On Love, On Marriage, On Pain

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m thinking about love and marriage. I’m thinking about the fact that I’ve had a good marriage for over thirty years. In this culture, I know that’s enviable and certainly not to be taken for granted. To be honest, though, there’s an element to our deep love that is harsher than the ones that can be printed on Valentine’s Day cards or written on candy hearts.

It is pain that has made our marriage strong.

Just barely into our second year of marriage, David suffered a terrifying spinal cord injury. For three days we wondered if he would walk again. After scary surgeries and months of rehab, he could, he did. But somehow, journeying together through that shadow-of-death valley forever cured us of arguments about unloading the dishwasher or lost socks or messy bathrooms. Because he could have died, all other discussions seemed petty. We had life, we had each other; every thing else was manageable. As horrible as that injury was, that experience gave us the gift of perspective that set the pattern of gratitude for all the years that followed after.

When our boys were little, David coached their soccer teams, despite the fact that he walked with a (painful) limp. For thirty plus years he left the house and worked diligently and conscientiously at a career despite chronic pain in his stomach and back. He never wanted to wear his pain “on his sleeve,” so few knew how much his battle with pain was constant, ongoing. On weekends, he remodeled our old house, making it beautiful, one room at a time. He gave himself to others, serving on church committees, leading small groups, giving hope to others even on days when he had little to give himself. He was a fantastic father. For all those years, I watched him battle pain. Time and time again, he pulled himself above it, willing himself on to optimism or kindness or faith. So here’s the truth: how could I not admire a man like this? Other wives find fault with the man they married, and yes, I suppose, I could have looked at David’s shortcomings, resented his faults. But I watched him suffer and still be good, day upon day, week upon week, year upon year. Suffering made him my hero.

It is human nature to want what we want. I get ideas to go places, to join things, to invite so and so to dinner, to plan this or that outing.   But Dave’s pain means I have learned to hold plans loosely. When he has had a particularly bad week or a miserable day, we cancel plans. We back out of dinners or cancel meetings. Let me be clear; I could carry on without him. He has never asked me to stay back; he has always told me I am free to go on with plans, and sometimes I do. He does not need or expect me to restrict my activities because of him, but often, I don’t want to go without him. I would rather be at home with him. But here’s what else I know: holding plans loosely has made me a more flexible person. Guess what? Life goes on just fine even when I don’t get what I want.

Deep calls to deep, the Psalmist says. Although the psalm is referring to nature, for me, these words apply to the hearts of men and women. There are plenty of people in the world who won’t admit that life hurts. Monied people and religious people, especially, seem to think that a pretty appearance matters. But holding up a pretense is exhausting, something we’ve never had energy for when fighting chronic pain and the sorrow of chronic pain. So we have always found our friends among “real” people – people who admit their vulnerability and let their blemishes show. We are drawn to authentic people, and they are drawn to us. And of course, these are the best kind of people – deep, accepting people who understand imperfections and limitations and love anyway. Suffering has given us good friends.

Do I wish that life had gone differently, and that pain had not been so much a part of life? Of course. But here is the unexpected and unforeseen: love increased. Here is grace: in all that pain, love grew strong.

 

images Writing Prompt:  How has pain made you better?

How have the hard things helped love grow?

 

Shipwatching

Only 13 of the freighters that sail on the Great Lakes are 1,000 feet or longer.

Today, one of them came into the Sturgeon Bay canal and carefully hummed its way into a slip at the shipyard in Sturgeon Bay.ship1

We have learned that regulations require ships to come in every five years for inspections and maintenance. Sturgeon Bay has had boat builders and shipyards since 1896, so for many locals, this was nothing new.

However, my husband David ( and today’s photographer) has been keeping track of the movements of these big ships on  Boat Nerd, so when one started to get close, he drove the 18 miles to watch the spectacle.

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Today’s ship was 1,004 feet long. That’s 3+ football fields. That’s 1 and ½ St. Louis arches lying down.  And this massive vessel had to leave the big deep sea that is Lake Michigan  (average depth 289 ft, deepest spot 922 ft) and turn into a channel that is only 125 feet wide.  It then traveled under three draw bridges ( stopping traffic) past marinas and houses and the businesses of downtown on its way to the shipyard.

