Dandelion Whine

Sitting in the front yard with my cat today, both of us soaking up some warm, spring sunshine, I noticed all of the dandelion seed heads standing up tall, the dainty little seeds just waiting for the wind to carry them off. I recalled how, as a child, I often aided in the seed disbursement by making a wish, taking a deep breath, and trying to send every last seed off on its mission. Rarely did I manage to release them all, and that meant my wishes wouldn’t come true. Sometimes my friends and I would work on this for quite some time, hoping to gain the promise of wishes to be granted. We would pick and gather, huff and puff, and blow with gale force breaths until we were barely able to stand, but almost always there would be those 4 or 5 renegade seeds who would refuse to let go. I can recall a few times when we were able to give each and every seed a send-off, but I have no recollection of what we were wishing for, or whether dreams came true. I’m quite certain that the fun of gathering those first harbingers of spring and making a child’s game out of them was quite enough happiness for us on those warm, April days. Winter had become a gloomy memory, and the simple pleasures, the freedom to run and play and use our imaginations, going barefoot for the first time on the fresh, cool grass, and the game of making wishes with dandelion seeds…that was enough. When the list of wishes was exhausted (along with the wishers), we would make a spring bouquet of the dandelions still in bloom, and run off to the closest mother. I’m sure the poor flowers were wilted before they even made it in the door, their flimsy stems useless for holding up the sunny crowns, but our mothers (or, grandmother, in my case) never complained. They offered us genuine thanks, and took them off to the kitchen for an effort at making an artful floral display, as we headed off to our next, outdoor adventure.

As these pleasant memories faded, I pondered the downfall of the dandelion, and wondered how it has come to be seen as a scourge on the suburban lawn. How could such a perfect, bright, little flower have provoked the emergence of so many herbicide sprays and lawn-care companies? Before long, we’ll see the vans driving down the street, or notice our neighbors with the herbicide spray tank hooked up to their hose, and we’ll detect the noxious fumes wafting down the avenue. Slowly, but surely, the flowers will wilt and whither, and all will be right again in “Pleasant Valley.” (If you’re not a former Monkees fan, do some research on that one!)

Yeah, all right…I hear what you’re saying! It’s a weed, for crying out loud. A very fertile weed that could soon take over the world with its parachuting seeds. If we don’t control them, we’ll have those ugly, broadleaf monsters encroaching on our perfectly weeded, mulched flower beds! Well, I say, “So what?”

Who brings these modern (or, perhaps not-so-modern) views of societal perfection into our heads, where do they start, and why do we latch on so easily? These trends begin innocuously enough. We have these visions of beauty and perfection, and we try to attain our visions. It starts with weed control, and it blossoms into a striving for (what we see as) absolute perfection in every realm. We are coerced and influenced by our neighbors, TV advertisements, the media, and the false ideals of beauty and happiness portrayed by the rich and famous. If our lawns are perfect, our bodies perfect, our houses worthy of the covers of magazines; if we find the perfect spouse (on maybe the third or fourth try), or hang out with the “in” crowd…all of these efforts will lead us to absolute happiness. We’ll be happier than a little child with a field full of dandelions at their disposal…right?!

When do we go back to thinking for ourselves? When do we say, “Enough!” When do we learn to give up control over every little thing, and when, oh when, can we go back to enjoying a simple, natural life, without worrying about what everyone else thinks?! It’s not the weeds in our yard that are the problem, but the weeds in our hearts. We need to turn our attention to our goals, our expectations, our lack of true discernment, and our misunderstanding of the meaning of life. Perhaps there’s a bit of pruning and weed pulling needed in those areas. If we focus our hearts on simple living and genuine loving, if we live with gratitude and persist in compassionate care of those around us, we will learn to embrace the dandelions on our path, as we once did in our childhood.

Enjoy this season of hope and promise and new life. Turn your hearts towards the eternal, and embrace the Sacred Word of love. The gifts that flow from such a method of life navigation are many and varied, not the least of which is a new attitude about real beauty and a prudent understanding of sincere value. Start out slow and easy, take baby steps. The very first assignment is to take a very deep breath, contemplate the simple beauty of creation, and when you breathe out, make sure there’s a dandelion seed globe in your hand. Make a wish, blow as hard as you can, and live the joy of hope taking flight.

