29 September 2007

Friendships, the Quiet of a Kayak and Looking at the Same Moon...

"If you choose a time,
I'll catch the moon,
I'll see you there.
From wherever I am,

Wherever you are,

We'll find somewhere.

I see the same stars in the same sky.

Shining down on you.

I'll be looking up from wherever I am
And it's you I'll see,

If you're looking, too.

Are you looking at the same moon?"

~ Phil Collins, "The Same Moon"

Wasn't it beautiful? This past week, that full moon was something to see. I saw it from my bedroom window. I saw it from the sand on Wrightsville Beach this past Tuesday Night and I watched it dance on the calm waves. I heard about it spreading it's glow on Manhattan when Katie called me Wednesday Night to share with me how beautiful it was in her town. My friend Mike called me from Baghdad Thursday afternoon (my time), and he was looking at it shining over the desert. Last night I saw it rise out of the Atlantic as a glorious orange orb and, again, it was positively breathtaking. Truly, it was just something not to be missed. (Photo: My new shades! I'm back in business! 27 September 2007).

I guess it just kind of occurred to me that for as vast as this planet can sometimes feel, it's entirely wonderful that even across tons of miles and several time zones, we can share the same view, albeit a few hours apart, perhaps. I'm willing to bet it looked pretty beautiful in France as well. What says you, Michel? Were you "looking at the same moon", along with the rest of us? What a cool sense of connectedness courtesy of an awe-inspiring "la bella luna".

Connectivity. Whether it's via the portal of the moon, the sun, the stars or the water, its such a caveat of our existence, isn't it? It's completely free, dependable - save for a few clouds sometimes, but even when clouds obscure the light and you're suddenly pitched into darkness, you still know the light is up there and that, after a few hours or days or maybe even a week sometimes, the wind clouds will push away and the light will shine through just as it always has. That's such a comforting thought and knowledge and belief of the return of light after darkness, gets us through squirrelly patches we run into from time to time. I guess the seeds of Faith are borne and nurtured when it's dark and cloudy, and I've found that if I listen close, I hear a clear and steady voice telling me the light is still really there and won't be obscured indefinitely. Sometimes, believe is all you can do.

Sometimes, it's enough.

A bigger sense of connectivity comes when I think of friends and family. What a dazzling connection - talk about powerful.

"I took a walk alone last night,
I looked up at the stars,
To try and find an answer to my life.
I chose a star for me.
I chose a star for him.
I chose two stars for my kids, and one star for my wife.
Something made me smile.
Something seemed to ease the pain.
Something about the universe and how it's all connected..." ~ Sting

Of course Sting gets it. I'm starting to get it too, but with nothing close to his eloquence. He is, after all, STING! But still, haven't you done that? Gone outside and looked up at the stars and sort of toss a question out to the deep void of space, "What is this? What should I do? What am I really about and whatever it is that I'm about, how can I do it better? Why am I here and, oh yes, could someone up there show me a clear purpose and light a torch so that I can find the path?"

Hey, I've done it a lot of times in my life. I hope I'm around to do it many more times in the future. Even though it may seem like a futile exercise or maybe just a good excuse to go outside and star-gaze, I really do sometimes feel closer to some answer and maybe I am just a tiny speck in the galaxy, but I love staking out a tiny claim. I love my fellow specks, too. Well, most of them. :-)

The moon is such a stunning source of planetary interconnectivity, but even more compelling, is the connectivity of relationships - all of them. Do you ever stop and think how many relationships you have? What those people mean to you and what you may mean to those people? Friends, family, and of course, the animals we're "owned" by. I can't imagine my life without my animals and certainly not without my friends and family. I have connections with people I'll probably only know through exchanging e-mails. I can tell instantly when I "connect" with the author of a book that comes to mean so much to me and touches me in a way nothing else could. What about a song that resonates and you find yourself playing it over and over and over again until other members of your household beg and plead with you to give it a rest? Happens all the time at my house - just ask Justin. Lately I've practically worn out, "I Was Brought to My Senses". No question about it, I'm strung out on Sting and his lovely British accent.

As humans, we appear to be in possession not only of Connective Tissue which set us all up perfectly for "Connective Issues". Doesn't anything come without "issues"???? Hey, it's not always simple and easy-to-understand, but it's generally worth further investigation, this connectivity predisposition that can sometimes feel like a curse, but is overwhelmingly a blessing.

