Do you ever feel like a neglected house plant? I do.
I do, right now: yellowing leaves, a bit droopy, and terribly parched.
There’s this Dracaena plant quietly occupying a windowsill in my spare room. Even during this sheltering-at-home phase, in a state of being hyper-alert about everything, I’d forgotten it. The poor thing was so brittle, so needy – like us.
House Plants and People
I wondered if it could be restored.
Setting to work, I couldn’t help thinking we all need a bit of repotting, some fresh water … some TLC.
I’ve seen lots of tough-girl and tough-guy books around. It seems critics in the new media don’t like a character to show or feel anything soft or vulnerable. They will issue a dogging review if the young man or girl cries or flounders for an answer. They will call it “immature”.
Everyone has needs. Humans thrive on community and teamwork. Each of us needs a little attention. In fact, I can’t seem to think of one stage in life when a person doesn’t need some attention and care. We share this life.
Like a house plant, we need some tending-to these days.
Our root system is aching to not work so hard, to have a thriving life surrounding us that we may do what we are meant to do in peace and confidence.
Our leaves are yellow – we need a careful touch to pull them away. Our soil is dry – we need an organic compost of compassion.
Nutrients should be mixed in, things like good humor, a phone call, a letter, a song.
Ridding of Leaves that No Longer Serve
Leaves that no longer serve us or others around us should be pruned. Bitter leaves, all. Cut away dry petals of memories that cause arrogance, envy, self-pity, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness.
Do you feel very bare naked without those leaves flourishing around you? Trust the process. After a stressful season or a severe pruning, either one, your roots will soon flourish.
Like the little struggling plant, we need recovery time. During a time of lacking sunlight and waiting for the regularity of better times, we will need a clear vision of hope to absorb some fresh, good nutrients. Share and be shared with.
Take care of your plants, yes.
Take care of yourself, too: hunker down in a larger pot, giving yourself extra space to expand and thrive.
It might be nice to aerate the soil to help our roots grow deeply; to enable a stronger, more vigorous life. Break up the old soil, infuse it with good nutrients.
I arise today Through the strength of heaven; Light of the sun, Splendor of fire, Speed of lightning, Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth, Firmness of the rock. I arise today Through God's strength to pilot me; God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's hosts to save me From snares of the devil, From temptations of vices, From every one who desires me ill, Afar and anear, Alone or in a multitude. I summon today all these powers between me and evil, Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul-
Take care of the tops and the bottoms of your plants. Help them reach upward and trust.
Trash the bitter leaves.
Give the roots nutrients and space
Add water and light.
Drink, absorb life, and drink some more.
Place yourself in the environment you need, one with plenty of light and love.
I’m pleased to tell you my house plant is coming along nicely, showing some gumption, reaching toward the light. I’ve named her “Endurance” because she is making a comeback after a drought of neglect.
While we are taking precautions against sickness and anger and injustice, looking out for the vulnerable, measuring our group outings and postponing trips, I believe cultivating joy has never been more critical than in this murkiness.
As human beings, we are naturally inclined to focus on bad news; therefore, germs of joy and laughter are the “super germs” we need in order to boost our immune systems.
Yes, it may be time to infect each other with love and fortifying stories.
How do we summon joy?
Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, it may alight upon you.”
Is joy also like the butterfly of happiness? If so, how do we infect one another with good, fortifying, stuff?
They tell me that volunteering in tandem with others is one pathway to the fortifications of joy. Why is this? Is it the teamwork? Is it the joy that comes from change or conversations or bringing results? I’ve experienced this joy when I’ve pushed myself passed my lethargy to schedule myself into something worthwhile.
We all know talented seamstresses with a superhuman tolerance for Zero Sleep who are churning out handmade masks – many of them are donated wherever there’s a need.
Others are delivering food and medicine to their elderly neighbors; gardening; cooking; spending time in nature.
Let’s be real – nurturing joy isn’t the same as ignoring reality. While nurturing joy, some emotions will cloud the process. There will be bumps in the road ahead. Feelings of fear, worry. And anxiety will threaten our well-being.
The future is unknowable, but we are known.
The future is unknowable, but we are known.
