To hear a bird song

I’ve been watching a couple of Eastern Bluebirds in my yard since spring.  Against the backdrop of my neighbor’s barn, they’ve built their home inside a rustic gray bird house nailed against an ancient power pole.  I watched as they worked days and days on end bringing back scraps of bark and twigs and string.  I witnessed their war with a Mockingbird who insisted he was moving in too.  The smaller blue birds won through tenacity alone.  I waited patiently hoping to see evidence of a new family for the two.  The multitude of bugs they carried in through the perfectly sized hole in the front of their house was surely for feeding chicks.  I watched and waited content in the cool mornings to sit and listen to the Bluebirds and their hundred bird choir fill the morning with song.

My folks came for a visit late last spring and we sat on the porch as usual drinking our coffee and watching the Bluebirds.  I asked my dad how many birds he thought were singing at once and he replied, “Hundreds.”  My mom looked up from her phone and asked, “You can hear birds singing?”  My heart sank.  Hundreds of birds were filling the morning air with sound and my mom couldn’t hear a single one.  We had known for some time that Mom was struggling with her hearing.  There were misunderstandings and requests for repetition of phrases which she would repeat back incorrectly and we would rephrase thinking she didn’t understand.  But it was shocking to realize that she was missing something as significant to me as bird song.  She was living in a different world than me, one with no bird sounds and it made me sad.  She promised to look into a hearing aid as soon as she returned home.

The Bluebirds showed up less and less as summer turned hot and dry.  Their baby birds never revealed themselves while I was on watch.  Dad had his hip replaced and Mom had her final surgery after fighting cancer for years and surviving.  Grandma turned 90 while the whole town showed up to celebrate and Mom got a hearing aid.

Mom and Dad came back for a visit over the fourth of July and the Bluebirds returned too.  We sat on the porch together again, though the morning breeze was much hotter, and watched as the Bluebirds repaired their nest.  In and out of that little hole they came and went and we pondered a second batch of chicks.

It’s amazing the things we take for granted.  To know I can sit on the same porch with my mom and have such an entirely different experience in the same moment.  My world full of song, her’s nearly silent.  Mom feels good.  She’s happy now, and she can hear the birds sing.

“Grant that we may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”           ~ St. Francis of Assisi

Road Block Ahead

Photo by Jacob Yager

Have you ever been cruising along on a pleasant little road trip with the top down, wind in your hair, enjoying the music on the radio when you crest a hill to find traffic at an abrupt stop?  You hit the brakes, put it in neutral and sit.  Eventually, the open top is an encumbrance, unfiltered access to the baking sun.  The former breeze is now still, tainted with heat radiating up from the pavement and laced with the scent of burning oil and diesel.  The radio plays nothing but white noise due to the gigantic cell tower off to the right and you’re pretty sure those three buzzards are doing a regular fly by over your car.  You’ve hit a roadblock and your pleasant day has turned sour.  That road trip is where I’ve been.

            In reality, my girlfriend and I just got back from a 1,500 mile round trip adventure to Iowa City for a graduation party.  The traffic was light, the weather was nice and except for stops at three separate fast-food joints, all at different exits, to placate the 5 kids in the back, it was a good trip.  The road block I experienced was in my mind.

            It’s happened before.  I skip a day of writing and then two days turn into three, four, and five.  Doubt sets in and I find a million convenient excuses for not picking up a pen.  Then, the bad voice starts talking.  The one who says,

“You’re kidding yourself.  You are not a writer.  You are just wasting time.  Give it up.  Your house would be cleaner and you could get the filing done.  Can you believe you were considering submitting that?  You have nothing interesting to say.  No one cares about your stupid stories.  There are people out there who are real artists.  You don’t belong with them.  Seriously, just give it up.”

And, I start to listen to that voice a little… a lot actually.  Doubt and Sadness take up residence in the back seat and they are needy.  They need a bathroom break and a snack and Sadness is thirsty but we are stuck on the road together with nowhere to go.  But then, out of the blue, the radio starts working and I hear a good song, one with a clever line of lyrics that gets my mind going.  Then, I find a new magazine while waiting in line at Tractor Supply to buy chicken feed and it might make a good market for that barn story I have on the back burner. 

