I’m Not Sorry About My Dad

I have had this post going on in my head since October, 2015. That’s when my Dad died. My Dad had many people who thought well of him and many, many who came to the visitations at the funeral home and the funeral at the church. So many times these good people greeted me with, “I’m sorry about your Dad.” I don’t wish to belittle these people or the sentiment they were expressing or their traditional way of offering sympathy; I know that these people sincerely liked my Dad. He was a good man. A very good man.

But just about every time it was said to me, it struck me as so odd for a few reasons, and I wanted to say back, “I’m not sorry about my Dad.”

I’m not sorry about my Dad. My dad was born December, 1917. He almost made it to his 98th birthday. When is death a tragedy? Certainly not at 97. Death is inevitable, and most of the healthiest don’t make it past their 80s. My Dad was given nearly 98 years here. His granddaughter Grace got 3 weeks, some of his other grandchildren were miscarried. His youngest child died of cancer at 31. Of dad’s 10 siblings, 2 were still-born; one sister died at 14, two brothers in their 40s, two brothers in their 60s, one sister at 79, another sister at 88. One brother survived Dad, and he passed recently at 84. Dad’s dad made it to 73, and his mother was 83 at her death. Dad got nearly 98 years here. What is to be sorry about that?

I’m not sorry about my Dad. I was born a week before his 44th birthday. Growing up, I use to imagine that he would have to take me down the aisle in a wheelchair, he was so much older than my same-age peers’ dads. And that’s when I thought I’d be married in my 20s. He was still here and doing well when I married at age 40. Very well. He ran me down the aisle. What is to be sorry about that?

I’m not sorry about my Dad. Perhaps part of the reason that I married relatively late (besides the fact that I didn’t meet Jack Pelham until I was 36) was the values that were instilled in me by my dad — by his words and his example. I am constantly astonished by the ways that men (and it is not just in these times, as so many go on about; I saw it in the past, too) do not protect their daughters. And every time I witness something or read another story, I thank God for my Dad. My Dad taught me to value myself and my appearance. I’m confident I was saved from a lot of abuse and emotional turmoil from which many women suffer because of my Dad. What is to be sorry about that?  [I don’t mean to disparage marriage at a young age; many marry young and do very well for many, many years — my oldest sister, my nieces, several cousins, and friends have done this. And there are also many that marry young for the wrong reasons and endure years of ugliness, or end up in divorce and maybe marry yet again. I don’t really know why the ship was passing me by for 20 years, except, as I said above, Jack hadn’t sailed by yet, but I do think there is something in the values instilled in me by my Dad. I wasn’t so desperate for a partner that I would settle for less than a man who would value me as my Dad had. I didn’t totally love my singleness, but I also wasn’t helpless to survive alone in this world emotionally, financially, and physically. Do I need to say more to keep myself out of trouble over this?]

I’m not sorry about my Dad. He was a musician who traveled around the region with his band. When he married at age 32, he decided that that was all behind him. He was responsible for a family now. His teen-age bride (Mom was 17) followed him from Tennessee to Illinois where he felt there was steady work for him, and where they stayed for over 30 years. My Dad was uber-responsible. He wouldn’t return to the south until their house sold 5 years after his retirement. When they did return in 1987, he built a house on Mom’s family’s farm (on land which he purchased from them), purchased his and Mom’s funeral and burial plans, and kept his bills paid on time (or before time) and his yard mowed until he just couldn’t get out there anymore some time in his 90s. Dad got to visit his own tombstone for about 30 years. He buried his son and granddaughter next to him. In my growing up years in Illinois I never felt insecure about having or not having things. I did feel a little different from other kids with my peanut butter and syrup sandwiches for school lunch and corn bread and beans for supper, but I thought that was because my parents were country, not because we were poor. My Dad, on his one factory income, made sure all our needs were met. Some years ago in my frustration with roommates that wouldn’t help keep household supplies stocked, I mentioned to my Mom that I never remember running out of toilet paper when I lived with them. She reported that once they did, and my Dad was so mortified because they had guests that he made sure that never happened again. (That might seem like a comically small thing, but then you don’t know what the security of having a toilet paper roll — turned the right way!— means to a girl.)  My Dad, living on the pension from his factory job, was able to write me a large check when I was well out of his house (and responsibility) to pay off my embarrassingly large credit card debt. You don’t know how ashamed I was to have accrued that debt, having a Dad like him, but he in no way made me feel bad; he hated debt and loved me. What is to be sorry about that?