The future is unknowable, but we are known
We can start with that if you dare to believe it. I believe my Creator knows me better than I know myself. It helps me to trust the process and the outcome a little more.
We can recognize our own strengths from remembering our past. Bank on those. We can remember those who love and care for us. We are known.
Just in case you wondered … you are seen.
You are known.
You are valued.
Your smile is still felt; your presence still matters.
No mask can conceal a soul.
It’s a privilege to see you whether I find you in the office, on a walk, in a store, or whether I hear your muffled voice on the phone. It is a joy, an honor, to watch you, hear you, and know you even a little during this Season of the Mask.
Perhaps the most radical act of resistance in the face of adversity is to live joyfully.”
We care for ourselves and others by carrying the Virus of Joy into the workplace, the home, the marketplace. Hints of hope, colorful memories, practical teaching, and helpful compliments. These relational inspirations build up returns, like deposits for future interest on human bank accounts.
Let’s spread droplets of high regard to our fellow workers.
Let’s cross that six-foot chasm with an air hug of affirmation, a verbal Atta-girl or Atta-boy. Now – especially now – we don’t want to miss an opportunity to remind someone how much they matter, how what they do, matters.
Let’s light up so brightly that our eyes outdo our half-covered faces, that our radiance surpasses the mask and leaves happy dust on anyone who is sad or struggling.
In a world of extreme caution, and angry avenues, let’s practice radical acts of human connection.
We can outwit any fluish boundary and find a way into the soul.
With a word.
With a note, a phone call.
With a meaningful look, a listening heart, a watchful prayer.
Mask if you must, but laugh openly.
De-germ as you are told, but re-germ with shameless optimism.
Keep your body temperature within range, but heat up the place with fierce encouragement.
Play a game with someone across the table.
Mask if you must, but walk in the park while greeting others.
But above all, remain tethered to other souls. We need each other.
Joy germs gone rogue – they can rebuild our immune systems into powerhouses of Resilience.
Do you ever have a day that feels like a never-ending loop of knots to be untied? You have to solve one problem in order to gain entrance to the real problem – find an outlet, silence your phone, then assist a client all comes before you can see your way clear to untangling your own problems.
I had an hour of work that turned into two weeks of work because I had to back up and do the math, then I had to learn how to complete a new task that was part of the finished product. Then, I had to get permission to buy a software program in order to implement the answer.
It was a lot easier when all I had to do was give the ball of knots to my dad to untangle.
You may hear from a doctor that self-care is the act of providing yourself a sacred space in which to quiet your jangled nerves. It’s important, yes, to schedule peace in an overwhelming world.
To this end, I’ve found some simple things will sustain you – things such as:
Giving yourself time to untangle a problem
Sharing hopes and dreams with somebody safe
pausing during a busy moment for a nudge of encouragement
Take a Step Against the Flow
Take a step against the flow and look at the surroundings for a different perspective.
Life is too short to go with the flow. Have fun and be different.”
Bianca Schlappa, Everyday Matters
Look further afield.
Look over a detail up close.
Sometimes, the masses have it mostly right but the right way just needs tweaking, and that is something that a different perspective can provide.
Use Your Humor, Wry Humor Acceptable
What’s the use of feeling sorry for yourself when you just get tangled into more knots? Even the wise and wonderful Oz got himself tangled up for a time behind a curtain far outside of Kansas and his usual County Fairs. Someone came along and discovered his need.
He was a little ashamed, but he laughed at his way of bumbling things up, and that helped. A lot. Someone came along and helped him find his way back home.
Laugh at yourself as you consider the past.
Open your hand to future options.
Celebrate Even a Partial Loosening of Knot Strands.
It heartens me in a way to know my knots are not all born from my individual situation or my personal inadequacy. It seems to be a community problem: “Humanity is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward.” This wit, from a friend of Job’s (Job 5:7). We are all just making our way through the challenging phases of life.
Help will arrive.
Ask for help.
Laugh a little.
Be willing to accept truth.
Choose as wisely as possible.
This article is co-written by good friends: author, Kathy Joy and editor, Laura Bartnick.
Mister B had been vying for the certificate of blindness since he’d turned 96, seven years prior. His January hobby was to study and search the IRS Publication 17 each year, and he’d done his own taxes until age 100.
