January, 1995. “Today, I went for a walk. I was searching for something and I needed to release the tension that comes whenever I think about the abuse. I found what I was looking for in a scrubby, dense Palo Verde. Two saguaros, each a foot high, grew in its shade. It was a nurse tree.

In the desert, the shade provided by nurse trees gives moisture to germinating seeds. Desert soil is thin, rocky and sparse in nutrients. The debris from the trees and other plants which grow underneath their limbs enrich the soil. Those few, square feet of shade become a sanctuary, an entire microenvironment of plants and animals.

One of the saguaros was near the trunk of the palo verde. Years of slow growth from now it will push through an embrace of spiny branches to tower over the tree the way an adolescent boy, on his way to becoming a man, does his mother. At that time, the intimate arrangement of tree and cactus may seem haphazard unless the observer understands their history. It is the safety provided by the Palo Verde that enables the saguaro to grow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon

Church ended at noon. My husband and I had some soup I made yesterday – chicken and vegetables but with a Mexican flare – oregano and green chiles, served over blue corn tortilla chips. Then I took a nap. I taught Sunday School this morning so I got up at 4:30 to finish preparing. Now, it is late afternoon. The sun stretches in dappled shadows across the bark of the eucalyptus outside Purgatory’s window and washes the pepper tree with a flood of golden light.

To honor this fine afternoon, I recalled Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, Pied Beauty, and read it. It is one of my favorites.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

With all of the worry and sadness of the last year, and particularly the last few months, I had forgotten this poem and how it stirs in my mind tranquil images of things I love. I read out loud Glory be to God for dappled things – / For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow and am calm. It is a beautiful thing how words tool emotion.

Recently, I have forgotten other things as well – how the dry breath of the desert stirs the sunlit leaves of the eucalyptus; that the scent of fresh basil must come directly from heaven and I like having it in my garden; that through the adversity of drought this desert landscape teaches lessons in wearing well which after 40 years here are part of who I am.

One spring, during my residency and after the birth of our second child, I forgot the mocking birds. I was busy—working 80-90 hours a week, two small children , a church calling—and didn’t think to spend 10 minutes on the porch and watch them dive bomb the cats and sing their hearts out from the tops of the sour orange trees in front of our house. Mocking birds are another of my favorite things. When I remembered, in December, that I had missed them that spring, I felt I had lost something so precious I cried. Watching the mockingbirds was a remedy. It was an opportunity to feel the soothing hand of Mother Nature on my forehead and I missed the appointment.

We are a plugged-in society attached to our computers, I-pods, cell phones, planners, television sets, digital recorders, and automobiles. Either because of direct access through ear buds and head sets to our brains, or because we have trained ourselves into addictive dependency, they perpetuate the kind of forgetfulness that made me miss the mockingbirds. When trouble comes, when stress comes, when angst comes, these attention getters make it more difficult to remember the lovely, precious things which bring peace.

And, we are busy bodies, literally, first in our minds with all we should be doing and then in our lives with what we actually get done. Being busy, working, accomplishing – these are good things. But they don’t equal a 10 minute time-out on the porch to watch mockingbirds.

I used to talk to my patients about their reserve tanks and how many of them were running on fumes. They often came in anxious, depressed or angry because they hadn’t taken time to refuel. What they didn’t need were anti-depressants, anxiolytics or long-term counseling. Their spiritual buckets were empty and they needed to fill them up.

Spiritual doesn’t refer only to religious things, but also to matters of the spirit. Glory be to god for dappled things—/ For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow . . . . We refill our spiritual tanks by connecting with our Creator. And, in part, we are our own Creators, aren’t we, we who have agency and choose to be unrelenting busy bodies, or choose to time out with that which replenishes our souls.

This has been a good Sabbath day. It has been a day of rest, reflection and remembering. It has been a day of healing.

I wish each of you a such a day.



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rocky Point

We put it on our calendars almost a year ago. October 8 – 14. Rocky Point. There is a beach house in Las Conchas, five miles from the gate. A few years ago, dad bought one of eight shares in Casa Hermosa, one of the smaller beach homes in a strip of paradise only four hours from home. We were all there, Dwight and I, our sons and their families, fifteen of us squeezed into four bedrooms and a queen-sized air mattress on the floor in the living room.

You can imagine what it was like, air temperature in the 80s, water temperature in the high 70s. We splashed and swam and rode jet skis. We played games and ate. We read and took naps. And the night before we left, after the children were in bed, the grown-ups sat around a fire pit under the stars and talked.

It’s good for a family to talk. Each of us shared what we loved about Rocky Point. We talked about our plans for the coming year. And we talked about Rachel.

Rachel was our 5 year old granddaughter who, on August 22, was found face down in the swimming pool at a home her parents were buying. Her 3 years old brother Jimmy was also in the pool, unconscious. Jimmy revived. Rachel, after 58 minutes of CPR finally had a pulse, but it was too late for her brain. Her funeral was a long week later.

She was a dear little girl with bobbed brown hair and liquid brown eyes who loved to sit on the porch swing with me whenever her family came to Tucson. I am angry she is gone and I am sad. Her parents are devastated. Of course we have the gospel and the wonderful truths of a resurrection and eternal life and that families can be united forever. But none of that takes away the mortal missing of her warm little body sitting next to you, of her musical voice when she sees you at the door and sings, “Grandma, come in and see my room.”

Until our last night talk around the fire pit, we hadn’t mentioned Rachel because we didn’t know how. What do you say to a parent who has lost a child? We asked her parents and they told us. “Tell us you’ve been thinking of us. Don’t ask how we’re doing. How do you answer that question?”

They told us how hard it was the day Dwight and I took them to the cemetery and we picked out a plot of ground for her grave. They told us how every day something reminds them of her and that she is gone. They said how important it was to talk about her. To remember her. To recall all those little details that keep her real to them.

Some of us said how losing Rachel made us want to be better, to act better toward each other, to be better parents, to improve. Losing her caused me to want to cherish time, real time that ticks away a day and is filled with opportunities. Losing her made me want to cherish relationships, too, so much so that I become impatient when I see callousness or thoughtlessness in my family and I have to stop and check myself before I say something I would regret.

At 11:30, after family prayers, we went inside for quesadillas and a cup of warm cocoa with marshmellows before going to bed.

It was a lovely way to end a week at the beach.