I’m not sorry about my Dad. He loved my Mom. What a chance he took marrying a 17 year old girl, but he definitely picked right. He was faithful unto death, for sure. I was about to type, “My Dad was oblivious to other women” (and I will tell you more about that later), but then I thought about times he did say good and bad things about other women. He had an ability to acknowledge the good looks of a woman and not be lusty about it. (I’m struggling to explain that.) My Dad was pretty much a truth-teller about anything without any ulterior motive, which did occasionally border on lack of tact. Okay, now about that ‘oblivious’ thing. My Mom was very confident in Dad’s faithfulness, which, of course, she had reason to be. So the story is that once Dad and his friend Harley Webb, in their capacity as elders in our local church, were visiting with a family . The daughter-in-law of the couple they were visiting was in some way flirting with these elders of the church, according to the report by Mr. Webb. My Dad said, ‘Really?’ My Mom said, ‘Oh, he wouldn’t know if a woman was flirting with him if she was dancing in front of him naked.’ Now, maybe you wouldn’t want to have a stupid Dad like that, but my junior-high self heard that story and I was welled up with love for my Dad. I sit here today, 40+ years later, still filled with gratitude for his obliviousness in that area. It is possible for a man to love only one woman and be faithful unto death. My Dad taught me this. What is to be sorry about that?

I’m not sorry about my Dad. The leader of the band is gone, but his blood runs through my instrument, and his song is in my soul. I am a living legacy to the leader of the band. My Dad didn’t play his guitar much during my life at home. But he sang. Nearly all day long. And he yodeled. “Yodel for us, Tennessee,” the men at the factory would say to him. He sang at home. He sang at work. He sang at church. He led singing at church, even though he never could get the hang of the right kind of conducting patterns. He sang the lead. He sang harmony. He sang tenor, and he sang bass. I came home from school near the end of 2nd grade, telling my parents that I wanted to take piano lessons. I hadn’t a clue that the older 3 had been denied instrument lessons (or being in band) due to lack of funds. Okay, I’m crying right now because this always gets me. Why did they say Yes to me? Oh, my goodness, where would I be now without my years of piano lessons, and studying piano in college, and getting those degrees, and now teaching music to others? My Dad paid for weekly lessons for 10 years — no summer breaks for me, and then helped me financially through 4.5 years of undergraduate and then 2 years of graduate school.  My Dad gave me the gift of music in so many ways. I think in his own life, financial security won over artistic endeavors, but he allowed me the freedom and supported me in pursuing art. What is to be sorry about that?

My Dad was far from perfect. I could also list ways that I wish he had been different. I wish he hadn’t had so many fears. I wish he hadn’t felt insecure around others who were more educated. I wish he would have pursued a career in the cyphering that he loved so much. Maybe he could have used a little more ambition and accepted those foreman job offers. And now I’m thinking about other good things that I haven’t told you about him — about how he went across the ocean to serve in WWII, expecting to die over there; the responsibilities he was given over there because he was….responsible; responsibilities that years later he still couldn’t believe they gave an 8th grade graduate farm boy from the hills of Tennessee.  So as I attempted to think of a few weaknesses, good things came flooding back to me. That’s what happens when you had a very good Dad. I am so not sorry about my Dad.

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Little House and my Happy Golden Years

One of the reasons I’m grateful that I got to have at least one child is that I was given the opportunity to revisit the Little House series. My old books, purchased in the late 60s/early 70s, got to come off the shelf over a period of about 6 years as James and I followed the Ingalls family from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota and finally to South Dakota. I didn’t finish the series with him. He suspects, I think, that Laura married Almanzo, but doesn’t know about her school teaching days, when Almanzo went out to pick her up and bring her home; he doesn’t know about Nellie Oleson’s return and attempts to get Almanzo; he doesn’t know about those ‘first four years’ of Laura’s marriage, or of their eventual move to Missouri. He does know about that long, long winter when Almanzo went to get the grain for the whole town. We did get to visit DeSmet, South Dakota in real life.

