Birthdays And Rioting Gardens

We are at mid-August; how can that be???  I am, according to those who follow the zodiac signs, a “Leo”; in fact my birthday is this very day.  But I really don’t fit much of the “Leo persona”.   The Native American zodiac gives me brown-eyed Susans which I prefer to the more traditional gladiolus, but actually, astrology really isn’t my thing.  I consider my aura to be what has developed around me from living experiences during my years instead of looking to some celestial mystique.  I do think the stars tell stories and move with reason and in an orderly fashion, but I don’t think they predict my personal life.  

Speaking of stars, though, a couple of stellar people share my birth date; a friend here in the Spencer area who has avoided the creakiness that sometimes comes with aging; Debbie runs, swims, bikes and is quite amazing.  Princess Anne was also born on this date.  I’m not sure how amazing she is but she is Princess Anne!!   And in just a week, a friend – Bob — will be celebrating his 99th birthday.  He is surely a role model for living a good life that has made the world a better place to be.  And his entire community will be showering him with good wishes. 

Birthdays later in life often lead to introspection.  I recently saw the phrase “light of heart”, and suddenly realized that it has been a long while since I’ve felt that.  There have been some marvelous days and some good times, but there has also crept in a rather dismal sense of responsibility for the woes of the world —- at least the world within my sphere of influence.  Why do I –and maybe you too– find it so difficult in today’s world, to experience lightness of heart?   Of course, just watching the evening news weighs down the spirits.   But if we actually have faith in the ultimate goodness of life, that faith should beget light.  So — if I am heavy of heart, ergo, I must not totally trust the universe to be a good place.  I would like to, for my faith requires trust.    And Richard Foster* says:  “…..We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously.  It {light-heartedness} is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.  Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry.”   Obviously this is an area within me that needs an attitude adjustment!   Meanwhile, I’m trying to remind myself to be light-hearted about some small thing every day in the hopes that the feeling will, with practice, grow and that my Eeyore-like response to some days fades away.

I like Brooke Hampton’s** assertion: “I am pieces of all the places I have been and the people I have loved.  I’ve been stitched together by song lyrics, book quotes, adventure, late night conversations, moonlight and the smell of coffee.”   This is true of everyone.   I couldn’t begin to name all of the people who have been a blessing in my life — and even those who have been otherwise have provided life lessons.  I saw a quotation recently from a source called “Peaceful Mind/Peaceful Life” and it said: “In your life you will realize there is a role for everyone you meet.  Some will test you.  Some will use you.  Some will love you. Some will teach you.  But the ones who are truly important are the ones who will bring out the best in you and the amazing people who remind you why life is worth it.”

We have changed our residence several times over the past fifty-five years, so friends became very important.  When our children were small, good friends parented them on occasion and kept them safe when we had to be away; the Willows, the Bastians, the Walters and the Shrecks.  Some of those same people also expanded our vision and brought us to creative life experiences.   I’m grateful for the role they have played in our lives.  Wherever we have gone, there have been fine people; people of many ages.  I have found immense wisdom, depths of fun and kindred spirits in individuals, much younger than I and also considerably older.  Age really doesn’t matter; it is mostly attitude and choices.

It is a mistake to put people in labeled cubby holes: age, politics, religious affiliation or lack thereof, ethnicity or financial worth.  People (with a few exceptions) are people, each with their own bit of cluelessness, acquired wisdom, generosity and feelings of inadequacy.  I have occasionally been labeled old-fashioned, for I’m certainly “conservative” in some areas of life.   But then I set some people aghast by my outrageouslyliberal” views.  I am actually neither one nor the other.  Nor is anyone else if they think things out (which too many people do not; they just accept being spoon-fed rhetoric!).  As for age, it’s not that we change with age; generally we become a more intense version of who we have always been.  I still enjoy many of the same things I enjoyed when I was twenty; campfires, music, dancing, singing and being surrounded by people I love.   I may not be able to wear the shoes with three-inch heels while doing the schottische, but I still find pleasure in seeing others do so.  Whatever wit I had at twenty, I still mostly have at seventy-seven —- though hopefully a tad more wisdom.   Age may diminish what the body can do; there may be changes in one’s voice, the hands may shake a bit, we may develop a limp and carry a cane, the skin may turn to parchment —- but the person inside is still the same.  The body is just our housing.  It is too bad that so many people use appearance as their measuring stick for those they meet.  It’s so often an illusion!

Another illusion in August is the well-kept garden!!!  While I’ve been attending to other things, my garden has been holding its mid-summer orgy.  We had a few dry weeks after the early summer rain deluge so when the rains finally did come via thunder storms, I wasn’t paying much attention.  Suddenly the plants shot up and out rather like the growth spurt of lanky teenagers.   In spite of cages, the tomatoes are leaning drunkenly, shaking hands with their neighboring plants.   The squash and pumpkin vines are so interlaced that for all I know, they could be creating entirely new species beneath those big leaves.   The garden has a dark, dense and slightly dangerous look.  Obviously my garden flora subscribes to the Mama’s and Papa’s song: “Go where you wanna go; do what you wanna do……” ; checking to see what is in there might be hazardous!  Time to summon a gardener’s courage and get those cucumbers and zucchinis out of there!

We could have shared some of this produce at our recent family picnic, but we never thought of it; too busy making copious numbers of cookies.   Cookies are a key family tradition; zucchini not so much!  Kerm and I are now the oldest people in our familial group —-which is, truthfully, sometimes a bit startling.  As the youngest child in my family, it never occurred to me that I might someday be the eldest.  It really doesn’t matter though, for when we get together we have an appreciation for connecting with each other in person, not just via Face Book or Christmas cards.  I was just so happy to see nieces from Spokane, Santa Barbara and Connecticut as well as those closer to home.  Cayuga Lake was a bit rough that day, but some of the young ones are intrepid splashers and swimmers, so they enjoyed contesting with the waves.  The rest of us caught up on each other.  Pat showed us the exquisite quilt she had made for a new baby, a couple of scrapbooks made the rounds and while dripping dry, the younger ones took advantage of the craft basket full of paper, glitter and glue.  One of the things I most enjoy about this gathering is the almost visible aura of acceptance and caring.  And did I mention the fantastic food??!!  As our hostess said when a friend inquired why she burdened herself with a family reunion every summer— “Well you see, we actually like each other!”  We’ve lost the people who started and reared this clan, but we try to keep their memories alive in our continued care and awareness of each other.

So as August moves onward and those of us with August birthdays advance another year, it is good to look around with gratitude.  There are many things that are wrong with this world, and many ills that need to be righted.  But there are always wonderful and beautiful things going on at the very same time to bring light to our spirits —–the orange monarch butterfly hovering over the dusty pink Joe Pye weed, the summer birds stuffing themselves at the feeders; preparing for long flights, the feeling of release when humidity turns into fresh, cool air.   Gratitude is a potent “vitamin” for the brain and we all need such nourishment.   So breathe deeply, turn off the news and find a grassy spot for just enjoying summer.   “If the sight of the blue skies fill  you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has the power to move  you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”  Eleanora Duse***

Carol may be reached at:  

*Richard Foster —Christian theologian and author in the Quaker tradition.  Born in 1942, lives in Colorado.

**Brooke Hampton — Creator of “Holy Flow Parenting”, author of “Enchanted Cedar” and founder of Barefoot Five, a cyber tribe.

***Eleanora Duse — Born in Italy in 1858 – died in Pittsburg, PA. in 1924.  She is considered one of the great actresses of all times.    

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