Monday, March 22, 2010

Until You Hear the Music

Now that I am happily and gratefully retired from the practice of law, I have much more time to spend doing enjoyable things that I previously could not do. These days my life is filled with woodworking (you can never be good enough), swimming (you can never be fast enough), and playing music on my guitar (you can always improve). I have also been able to spend much time with the love of my life, the Lynne, who has never been anything other than a delight.

We were driving somewhere the other day, listening to a book-on-tape by one of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke. He writes a lot like Robert Penn Warren, who writes, not so much prose, as he does poetry. Lynne almost instantly commented that Burke's writing was wonderful. She had not listened to more than two minutes before making her learned pronouncement. The fact that Burke was describing a particularly grisly murder made her assessment even more surprising to me as this is not her usual genre.

These days, I have been able to spend much more time reading. At any particular time, I am reading at least four or five books. Which one I choose to read at any given time is based on nothing more than my mood at the moment. I try to spend time in bookstores because that is where the books are and you just never know what interesting book is going to reach out and grab you.

I was browsing in an Indianapolis bookstore a few weeks ago when I came upon a book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, written by Pastor Don Piper. He had been involved in a horrific automobile accident. He was thrown from the car. Paramedics found him a distance from the crash site. Emergency personnel thought he was dead. They slid him into a body bag and deposited him in the morgue where he remained sometime before regaining consciousness.

We have all heard stories like this before, of near death experiences. Such stories are usually accompanied by the narrator remembering that he saw a light and/or that he floated in a state of serene peace. Often, the teller claims that he saw people who had previously died, greeting him.

I am not knocking these stories or the tellers. How can I argue with what they say they experienced?

However, the pastor tells a similar story with a fascinating addition. He, also saw a bright light and people he knew that had previously died. We have all heard such tales. But what he said next was what got me.

He said he heard music. Music that was indescribable. He said it was like it came from the universe. It was ethereal. It was unlike anything he had ever heard. And it enveloped him completely. He said it was as if he was a part of the sound and that it went through him and around him and washed over him like water. He described it as similar to hearing rolling thunder, but continuously, not just a few claps.

I told Lynne about what I had read. She has always had an open mind and is insightful about most things. She is also one to cut to the chase immediately. This time was no exception. She simply said that if the pastor was in Heaven, why shouldn't there be music, and glorious music, at that? She then reminded me that the Bible talks about music in Heaven, which features an eternal choir. (Personally, I would prefer a kind of angelic Jimmy Page playing heavenly riffs on a Gibson Les Paul. The guitar's namesake, Les Paul, I'm sure, is already playing.)

That night as Lynne and I cuddled up with each other, as we do every night, I told her I loved her and appreciated her sticking around during my illness. She responded by telling me that she loved me and that "you just never know, maybe the Lord will let you beat this." And the she said that she would be with me until I heard the music. What a gift she is!

One of James Lee Burke's characters is an alcoholic detective named Dave Robacheaux. One of the best lines Burke ever gave to the character was when Dave says of his wife (and probably true of all wives) that "deep down he knew that he was not worthy of her." Absolutely, 100 percent true.

Mike out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Expiration Dates

We’ve both reached that age when overnight travel means making sure we have all the meds. The first time I lined up the little brown cylindricals, it nudged, again, that we are not the spring chickens we once were. (You know, we Baby Boomers like to live in denial.) Pharmaceuticals enhance and lengthen our lives so it’s all good: except the reminder of a time when we needed nothing but an occasional vitamin.

We even bought contrasting week-long pill containers (purple for me; aqua for Mike) so I can fill them and forget about them. There’s a big (BIG) initial on each compartment so you can take what you should when you should, as long as you couple your dosage at another daily activity, like breakfast. If that becomes habit, then when fog brain creeps in and you wonder, “Did I take my pills?” you can recheck that initial. If the compartment is empty, you can generally assume you took your medications. Unless and until you start getting your days confused. I believe THAT’S when you hire help (remind me!) or move into one of those nice places where someone ELSE will help you remember.

As I am currently living the more habitual life, I fill the pill boxes for both of us each on Sunday and, once a month, I drive to Walgreens (NOT CVS --- ask me sometime) to get our rather large, next supply.

So, as I was checking out the containers, I spied what was inevitable. “Refills until 4/20/10” This particular med should discourage a return of the silver-dollar-sized kidney stone that initially sent us to the doctor last February. When we began refilling it, we checked the expiration date and sadly noted that we would not need to get it renewed.

But as it happens, I will call the doctor next week to get it renewed. What a happy call that will be. At both ends.

Busy people are planners. Calendars, day planners, and, I’ve heard, those smart phones, keep us on time today and help us see what’s ahead tomorrow, next week, next month. That kind of planning becomes habitual, almost without thought.

When the doctor tells you that your days are numbered (yes, we’re ALL going to die sometime. They LOVE to say this.), marking down future activities becomes an act of futility. A waste of ink. And reminders that most people DO plan become little knife jabs to the heart.

Previews for a new movie. “December 2009” “Spring 2010” Expired prescriptions. Expiration dates on credit cards.

Last spring, when Mike was really quite weak, recuperating from his surgery, we we going to drive to Fort Knox to see our nephew graduate from basic training. I went to the BMV to get a handicap parking permit. The nice lady, who knew Mike, handed it to me. It expires in 2013. I remember looking at her; she was tearing up; I grimaced at the expiration date. Turns out, there was no handicapped parking spots (imagine) and we walked the distance. It was fine.