So now those old books sit on my shelf, probably never to be read again by me. I’ve way too many books to read in the little time I have left here. They’ll be passed on, hopefully, to my grandchildren. Maybe I’ll get to read a chapter here and there to them, but the blessed task to read through (most) all of them will fall to James and/or their mother. I know the stories aren’t all factual — [real life spoiler alerts!: the chronology is off, and places like their home in Iowa, and people like little brother Frederick are left out; Mr. Edwards, Nellie Oleson, and others are fiction or compilation of real people] — but they are so beautifully written, and they do tell the reality of the comforts and hardships that a little girl remembered. When she (with help from daughter Rose) wrote these books in the 30s and 40s, the times of Laura’s childhood — those days of the pioneers of the west — were already past, and she and her daughter felt that people ought to be reminded of those, in some ways, simpler times.  And here we are 80+ years after the first were published, still needing to be reminded of those days. They are not merely interesting in a trivia sort of a way; there are many ideas worthy of imitation. I think often ‘what would Ma Ingalls do’ when I try to be the domestic queen while dealing with all the distractions of this technological age.

So, Laura Ingalls Wilder, thank you for telling your story as you told it, and for giving me places to go and things to think about over and over when I was young. I’m glad I got to revisit you and your family with my own son. Maybe we’ll meet again here and there. Maybe. Here’s hoping.

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Thanks for the Memories

I’m actually not very good with remembering things. I was listening to a podcast with Karen Glass, author of Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, and she mentioned that Charlotte Mason made a distinction between Memorization and Memory. Yep, memorization, that’s me. What I’ve been good with is deliberate memorizing of things — scripture, choir music, piano recital pieces, phone numbers, birthdays. I don’t remember lyrics to songs from just having heard or sung them a lot, or piano pieces from just playing them a lot. Those things I have to deliberately memorize. And years later, maybe part of them are still with me. I don’t know if people are like this in real life, but in books and movies you have characters like Father Tim in Jan Karon’s novels, or Marianne in Sense and Sensibility who just randomly quote favorite lines from poetry. They’ve read a lot, loved the things they’ve read and somehow they know them from the heart and by heart. I feel so jealous of Father Tim when he does that. Recalls just the proper line, perfect for the moment. And he doesn’t have to google it.

My siblings remember details from our past far better than I do. I often wonder, ‘Where was I? Was I not really taking in the moment? Was I too distracted by my dreaming of someplace else, some future time?’

I love dictionaries and encyclopedias. I love movies, especially old movies. With my first earned money out of high school, I bought books about the movies and the Oscars. I’m probably looking something up on imdb.com every day. I’m a trivia person, I think. My husband will marvel from time to time about how I know actors and their films (even before I check imdb), but it’s not from having actually watched the movies. I read about movies way more than I give a movie a couple of hours of my life.

Giving my son a “living books education”, which involves narration for a great part of it, is not something that comes naturally for me. Fortunately for him, I did a lot of reading in his toddler years (and continue to do so) of Charlotte Mason and other educational philosophers, as well as online discussions with my AmblesideOnline friends, and was convinced that this was the best way of learning for him (and anyone).  Over the years I have become more and more convinced that it is the proper and only way to really learn, to really know. And looking back on my struggles in high school with essay questions on exams, and writing term papers, and at the end of my 2 years of graduate school, my failure to pass my oral exams, I see now the great value of learning with a narrative style of school-books and always, always, always “telling back”. You do not really know unless you can tell back. (Remind me to tell you what happened 1.5 years later when I retook my oral exam for my Master’s degree.) After nearly a decade at being at this narration thing, we still struggle mightily. But I can’t let up. I cannot fail him in this. Or he will be just like me. Not remembering. Not really knowing.

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I wrote the above 2 weeks ago and have let it sit. I will now click Publish without any editing. It is what it was and what it is. Except let me add a quote below. That’ll be good. Oh, and I want a video of Rosemary Clooney singing, “I Remember You” just because I love her so much and it has Remember in the title.

“Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and out of mind.”  ~Charlotte Mason

 

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I’m Jolly Well Going to Get Some of the Advantages, Too

I am the fourth of my parents’ five children. Our youngest sibling passed from this life at the age of 31 from cancer. That was an anomaly in our family longevity, except for our maternal grandmother who died at 36 from what I can never remember. My paternal grandmother died just before her 84th birthday; both my grandfathers were 73 at their deaths. My dad died in 2015, two months shy of his 98th birthday. Now that’s really something right there. My mom is currently 85 years young. As I tend to resemble my paternal grandmother and my dad in many ways, unless someone isn’t being careful on Hwy 212 one morning, I expect that I’ve got another 30 or 40 years left here. That was a lifetime for my younger brother and my maternal grandmother. So what is this dread I feel, and sorrow and insecurity over my age and accompanying white head? Why do I have this irrational feeling of shame when a student asks me how old I am? Like this is my fault. I was born in 1961, and I’m still alive in 2018, so……

Hey! I’m alive in 2018!

