Renewal

On days when sun warms my shoulders and tiny green leaves push aside matted brown ones, the idea of spring’s renewal buoys me. 

I was raised Catholic and the celebration of Easter and spring have always been linked. But I’ve drifted away from the Catholic Church. The Easter rituals of my youth—the stations of the cross, Easter vigil, joyfully meeting the day in a new dress, hat, gloves and shiny shoes—are no longer relevant to me. 

Easter is meant to be about immortality. Rebirth. But what does Easter mean to me now? I have more years behind me than ahead of me. The idea of rebirth in an afterlife should be coming into sharper focus, but isn’t.

Without the religious underpinnings, Easter feels odd. But Easter is still about gathering my family, enjoying a good meal, hope, and renewal.

The midwestern world is coming alive again after a long harsh winter. That’s reason to celebrate. My life and nature go on with their seasons. 

My Sixties Echo My Twenties

Volunteering, embracing new ventures, and self-learning described my twenties. I ran marathons, took week-long bike trips with Jim Klobuchar (Jaunt with Jim), and was flooded with personal insights. Not long before this, I was a two pack a day smoker, didn’t own a bike, and hadn’t yet begun any inner work.

Springing into my twenties, I embodied two mottos: “Say Yes! to everything if it isn’t illegal or dangerous,” and “Don’t let fear stop me from doing things alone.” Do it anyway. Outer and inner work was simultaneous. I was desperate to understand myself. I wanted to be my own wise person. Seek my own counsel. Only then could I really be free to live my best life.

I rollerbladed marathons with a nephew. Volunteered at a week-long Christmas pageant, dressed as a Shepherd, herding live sheep. Often, I cat, and house sat for others while they were on vacation. After many attempts, I quit smoking.

Going it alone opened my world to many possibilities. If I wanted to do something, I could do it. I didn’t know anyone on my initial ‘Jaunt with Jim’ bike trip. By week’s end, I had lifelong friends.

A sense of déjà vu came over me the last week of March when I volunteered to be a Brand Ambassador for the Title IX Celebration at the Mall of America. There were eight days of family-friendly activities, games, and performances to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

I stood under the basket on the Fastenal Sport Court in the Rotunda shagging balls for the free throw contest.

I still hadn’t learned. Just like I biked over a rumble strip on my inaugural bike trip, spilling out, scraping my arms and legs, I was hit twice in the face with a basketball before I determined that positioning myself under the hoop was best left for others. I came home with black eyes.

My next volunteer assignment was the selfie booth. That might have been a mistake on the organizers’ part. The only person taking selfies was me. I can still entertain myself. That hasn’t changed one bit.

A familiar fear came over me when I started strength training. Crystel helped me over the hump and accompanied me on my first BodyPump group training at the YMCA. Sometimes, it’s good to have a friend. After one group session, I realized that my weights were not evenly placed on my barbell. No wonder I was unbalanced during the class with one end going up and coming down lopsided. I thought something was off.

Teresa, Crystel, and I volunteering concessions at Twins game.

Last week I started volunteering at Achieving Dreams. The program is entirely comprised of volunteers. All proceeds are focused on our mission to help families afford meaningful and positive experiences in organized activities and education. Jody, Crystel and I, along with friends are donating our time to fundraise for Crystel and others’ educational expenses.

How much time do I have left in this life? 10 years, 15? A day?

What’s next? Perhaps, biking across Iowa on my electric bike, grey hair askew, steering away from rumble strips, lifting my legs up when I go through puddles.

I’ll figure it out. I’m my own best counsel. I’m living my best life.

In Any Way You Can

“The war. What is more opposite to music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people…Our parents are happy to wake up in the morning in bomb shelters—but alive. Our loved ones don’t know if we will be together again. The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence….Fill the silence with your music. Fill it today to tell our story. Tell the truth about this war on your social networks, on TV. Support us, in any way you can. Any – but not silence. And then peace will come.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Grammy Awards Speech

A hand in its winter glove. Shoes and ankles poking from the earth. Blocks of a modern city reduced to rubble. Couples saying good-bye. Mothers, eyes devoid of emotion, carrying babies and leading tiny children wearing bright snowsuits across miles of empty streets. Old women crying.

Baby Boomers grew up reading about WW II and the Korean conflict because fathers, uncles, or grandfathers would not talk about what their experience. Pictures from the concentration camps and what we were taught was so vivid, I thought Anne Frank was a contemporary. Evening news in the 1960s and 1970s carried pictures of body bags, scorched lands, a young girl running naked through chemical-filled air in Vietnam. While the first wave of Boomer males received draft numbers and one-way tickets to Vietnam, many of their generation took to the streets to demand no more war.

But men in power can’t seem to walk away from using weapons and terror to grab a piece of land, access to a bit more wealth, deny the right to life for people from different nationalities or faith. Their march of destruction and the death of innocent fellow humans screams evil. For the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, today’s television triggers memories of skeletal survivors walking Europe’s burned fields, of staggering death tolls on Pacific islands, a mushroom cloud over Japan, young vets missing limbs. I had not heard the language of genocide until watching interviews with Russian citizens who spoke about the need to wipe Ukraine and its people off the earth. I cannot forget it.