David spent nearly four hours in the cold, learning just where he could or could not stand at the Coast Guard station (there are apparently a lot of off-limits spots.)

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He then watched from a pier in town and felt the pounding vibrations of the ice breaking in the harbor and the sound of ice shattering as that huge vessel plowed its way through what had previously been frozen solid.

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He drove to another spot and was close enough, he said, to spit on that huge ship’s side as it slowly threaded its way through the needle of the channel under two drawn bridges, with only a few feet to spare on each side.

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Perhaps, after we have lived here for years, the fascination of these big ships will be lost. Perhaps we will stop marveling that such a behemoth can turn out of the great waters of Lake Michigan and maneuver so precisely into a tiny spot. But we think not. Instead we’ll add it to the long list of things we like here: watching massive manmade beasts come in, go out, stop traffic, raise bridges, break ice.

Writing Prompt  images    What could you spend hours watching?

The past, the present

I don’t know why, but it’s easier to think about the past here.

Maybe it’s the lovely old barns that are literally along every road I drive, reminders that people have entered those massive rooms for decade upon decade of storms and weather, for years of seasons that have turned brown wood gray and windblown.

old barn

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Apple trees line my driveway, reminding me each day that people before me walked this land; they planted and pruned, got stung by bees, were delighted in the pink blossoms in the spring and the ripe fruit in the fall.

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appletree

As a child, we would walk far up the beach to the “Indian village” near Heins creek where, in fact, the Ottawa tribe had summered for several seasons in the late 1600’s. We would kneel in the soft sand to find chippings of arrowheads just a few inches down. The edges of those sharp, flinty rocks were sharp, so we had to walk carefully in our bare feet, and this was tactile evidence that people we could not see had walked here, worked here, swum here. They had been ready, even, to defend their lives in order to survive on this very dune where we now lolled about in summer breezes.

And then there are the lighthouses. Is there any better way to make someone imagine the past? Walk inside the homes of the former lighthouse keepers and read just a few lines from the keeper’s log, and it is hard not to imagine life 150 years ago. “Thirty ships passed today. Strong winds, most under full sail.” Or, “Visitors from town. Wife offered tea.” It was a desolate life, but an important one, and when I visit those light towers (because, by the way, there are thirteen of them in Door County,) my mind imagines the people who lived their lives at the bottom of those lights.

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There are an abnormally high number of historical societies on the peninsula. So there are books in shops and libraries that tell the stories and show pictures of the people that lived here long ago. St. Louis was an old place, and I lived in old houses for the entire time I lived there. But somehow I wasn’t as affected by the past as I am here.

I like the history of this place. It makes me feel that I am part of a long flow of people that have been before and will come after.   It also makes me imagine, which is always a good thing for the writer in me.

imagesWriter’s Prompt: How does the history of your place affect you?

On Waiting

This week we have done some waiting.

cranes

Birders in Door County informed us that a whooping crane has been spotted amongst a crowd of sand hill cranes. This is unusual, rare, and would make perhaps, the first sighting of a whooping crane here. The time and place was arranged for us to meet; we caravanned to a farmer’s field, walked stealthily to a spot where we could watch as the cranes came in. We were there ½ hour before sunset to wait and watch when they flew in to roost for the night.

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And fly in they did. I have been glad, all summer long, to see the occasional set of cranes in the field; I have stopped to take pictures of a set of three or four. Little did I know, there is a place they gather in the hundreds.cranes2

And so we watched and we listened for over an hour as these magnificent, large birds soared in; twenty, then ten, then forty, then five until their party was over six hundred.   For the entire progression of dusk until dark,  they soared in above us from every direction. With their strange rattle-y call, they announced to us and to each other their appearance, and sometimes the noise seemed reminiscent of a crowd of humans at a football stadium.  I loved the show; hundreds of birds gathered near a pond where they felt safe for the night, and I was glad to be watching.