I was born a poor black share-cropper’s daughter. Okay, not really. [Click on ‘poor’ if you fail to get the reference.] I was born in 1961 in Moline (IL) Public Hospital and brought home to the first house my parents owned. I believe that prior to moving into their own home a few years before I was born, they had lived in 3 or so different rented places in a little less than a decade. Three children preceded me, as I noted above. My dad was a factory worker; my mom was a stay-at-home mom (at a time when many moms were getting the heck out of the house.) You might figure that we didn’t have a lot of money, with one factory income and, what would become in 1966, a 7 person family. And you would be right. But you also don’t know my dad. That man, oh, that man. I had everything I needed, and possibly most everything I wanted. He took such good care of us, all the way through college and beyond. Besides the peanut butter and syrup sandwiches and the fact that we didn’t belong to the country club that some of my classmates did, I never felt poor. I had my books. I had my piano. I had my very big yard. I had a warm home. I had security.

So, thanks to that dad (and, sadly, bank and government loans) I had the freedom to go to college and major in my beloved music. After 6+ years, I had my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. So what now? Time to stop playing around and pay the pipers. I moved to Alabama, where I could enjoy the security of having my older brother around as I began my post-college get-a-job and support yourself life. I temped, I worked in the finance office at a music store, and I taught piano in a studio upstairs. Then NYC called me, and I was off to spend my mid-20s to my mid-30s in the Big Apple. Still single. Seemingly, forever single. I worked in the finance office at a music school, and I taught piano not in a studio upstairs. July, 1998 my brother died; October, 1998 I moved back to the south.

I meet Jack Pelham in November, 1998. Not quite yet, but soon my single days would be over. At age 40.

So my life has not been ‘typical’ (whatever that means) nor has it been what I imagined in my big basement bedroom in Silvis, Illinois. And sometimes I feel weird about that. I feel weird sometimes that my same-age peers are grandparents, while I am the mother of a teen-ager. I feel weird sometimes when I’m with the parents of my son’s same-age peers, and those parents are 20 years younger than me. Sometimes people look at me cross-eyed when they learn I lived in NY for 11 years; they have, or would like to visit, but they’d never live there! What was I doing all those years? No husband. No children.

Well, I was living. And I was learning. Sometimes not fast enough. But I am stronger and wiser from the life I lived and choices (some I definitely regret) that I made. You haven’t heard about my church life and search (still) for truth. That’s another post. And another. And another.

As I wrote in a previous post, my word and goal this year is to Celebrate. To focus on the positive. To make myself see the good that I’ve accomplished in a day, as a teacher, a mother, a wife, a friend, a neighbor, a learner. And with this gloom that arises from embarrassment of age and what exactly I’ve been doing all these years, I choose to say, ‘Hey, I’m alive in 2018! I’ve been around for nearly 57 years on this planet. I’ve lived a lot of places. A lot of very different kinds of places. I’ve met and lived with a lot of people. A lot of very different kinds of people. I’ve read a lot of books. A lot of very different kinds of books. I’ve believed things and then after study decided those things are not right. I’ve trusted people and then after study decided those people aren’t worthy of my trust. I’ve packed my bags and moved to places and packed my bags to move away from places. I’ve watched a very dear brother die and come out on the other side with a stronger belief in our Creator. I’ve rejoiced at the conception and birth of a long dreamed-of daughter and then watched her die at 3 weeks old, and I’ve come out on the other side with a still stronger belief in the goodness and grace of our Creator. I have wrestled with Yahweh over many things. I have not just lain on the couch like a beached-whale (as one NYC roommate once described me). I suppose I have earned this white head. Not just because of chronology.’

I’m proud of where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. I will not waste these 57 years of struggle and learning. I didn’t waste the time while they were happening; I won’t waste it now. I know many things. I’m grateful for that. Not gonna keep it to myself. And I have much more to learn. I’m grateful for that, too.