We had joked that, along with all the pills, the time had come to sell the ski boat and get a pontoon. Then illness and a bleak prognosis moved that out of thought.

There was the hub’s concern that we ‘not waste money’ on things like magazine subscriptions or the XM Radio renewal or his membership at various organizations.
There were just a few lingering law matters that he would finish from home and then be done.

Slowly, we are turning back toward life. YMCA membership: renewed. XM Radio: renewed. Road and Track, Fine Woodworking, Wooden Boating, Esquire, Rolling Stone: renewed.

Although he sold his plane, last week Mike received his new medical clearance that will permit him to get his pilot’s license again. Although he got rid of most of the guitars, new ones keep appearing. “Loaners,” they tell me. Although he told me he’d never get back to Deal’s Gap (Tail o the Dragon), we are making the drive in April, trailering a motorcycle. And there’s another trip on tap to visit buddies in Fort Lauderdale.

Last week, we mailed a check to Indianapolis to change his profession status from inactive to active.

We sold the jet ski; we have a buyer for the ski boat. We’ve picked out that pontoon. Manufacturers, keen to let Baby Boomers live in denial, are making them a little “less codger,” or dare I say (?), cooler.

Today, a lovely gift of a spring day, we are headed to Indianapolis to see Avatar 3D in IMAX. Yes, we’ve read the reviews. But no matter, this should be the best way to view the movie and, you know what? We made it past Christmas 2009.

Fighting my reticence to ask God for specifics, a spiritual path that I’m traveling, I have asked Him to give my husband another fantastic summer which will be more time at the lake, Mike’s view of almost-heaven. We talk often about Heaven and, yes, we know, that it will be too wonderful for words. But, for God’s reasons, He’s given us this incredible gift of more time together and we are both stretching out to embrace it.

Thank you, our friends, as you remember us to Our Father. Please know that, right now, we are living within the special protection of His Arms.

Upcoming in April will be more tests and we will keep you posted. Right now, today, join us in thanking the Creator of all for this glorious day and all it affords.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Busy Bees

Everyone who writes -- novel, poem, blog, grocery list -- finds what works for him or her, from the idea to whatever the final form becomes.

When I was home, really home last fall, it was not so hard to tap out a writing rhythm. It came back to me from my columnist days when I would scrawl some notes, a rough outline really, and then carve out an hour to draft it, packing flesh to the skeleton. Then, a brief time away gave me fresh eyes and I could edit, refine, cut and paste, polish to its finish. With heavy decisions and thoughts weighing me down, writing became the release, the way I could transform all the jumbled thoughts into a concrete object, something that could be held, read, analyzed, and placed on the 'done' spool.

My return to the classroom saps my mental energy, as it should since people pay for me to motivate their children, making it harder to use the writing process that works best for me. Don't misunderstand: I am blessed beyond words to be able to teach a subject I love and spend time with the mostly delightful 17-year-olds that swarm around me. But, it leaves less unused brain space, that cubby where I store ideas.

I have, right now, three blog starts, in bone form, in a little pocket notebook that I carry around. (This writer has found that the 4 x 6 spirals with the little pockets inside are her favorite.) I will find some uninterupted time, soon, to bring those notes into something pleasing. But for now, mindful that you, our friends, pray for us and check regularly, I want to report that right now, we are fine, we are having a ball. Although a dark cloud hovers, we both keep busy to push it away.

In my literature classes, right now we are finishing The Scarlet Letter, my favorite book and a difficult read for most of my students. I tell them they are pressing iron (weight training metaphor) when they push themselves through Hawthorne's haunting, ironic prose. In my other classes, my students are reading Having Our Say, an autobiography of the Delany sisters, Black women born at the end of the 19th century, who lived to be 105 and 107 and so lived through amazing events in their lives. They are funny, biting in their criticism, and not the least worried about political correctness.

The grading period ends next week. Imagine, we have half way through the semester! And as that part closes, I hope to have some writing time before we begin again.

Mike is teaching his class, Business Law, at Ivy Tech. He enjoys it and has seen his students' writing improve, which is one of those wonderful by-products of teaching.
And, of course, he continues to make furniture. He decided to give the OAK a rest and moved into walnut.

Below is the sofa table he made for the lake cottage.

Early in its formation, he asked my input as he found a piece of wood that has a white streak through the dark. Did I think he should use it? I said, "Absolutely." It gives the piece distinction beyond the obvious craftsmanship.

Also, we have two new tables in the kitchen area, also made of mahogony. One replaces another Mike piece, one from his early efforts, on which we placed our telephone. The former was a tad too big for the space and so, over the course of, oh, 22 years, we've ALL bumped into the corner. In summer, we could compare our thigh bruises.

The new one fits, has a shelf and a drawer, and has, I believe, the most beautiful wood grain of anything he's made. It's so perfect, it almost doesn't look real.

Then, in a space across the room, between two doors, Mike made another table, specifically to declutter the place where we sit to eat.

Do all families have a DUMP SPACE -- you know, dump the books, the mail, the random stuff from the day...? Well, we did but no more. Most of the stuff is gone and what IS necessary is now housed in this second desk.

So, you see, we are busy here. Please continue to remember us in prayer. God is blessing us every day with every day.