The renegade whooping crane, however, never showed. Perhaps he had flown in with one of the final groups in the near dark and landed in the distance in the farther fields, too far away. Or perhaps he found some other spot to land, away from us with our scopes and our binoculars and our chairs all set up waiting for him. Some people, more seasoned crane watchers than we, were a bit disappointed, but I was more than satisfied with the gathering-of-cranes show.

By the way, if you’ve never heard the rattle-y call of a sand hill crane, watch this: Sandhill Crane-Youtube

And more waiting last Friday; Lake Michigan was calm. And though we have had some days already that felt like fall, Friday was warm and balmy with summery blue skies. So we went fishing. (Actually, Dave fishes; I just go along.) Fishing, I’ve decided, is nothing except waiting. One can have the gear (which, believe me, Dave has) and one can listen to the advice, (just where to troll, how deep to cast) but it still comes down to waiting.

It is a big lake.

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We were out for hours, and we had the lines in for hours, and Dave, I think, was doubting whether fish actually exist.

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But the weather was glorious. He is five months in to retirement; being in a boat on Lake Michigan on a Friday was something he could be pretty happy about, catch or no catch. However, on this day, at least, his waiting paid off: a steelhead trout.

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And then the night before last, we waited for the super moon, the red moon that was expected to rise large and then eclipse.  A few hours before dusk, clouds gathered and the sky became overcast, so our moon view was in question. Friends came to the beach to watch, to wait, to hope;  perhaps the clouds would part?  We sat on the deck, bundled up against the wind, eyes on the sky. The moon never showed, but how could we be too sad? On an only slightly chilly evening, waves battered the sand in the fading light while we told stories, heard news, watched waves break.

Sometimes we get the things we wait for; sometimes we don’t. 

There are psalms about waiting. I like Psalm 130, especially. “I wait for the Lord. My soul waits. And in His word I hope…..My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” 

I picture those watchmen waiting for the morning, and of course it is cold. Cold is never as good as warmth; and the dark is scarier and  lonelier than the light.    Even when we know morning is coming, we would rather have it now, not later. 

Waiting is universal, as is the pain it can cause us. We wait for dinner, wait in line, wait for Christmas, wait our turns. Dave has had chronic pain for many years, and we have longed for, asked for, looked for, waited for change. I have single friends who would like to be married; they have waited a long time, through countless dates and hours on e-harmony, all to no avail. An acquaintance waits to hear about a job, worrying about unpaid bills in the meantime. One niece and her husband are infertile; they have waited for pregnancy and waited far too long to adopt their daughter.    Most of us wait for something. Some of us long for something our entire lives.

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There are metaphors to be drawn here, of course, between my waiting for the crane and the fish and the moon and the waiting for the big things we long for in life.

In each of these events this week, there was beauty all around while we waited. We had made the effort to go watch, and there was something good in that: being still, being away, being together. We were on a boat for hours on a blue-skied afternoon instead of inside at work on a computer. We didn’t see a whooping crane, but boy, we saw other cranes. Wind on a beach, with waves crashing? Moonrise or not, it’s still a show.

So in the big things that we wait for, for the things we don’t yet have and may never have, it’s good to look around. Whether we get what we want or whether we don’t, surely there is beauty nearby.  

images  Writing Prompt

What is it that you wait for, long for, hope for?  What are the metaphors that describe this waiting?

The Arch: Poetry and Yoga class.

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“When you walk through the arch,” my teacher instructed, “imagine a change you want in yourself, in another person, or the world.”   He made a ceremony of it, asking the class participants to walk through that silver sculpture, one by one, with purpose, with deliberation, with intent. We quietly, respectfully watched as each one gave “into the universe” that wish, that hope, that prayer for something broken to be fixed, for something ill to be made well.

This yogic thinking is outside my comfort zone; I was leery. It is “out-there” thinking for me; to imagine, for example, myself as a bird flying over my own life, or that the wind around me is Mother Earth breathing to nurture me, or that, my desire for change has in itself, any power. But I played along, and surprisingly, I ended up with the following poem:

Walking Through
By Ann Heyse

It is a big thing I want

that big black boys are no longer
taken down by guns.