 

Wisdom is with the aged,
    and understanding in length of days. ~ Job 12:12

Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.  ~Proverbs 16:31

I suffer from all the disadvantages of being a grown-up person, and I’m jolly well going to get some of the advantages too; ~Chesterton, “Manalive”

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‘Times Were Much Simpler Then’

I’m listening to a wonderful interview (video at end of post) with historian David McCullough, whose most famous work is probably his John Adams biography. Don’t let the title fool you; in this hour-long interview he talks about much more than John Adams. So many wonderful things about knowing and appreciating people and events of the past, as well as how it ought to be taught. He also mourns the loss of skill with our own language, and thus the ability to communicate effectively and beautifully. (The beauty/art is what makes it effective, in my opinion.)

Somewhere around the half-way point he says he hates when people say, “Times were much simpler then.” He exclaims, “No they weren’t! How would you like to deal with…” and he lists plagues and other hardships, including just the daily life of people of the past. He acknowledges that the past and present may be different, but neither is simpler than the other.

It is interesting that we have this view of the past being simpler, but if we stop to think about it, so much of technology — possibly most of technology — has come about from efforts to make things simplier, easier, less time-consuming, less human energy-consuming. So shouldn’t the current times be the simplest ever? And yet our first impulse is to think that the past was simpler.

Mr. McCullough is right. Life of the past has differences from life of today but was not simpler. It seems what we’ve done is just exchange one set of simplicities for another, one set of difficulties for another.

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.  ~ Ecclesiastes 7:10

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.  ~ Ecclesiastes 1:9

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‘Only Human’

“Wow! that was very thoughtful of you!”

“Oh, it was nothing, I’m only Human.”

“Way to see the potential consequences of your actions and choose to act differently.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m purely Human.”

“You planned an awesome party for Joe’s retirement.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m entirely Human.”

“That was quick. Good job on consulting the map and checking that Facebook group for road conditions.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m essentially Human.”

“You’ve sure lost a lot of weight and gotten into shape. You’re really awesome to be that disciplined!”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m exclusively Human.”

“It never fails; you are always on time for work. You’re getting the employee of the year award.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m wholly Human.”

“Thank you for remembering my birthday. That was very kind.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I’m utterly Human.”

“It’s really something how you’ve been nearly 50 years playing piano and are now learning a whole new system with cello — new fingering, sustaining notes, bowing. It can’t be easy to retrain the mind and body at 56!”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m completely Human.”

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Those are some simple things that come to mind in a quick experiment with a twist on the usual usage of You’re/I’m ‘only human’, which is usually preceded by an error/sin committed. This was inspired by the following observation of Francis A. Schaeffer in The God Who Is There:

When we use the phrase “it is only human,” we are usually referring to something sinful. In this sense, the Christian should feel a calling not to be “human”; but in a more profound sense, the Christian is called to exhibit the characteristics of true humanity, because being a man is not intrinsically being sinful man, but being that which goes back before the Fall, to man made in the image of God.

Therefore, Christians in their relationships should be the most human people you will ever see. This speaks for God in an age of inhumanity and impersonality and facelessness. When people look at us their reaction should be “These are human people”: human because we know that we differ from the animal, the plant and the machine, and that personality is native to what has always been. This is not something only to put forward intellectually — when people observe us their reaction should be ‘These are human people!”

If they cannot look upon us and says, “These are real people,” nothing else is enough. Far too often young people become Christians and then search among the church’s ranks for real people, and have a hard task find them. All too often evangelicals are paper people.

What does it really mean to be human? For believers, how are we made in the image of God? How do we differ from the animals, plants, and machines? What is personality? Even if you are not of the Judeo-Christian tradition and have no belief in the Hebrew and/or Christian scriptures,  with honest observation and study you have to acknowledge that human beings have capabilities that the other animals and plants do not share. With my examples above I tried to demonstrate some abilities that I think are uniquely human. And even if some animals do share aspects of algorithmic and reflective minds, as Jack noted when I asked him to quickly name ways that humans are different from other animals, surely it is obvious that humans are at a higher (and more complex?) level of these skills. And please tell me that you believe we have thinking and acting abilities that the rocks and trees do not have.

