High school graduations are popping up all over. If only we could hand out flyers along with those diplomas carrying some suggestions of what is important in life and what isn’t. At eighteen (and sometimes way older), who thinks about that? Eleanor Roosevelt* said it well: “To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.” Perhaps this should be engraved on each diploma.
June is, traditionally, month for weddings, though people generally get married when it fits into their calendars. We recently attended a lovely wedding for one of our nieces. The bride was beautiful, the groom appeared to be a fine young man, and they were obviously moving in a cloud of joy. In addition to being bathed in the happiness that filled the room, we were able to visit with family members we see too seldom. And of course, we all told stories of our weddings. While it seems impossible to us, Kerm and I have been married nearly 54 years. Interviewers of those married for decades always seem to think/hope that there’s some secret formula to staying attached that long. If that is true, I’m not sure that we know what it is. Basically we respect each other, have similar senses of humor, enjoy many of the same things, care about each other’s families, and most of the time, we love each other and our life together. And we have taken our commitment to each other seriously, even when shaking the other until his/her teeth rattle would be satisfying.
There is no honest relationship that is entirely smooth and wonderful. There will be disagreements, hurts, adjustments, misunderstandings and occasional horror at some of the things we learn about each other (“You paid HOW much for those shoes?” “You ate a whole quart of ice cream?”) I remember that Ann Landers offered a bit of advice when queries came in about staying together. “One must ask, would life be better with or without this person?” The optimal answer is: “I can’t imagine life without her/him.”
We were married on Labor Day weekend, and after honeymooning in Vermont and New Hampshire, left for University of Maryland graduate school, seven hours away from our families. Fortunately home-sickness is seldom fatal, and I survived, but in that situation, we had to rely on each other instead of extended family; probably a very good thing. We also elected to not have children for a couple of years, which gave us time to feel comfortable with each other and to grow up a bit more before needing to care for small people. No one has exactly the same needs or the same patterns and rhythms to their lives as anyone else, but no relationship can be lasting and good unless there’s effort spent on it and determination to stick with it. That is really the common denominator. When anything else (other than personal honor and faith) becomes more important than that relationship, there will be trouble and hurt that’s hard to heal.
June also ushers in what we all hope will be a lovely season of sunshine, warm breezes and freedom to enjoy the outdoors and other summer pleasures. The summer solstice is TODAY ---- June 21st; a day of longest daylight and shortest hours of darkness. I’ve written before about what a magical time the Solstice has been, for eons. Some of the ancient stone structures that amaze us by their complexity were designed to mark the solstices and equinoxes, and are quite scientifically sophisticated. Mid-summer Night’s Eve is so rife with legends it becomes easy to believe that faeries and elves might be peeking out from behind every fern. In some early Celtic celebrations, flaming wheels were sent rolling downhill to propitiate the gods; sort of a spectacular fireworks display of gratitude for summer. An Elizabethan custom encouraged unattached maidens to wash their faces in the dew early on Mid-summer’s Day. Those who did this would, supposedly, envision the person they love. In my yard, it would show good sense to make sure no turkeys, cats or other wild life have been in that dewy grass prior to washing one’s face.
June is also the month of roses, and my climbing rosebush that flings its arching shoots at least twelve feet into the air, covers two small trees with a stunning fountain of pink blossoms. Late peonies are sending out fragrance, the lupines are fading and need dead-heading. We’ve been mulching with straw where we have plants in the vegetable beds, and that nice warm straw seems to be a great place for kitty-napping. Apparently also good for playing hide and seek among the peppers and marigolds! Keeping the cats out of the gardens would take monitoring, 24/7. They seem to think that if I work there, they should certainly explore, dig, and play in the same.
The Eleanor Roosevelt quotation with which I began this ramble led me to think about my life. I’m definitely not a recent graduate of anything (except perhaps lessons in patience and I’m still working on that degree), but I thought long about whether or not I live according to what I value most. The surrounding demands of our communities and culture never end; we all could be busy doing good things with no hours left to sleep, so there is eternal discernment needed. There have certainly been times when I’ve said “Yes” for the wrong reasons and then found myself overwhelmed or disillusioned. Many of us feel so led --- pushed --- convinced--- that we should being making this world better that we do not comprehend when we should let go and let someone else. Doing good things is admirable but not if it leaves us no time for our own growth. It then becomes a way to avoid thinking about difficult issues. This is where determining what we truly value helps us with balancing our days.
Many years ago when our children were small and going to Sunday school, and Kerm and I were teaching teen and adult classes at 9:15 AM, we decided to keep our Saturday evenings free of social events. We played games, planned out our curriculum for the next day and got a good night’s sleep. At first it was a bit difficult to turn down what surely would have been fun occasions. But after a while, we looked forward to the peace and hominess of Saturday nights. In later years, we haven’t always been so discerning, but we try to assess our calendars every so often; are we living out what our values are now? Most important, in this beautiful month of June, are we savoring each day and making sure we spend time with those we love? Goethe** said we should “Connect our inner light to the external light of our environment.” And SHINE!!!!
*-Eleanor Roosevelt……1884-1962. American diplomat, activist and wife of President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
**-Johann Wolfgang Goethe…… 1749-1832. German writer, artist and politician