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I am not normally an exclamation point kind of girl. But I notice that on Facebook they pop up more often than flies at a picnic. It almost seems rude to simply end with a period, as if you were bored, or multi tasking with writing a paper, IMing and checking your ebay listings. 

Speaking of Facebook, there are a whole lot of superlatives. 
"My kids are the absolute best!!!"
"This five star entree was deeeelicious!!!"
"This video will totally make you cry!!!!"
It's exhausting.
If I am honest, my own life hovers around ordinary most of the time. If I were to calculate the moments of excellence amidst the commonplace it would be less than one percent, which mathematically speaking is insignificant. 
The twins and I have a bowl of mint chocolate chip with a peanut butter cup on top.
The chicks cheep in chorus, spill their scratch and get more feathers. 
John tells me about his next sermon topic. 
Zack has cereal and uses up the last of the milk. 
Nothing exclamation worthy, unless you are particularly fond of peanut butter cups. 
If I use social media as a barometer or regular media for that matter, it is easy to feel inadequate. I did not travel outside my time zone, nor did any of my kids win an award, and the fanciest thing I did with John was eat at Chipotle, which was yummy but not exactly upper crust. The napkins were paper. Does that mean it was not a week worth living? 
In 1979 I chaperoned on a girls' club trip over Thanksgiving break with another woman. She felt a little guilty that her husband had the flu, but she went anyway. We chatted while making sure the eight girls enjoyed their supper, and cleaned up, and went to sleep eventually. It was not especially noteworthy as weekends go. But in the days that followed my friend realized that her husband did not have the flu. He had stage four cancer. She buried him by March. 
Her daughter was my third grade student and I felt incapable of rising to the task of helping her grieve. Her father was gone before her twelve year molars came in. 
What I remember from the weekend with absolute clarity was something my friend said about her marriage. 
"I love the simple days... sharing coffee on the deck, laughing about something silly, holding hands for the prayer." She said this not knowing that her husband's days were numbered in the double digits. But it forever shifted my perspective about what it takes to have a satisfying marriage. 
Maybe eating burritos was not such a boring thing to do after all. But next time I will bring a peanut butter cup for dessert. 



Tin Man

This morning at breakfast Ben asked what rust is.

"That's when metal gets wet and turns brown," I answered, knowing that he did not ask out of ignorance but interest.
"The Scarecrow tells the Tin Man, 'Don't cry, you'll rust!' " He laughs.
"What scene are the poppies in?" I ask out of interest and ignorance. He gets that look that reminds me of a spectacled librarian scanning the Dewey Decimal System. 
"Twenty seven to twenty nine." 
I notice that his fascination is not with the character who lacks a brain. Ben's intellectual skills are not rusty.
"When a man's an empty kettle, he must be on his mettle, and still I'm torn apart...." His voice trails off. He reaches for my phone. Within seconds the You Tube is up and he is listening to the Tin Man. 
Emotion is an enigma to some kids on the spectrum. An adult with autism told me he cannot often identify the feelings, only that they are overwhelming. 
Maybe more of us are looking for new hearts than just Dorothy's companion. 
This quote is what John and I sang as our wedding vows thirty four years ago. I did not know then that I would be walking down my own yellow brick road. 
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you. And I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 11



Three Piano Players

Once upon a time there were triplet brothers who all aspired to play piano. Barry, Larry and Garry had musical parents, and their grandmother was the youngest person to play at Carnegie Hall when she was four years old. This contributed to a strong tradition of musicianship and the brothers felt duty bound to learn. 

Their grandmother,  Lolita Val de Cabrera Gainsborg, left each of them a piano in her will. Barry was given a low quality spinet that obstinately refused to stay in tune for more than a month. Larry was given a white upright, with mediocre sound. Garry, was gifted with a Steinway baby grand.

Barry was determined. He refused to let the piano keep him from progressing, and he practiced for four hours on school days and six on the weekends. It was frustrating to hear lovely pieces like Jesu Joy somewhat mangled by the inadequate instrument, but Barry did not give up. He mastered every lesson his teacher put in front of him, luring the piano to create music worth hearing. Mostly.

Garry was less diligent, relying on the beauty of the piano to compensate for his lack of effort. Even simple tunes with one hand sounded lovely on the Steinway. His practice schedule was sporadic, and brief. 

Larry refused to play at all. He reasoned that when he acquired a fine piano in adulthood, he would give it serious study. It was not worth his time to bang around on an inadequate keyboard.

When the brothers turned twenty five, their mother told them that their grandmother's will had a twist to it.

"On their twenty fifth birthdays,  the pianos are to be exchanged. Barry will receive the Steinway, Garry will get the upright and Larry shall have the spinet."

The brothers were surprised. They had adjusted to their own pianos, and were confused by the change. 
Garry was not pleased. If playing on a high quality instrument had proved too taxing for him, pounding on a pathetic one was dismal. He had not worked very hard, and the added obstacle of a poor piano left him feeling unmotivated. He berated himself for not putting forth the commitment when he had a chance. 