It is perhaps ridiculous that I,
walking through a sculpture in a green wood

might hope that fairness reigns
that girls with dark, lovely skin won’t be pregnant at twelve
or their brothers, at age fourteen, aren’t incarcerated.

I taught them once, and am near hopeless

yet

that arch in the green wood is silver,

as are my prayers.

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Our class took place in the very lovely sculpture garden at Edgewood Orchard Galleries. ( A gallery one should not miss when visiting Door County).

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The arch was created by Steven Haas of Green Bay.

Writing Promptimages

What is one thing you’d want changed today? Write about it succinctly in a poem of 100 words or less.

Writing with Flowers

It’s pretty hard not to think about daisies these days. They are everywhere when I drive from place to place. Fields are white with them. My land is covered with their cheeriness.

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So I’ve been thinking about the connotations of daisies. To me, they are a fun, lively, lighthearted, gregarious flower, and the sight of them stirs up positive emotions. In contrast, I felt entirely less happy and even a bit angry when the fields in these environs were filled with dandelions just a few weeks ago. Supposedly they are both weeds, invasive species, but I love the one and dislike the other. My differing feelings towards these two flowers make me examine the connotations of other flowers. How do I feel about irises? Tulips? Sunflowers? Roses?

All this just proves the power of the words we choose when we write. Consider the following line of writing: “He stopped on his way home to bring her flowers.”  This is an acceptable line, but it could be made powerful and instructive and helpful to your writing if you’d add a few strategic words. Try adding a specific type of flower to the above phrase:

He stopped along the roadside to gather an armful of daisies.

He stopped: at the 7-11 and hastily picked up the day’s last, wilted rose.

“           “     at the fanciest florist where he spared no expense for the rare white orchid.

“         “       at the farm market for a dozen tall sunflowers.

With just one detail, a reader can learn much about a character. There is a difference between iris and sunflowers, gladiolus and goldenrod.

 Writing Prompt.images

Add a flower to a line of your poetry prose. Now substitute  it with a different flower. Does it change or add to the meaning? What’s the connotation of your flower? What’s the feeling you want to convey?  Continue reading

David, my husband, loves birds. Years ago, I was enamored by (among other things) his unabashed desire to haunt woods and seashores to stare through binoculars at these winged creatures. His fascination was contagious; I too, learned to delight in the flight of swallows or the song of white-throated sparrows or the barred wings of an owl. But we have lived in a city for the past thirty years, and though we successfully enticed some birds to feeders in our backyard, the number of species that came to visit was small. Beyond that, our careers, a house to maintain, and children to raise meant we took very few outings into the wild to go looking for birds.

But that was then. In the first week we were here, Dave’s priority was birdfeeders. In fact, it’s a bit embarrassing how many feeders we have and how much money we have spent on them, but I’ll delineate them anyway: 4 hummingbird feeders, 3 suet feeders, 2 thistle feeders, 2 platform feeders, 6 songbird feeders, 2 oriole feeders. I bat house, 7 birdhouses.

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But oh, the pay-off.

I wish I had pictures of all of them; but the number as of today is 45 species of birds in our yard since the day we moved in. Here are a few of my favorites:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak   grosbeak

Chickadee, Northern Oriole, Indigo Bunting,

Downy woodpecker,  downy, ruby-throated hummingbird.

Overhead, we’ve seen pelicans. And gulls, of course, as we are only minutes from Lake Michigan.

Last week, Dave spotted an owl on the land behind us. He sat for over an hour in the fading light hoping to entice it back. (Playing recordings of other owls really does work, just not every time..)

This morning, we heard the call of sandhill cranes reverberating across the mist right behind our house. They were close, and they were calling to more cranes across the ridge. I threw on some shoes, and went in search. My picture isn’t great, because I didn’t want to get too close. I’d like to encourage them to stay in my backyard.

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And speaking of staying, we now have a bluebird building its nest in the bird house that Dave hammered to my favorite birch tree.

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Now I have yet another reason to like that tree.     The blue of the bird is SO blue.bluebird

How great is this? The man I married is now able to return to his love of birds- from his back porch. And I have blue birds and sand hill cranes in my back yard.

images Writing Prompt. Add a bird to a line Continue reading