David marveled at being human with his “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” in Psalm 139. Charlotte Mason chose the motto I am, I can, I ought, I will for her students.  I am human. I can do so many things as a human. I have a conscience. I can discern right and wrong. I can be determined to do what I ought and make it happen. Humans make mistakes, yes, and humans can own up to those mistakes and correct those mistakes. Humans can determine that they are overweight and out of shape and can make a decision to change their diet and exercise; they can plan out that new regime and make it happen. Humans don’t have to just rely on instinct to know when to build their nest or fly south for the winter; they can make plans and schedules and stick to them; they can organize their home, maintain their home, their car, their stuff. They can will to be better at organizing and maintaining. And they can change for the better. Humans can remember birthdays and anniversaries. They can be considerate and get out of the way when a car is coming is down the Walmart parking lane, or stop their car as a pedestrian crosses at the crosswalk. Humans can learn a language and another language and another language. They can learn to read and to sing and to draw and to roller-skate. Humans can remember to pay their debts. Humans can be compassionate and generous and help others with money, food, shelter, clothing. Humans can know exactly what time it is and be on time for work, for school, for a meeting, for a party. Humans can keep a promise. Humans can think before they make a promise.

Humans can choose. To change. To be kind. To be honest. To be responsible. To love. To forgive. To remember.

So why has humankind, for the most part, chosen to think of being ‘only human’ as being weak and faulty? We’ve gotten to the point of thinking not only ‘to err is human’, but that to be ‘human is to err’.  Christians believe that God and Christ are gracious; they have shown unmerited favor and forgiven, and grace continues to cover sin. Oh, yeah, I can mess up and grace will just abound. ‘By no means!’ the apostle Paul said. In fact, it was that ‘unearned favor’ of God and Christ that compelled Paul to overcome. ‘His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them…’ he told his readers in Corinth. He told Titus that this grace taught them to say No to the bad and to choose to live sensible and upright lives. Humans can choose. Humans can overcome.

Perhaps, when caught in an error, rather than responding with ‘I’m only human,’ we should say, ‘Sorry. I was acting less than human.’  ‘I was operating below my human capabilities to choose what I know to be right.’ ‘I was ignoring my glorious human ability to learn a new skill….to learn a new way…. to learn to think and act differently.’

I choose to Celebrate my humanness. I choose to think about what all it means to be Human, and to live that out to my fullest potential — which is a lot — probably more than I even know at this point. I choose to believe, like King David, that I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

 

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To Be or not To Be

I am currently reading A Circle of Quiet, the first of Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals. She uses and discusses the word ‘ontology’ a lot in these writings, and it’s really making me a little crazy because, although I’ve looked up the definition — just about every time she uses it, I can’t seem to wrap my head around the meaning and how she is using it each time. From Google’s dictionary:

noun: ontology; plural noun: ontologies
  1. the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
  2. a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.

She also uses the word as an adjective and adverb — ontological, ontologically, which really makes me a little nutty. Ontology was actually her word for one summer, and the best I can make of it at this point is that she was trying to be and connect to her real human self (and to others, I assume) as best she could. Who am I really…deep down? What is the real essence (which, of course, means ‘being’) of me? At one point L’Engle comments,

 “The most ‘whole’ people I know are those in whom the gap between the ‘ontological’ self and the daily self is the smallest. The Latin integer means untouched; intact. In mathematics, an integer is a whole number. The people I know who are intact don’t have to worry about their integrity; they are incapable of doing anything which would break it.”

Where have I heard something very similar recently? Ding! Ding! From Miss ‘Science of Relations’ herself! From Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves:

We know that an integer is a whole number; and a man of integrity is a whole man, complete and sound….It is a fine thing to look back upon even a single year in which the tasks that came to hand have been done, wholly done, in which we have kept our integrity — as son, in such small matters as exactness in messages; as pupil or student, by throwing our whole mind in our work. Even games want the whole of the player, they want Integrity.

Both of these women spoke of  Wholeness; Mason adds ‘complete and sound’, L’Engle, ‘untouched; intact’. Who we really are. Not messed with. It also reminds me of something Francis Schaeffer said about what it actually means to be only human. And that is another post.

L’Engle ends one journal entry with:

So my hope, each day as I grow older, is that this will never be simply chronological aging — which is a nuisance and frequently a bore — the old ‘bod’ at over half a century has had hard use; it won’t take what it did a few years ago — but that I will also grow into maturity, where the experience which can be acquired only through chronology will teach me how to be more aware, open, unafraid to be vulnerable, involved, committed, to accept disagreement without feeling threatened (repeat and underline this one), to understand that I cannot take myself seriously until I stop taking myself seriously — to be, in fact, a true adult.