Having said that, there are a few connections where it's just best to disconnect. Hang-up. Cut the line. And who hasn't had a few of those? I've had a handful I should have passed on, but I guess they served the purpose of those darn hard-won lessons. Hanging up is an option I should probably practice more than I do, but curiosity often gets the better of me. I eventually hang-up though not hanging up earlier is probably, well, one of my hang-ups. Did I mention I'm not perfect? I'm sure I didn't have to - I bet you picked up on that something close to instantly.

But for the love of God, Country and everything holy, hang up on pirates. Just do yourself a favor. Skip the cruise and pass on all "Jolly Roger" types, unless it's the sour apple flavor of the hard candy. Sooner or later that pirate is going down. Skip those types of connections. Paste a post-it note on your forehead if you must, but remember the mantra. [Geoff, I loved your word scramble - it really was garbage!]

While a few connections should be avoided at all cost, there's always the risk of swinging too far on the scale which, I think, would be tantamount to "no dialtone", i.e., being "out of order", and rendering one unable to connect at all. This would set one up for a period of isolation and I don't even like the sound of that word, much less the concept it represents. It's just not natural, unless you're a gene in a petri dish, sitting in agar awaiting some brilliant, skilled scientist to isolate you and cite you as a culprit responsible for some devastating disease process. Personally, isolation is one of the MANY things I'm happy to be hopelessly inept at doing well. I think it's a completely uninteresting and terribly boring. Connections are definitely the better choice, I suspect. Over-correcting a course is probably just as silly as steering in the wrong direction - either way, you're not headed in the right direction and it's finding the right direction that we're all supposed to be about, or so I'm told.

I love this one particular clip from "Feast of Love" and no, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I've worn out the clips on the website. (Click here to watch Morgan Freeman give Greg Kinnear some fine advice..."Jump, jump - next time with your eyes open!" Morgan Freeman says it's OK to jump. Morgan Freeman is a wise man. I remember him from the "The Electric Company" when I was a little girl. He taught me how to sound things out and put words together on PBS, way back when I was in elementary school. If he says it's OK to jump, just make sure your eyes are open, that's good enough for me. He also says, in another clip, "I'd proceed with caution...". That's pretty smart talk as well.

But still, I'm just so grateful for connectedness, interplanetary and otherwise.

I didn't go kayaking this past Sunday Night. I went to dinner, instead. Kayaking didn't get canceled, it simply got postponed. Friday night, according to one expert source, the waves weren't right for surfing but they were optimal for kayaking, so I had my first sunset kayak experience. I wasn't sure about the whole thing, having never been before, but of course, I fell in love with it. It was quiet, like sailing in a way, but the view was almost the same as being 'one with the water' and, in a way, that's how it felt. My first kayak adventure was in a two-person kayak and I was in "first class" which meant, I got to have beverage service (Jasmine tea), but I paddled as well - and it was a lot of fun.

When I told Katie of my plans, she once again advised that I check the weather forecast first because we all know how I love taking to the water in tropical storm conditions, but I assured her it wasn't going to be that ill-conceived and/or adventurous. We paddled due west, toward the setting sun, and for a few seconds I felt like that "Bugs Bunny" cartoon, one of my favorites when I was a little girl, where Bugs is paddling after evading, yet again, becoming trapped, and off he strokes in his canoe, toward the setting sun. The image made me giggle.

We soon reached the marsh and it was so awesome being lower than the reeds. We saw heron, egrets and lots of fish jumping about. No dolphins, of course - I seem to be a dolphin deterrent, something I wish I knew how to remedy - but even without the marine mammals, it was still a "don't miss" evening cruise. The tide coming in took us around twists and turns and in places the clear water was no more than a foot deep and I could see the oyster beds as we passed over them. Of course, when we got to the "cul-de-sac" at the end of the marsh and it was time to return home, paddling against the incoming tide and current required a little elbow grease, but it was such a cool ride on such a "picture postcard perfect" evening. A fantastic way in which to spend one of the last days of September.

Now, if that wasn't enough, about an hour or so later, I saw the moon emerge from the horizon and rise to the sky and take it's mobile position amongst the stars, already present and accounted for, and the soundtrack of the languorous waves was the perfect accompaniment. There were quite a few people also enjoying the beach, well, save one couple who were lying on the sand enjoying taking photos of themselves with their cell phone. They were totally missing the moon but I don't think they noticed or cared. Ahhhh...maybe youth really is wasted on the young, as the old man commented in "It's a Wonderful Life", when James Stewart was taking forever to get up the courage to kiss Donna Reed.