When Joe saw that his taxes were getting adjusted by the taxing authorities two years in a row, he decided this meant that he was no longer capable of understanding how to report them.
Last month, at 103-years of age, my father-in-law finally received a certificate of blindness from his eye doctor. It was in answer to another of his badgering requests so that he could file it with his 2020 taxes.
I fished out this portion of our joint memoir for whomever reads this blog. You can tell that he is not only going blind at this juncture, but deaf as well.
We’ve had a fun spin this morning getting all the things done on Mister B’s list. He turns suddenly to applaud our execution of a morning to-do list, “Wow! You solved all my problems in an hour and we still have time for books!” I turn the wheels towards the library looking at the wide empty soccer park of stark, winter grass and note, “Where are the geese, Mr. B?”
“No, the GEESE.”
“Where’s the beef? Oh, you’re trying to be funny.”
“No, the GEESE! In the park!” I flutter my arms and point.
“A treat? You don’t have to overreact like that.”
In the library, he forgets that he’s already picked up the federal tax forms, so he makes his way over to pick up a couple more.
On the way home, he taps his tax documents and spouts, “Hey, I think we should get a deduction for my blindness. Can you look into that for me?”
“You aren’t exactly blind, Mr. B. You’ve been reading for the last hour.”
“Well, I know,” he admits, “but there has to be some sort of stepped up percentage, some standard you can find out about, and you know I am blind in the one eye and I have this mascular deterioration too.”
I about lose it with the “mascular deterioration” and am pursing my lips, trying to hide my amusement, when he says, “You know, if I could get another $1,200 off my taxes, you and me could go out to Ted’s Montana Grill!” He wraps his hand in the crook of my elbow and snuggles up.
“Now you’re thinking, Mr. B., but really, you’ve already made my day.”
This week’s events prove there’s nothing more sure than death and taxes as the wheels of life moved ’round us.
My dear man breathed his final breath–to our complete shock. We were not ready to let go. Undulating lost feelings, an empty house, and reflections that he won’t be needing the bananas, oxygen, and pills this week were felt among currents moving side-by-side in streams of wonder recognizing the Lord’s compassion for him and for us as things occurred, and arching overall was a desperate hope of glory.
Mister B, Joe, had managed to pick out every corner of every walnut shell in his New England basket. He’d managed to rock a rut in the new carpet. He’d managed to entertain his hospice caregivers for nine months with stories. He’d outlived all of his siblings and far-flung relatives. We’d managed to capture his DNA and confirm all the suspicions about his Baltic sea coastal father’s origin and the soul of his Polish mama with a Norwegian slice of pie.
Then, he simply disappeared. We saw no vapor, no shudder, heard no heave. He was breathing deeply in sleep, he took six shallow breaths, and suddenly he breathed no more.
The day after, wandering through the hall, I peered into his empty bedroom. “Where are you, Mister B?”
A while later, as my husband and I clomped up the stairs bringing tax boxes from the basement–for our ongoing life, I saw Mister B’s script from his doctor lying on top. Damn. He’ll not get this last pleasure! The irony of it, although his tax deduction came through, finally. I muse, my chest tightens, and I stomp on the top step because Joe can’t enjoy this poetry having simultaneously shaken hands with death.
In fact, the only time I ever knew Joe to stomp his own foot was the night before he died. The pain in his chest was “biting” he said. “Biting” just like his mother’s description of her lung cancer to him the last time he saw her. Throwing out his groans through the house, his howls, his stomps, and finally, his whimpers broke our hearts. We called the hospice repeatedly and received directions for morphine. And, finally, he slept snoring roundly.
The thing is, so many beautiful things occur between birth, taxes, and death.
Joe’s fortitude happened.
“Old age isn’t for the faint of heart,” he’d say. Indefatigable, Mister B found patience for the long hours of silence which deafness handed to him, meekness at his failing strength to stand and walk. Interest in the many varieties of soup he downed when his esophagus stopped working. “Why is this happening? Why can’t the doctor fix it? What kind of credentials makes her a doctor?” Then, acceptance.
His humor shined with polish.