To be.

 

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Celebrate, or Keep on the sunny side

With a little help from my friends, I chose Celebrate as my word for 2018. I don’t remember exactly how he put it (as I am wont to do), but Jack’s hope for me was to stop myself when I’m focusing on all that I get wrong, and to instead think about what I get right. Yes, I’m a pretty negative person. About myself. And about others.

But I am not alone in this defaulting to a negative perspective, it seems. One of my current reads is Michael Lewis’ “The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds”, which is about the collaboration of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Several times in the book the author notes the differences in personality, lifestyle, outlook, etc. of these men, and how those around them (including their students) marveled that these two men could work together. At one point he notes several things that they had in common, and then says, “And yet all anyone saw were their differences.”

What I wish in life is to see things as they really are. How nice that I’m married to the founder of a philosophy called Reality-Based Thinking.  But for me, it has always seemed that only the negative things are reality. What is the deal with feeling like the good things are make-believe? Why are the true positive things harder to believe and hold on to? Where in the world do I get this sort of superstition that if I believe and focus on the good, something bad will follow just to punish me for that. Why does sad and anxiety seem more secure than happy and peaceful?

Today this picture popped up in my Facebook memories. It reminded me of many things for which I am grateful. And I noted this on Facebook (as I am wont to do) when I shared the memory. First, I have a son! Y’all, I was 41 when I had James. For a quarter of a century of my child-bearing years I was childless. And not only did I have a son — and if I was only going to get one child, I wanted a son — , but I had a very healthy son (we have been extremely blessed with doctor’s visits that you could count on one hand), and a very smart and thoughtful son. Secondly, even though there’s a bit more upheaval in our living situations than I would have wished, we have had some moments of a very peaceful, lovely home-life. This picture reminds me of enjoying that house and its accompanying acreage and bluff.  Thirdly, I am grateful for the freedom we have to school James in whatever home we find ourselves. And particularly in Montana, I am grateful for our homeschool community, and the friendships and learning opportunities it has given us. Fourthly, I am reminded of the wonder of having someone come from my body that is so driven to understand science and math. Thank God! Where I am weak, James is strong. (The caption that accompanied this picture of 6 years ago read: James doing science research for his co-op class. Venomous snakes! Mom is very happy to be passing off the teaching on that.)

It would probably be a worthy exercise to write down (oh, I have a blog!) daily the positive things in my life, including my successes in one day. I feel a burden often at the close of a day of things that didn’t go right in James’ school day or in my piano lessons. (I teach an average of 8 piano lessons a day.) I generally have a feeling that it wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t good enough. Some days are obviously far worse than others. It was for this reason (how I feel about James and my piano lessons) that Jack suggested that I do as I noted at the beginning of this post. How am I doing? Better, I think. But I do need reminders. Please feel free to be a Reminderer in my life. I will try to do the same for you.

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we keep on the sunny side of life

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She’s Back! What in the world was she thinking?

Here’s where I begin typing and as I go along, decide what exactly I want to do at this place after 4 years of silence. I was never great at the technical side of this having a blog, and now I’ve got to relearn it all. How to create a new post, how to format it, how to save it, how to tag it, how to categorize it, how to add a picture or a quote, etc. But I just have to dive back in.

Recently, I established an early morning routine. Mostly it had to do with having quiet, uninterrupted time to read. I began a 90-day read through the entire Bible plan in December. It takes a little while to get that much reading done in a day. Earlier in the month, I started a morning supplement protocol. These scheduled rituals gave me a purpose to get up at 5:30. Once the habit was set, it was not so hard to get up in the dark and get going.

So now that I finished the 90-day Bible plan, I find I have a bit more time in my  (sometimes) peaceful, uninterrupted morning. With all my reading, which includes the Bible, educational philosophy, cognitive-science, personality/self-helpy types of books, classic fiction, recent fiction, history, biographies, music pedagogy, a few of James’ school books (which are all of the above), I find that I’ve got a lot of thoughts running all over my mind, and while I occasionally take notes and post to my Facebook world about these thoughts, I really need an outlet to work out these ideas. Oh, yeah! I’ve got a blog!