I don't really think youth is wasted on the young - maybe we should just stop thinking of ourselves as getting old? Aren't we perpetually growing up in some form or fashion? Is there some ill-conceived rule that states one's youth must occur between the ages of "X" and "Y"? If there is, I want no part of that and that's certainly not some attempt by me to take away one-second of my 47 years (plus) years on this planet...no, no, no - I claim every single one of them and, if anything, I'm kind of proud for having survived so far, but just because chronologically I'm 47 years old, doesn't mean that I have to abandon any of the fun those people between the ages of "X" & "Y" have. I don't buy into that and I happen to know better. So far, I'm having a great "youth" and I project it will last as long as I do. Sometimes I think people really do go much too willingly and far too gently "into that good night". I've got no plans for that and I suspect I'll be in real trouble should I consider the notion.

It has, quite obviously, been a very nice week. I met up with Jimi for lunch at "our place" (i.e., Elijah's) this past Thursday. Speaking of not growing up, I picked him up from his office, crutches in tow. He had been walking his new puppy and from what I could gather, the puppy (a bulldog variety), went one way while Jimi was still going the other and he wound up with a sprained ankle. He took it in stride, as he does almost everything, except for that fact that his "stride" now came attached with crutches. It really didn't slow him down too much and he was even more amusing on his Tylenol with codeine, not that he needs it to be funny! He's generally larger than life.

We had a spirited conversation over salads and he even shared some of his tuna with me as he picked at my shrimp. We downed a lot of tea and I topped it off with coffee. We noticed to the left of us was what looked to be a gathering of the "Red Hat Society" but not a fun-loving chapter. They looked rather dour and Jimi pointed to one that seemed to annoy him by virtue of her facial expressions. We vowed never to appear that way in about thirty or so years when it comes to be "our turn", but who knows...nah, I don't see it and I can't imagine animated Jimi ever affecting a dour visage. He's just too infused with so much spirit. I imagine him to be an irascible old man someday, still pondering which tattoo to get next.

I received a package this past week. It came from Little River, SC, but it was actually by way of Baghdad. My friend Sgt. Mike sent me an incredible gift and, along with it, a "push" for me to get down to business. I can no longer spend my time in my newly redecorated bedroom relaxing and reading...oh no, no, no...he's served up the means for me to write wherever I am and is determined that I become more "mobile". He sent me a spiffy IBM Think Pad with a wireless card so there's no running and there's no hiding. I have strict instructions and he's a radar specialist so I have a feeling I may well be under surveillance.

It was a phenomenal gesture and kind beyond all measure. Thank you, Mike. I'll keep playing those Power Ball numbers so that you have a multi-million dollar check waiting for you when you return to the states. You're one of a kind and, as you remind me, another "gift" of having dealt with a few of the obstacles I ran into this summer. Good things happen to us even when it looks like we're in the middle of a mess and stumbling into you has been such a gift.

Mike and I "connected" this past summer when he signed my guest book with an aside about sailing. At the time of his signing, I was "forbidden" by Capt'. H(ook) to respond but, of course, I did send a thank you to the man who signed my blog, but at the time, that was all I did. It wasn't worth the fight. A couple of months later, Sgt. Mike read about my car accident and e-mailed me good wishes and a gift card for some tea. This was about a week after the car crash and a couple of days after I became "disengaged". At last, it was safe to write. He's proven himself to be a great cheerleader and has a kind spirit. I know his family must be so proud of him and I'm sure they can't wait for him to return home. We're all praying for that, Mike!

But I still think you have a coffee problem and, coming from me, that's saying something!

There is one important thing that I want to touch on that happened back in May. My Dad, as I've written many times, is a diarist. He's one of the finest writers I've ever been privileged to read. For my 47 plus years as his daughter, he's kept a daily diary. That's a lot of diary entries! I'm sure he could tell me exactly how many because he's got a calculator for a brain and he's driven by statistics but his motivation and power come from his heart and his heart, as anyone will attest, must have been one that God used as a proto-type in terms of function and design and the power to love. (Photo: Harry Burke & Barbe Cook, May 16, 2007.)

Both of my parents are very special and not just to me - but to many people. In fact, many of my friends have "adopted" these two fine people and when I was drearily considering the insensibility of moving to Raleigh this past summer, I got a keen sense that many of my friends were more concerned that my parents stay in Wilmington, regardless of where I went off to. I heard a lot of "Whew's", when I'd share that they had no plans to relocate North - they were much too bright to even consider the ridiculousness of such a notion.

A few days before Katie, Justin, Billie and I took off for the Outer Banks, as I drove to Fayetteville to pick Katie up from the Amtrack Station, my parents were privileged and oh-so-pleased to welcome unexpected company to our home. Excitement was at a high-pitch level! A gentleman who was CFO with the parent company that owned the coal company my father worked for before he retired, had retired 18 months before my Dad. Mr. Harry Burke worked in Chicago and was known, around our house, as the "big brass", but more importantly, the relationship that developed between my Dad and Mr. Burke segued into a friendship and has carried on long past retirement.

