I will enjoy the experiences through them. I don’t know how many years I have left, nor whether they will be lived in health or in infirmity. I do know that I must live them with intention, not wasting any more time, filling each moment with love and laughter, and sharing Life with as many people as I can. Someday my time here will end, and I will enter eternity; I don’t want to come empty-handed.