So the test here is will it be good enough for me to just type a post and get whatever thought ‘on paper’, or will I be bothered if no one reads and no one acknowledges that they’ve read? Can I keep from going to StatCounter to see the traffic? Does it matter if you all read or care about what I think? Look! I’m talking to you as if you are reading. It’s really hard not to imagine that people will read. What happened to the days when people wrote in private journals — and locked them? So maybe I should just keep this blog private. At this point, I won’t — just in case there’s someone who cares.

In the past this blog had the purpose of sharing my homeschooling experience and general life with James and Jack. I’m glad that I did it. The videos of James alone, narrating his school reading and playing piano, are treasures that I keep coming back to. And my post on the 5th anniversary of our daughter’s birth I find myself sharing just about every year. James is nearing the end of his pre-higher education journey, and I am spending 20-plus more hours a week teaching piano than when last I posted here. I have found myself reading more….well, more of everything. Thanks to some IRL discussion groups and on-line discussion groups, my wide-range reading life has been revived.  So life is somewhat different now, and I will probably be posting more about Kay and what she thinks about Life and Why we’re here and What we ought to be doing and Why we do what we do.

I’m thinking that I may just post once a week, and it’s probably that early Sunday morning offers me the best time to do that. But once I get going and get the hang of this whole thing and get into the habit of it, who knows what my mind, and fingers, and spirit might be capable and willing to do.

Here’s where I was going to post a picture just to see if I remember how, but I think I’ll make it a separate post in case I mess it up. I’m now going to just post this thing without any editing or going back to re-read it to make sure I don’t sound stupidly rambling. Now where is that button……this is so not like Facebook…..ahhh…scroll up and there’s Publish. Click

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James Dewey: The Legacy of a Name

My brother James Lester Davis was born just before my 5th birthday. He was named for a paternal great-grandfather, James Davis, and our paternal grandfather, Lester Davis. At some point in his growing up years our mother told him that she had wanted to name him James Dewey, Dewey being her father’s middle name, and the one by which he was mostly called. Sometime in the 80s or 90s my brother passed this information on to me, and having already decided for many years that if I ever had a son I wanted to name him for one or both of my brothers, I decided at that point I wanted to name my future son James Dewey. It would be honoring my Grandpa Ritter, but also doubly honoring my brother James, who told me that he would have preferred James Dewey to James Lester. Grandpa Ritter had a special place in his heart, while Grandpa Davis had died the year before James was born, so obviously he had no memories of him.

In 1997 my brother James was diagnosed with cancer. On July 28, 1998 he passed away at our older brother’s house, with me and our mother and our sister-in-law at his side.

At the end of October, 1998, on what would have been my brother’s 32nd birthday,  I left New York, my home of the previous 11 years, and moved to the south where my parents and two sisters and older brother were all now residing. About a week after arriving in Nashville, TN, I met Jack Pelham. That was about it. We were involved in a few church/musical productions over the next few years, but outside of that we didn’t talk or even acknowledge with a glance that the other existed. Sometime in the spring of 2001 things changed. Through a mutual friendship we began to spend more time together. Talking. One day that summer we were standing out in the parking lot of my apartment complex with another friend. Who knows what in the world we were talking about, but somewhere along the way I mentioned that if I ever had a son I wanted to name him James Dewey, and perhaps shared the story as to why. Jack said a bit sotto voce, “We would have the same initials.” Then he looked a little flustered because we were only friends and I was not supposed to know that he was considering changing my last name to Pelham. Oh, my heart did a little tippy-tippy.

Soon we became “more than friends.” We married in March, 2002, and fourteen months later our son was born. We named him James Dewey Pelham. (Jack’s middle initial is D, by the way. And his father also has the initials JDP.) I was 41 years old at the time of my son’s birth.

These kind of things make me smile about life. I still grieve for the loss of my brother, but how awesome that I would choose a name for my son to honor my brother long before I chose my son’s daddy, and that that daddy would agree to the name, and that he would happen to have the same initials.

I miss you very much, James Lester Davis. I miss what all we could have been learning and enjoying about life together on this planet. Thank you for leaving me an awesome legacy and name to give to my only son. I hope that if you can see us down here, that you are proud of what we’ve done so far. Give us a little nudge, if you’re allowed, to keep us on the right path.

James Lester Davis 1966-1998

George Dewey Ritter 1898-1971

 

 

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