As September fades into October, we’ve finished many outside tasks, though there are quite a few remaining undone. Those left-over things may begin my “To Do” list for 2019 (it’s good to have goals! ). There are gardeners who create cold frames and mulch their vegetables to extend the season. I did this myself once or twice. But at this stage in my life, I prefer to spend November and December with garden plans and seed catalogs inside the house. October allows me a short extension in which to plant some bulbs, a few perennials, and pull some weeds. However, the end of the gardening season is nigh.
September has been challenging. I mentioned at the end of August that my sister, Betty, was in Hospice. She died the very day after sending that article out. While I feel a recurring emptiness at losing my sister, I am glad that she will no longer be in pain or be frustrated by growing weaker and less able. Betty was twelve years older than I ---- quite a gap when you are a kid. I remember her taking me to school once; I was probably three. I think I was her “show and tell” for her high-school classmates. After high school and RBI, when she was working, she bought me things that were probably outside the family budget at the time --- a white eyelet dress for a third or fourth-grade play and patent leather shoes for Easter. However, we didn’t become really well-acquainted as adults or close that generational gap until about three decades ago. We had lived miles apart so our contact was basically on holidays, with a few letters and cards here and there. When I came back to the Finger Lakes, it was easier for us to spend more time together. Betty was a very private person who didn’t open up easily. She liked good jazz, books, books and more books, and until she sold her home a few years ago, she had amazing gardens. She sewed when necessary, made yummy red raspberry and pecan pies and, when I was first married, gave me her recipe for one-egg white cake. She loved family gatherings, was generous with her home and her time in addition to enduring four sons who were motor cycle enthusiasts (she was not!!).
Betty’s passing leaves me with no siblings. It is strange to now be the eldest of the family, but a situation to be expected, I guess, when one starts out so much the youngest. Fortunately, I have warm friends and wonderful nieces and nephews who will partially fill that relationship hole, though I suppose it never will be filled it in quite the same way. In addition to Betty’s sons, the whole clan, scattered as they are, will miss this woman who quietly provided good counsel, a welcoming house, cared deeply for family and made us all glad that she was one of us.
Speaking of death is uncomfortable for many, but quite a few of us (writer and readers) are of the age when death becomes an unbidden intruder popping in and out of our thoughts. And for every person on this earth, of any age, it is not IF, but WHEN. In the event that one does not believe in any sort of life after death, I can understand the reluctance to think about it. But for those whose hearts and intuition are convinced that we simply move into another phase of life, we can look death squarely in the face ---- not perhaps with gladness ---- but certainly with a calm assurance that we will still be who we are. Two of the books that I’ve read recently treat death with humor and imagination, making the conversation a bit easier. They are Fannie Flagg’s “Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven” and “I Still Dream Of You.” They are not theological treatises but delightful and fantastic stories about people; imaginative stories about the hereafter. Here in the Spencer area, we’ve just experienced some seminars that dealt with issues around both aging and death, beginning with a “Death Café” and progressing to legal issues, palliative care and funerals. Participating has been both freeing and informative, and there were goodies to ease the conversation.
We have two grandchildren, and having grandchildren makes one think --- of many things ---- one of them being how to talk of difficult issues like violence, war and death; how to explain a world that is far from their experience but is as close as the next newscast. Explaining death is easier than finding words for the hatred, anger and gnashing of teeth that are quite visible no matter what TV channel one watches. These are hard to justify to a clear-eyed child who lives in a loving family and a caring community. I think that even we adults have trouble comprehending it if we have always lived in a secure world, unexposed to violence, war, injustice or indoctrination. World and local situations now make us both fearful and irate, but at the same time, we haven’t a clue what to do with our fear or anger. We have been taught to stifle it, ignore it ---- neither of which works, long-term. Holding in distress makes us feel helpless, which makes us even angrier, and puts us in a place where we are apt to follow anyone who appears like a Superman or Wonder Woman.
One of the fun things I remember receiving from an older friend was a “Dammit Doll”. I’ve seen them since in catalogs, but at the time I thought they were her personal invention. There’s a certain charm in having a sturdy stuffed doll that one can beat against the table as a venting tool. Most angry individuals are currently venting on other people. There seems to be no one cause for this viral, negative energy. It is coming from all sides, and ranges from persnickety discontent, to malice, to frothing at the mouth, to flaming, fanatical rage. It is scary because when rage takes over the mind, there’s no room left for thought. We’ve seen this in mass shootings, in road rage incidents, in individuals attacking other individuals over some small slight, of virulent postings on social media and in the thoughtless, spoken words of people in positions of authority, who should be more responsible and certainly more articulate. It is as though everyone’s mental filters have become dysfunctional.
I’m not sure what the solution is --- perhaps there is no one solution. And admittedly, there are many things in this world to incite anger. But we need to learn how to channel that anger constructively. A few possibilities are: 1) anger-management classes, from first grade on up; practice in putting anger to work and solving problems in non-violent ways. Anger takes energy and surely that energy could be re-directed into something useful, 2) responsible examples from people in positions of leadership, 3) Remembering that “A soft answer turneth away wrath”,* and 4) ----- Hey ---- maybe making and sharing more “Dammit Dolls”!! Learning how to manage, express and use our anger constructively will surely lead to less fear, more empathy and clearer thinking.
One of the things that brings happiness and keeps me balanced is staying in frequent contact with family and friends (often they are the same☺). Recently we had a family party here; we barbecued chicken, people brought food, and we spent a fine afternoon chatting, looking at old family photos and catching up on each other’s lives. The house rang with laughter. That filled up my happiness jar for several days. We can choose our attitudes; we have the option every day to choose calmness and beauty as our daily bread instead of allowing negativity to be our soup du jour. As September exits, I wish you days of good hours, enough quiet time for pondering, an inner feeling of completeness and ease and, no matter what your circumstances, a vision of all the things that bring you joy and peace.
*The Book of Proverbs from The Bible