Before you know it, the traffic starts to crawl.  Brake lights flicker and a breeze starts to stir.  We pass the roadblock for now.  There will be another one, up the road, but right now, it feels good to put my foot back on the gas.

Leaving Pleasantville

A little over a week ago, my good friend Amy invited me and our photographer friend Lisa to join her on a road trip.  She wanted us to travel with her along the path she drives to work every day.  She wanted to digitally document the people and areas in need along her daily path to help people understand that we have an opportunity to make a difference right here in our own back yard.  Amy took Lisa’s images, compiled them with a collection she already had, and put them to music resulting in a moving slide show.  You can see it at:!/video/video.php?v=1376934218096&ref=mf.

Following our road trip, I was looking for a writing exercise to get me warmed up to blog and good old Fred White, author of  The Daily Writer challenged me to write in haiku form.  Anyone educated past third grade probably knows that haiku is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines with a syllabic pattern of 5-7-5.  I have no experience beyond high school in writing haiku and I’m no poet, but Fred said to do it so here goes.  My haiku attempt based on Amy’s Humanity Road.

Boys stand chest to chest

Building anger in their eyes

Stare and drive on by

Spray paint marks the wall

Tall brown grass and broken glass

Plywood for windows

Dusk falls on fountain

Lonely man sits on park bench

Pretty girls look on

Nightlife is hopping

Man with sign collects their change

Pass without a glance

Becoming aware

Noting the poor feels empty

Time to take next step


Crossing the Street

Photo by Lisa Weartz

On Tuesday night, my husband and I went on a date.  The Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis was offering a preview of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.  Al spent the day riding a street scrubber in the parking garage at the new JW Marriott currently being built on Washington Street. I settled the kids in after school, put on my dress up clothes and high heels and met him there.  The sun was shining and it was still warm out so we walked the few blocks past the theatre.  It was too early to get discount tickets so we headed down another block to the Rock Bottom Brewery for dinner and drinks.

Anyone who has spent any time in downtown Indianapolis knows the cross walks at the corner of Washington and Illinois, under the floor of the beautiful 7-story glass Artsgarden.  This corner is the job site of resident panhandlers.  I don’t know where they go when they are not on the corner but their faces are familiar so I know most of them are regulars.  As Al and I walk toward Illinois street, I am faced with a dilemma.  Suddenly, I don’t know where to look.  We are about to walk past a man who is sitting on the corner, leaned back against the crossing light pole with a backpack and a sign that says, “Why lie, it’s for beer.”  In the moment, all I know is that as I walk past in my dress-up clothes and high heels, I feel uncomfortable.  I feel conflicted about this man sitting on the street corner.  As we approach, he says, “Hello,” with a nod to my husband who returns the greeting and I feel a stiff, polite but unfeeling tight-lipped smile on my face while my eyes stay focused on the ground.  We pass to cross the street and this man calls out, “Hey Nate!” to the corner dweller opposite him and I see him gesture something out of the corner of my eye.  We keep walking.  An hour and a half later, we cross that street again in the opposite direction, and the guys are gone.

That night in my warm bed, I thought about that guy on the corner.  A flurry of feelings was running through me.  I tried to define what made me uncomfortable in the brief moment our paths crossed that day.  I’m pretty sure that first and foremost, I resented the fact that he was there on my date night, on a sunny spring afternoon during time that my hard-working husband and I set aside for one another.  Recognizing that feeling made me angry at me.  Who I am to feel inconvenienced by a guy on the street corner? Poor me, forced to contemplate homelessness when I was supposed to be having fun…

 Then I thought about that feeling of disconnection between my head and my heart.  My heart almost always tells me to offer assistance, help where I can.  But my head tells me, “Be careful.  Don’t encourage the panhandler.  Giving out money is enabling not helping.”   So, I’m conflicted.  I’m pretty sure that’s what that tight-lipped look on my face was all about.

It makes me sad when I think about all that inner turmoil and conflict.  All that stuff is about me.  All that stuff holds me back and keeps me from connecting with another human being.  Why does it matter if this guy is professional panhandler or not?  He is still a person.  If he says hello, I should look him in the eye.

