Saturday, October 27, 2012

These Hands

I sit beside Lucas on the couch, and he gently rubs his fingers along the wrinkles and loose skin on my hands, and I am reminded of sitting beside my grandmother in church and playing with the veins on her hands as my attention wandered.  I loved her hands -- tiny and soft, though old and wrinkled.

My hands have never been pretty -- for years the nails were bitten to the quick, and they have always been less than graceful.  My cousin had beautiful hands, and I was so jealous as a teenager of her delicate fingers and long fingernails.  My good friend also had lovely hands.  When our children were little and we spent much time together, I loved watching her expressive hands as she cooked, sewed and tended her little ones.  But, mine were always a disappointment -- too wide, with stubby fingers.

Now, though, I look at my hands with gratitude -- they have served me well all these years.  They have done work I enjoy -- chopping, stirring, kneading, providing sustenance for those I cherish.  They have done heavy work -- painting walls and laying stone in my garden.  They have earned money -- typing quickly and accurately and organizing files and records.  They have held my newborn babies close, rubbed tired little backs and sewn Halloween costumes and fancy party dresses.  They have decorated, baked, and wrapped gifts for many Christmases.  They have massaged the feet of dying loved ones, stroked hands and faces of friends and family, touched, caressed and loved.  They have arranged flowers and planted gardens and written words of love and comfort.  They have held the hands of my children and grandchildren as they toddled into the larger world.  They have been folded in prayer.  They have held books.  They have comforted, and they were stroked gently once when I needed it most. 

They will never be as lovely as I would have liked, and with each passing year the wrinkles and veins are more prominent, but they are hands that have known both the joyful heights and devastating depths of emotion, and each wrinkle is a testament to the full life I have lived --

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Perplexing Questions

As the Presidential debates ended on a late October evening, I pondered much of what I had heard in all of the debates.  I have questions in my mind -- none of which are particularly political.  

The stress is on creating jobs.  My concern is that the world has changed considerably.  The jobs that will be created will most likely be jobs that require technical skills.  No matter how we spin things, there are still many Americans who do not have the basic intelligence to learn the skills required for these technical jobs.  In the 1950's through the 1980's, there were good jobs in manufacturing, municipalities, construction and utilities which provided health insurance, pensions, and security to people who had limited intelligence, but were willing to work loyally every day at mundane jobs.  Obviously, this is no longer the case.  What is to happen to these people who are willing to work diligently, but do not possess the basic intelligence to compete in our high-tech world? 

I also question -- and this is a controversial view -- who has the right to determine which countries can develop and possess nuclear weapons.  Personally, I strongly oppose nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear energy, due to their capability to annihilate life as we know it.  But, I wonder why we are so determined that Iran not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, yet we seem to be fine with Pakistan possessing nuclear capabilities.  Please don't misconstrue my question as being in any way supportive of Iran -- I just wonder what gives the more powerful nations of the world the right to decide it is okay for some nations to possess nuclear capabilities and not okay for other nations.

During the debates there was much discussion about the Arab Spring uprisings.  It seems like we heartily encourage all nations, particularly those in the Middle East, to rise up against totalitarian governments and create democracies.  However, we are unhappy if the electorate chooses leaders who do not meet our standards.  It seems to me that either we support the democratic process or we don't.  Who are we to choose what is best for the citizens of another country?

These are complicated questions, and, as I said, not directed at either party or candidate.  I would be interested in hearing others' opinions on them, as I find them perplexing. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Time to Leave

The heavy rains and dreariness make this a less than auspicious day for a move.  I open the curtains and look at my neighbor's house, knowing this is the last night she will spend in the much-loved home that has sheltered and comforted her family for over fifty years.

She doesn't want to leave.  Her hope was to live out her life in her secure surroundings, but her memory problems have necessitated a move to an apartment closer to her children, with the necessary assistance a person with early dementia requires.

The day is a sad one for her family, her friends and her neighbors.  Her son said this will be the first Thanksgiving he will not celebrate in this house.  Under the best of circumstances, downsizing is an emotional chore -- choosing what to take, what to pass on, and what to sell.

Several neighbors gathered on Monday evening to say good-bye to her over coffee and carrot cake.  The evening was bittersweet; our neighborhood is small -- twelve old houses on a dead-end street.  The majority of families that move in here stay for a lifetime.  We shared reminiscences and laughter, and then tears as we hugged Marge and wished her well in her new home.