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Catching a Falling Star

I went to a retirement home today, to visit a former client. I didn’t work for this woman very long, but I fell in love with her the first time we met. The minute I walked into her house, she started bossing me around, in a familiar, motherly sort of way. The second time I arrived to take care of her, she had forgotten who I was, but she soon remembered. After that, she always lit up with a bright smile when she saw me, and said, without fail, “I’m so glad you’re here!” This client had a lot of good stories to tell. She’s a Jewish woman, and had wonderful memories of her rich, unique history. I loved hearing about her father and mother, and her life as a young girl. My favorite reminiscence was about the time her family, and many others from the community, went to meet some extended family members at the airport. They were fleeing from the German Nazi army’s increasing occupation of European countries. In the eyes of this little girl (who had become this frail, old woman in my care) were LOTS of people, and flowers and balloons, and laughing and hugging, and her uncle, with his long fluffy beard, dressed in short pants, crying tears of joy to have his wife and children safely here now, in America, with family and friends. She spoke of his unending gratitude and love, which he spread to those around him for the rest of his life here in this great country, that he saw as a land of freedom and safety.

In addition to the stories from long ago, I also listened to lots of complaining, hearing the details of several of her favorite grievances over and over again. I didn’t mind – I knew she just needed someone to talk to, so I listened, as if I had never heard any of it before. Anyway, with her memory loss, some of the particulars of the narratives would evolve from one telling to the next, keeping me on the edge of my seat about the outcome. She also reveled in bossing me around. Sometimes, I would barely be in the kitchen for two minutes, beginning to work on her supper, and she would yell from the living room, “I’m waiting!” Once, I boldly asked her, after she had ordered me to put my packed supper away and find something in her freezer that I could eat with her, if this was what it was like having a Jewish mother. Her response was, “Yes! Now shut up and eat!” I laughed, and did as I was told. Every once in a while, I would dare to challenge her, when things needed to be done around the house. I would leave her side and work on some housecleaning, and she would tell me to sit back down, right beside her. I would tell her I’d be there as soon as I had finished washing the dishes (or, whatever I happened to be working on at the time). After a few repeated requests from her, which I would volley with a, “not yet,” she would tell me I was stubborn. I would chuckle at the irony of that comment.

The hours I spent with this beloved client went by so quickly. Some of the places I go, I am (I hate to admit) sometimes bored and looking forward to quitting time, but never, ever, was I bored with my Jewish mother. We talked and baked cookies and went for walks in the neighborhood (after the snow melted and spring was on the prowl). We watched Family Feud on TV, and laughed at how dumb the people were, not being able to come up with the answers. Once, we went out to pick up something for supper, and on another occasion, I drove her to visit her older sister in a nursing home. (That was when I found out where she gets her bossiness from!) But mainly, it was me sitting in my chair next to her, and listening to this sweet, lonely lady pour out her heart time and time again, reliving all the joys, sorrows, and memories of a lifetime, and carrying the cross of finding herself now part of the aged and infirm population.

I had missed several shifts with this client, due to my traveling out of town, and then her emergency admittance to the hospital. I got the call last week that my agency was done taking care of her, because she had gone from the hospital into a rehab facility. With any luck, she will be transferred into skilled nursing and spend the rest of her life at this beautiful retirement community. For weeks, I have been praying for this very outcome, because she really needs to have 24/7 care. I decided that I would surprise her today with a visit. It’s a very long drive, but she (and our God) were calling my name, and these are two voices I have learned to listen to! I was thinking I would find her in better spirits, now that she is getting such good care, but that was not the case. When I walked in, she was nodding off to sleep in her bed, her breakfast barely touched. She looked ill, and thinner than when I had last seen her. I called her name, and she opened her eyes. “Did you think you could hide from me,” I asked. She looked up at me and started crying. I asked her what was wrong, and said, “Don’t cry,” but she was so happy to see me, she could not help it. How am to respond to this? We have known each other for only a few months, and yet, she is so blessed by my presence, the joy of a visit from me brings her to tears. I can only say thank you to the Power that drew us together, to the God who she thought had abandoned her, but who had favored us both by bringing our lives together in such a profound and paramount manner. I reminded her of something I had said to her before…I know that God has not abandoned her, because He sent me into her life. She responded by saying, “Well….you’re right about that!” By the time my visit had ended, my Jewish mother was her usual, fun-loving self again, and, I hope, she ate a good lunch upon my departure.