Larry was indignant. This piano, like the one before, was beneath him, although he had never proven that with diligence. He bought more cds and left the piano to dust. His skills never materialized at all. 

But when Barry sat down at the baby grand, his fingers danced across the keys. He could hardly believe how lovely the music was, as faithful practice unleashed a flood of exquisite melody. Twenty years of scales on a third rate piano felt like a small price to pay for the beautiful sounds that flowed from the strings. All of the plodding afternoons of the past disappeared in the freedom to play beautifully for the rest of his life. 



The Fun Part

Everyone wants the fun part of life. Who can help but smile when your feet are light and your skirt is sparkly, you know the steps and your friends are by your side?
But we brush over the reality of the back story. These dancers logged weeks of sweaty practice time, memorizing the moves and pushing their bodies to glide instead of bumble. There were nights they would have rather stayed home eating popcorn, than trudge through an April snowstorm to dance rehearsal. But they showed up, and that effort carried them to the night on stage with hundreds of people on their feet clapping.
A friend is dealing with her husband's illness. He has fronto-temporal degeneration, and his mind is slipping away. He still remembers things from thirty years ago like his position as president of the Bowman Association, but the names of his grandchildren elude him. The kitchen is locked up, so he will not eat too much or the wrong things, but the security is a small lock using a single key on a bracelet that hangs within reach. He does not understand how to unlock it so he stays out. 
We did a puzzle together to pass the time. His skill level is twenty five pieces, and the picture was of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Apropos to a man who is accelerating toward childhood, and is lost in his own mind. We high fived with each successful connection, and his smile was as real as it gets. He told me without hesitation how much he loves his wife, and she loves him. I cut him up a few strawberries and he generously offered to share. I declined so he spent his generosity on the dog, whose name he also could not recall. 
Caring for a husband whose intelligence and competence are snuffing out like birthday candles is not fun. Recently a group of people leaped eagerly on board to offer support. They will show up to sit with him, and listen to his jokes again. Those riddles are some of the dwindling repertoire of his once rich sense of humor, but they do not answer the real riddle of where his personhood is fleeing to. 
Yet although he does not know how to unlock the kitchen or call his grandchildren by name, he has a firm hold on the essential things. 
He loves his wife and she loves him. And I believe that when they walk through heaven's gate there will be a standing ovation. Then the real fun begins.




The chickens were putting up quite a fuss this morning. I went outside to check and saw the fox circling the coop. I flung a stick at him and gave him a piece of my mind. It must have worked because he dashed into the bushes. The hens were not appeased and kept up their stance of frozen attention, all pointed in the same direction, on the highest perch possible. What could they hear or see that my lazy senses were blind to? 

The Silkie, who was in the smaller cage while her broody sister remains on three unfertilized eggs inside, was frantic. I dislike that Pumpkin is often alone, but putting her with the big hens is out of the question and when I include her with the littles she sometimes chases them. Blast that age old pecking order. So I held her. Inside my sweater.
The chicks did not seem to understand the danger and ate scratch eagerly. A few discovered for the first time that if they fly to the roof of their doghouse they can hop to the top bar of the pen. Great. I scrambled to put them back in and readjusted the netting. 
I pulled a chair outside and sat watch for most of an hour. The fox stayed hidden, or went for easier prey, and eventually the hens calmed down enough to get back to the business of breakfast. 
The twins and I have lost too many hens to predators, and have worked hard to protect these ones. Check the fences, lock the door, latch the dormitory, reinforce the edges. Every morning, every night we remember to keep them safe. 
Several years ago a friend said that she is aware of a danger in her marriage. Her husband did not offer her as much intellectually as he did early in their relationship, and she longs for it. Light conversation about the kids, sure. Instructions about the schedule, fine. Deeper insights into religion and spirituality, not much. She wondered if this makes her vulnerable to an over attachment to the wisdom of other men who are willing to discuss things that matter to her. 
I was moved by both her wisdom to see a pending risk and her love for protecting her promise. It was humbling to simply sit with her while she described her efforts to keep the door latched. 
There is an interview in the very first issue of the Caring for Marriage Newsletter about a woman whose husband seemed to change. In the beginning he was adoring, attentive, wise. They exchanged love letters for thirty months while falling in love. But a decade into their marriage he became angry and withdrawn as he succumbed to a grueling commute and job. It was not until long after he died that this woman reread the letters he had written in those starry eyed years. Here she found him again, the man she had first adored, and wrapped her heart around. 
It reminds me of the Children of Israel. They were permitted to look across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, but then they wandered for forty hard years in the wilderness. Finally they are welcome to enter the land of Canaan, and call it home. It intrigues me that they were given that one glimpse of the goal, a land flowing with milk and honey. Perhaps it kept their hope alive as they trudged across the desert. 
Maybe it is the path we are all following.