As regular people, we are played by the intellectual powers of all sides. Russia probably claims success for each person frightened by images from their brutality in Ukraine.  Our government probably balances the need to keep Ukraine’s misery in citizens’ minds while controlling fear. No matter who manipulates the message, the Ukrainians own it in their daily fight for freedom. 

On Giving

Recently, I became acquainted with a young Afghan refugee who has been resettled in the US. She’d only been in the US a few days when I met her on a bitterly cold day in February. I had no idea what she might have or need, so I brought a scarf and warm mittens, some toiletries, tea and snacks. The resettlement agency had given her appropriate winter clothes. Within a few weeks they’d found an apartment for her and given her basic furnishings.

Despite our age difference (she’s 24 and I’m in my sixties), we got on well. She had worked with the US embassy and her English is good. I’ve tutored immigrants learning English for years and am aware of some common cultural disconnects. So much of teaching English involves explaining American history and culture as well as grammar and punctuation. My intention is to be a friend, someone she can trust with questions about confusing customs.

When I mentioned meeting her, a number of women I knew immediately asked what household items she might need. Like me, they’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years and would be happy to give it to someone who can use it. We all have so much. We’d never miss an extra end table, coffeepot, or winter coat. I had the same impulse, but thought I’d wait to see what she wanted and needed. 

Her apartment’s furnishings seem sparse by American standards, but she was delighted by her things. She’s accustomed to sharing the kitchen with several families and told me she’s never had so many clothes. I recalibrated my instinct to offer her a bunch of stuff. Should I push my aesthetic on her? Maybe she prefers simplicity. Would the donations from my friends and me make her feel inadequate or signal that she seems poor by American standards? 

I’m aware I often overthink things. Maybe she’d love to have more for her apartment. The simple generous reaction friends have had—how can I help—is a good one. Why wouldn’t we help when we have so much? Shouldn’t we?

Yet I know the dynamic between givers and receivers can feel unbalanced. Uncomfortable for the recipient. I’ve already seen my new friend’s deep sense of hospitality. When I visited her and another Afghan family she’s friends with, they insisted on serving me a full meal. Although I wasn’t hungry, I knew it would be rude to refuse, so I ate with them. Similarly, when I gave her the handful of things culled from my closet and kitchen at our first meeting, she gave me a new pair of earrings she had, something I suspect she’d bought for herself.

I try to think how I’d feel if the roles were reversed. Would I simply be grateful, because I needed things and someone cared enough to help? Or would I feel awkward about the charity? In time would my pride be pricked so I became resentful? Trying to be sensitive, not stingy is confusing.

Unexpected Joy

Trips are an adventure.

I plan. I research.

And yet…anything could happen. In the not knowing moments, the unplanned, I feel the most alive.

I often don’t do enough research to understand that I should be afraid. Such as driving to Whitefish, Montana for a family Christmas ski holiday with friends. Whiteout conditions forced us to spend extra days in a hotel. There was dog sledding, snowmobile driving, and skiing Whitefish Mountain. Those activities seemed tame. Checking off the boxes. The drive itself was the adventure. Funniest was the holiday mix-up where I didn’t receive a gift. Names had been drawn. Presents packed for the trip. Obviously, someone forgot they had my name and thought they had someone else. Life is funny like that sometimes. Hands you an unexpected letdown and how will you respond? For me, an opportunity to be gracious and see the humor in the unexpected all while moving through a range of emotions.

Our family has made many trips to Guatemala. I planned the paintball outing in the mountains but not the deep circular bruise in the middle of my forehead. I forgot to research protective gear and the speed of paintballs. On this same trip, to disembark from a boat in a squall, I threw myself on a swaying homemade dock in the pelting rain when the a lancha got near. That’s how you arrive in port in a secluded Mayan village. I’ll never forget that. I’ll also remember my son reaching his hand out time and time again to help me climb the mountain above Santa Cruz La Laguna to reach the next village. He became a man that day, looking after his mother.

I plan. I research. Yet, sometimes, I’m not even aware of the task I’m taking on. I just go forth. Bringing my family with me.

Backing our rented 32 ft. RV into the driveway after arriving home from the Grand Canyon, I thought to myself, “What chutzpah Jody and I have.” To think we could rent an RV and drive it to the Grand Canyon having never driven anything bigger than an SUV. This feeling of triumph trumped the planned Grand Canyon helicopter tour and mule trip down the canyon.

I certainly didn’t research the driving fear factor on our trip to Mount Rainier National Park and Crystal Mountain Resort. The drive required us to drive at a height of 6,681 ft. with no guardrails. While driving, I came to view our RV as a weapon that could kill us all with one wrong move. Later, one of our dogs tumbled down a cliff. This was unplanned. When we figured out he was going after rocks that were being kicked off the hiking path, we walked more carefully.

Our five-week stay in Florida brought me unexpected deep joy. When I was in Tonga in the South Pacific for the Peace Corps, the ocean scared me. I couldn’t figure out how that tiny island stayed afloat. I was familiar with the solid earth of Wisconsin cornfields. I never did get comfortable in Tonga. But in Florida, I stared for hours at the ocean, losing myself in the sound and strength of the water.

Our family has an upcoming trip to Yellowstone and to Maui.

I’ll research. I’ll plan.

It’s the unexpected that will touch me.

Peace Corps Volunteer. Tonga, South Pacific