I have written before, quite recently, of how one person can make such an impact on a life. I believe this kind of gift can surprise us often, if our hearts are open to letting people in, falling in love, and receiving the joy and the pain that comes from such openness. It has happened to me again with this woman, and even though my heart is breaking now, with the loss of my regular visits with her, rest assured that I will do everything in my power to visit with her as often as I possibly can. I hope to recruit some of her other former caregivers to do the same, since there were others besides me to whom she has become attached. This beautiful, newly “adopted” Jewish mother of mine, whose name means “star,” has shined her light into my life, and, even though I have met her in her declining years, I will catch this falling star and refuse to let it go out. I can only hope that my humble endeavors of care and companionship will also shine in her heart, for all eternity, and, perhaps inspire my readers to fall in love with their own shining star sometime soon. It’s the only way to truly live.

Megabus Mama Rides Again

It was a long Lent. The days of this yearly penitential season often drift by for me in a languid, dawdling kind of passage, so the indolent loitering of each and every day in March was not unexpected. What did hit me like a ton of bricks was a serious attack of fatigue. There was a week when I gave up all of my common sense and said yes to a few extra, emergency fill-in shifts (in my job as a respite caregiver), and the next thing I knew, I was working seven days a week. Within two weeks of taking on this more intensive schedule, my metabolism had sunk to a level comparable to that of a sloth. I was exhausted and could not get enough sleep. Every morning, at the incessant cry of my alarm clock, I would drag myself out of bed, pump some black tea and health supplements into my lifeless body, and go to work. While at work, I would give it my usual effort, but found myself sitting down a bit more often than usual, to rest and get over the feeling of dizziness. As soon as I arrived home, I would succumb to a long nap – sometimes drifting off in my recliner, and other times heading for bed, with the shades down and the earplugs installed for a serious napping enterprise. I was almost ready to call it quits.

The good news is, I have an 18 (almost 19) year old daughter who is learning how to cook. It’s been a bit of a baptism-by-fire experience for her, because she had to figure it out fast, or get by on easy-prep stuff. She’s used to all of my tasty, home-prepared meals, so she had to buck up and face the stove-top. She has done an awesome job helping me through a very tough time. I can vaguely remember answering food prep questions while snoozing on the couch, and later waking up to a wonderful supper. And, not only has she kept my husband and I well fed, but she has been chipping in more on housework. About this time I am thinking, “Thank you God , for this one more child you blessed us with, when we were thinking it would not be possible for us to have more children!” Not that I haven’t felt grateful many times in the past for all of my children, but this past couple of months, my youngest has really been working to win the “favorite child” award!

And, even more good news – I am feeling a lot better now. I was able to tweak my work schedule just a little, to make it more doable, and, most especially, to allow me to get back to my Thursday morning Bible study with the moms. I really missed that! I recovered a large portion of my lost energy just in time to head off on another Megabus adventure (read my Megabus Mama blog post, if you haven’t, yet. I wrote that one way back in September of 2014). I had to plan a shorter-than-usual stay in Minnesota this time around, what with being a working woman and all. I went up to be with my daughter and granddaughter while my son-in-law was traveling on business. I left on a Saturday afternoon, had supper in Chicago, did an overnight to Minnesota, got picked up from the bus station at 7:15 am Sunday morning, and went straight to 7:30 Mass (after digging my church clothes out of my luggage and changing in the bathroom!). Then I spent the whole week being an on-call grandma and mama’s helper. I left the following Sunday night, with an overnight to Chicago, breakfast in the windy city, followed by hopping on my second bus, which got me back home at 5:30 Monday evening. I started back to work the next morning.

I am amazed that I am still hanging in there, without a serious illness and/or missing any days of work. I’m not really sure how this can even be happening. I was the one who used to get serious upper respiratory infections three or four times every winter, and, here I am, pushing my self to the limit and beyond, and somehow (except for the couple of weeks taking long naps), I am holding up. When I got back from my trip, all of my clients were so happy to have me back. They all missed me very much. My weekend client, who I lovingly refer to as my Jewish mother, has gone so far as to tell me that I am not allowed to go away again for a long time! I do feel bad that I had to leave them, but, I’ve got news for them – this Megabus Mama will be heading off into the sunset again before too long. I’ll get ants in my pants, and the long-distance mom/grandma blues, and then I’ll have to jump on the big, blue double-decker for another adventure north!

The worst part of all this craziness in my life has been a total lack of creativity and inspiration, hence the long hiatus in blog posting. At this point, I am just trying to get something on “paper” to loosen up the logjam. So, hopefully, you’re not suffering too much boredom from this lackluster, uninspired story. While you muddle through, just think of it as a sacrifice – you’re helping with my writer’s block. Now that the words are flowing again, the wheels in my brain will start churning, the creativity will start coursing through my veins, and my blog will come back to life again. Megabus Mama has got her groove back!