The U-Haul is parked in the driveway on this bleak evening, and her children and grandchildren are filling it with the things that will go with her.  My wish for her is sunshine tomorrow morning as she leaves this house for the last time -- and for pleasure in this new chapter of her life.  She will be greatly missed here in our little corner of the world.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Small Things

"We can do no great things -- only small things with great love." -- Mother Teresa
Our town library sponsors a story hour for toddlers each week.  On Tuesday morning, I buckle my little granddaughter, Emma, into her car seat and we head off to the library to meet her other grandma and her cousin and enjoy story hour together.  It is a lovely little program, with songs, books, and free play.  As I look around the room, I notice that there are other grandparents there each week with their little ones.  In fact, everywhere I go, I am seeing more and more grandmas and grandpas who have taken responsibility for the daily care of their grandchildren while parents work.
Life today is far more complicated than when I was a young mother.  It is financially impossible for most mothers to stay home with their children now.  For many parents, both paychecks combined barely cover the necessities of life.  The cost of day care is another added burden, and the question lingers in the minds of many of us -- do we want these precious little ones in the hands of strangers for a large percentage of their days during these critically important formative years?
And so, we have a new generation of grandparents who spend their days caring for these beloved "children of their children."  One grandmother I have met drives an hour each way twice a week to care for her three grandchildren on the days her daughter works.  A very young-looking great-grandmother has cared for her two little granddaughters several days a week since they were babies.  As I dropped my little grandson, Luke, off at preschool the other day and walked back to the car with Emma, another grandma stopped me to talk, saying how blessed she felt to be able to truly enjoy these days with her grandson.
I have cared for each of my three little grandchildren since birth -- now Alivia is in kindergarten, Luke is in preschool five mornings a week and will enter school next year, and  Baby Emma is eighteen months old.  The time has passed quickly.  The physical stamina required has been tough on this aging body -- by the time I have returned home and prepared supper, I am falling asleep in my chair.  However, I have never regretted for a moment my decision to take care of these precious children.
We live in a society very different from the gentler times of my growing up years.  It seems to me that the world is a colder place where technology trumps civility, and financial success trumps quality of life.  As a grandmother, I can pass on some of the values that I see disappearing from our world -- honesty, empathy, an appreciation of our natural world, a broader definition of personal success.  My grandchildren are talkers and thinkers.  We have lively conversations on everything, and their questions are challenging.  I would not want a stranger answering these questions.  I cherish the bond we have formed.  Alivia and Luke cherish the bond they formed through four years of being together every day -- they are closer than most cousins -- almost like brother and sister. 
I feel hopeless at times in this technological world where greed and the hunger for power seem to have become the norm; kindness and contentment are seen as weakness.  There is nothing I can do to change the world, but I can, in my small way, try to instill in my grandchildren a sense of self-worth that will serve them well as they navigate through life in this cold world. 
This trend towards "Grandma Day Care," will be a tremendous force in shaping the lives of our young children.  Instead of competing for the attention of a day care worker, these children are receiving the attention of a person who loves them exactly as they are, and is devoting her days to them.  What could be better than this!
Of course, a mother at home with them is always a child's first choice.  Luke reminded me of this yesterday as we drove home from school.  He said, "I wish Mommy could retire, so she could be home with me all the time."  And then, because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings, he quickly added, "But you could still come over to see me, Grandma."  And so, as we grandparents work so hard to provide a secure and loving environment for these little ones, we also know that we are not Mommy, but I believe we are the best substitute. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In Awe of Nature

I am up early this morning, as darkness still lingers at a time when sunrise and birdsong greeted me a few short weeks ago.  I walk out to the porch, and as my eyes adjust to the lack of light, I see the shapes of two deer grazing in my neighbors back yard.  I watch them quietly as daybreak begins -- such a lovely, peaceful sight to begin my day.

And I ponder -- if more people in our nation lived closer to nature, would we have been more apt to fight to preserve the natural bounty that was so freely available to us?  Would we have been so easily convinced to turn our farmlands into big box stores and cookie-cutter housing developments?  Would we have fought harder for fuel economy and alternative energy to help save our climate?  In fact, would we have been more aware that the climate was indeed changing significantly before our eyes?

Maybe for those who cool their homes with air conditioning rather than window breezes, and drive in cars with windows up and air conditioning on, and work in climate-controlled buildings with stale air and windowless walls, there is no reason to recognize climate change.  City dwellers whose most frequent exposure to nature is a small park amongst the tall office buildings and suburbanites whose little tracts of property are professionally landscaped and maintained somehow don't really have the rhythm of nature in their souls as do people who take the time to look and feel and smell the simple beauty around them every day.

The subtle differences that have been markers for climate change since the early 1970's have gone unnoticed by a majority of our population.  The gradual warming of autumn and winter and the diminished snows were welcomed by many as a convenience, rather than seen as a worrisome, insiduous change in our environment.

I wonder -- will they ever be convinced?  Is it too late anyway?  Have we already scarred this lovely planet and its atmosphere beyond repair? 

Sad thoughts on this quiet autumn morning as the deer munch, and I gaze silently in awe of the beauty around me --