Following retirement, Mr. Burke left Chicago and relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona while my parents retired EVERYWHERE we moved (and it's been a lot of moves!). All during this time, Dad and Mr. Burke would stay connected via phone and e-mail and keep up with the goings-on in their respective lives. Even though my Dad retired in October 1986, 21 years ago, they've shared many phone calls, traded news, followed each other's family happenings and, in the case of poor Mr. Burke, tried to keep up with us geographically. (Photo: Janet, Maxine, Harry, Barbe & Marsha, May 16, 2007)

While Mr. Burke has been happily installed in Scottsdale, AZ, my parents have lived in Amarillo, San Antonio, San Angelo, Stow, OH, El Paso, Pembroke Pines, FL, Charleston, SC, Amarillo (again), and finally Wilmington. That's a lot of push-pins on the map!

Though they have corresponded and visited via telephone, they had not seen each other in over 22 years. On 16 May of this year, as I was driving to pick up my lovely daughter, my Dad and Mom enthusiastically welcomed Mr. Burke, his companion Marsha and his sister Janet, who lives in the area. These two "old" friends had quite a wonderful reunion. My parents were so happy to see all of them and have the chance to visit in person. Oh how I wish I could have been here for it, but I am told it was a wonderful thing. I know it will go down as one of the highlights of this year in the best way possible.

I haven't checked, but I can imagine it made for "red ink" in my Dad's diary. The way it works, if something particularly noteworthy occurs in the course of a day, such a birthday, raise, or some other milestone like a car wreck, tropical storm sailing, breaking up with a pirate (sorry, I couldn't resist), these things get what I call the "red ink" treatment. Now, I'm sure I've made for a few pens' worth of red ink in my references in these volumes - some of it even good! But I have no doubt that May 16th and the visit with Harry Burke made for a "red ink" notation and probably in capital letters. I know my parents still talk about that day and renewing their friendship with this special company. Of course, my Mom made a cake and I know coffee was probably served.

As they got things ready for their visitors, it reminded me of when I was a little girl on Sunday Mornings, getting the house polished and shined for either relatives or sometimes even the pastor (I was always particularly instructed to watch my mouth on those days!). There was always an extra "hum" and verve. It was very much like that as I left to go retrieve my daughter and I so enjoyed hearing about it after I returned home with her. That was an extra special day - a visit from a long-time friend and former co-worker AND a visit from a granddaughter all in the same day. My dad may well have had to get a new red pen for that one!

As I've mused about the way my friends have swooped in and taken such fine care of me these past few weeks, sometimes I think of my parents and all of the friends they've collected through the years - how they've kept up with them, rejoiced right along with them through good news, and prayed at the dinner table for them and through long, heartfelt phone conversations through difficult times. My folks have taught me so many lessons through the years, but the presence of friendships in their lives has been a paramount component to their quality of life and thank God I managed to pick up on this. Friends, as they've shown me by example, and the love of family, have been what's counted most in their lives. They've been both the recipient and the giver at various times in their lives and it's been patently obvious how they've managed to live such a rich, love-saturated life with a great deal of affection and kindness.

I've observed in my life, so many times, how this is inarguably true. Much more so than possessions or money, it is these intrinsic relationships that I think count for a life well-lived. I am grateful for my parents example, just as I'm grateful for, and to, the people who claim positions within my inner circle. In the words of Robert Frost, "it has made all the difference...". (Photo: I "heart" these people...Daddy, Justin, Katie & Mom, May 2007).

It seems to me that no matter what life might fling at us, or what mess we may find ourselves mired in, if we have a hand or two to hold, we're going to be OK. Maybe a little bruised and scratched and roughed up a bit, but it's going to be fine. I'm pretty sure it's one of those things that "matter most".

As with my Dad and Mr. Burke, even after not seeing each other for over 21 years, the "connectedness", that bond remained intact, viable and strong. It was nurtured through the years with notes and phone calls, well-wishes, warm thoughts and no small measure of prayer. Distance never compromised it. Time seemed only to make it even more precious. Is that not just the most incredible gift? Thank God for these relationships and ties that bind. Then again, thank God for a lot of things!

And thank God for the gift of the full moon this past week. If you missed it, you really missed quite a site, but don't beat yourself up too much - the calendar reports there will be another one in less than 30 days. Maybe you'd better circle 26 October on your calendar. I'd suggest using red ink.