Whist With the Ladies

Every week I play whist with the Ladies. It started in February of the winter before last. The one where even hardy New Englanders nearly lost it. So much snow, such bitter cold. But an afternoon of whist, we discovered, soothes even the most weary of souls and so every week we met to play, forgetting, for a little time, that there was five feet of snow piled up and that the temperature would go down (again) to minus twenty that night.

Now it’s spring and the leaves are that fresh green that is not yet tired of being green, the birds are calling out their territory, and we play our weekly whist with the doors and windows open.

The Ladies are not young; they have middle-aged children and grown grandchildren and often the conversation as we eat our treat before the game begins is about doctor’s visits or who died. This is not as grim as it sounds, because the Ladies have a solid and sensible cognition of living: things happen, you deal with it, and look for the good.

Recently, I was talking on the phone to one of the Ladies and complaining about something that threw off my carefully prepared schedule. On I went about the list I had made—a list I was proud of—for each day’s activities that now had to be all changed because of this one thing. She listened, making the occasional sympathetic noise. Then she told me about her day. “I went to the funeral today of a friend of mine.”

A pause.

“So things are not as bad as they could be.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She laughed too. It was the perfect antidote to my vexation.

Vexing things are a part of life; death is a part of life. And really, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’ve got when you’ve got it, which in my case, most certainly includes whist with the Ladies.

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What’s at Stake

This creature, Trump, has a following and I, along with millions of others, struggle to understand why.

This is what I have come up with:

I think about Pope Francis and the thing that he exhibits so strongly—compassion. Having compassion means you’ve suffered some or more than some and you’ve come out the other side with a sense of humility. Because you understand what suffering is and how it forges bonds with the rest of humanity–because  everyone suffers.

Compassion is a state of empathy. By developing compassion, you acknowledge the interconnectedness of all beings.

Non-compassion, or hate in the general vernacular, is the opposite of interconnectedness. It always arises from fear. Always. And fear is the state of feeling oneself alone, powerless, not connected. It is a primal emotion and it is part of our reptilian brain, the one that controls our fight or flight responses, our heartbeat, our breaths—the basic responses that keep us alive.

Our frontal cortex is our reasoning brain and the reason we can develop other traits beyond simply survival—like compassion. Everyone with a frontal cortex has the capacity to develop compassion, but it is a trait that will wither without nourishment.

When life becomes suffering, as it inevitably does at times, ask yourself: do you strive to learn from that suffering, thereby developing compassion and connectedness with others, or do you stay mucked about in the primal instinct of fear—blaming others and outside situations for your suffering?

Compassion unifies; fear divides. That’s pretty much it.

Descended from Wolves

My dog, Buddy, is a Maltese. It’s an ancient breed—two thousand years old. And since the Maltese wasn’t bred for anything but to be a cute companion, that’s two thousand years of lapdog-ness. In a dog-like devotion to please, he fails utterly. He doesn’t care one whit whether you approve of him or not. He is also not keen on taking walks or obeying. He’s kind of like a cat, actually. He is very cute, though.

One day, I went for a hike in the woods and I took Buddy. Once we were away from the road and in the woods, I took his leash off and he seemed puzzled.

“Okay, go run along the trail like a dog,” I told him.

He looked at me as if to say, “What part of ‘lap dog’ are you not understanding?”

I began hiking along the trail. Buddy followed, reluctantly. Then he started to get the gist of it. Oh! Sniff at stuff! Eat deer poop! And that’s when Buddy, ancient breed of luxury, began to let his wolf DNA filter through.

“Yes!” I told him, “you are descended from wolves!”

Now that he’s figured it out, Buddy loves to hike. He gallivants along the trail ahead of me. He sticks his little white head into crevices to scare chipmunks. He laps water from streams when he is thirsty. He hops from rock to rock with insouciance. And once, forded icy cold water up to his chest. He comes alive in the trying of new things.

Often I think we get too comfortable staying within the parameters of what we think are our boundaries—those things we think are our reality. But it’s all a big catch 22.

“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” David Bohm, physicist.

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The Weekend That Wasn’t

This past summer, I invited some good friends up. They have been regular visitors for the last six years and I looked forward to seeing them. Since we live far from the coast, fresh seafood is a luxury and they usually bring a big hunk of salmon that we cook on the grill. They also bring four or so bottles of good red wine. It is an agreeable confluence of good food, good friends, good conversation and fierce croquet—a not untypical summer get-together. But there was one thing about this weekend that was as rare as a sighting of a snow leopard.

The weekend went completely undocumented.

There were no photos taken and posted on Facebook to underscore to “friends” that we are having such a good, good time; no tweets to same. Nothing survived of this weekend but our personal memories, and alas, I realize now, this blog post. Which is a darn shame, but I am trying to make a point.