April 23, 2010

I made my kids go to school today.  They didn’t want to go, and that’s unusual.  Both my boys have discovered that it is easier to just go to school and keep up with the work than to miss a day and have to make it up.  I’ve had to put my foot down in the past to get them to take a sick day when they truly were sick.  They are also socially motivated to go to school, so when they balk it’s cause for concern.

It seems that last year, a high school student made a threat about shooting up the school on April 23, 2010 and a message to that extent was found written on a bathroom wall.  The school investigated and the author of the threat was never found.  Today is the threatened day.

When Jake asked if I would pick him up today at 11:30 so he wouldn’t have to walk from the middle school to the high school for Japanese class, I was surprised.  Jake loves his Japanese class and I couldn’t believe he wanted to miss it.  So, we talked about it and I found out that Jake was having anxiety about the shooting threat and felt he would be vulnerable walking across the street to the high school.  It hadn’t even crossed my mind how that would feel.

The high school is built up on a hill and looks over the property on which the middle school sits.  Of course, if there were a gunman anywhere on the north side of the building, anyone walking from the middle school over would be vulnerable.  This image makes me so sad.  I am sad that my fourteen year old was driven to calculate a point of vulnerability in his daily routine.  I’m sure his exposure to video games and movie footage gave him the knowledge to figure it out, but going to school just shouldn’t conjure those images.

Up until last night, Sean, my high-schooler, hadn’t mentioned the threat.  By late evening, kids were posting concerns and bantering about wrong and right choices for the day on Facebook, so I asked Sean how he felt about it.  He said he was scared to go to school but he hadn’t mentioned it because he figured I would tell him to go anyway.  Well, he was right and I think we will all have a talk after school today about why going to school was the right choice in my opinion, but he also described a jarring image at the root of his fear.  Sean said he was concerned about passing periods because the hallways are so packed full between classes that he feared turning a corner and coming face-to-face with a gun wielding student and having nowhere to run.  Again, I am disturbed that my child has thought this through to this degree.

I am angry that my kids had to summon courage to go to school today.  I am angry that a terrorist put me in the position in which I had to choose whether or not to send my kids to school.  But then I remember that the terrorist is a child.  The person who wrote the words on the wall that marked this day is someone who is hurting.  Even if the words were written as a misguided joke, the person who wrote them is in need. So, this morning when I asked God to give my kids courage and to protect the children of our community, I also made a request for that one.  I asked God to bring that child peace and a sense of belonging so that whatever feelings drove him or her to write those words will be relieved.  I firmly believe it’s wrong to let fear drive our decisions and so I made my kids go to school today.,0,1990266.story

Losing a friend.

Wow, I can’t believe he’s gone.  My good friend Gary Lott made his final exit Monday night.  He was fine one moment and the next, he was gone.  It’s been heart breaking.  His wife Andrea is an amazing, strong woman.  Her openness during her grief has been such a gift to her friends.

Sean’s response upon hearing of Gary’s death was, “He called me, Dude.”  I can hear Gary’s voice in my head saying it.  I hope I never forget the sound.  As Gary and Andrea’s friends gather around her in support I see a pattern.  Together they have built a network of people with all the positive qualities of humanity.  All their friends are loving, passionate, and giving.  Andrea and Hannah have no option but to eventually be ok as they are surrounded by such people.

I’ve been avoiding my blog for the last few days, but it’s time to get back to it and I couldn’t seem to find a way without mentioning Gary.  So there it is.  My tribute to Gary,  “Thanks Dude, for opening up your world to me.  You will be terribly missed.”

Writing for Love’s Sake

I’ve managed to write every morning for about two weeks now.  Today, I am just not feeling it.  I think it’s partly because I have to be out of the house early this morning and partly because I’m in a bummed out state of mind.

Today in The Daily Writer, Fred encourages us to write out of love.  Most of my writing comes from a place of love because I write personal essays inspired by memories.  Fred talks about taking it a step further and using our writing to reach out and take part in the world.  His challenge is to come up with a project about a topic close to our hearts and write in a way that will convey our love to the reader.  His assignment is a call to action to take a stand about something from our community, country or world and write it down out of love. 

Shortly after the 2008 Presidential Election, I wrote about my feelings.  I think it’s time to find that essay and edit it with this assignment in mind.