There’s nothing that brightens a dull day more than a bright crimson cardinal sitting on a lilac branch outside my window. Very watchful for cats he is, but just as perky as though the day weren’t cloudy and cold. When the larger blue jays come zooming in, the cardinal moves slightly away, but doesn’t leave the area, and quickly darts in when there’s an opening. It’s interesting to watch the hierarchy of bird-dom.
This is deer-hunting season here, which brings out a multitude of opinions about hunting. I have friends who would like to take each deer into protective custody during this time of the year, keeping them safe. And at the other end, there are those who exalt in the size of the antlers on the creatures they will “bag”. I do not admire trophy hunters all that much and especially do I dislike those who go long distances to end the life of a lion or elephant. As we gain more awareness of the sentience of creatures, we have to consider the sanctity of life and it becomes more of a moral dilemma for many, to eat meat at all. I think that those of us who do continue to consume meat need to embrace the attitude of many Native American peoples; gratitude for the food the animal provides. Somehow industrial animal farming negates that grateful attitude. One of the quotations I very much like is from a character in a Louis L’Amour book*. He says this after killing a bear: “I beg your pardon, Bear. It was with no anger that I killed you. I needed your meat. I needed the fat from your ribs….”! He was honoring the life of the bear even as he needed it to survive. I have no problem with those who hunt for food as long as they have this attitude.
The other part of hunting is the simple enjoyment of the woods. A young man who comes up from Pennsylvania for bow season said: “I don’t really care whether or not I get anything while I’m up on your hill; I just love being there.” And this week, while Shawn was sitting quietly up there, a young button buck came wandering over to see what he was, a fisher went running by, a grouse dropped from a tree to hunt for bugs among the leaves and he saw tracks of a bob cat. There is a wonderful, hard-to-describe aroma in the woods; an incense of composting leaves and nut shells, rich soil and various evergreen plants. Sitting in the woods– becoming one with the woods — is a quiet and meditative experience — even while waiting for the right-sized deer to come by.
We are now deeper into November and – hopefully — deeper into our personal inner growing. Changing within is hazardous. Sometimes it means discarding something we’ve held as quite solid — beliefs that have come up with us from childhood making us feel secure in a world that isn’t all that safe. It is always something of a shock to find that something knitted into our very being no longer seems valid.
I remember one of my sisters-in-law mentioning a bias that had come up through her family, a bias that she intentionally decided would not be passed on to her children. I so respected her deliberate growth into a wiser and kinder person. Tielhard de Chardin** tells of his “leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self…..as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties……I became aware that I was losing contact with my known self; at each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me…..” Then he spoke of how he wanted to return things to the old normal after his discovery……. “To begin living again at the surface without imprudently plumbing the depths of the abyss…..to forget about the disturbing things within, but I could not.” Growth is not always comfortable, but I believe that we are called to do it anyway.
“Growing up” has so many possible meanings. Some feel that it requires leaving fun behind, that it means being ultra-dignified and frozen in place. The foolish adage “Act your age!” is generally used disparagingly by people who are bothered by someone else’s behavior. Others more wisely realize that we never should stop growing, learning, becoming more and having fun. In addition, maturing does open up whole new areas of responsibility; it is up to each of us to decide how we can best help in this world.
We recently had a house fire in the community and I thought about the differences in rural vs. urban response. When we lived in D.C., sirens went off much of the day; we were accustomed to the noise, and paid it no mind. Here in our small rural community sirens are rarer, and when the fire whistle goes off, we all stop what we are doing and send up a prayer for whatever disaster or need is calling them out. I have heard that both the fire company and emergency squad are lacking new members — not just here, but everywhere. People simply aren’t volunteering as much anymore. We’ll all be hurting if our first responders dwindle away.
After the fire that I mentioned above, there was a call for clothing and other assistance. The woman wore my size so I packed a box of clothes and sent them along. Doing this reminded me of childhood hand-me-down boxes. When I was in junior high and high school, one of my sisters-in-law, ten or twelve years older than I, was someone who really liked clothes. She bought them, tired of them, and often passed them on to me. I was thrilled. After me, some went on to my nieces. The white eyelet dress with balloon sleeves that I made for Moving Up Day, eventually went on to take a couple of my nieces to parties. My sister’s son was born just six months before our first son, and she passed baby clothes on to us. Even now, I am wearing a coat handed to me a few years ago by a sister-in-law; it is perfect for my outside jobs in late fall and early winter. Some people seem to regard hand-me-downs as “less than”. I consider them as intelligent, caring recycling.
As we approach Thanksgiving, reminders about gratitude increase. A couple of Sundays ago, I did the Kids’ Time in our church service and the Scripture was “Rejoice in the Lord always….” So we talked about what that means. Do we rejoice in hard times? When bad things happen? I had come to church that day with a very swollen arm and hand due to a painful attack of gout. So I could surely relate to these questions as I waved my Ace bandage-wrapped arm in the air and asked the kids if I should be rejoicing. Kids tend to be very basic and blunt and I guess we’ve taught them well because they answered. “YES! a) we all have so many other good things (they informed me that I could still use my right hand!) and b) because God has promised to walk with us no matter what happens.” Seven-year olds don’t have many gray areas in their theology.
Even if this passage is not in your belief system, I think there is not one of us who doesn’t have blessings for which to be grateful in spite of our ailments, grief, disappointments and discouragements. We simply need to stop and think. Don’t we often take for granted the people who love us……. our homes with books to read and food to sustain us……… the assurance that spring is coming (someone said 167 days?)? Choosing to be grateful actually changes the brain’s perspective on life in general, making us happier people. A person of any financial level from millionaire to just getting by, may be miserable, and lack understanding of happiness. “The difference is simple. One man is grateful for nothing. The other sees blessings everywhere. What is the secret to true wealth? A wealth that can never be taken away on the ups and downs of the stock market and business cycle? Gratitude!” ***
A few days ago, one of my nieces posted a statement on Facebook; it was a paean of gratitude for the small, meaningful things her husband does that add joy to their daily lives. I was impressed. So very often we assume those closest to us just know how we feel about them. We don’t tell them that we think they are doing a good job, or that they look great today or that we respect how they handle life. So Kerry’s post was a fine and timely reminder to anyone reading it, to notice the wonders around us daily and to express our thanks. Expressed gratitude is magic.
Now, in late November, between the end of fall and the beginning of winter, is a good time to observe the world outside our windows. It is so interesting to watch all of the little changes from day to day. It is a quiet interlude that might, if fully absorbed, bring peace to our souls. This Thanksgiving, in the midst of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie, stop and look around. Soak in the day itself and the people in your midst —- and give grateful thanks.
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Louis L’Amour —American novelist and short-story writer. 1908-1988. Quote taken from The Last of the Breed.
**Tielhard de Chardin – French Jesuit priest, philosopher, paleontologist and geologist. 1881-1955
*** A Daybook of Grace by Fall River Press.