After my friends left, when I realized that there was no residue of the weekend except what I remembered, I felt a rush of joy. An undocumented weekend! No one else knew about it! It felt like discovering Machu Picchu and then just letting it be.

It okay, nay, it is most excellent to keep things to yourself. To hold a memory close, like the jewel that it is. To take it out and look at it every now and then and remember those golden days that belong to only you and the people you experienced them with.

Yes, sharing experiences on the World Wide Web is fine—just understand that you don’t have to. A memory solely in your heart is just as valid as the affirmation of it on social media.

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Duck Duck Goose

The summer birds are starting to arrive and they’ve got one thing on their mind; raising a family—and that means staking out territory. The canada geese and the mallards arrive first. In fact, in years past, Mister and Missus Goose have arrived when the pond was still frozen over. I have watched Mister Goose carefully stepping along the ice toward the nesting spot that he had no doubt been regaling about to the missus all winter. She, for her part, seemed to be saying with each deliberate irritated step, “Another fine idea you’ve got, Mr. Goose.”

This year the geese and the ducks decided to swap nesting sites. The geese are now nesting in the tiny island where the ducks nested last year, and the ducks are in the slightly bigger island. I tell them it probably won’t end well, no matter what. There’s a mink that’s savvy to both nesting spots.

But be that as it may, they’re going ahead with it. I know this because I see the husbands hanging out together in the pond—one duck, one goose floating near each other. The missus’s leave the nests only once a day for a small bit. They eat, they splash around, and then it’s back to incubating. The husbands continue their floating and their fraternity. It’s all very archetypal—the female nurtures, the male protects.

If another goose should show up, Mister Goose lets him know in no uncertain terms with a great deal of honking, that this pond is taken. However, he doesn’t do this with the smaller waterfowl. The mallard male seems to be a friend and there’s a pie-billed grebe in the pond that dives to eat fish. I often see it three or four feet from the feeding goose, diving with gusto, no doubt because the dabbling goose stirs up all sorts of things.

It’s an elaborate dance of harmony that seems to be how nature operates. And watching it, I wonder, what happened to our species?

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Peeves: Three A words for the first of April

Absolutely.

How many times have you heard someone say “absolutely” when what they really mean is “yes” or “maybe” or even “no.” Absolutely has become the “I only have the tiniest clue, but prevarication or anything less than complete confidence is regarded as weakness so I am using this word.” In our one-upmanship culture, hesitation or thoughtfulness is considered a sign of weakness, apparently.

Awesome.

A picture of your lunch on Facebook is not awesome. Awesome really means something extremely impressive, whether of the apprehensive or inspiring variety. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is awesome, actually.

Amazing.

Means to be filled with astonishment. I’m not astonished that easily, so my days are not filled with amazing events. Maybe yours are. Or maybe you’d be more accurate to use, in its place, the British “quite”—that polite neutral dismissal, alas.

I think it’s time to be amazed and awed by the layers of nuance in language and the close attention demanded to select just the right word. And to that end, I think this photo is Adorable.

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Thick and Thin

Yesterday I decided to make my version of Thai noodles and so I brought out the old Cuisinart food processor, remembering as I did so, the woman who gave it to me. Lisa and Nick are my husband’s oldest friends—really his mentors and surrogate parents. They decided to move north after retirement and she, an enthusiastic cook, wanted to start fresh with pots and pans and such in her new kitchen. So she gave me some of her old stuff.

At that time I had a view of meal creation that was less about creation and more about check-off-the-box. I had lived on a farm where I grew most of my food, meat included, and the growing and processing of it took up most of my time outside of my going-to-work job.

My favorite cookbook then was a Mennonite cookbook and it was all about large quantities and efficiency. I would prep ingredients for the week on Sunday and stick them in the freezer. When I got home from work (a fifty mile each way commute) I would look at the schedule (yes, a schedule!) on the refrigerator, (“Monday, chicken casserole, Tuesday: veggie medley, etc.) pull out the appropriate packages from the freezer and assemble it.

But life goes on and the farm and my life on it became history, and now here was Lisa, giving me some really nice kitchen things. There was the Cuisinart, copper saucepans, and Le Creuset skillets. I didn’t know how wonderful these things were at the time, being more familiar with meat grinders and such. But over the years, as I continue to use these substantial, solid kitchen tools—the very antithesis of planned obsolescence—I marvel both at Lisa’s generosity and at her intuition in knowing that someday I would expand my creativity into cooking.

There are gifts that are brief moments of thought, and gifts that are a fulfillment of an obligation, and then there are the gifts that abide through time and thick-and-thin, and enduring friendship is the best of those.

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