When he needed a handy cherry-red walker near the end, he often grinned grasping the handles toot-tooting like a childish train engineer. He mostly kept his own counsel and his own secrets. Only what benefited his audience escaped his lips. He’d launch into some political opinion, then, “Why do I care? It won’t matter to me. The world is your oyster now.” And, “thank you”, “I’m so lucky”, and “I appreciate ya” up to his last night. Sometimes he’d list the accolades of his doting valet of a son to me. “I couldn’t have done any better,” he’d say. Other times he’d wonder if my husband cared that he was dating me or that I had two husbands.
He was still curious about things he thought he saw or heard, and those conversations could become sheer fantasy of reason or extreme frustrations trying to explain to him that his experience was not logical.
He started uumming over his food and singing.
Patience and humility happened.
His itching and face cancers reminded me of the misery of Job covered in boils. We’d slather Mister B’s head and torso with medicated cream.
Sacred respect happened.
He stopped mocking our dinner prayers and bowed his head every evening, closing his eyes, respectfully. I ached to know it was more than that, but I never will this side of the resurrection. Many times he thought he had to get up to go to work. It was only right that he should work and share the household burden. Maybe he could get some kind of job…
If you’re one who’s feeling the pinch of a parent’s age and what that might mean, if you’re curious about how a family could learn to love again, and if you’d at least like to consider the value of caring for your elderly parent, I hope you’ll pick up our memoir, MISTER B: LIVING WITH A 98-YEAR-OLD ROCKET SCIENTIST. I was a most resistant upwardly mobile child, and I was wooed.
It does take two. Both sides had to budge. Both sides had to be open to learn respect. He led the way by deferring to us, “You kids take this over. Why do I need it? I’ve lived my life.” Or, “You decide. I trust you.”
My husband says his father had become someone he’d never known prior to these final years. Tears have rolled wetting his face many times this week. “Thank you, Dad, for loving me, for teaching me how to live this life.” These were his last intimate words to his father.
But if it’s true that the amount of tears shed relates to the amount of love you hold in your heart for one who’s passed, it’s also true that living in the wonder of Mister B’s company, I became a vastly different person during these past six and a half years.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)
Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5: 17-19)
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Math, accuracy, and facts are intrinsic to a good long life. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 25:15)
If I were stranded on a remote island in the middle of the deep blue sea and given only two choices on which to survive – words or numbers – I’d choose words.
Words can paint poetry.
Words sail over an aching heart, whispering strength.
Words bolster up the discouraged; they call armies into battle.
Words inside of prayers have the power to storm the very gates of heaven.
Words form apologies, mend fences, bring loved ones back into the fold.
Words, words, words.
I’ll call my little dot in the sea The Island of Poems.
Yeah, not so much.
Unless, of course, you are a numbers person. If you’re a numbers person, then you would be in your zen, surrounded by facts and figures, numbers and percentages.
That island is called The Island of Numbers.
I think you Island of Numbers dwellers are amazing and a little bit mysterious. Because, why you’d want to crunch numbers all day – particularly, somebody else’s numbers – is beyond my scope of imagination.
But I’m so glad you belong on that island, because we, the taxpayers, need you.
We need you to rescue us from our fear of numbers.
And our fear of the Unknown.
This past year, a new thing was launched–a thing called the Internet Sales Tax, and honestly, it’s got me a little wigged out. Consumers don’t think they need poetry and books the way they need technology, clothing and appliances. When authors and poets make so little on a book as it is, I find it intimidating to navigate the calculations and reports that might be required to justify what I already know to be a valid, consumable necessity.
It feels counter-intuitive, like showing up for battle unarmed.
We authors may as well call it the Poetry Tax.
There was a time, way back, when I warmed up to numbers as potential allies; friends, even.
It was in college, during a class in Math 101. The professor said it this way: “A math equation is beautiful, in the same way, a poem is beautiful.”
He had me at poetry. I leaned forward. I started taking notes.
All because of his many references to words, I passed that course and lived to tell about it. I remember in my notebook, I started lining up numbers in stanzas, or sometimes in free verse. The affinity to words actually helped me form an alliance with a required math course.
Numbers aren’t so scary when they flow like a well-metered poem.