I’ll take Liberty

I posted the following on Facebook a year ago today. It came up on my FB memories, and I thought, “Hey! this sounds like a blog post.” So here you go, in all its original, unedited glory:

“I was in [another country] preparing to go on [a talk show]. The day prior to the live studio appearance, their lieutenant interviewer called to feel me out and select the themes and issues that would be most interesting for the show. After having me explain a little about our farm, she went after the food processors…’Don’t you think the government should forbid them to process food like that?’ she queried.

‘No,’ I responded. ‘Nobody is holding a gun to consumers’ heads demanding that they buy frozen DiGiorno’s pizza. Nobody is requiring people to buy food with MSG in it. Nobody has to buy Coca-Cola.’

‘Well, don’t you think the government should protect people from these products?’ she pursued.

‘No. It’s a big free country. People are responsible for what they eat. They are the ones who decide what goes into their bodies.’

‘Oh, we couldn’t say that. That would offend our listeners, to be told that they are responsible,’ retorted the miffed journalist.”

~ Joel Salatin

I’ve been very busy and sadly have not been able to read all that James is reading for school this year, but I’m grateful for the time that I have had to read along with him as he reads about the early years of this nation, and the ideas with which those men and women were struggling. James has read general narratives on the events of that time period, as well as some biographies, speeches, letters, and documents (such as the Declaration). While it is hard to grapple with the fact that these so-called lovers of liberty and justice would not deal with slavery as they should have; for the most part, our history, and thus the culture handed down to us generation after generation, is one of freedom to live as we choose. So many of the Europeans that came in the beginning were looking for a place to live and worship as they believed. And when it got to the point that the rules and regulations and control had followed them across the ocean, they aired their grievances and said they’d had enough and bye-bye Motherland. Then they had to decide what to do now they had that independence. Do we all stick together and form some union, or are we 13 completely separate sovereign nations. Stronger together, they decided. (It really got me thinking about how they had to battle over the idea of the Union, and what happened four-score years later. Did you know there were threats of secession from the beginning? And it wasn’t the southland.)

But anyhow, if you got down this far, I’m musing on the ideas of liberty that are the culture in which I was raised, and how it seems like a no-brainer and that these ideas are universal, but they really are not. The reason that Europeans came here in the 1600s and beyond, and how this country became an independent nation, are very unique in the world. From what we can tell from their writings, those guys and gals of 1776 and beyond were very aware that it was a pretty significant moment in time. This Republican form of government. This American experiment. People of other countries (cultures) don’t really get us. And we don’t really get them. I don’t know if we’re right, or if they’re right. Or we all are right for ourselves. We choose here in the U.S. to be independent and sovereign individuals. Others choose the security of more oversight and regulation in their lives. Well, being a descendant (philosophically speaking) of Patrick Henry, I will probably forever (or at least for the remaining 40 years that I have) be a Give me Liberty or Give me Death kind of gal.

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On the Thirteenth Anniversary of Our Daughter’s Birth

Today I commemorate a day that was never going to be. The baby that would be named Virginia Grace Pelham at about 20 weeks gestation was Trisomy-18 from her conception and although she beat some odds to survive to birth, she did not make it past her 3 week birthday. Our daughter in reality would never be a toddler, never be a little girl that I would read to and teach how to read as I did her brother, and never be a teen-ager that we would guide through the struggles of becoming an adult. And yet here I sit imagining that teen-age girl on the 13th anniversary of her birth. Not an imaginary daughter that little Kay dreamt about for 40 years, but that very girl that was never meant to be a teen-ager.

I don’t really know where to begin with all the thoughts that I have concerning this experience in my life. The recent New York legalization of infanticide seconds before birth certainly has triggered many thoughts and feelings. My daughter was not viable for long outside my womb, and yet she was so loved and so wanted by her mother. I cannot comprehend justifying in any way the murder of a baby by the mother or the people sticking that needle in her and ending the life of that baby. I’ve got nothing, people. It blows my mind how inhuman society has become.

There is often noted the bond between mother and child. Science has studied this. I have observed it at various levels in my half century on this planet. Wikipedia describes it in this way:

maternal bond is the relationship between a mother and her child. While typically associated with pregnancy and childbirth, a maternal bond may also develop in cases where the child is unrelated, such as an adoption. Both physical and emotional factors influence the mother-child bonding process.

Through the years I have noted some mothers who have actually gone through the birth process and yet seem to be lacking this bond.  Perhaps there is some connection, but definitely not near the level that most others exhibit. I’ve spent time pondering what has caused the disconnect of what should be a natural bond. Knowing the background of some — their relationship or non-relationship with their own mothers, family histories of physical or substance abuse — gives me some idea of why what should be a pretty intense and obvious bonding is not happening.

And so I ponder this glorious idea of maternal bonding versus “my body my right”. Whether or not you believe in Intelligent Design or a specific Creator as described in the Judeo-Christian writings, or you believe in an evolution of humans not associated with any specific designer, this maternal bonding associated with most (I know it is not all) females in the animal kingdom, has got to be something to be marveled at — and honored in some form. I consider it also glorious that that life is conceived within my body, that that body grows inside my body, that I can nourish that body inside my body. I consider it a glory. I consider it an honor. It is NOT my body. It is in my body.

When I learned in September, 2002 that I was pregnant through an at-home test, I marveled at this. When a week later I had some blood discharge, I cried because I thought I had messed up and lost that baby. When the ultrasound showed that there was an 8-week living being still thriving in me, I marveled and rejoiced. At 17 weeks the ultrasound showed us a boy. I marveled that I was going to have the James Dewey I had been dreaming of. On May 13, 2003, I marveled that I had survived the birth process and introduced to the world that beautiful 8 lb. 7 oz. boy. Perfectly healthy. And so he has remained. What a wonder. What a marvel. My son is a young man of almost 16 now. What a glorious thing and an honor it is to be his mother. A glory. An honor. A wonder. Motherhood.

When I learned in June, 2005 that I was pregnant through an at-home test, I marveled at this. I’m pretty sure that Jack considered it an honor and a victory of sorts as he raised his arms in a yeah-I’m-the-man gesture. A doctor’s visit (in which we’re pretty sure the nurse ran across the street to get the same at-home test) confirmed the results. When at 20 weeks the ultrasound showed a little girl, I marveled. A boy. A girl. Perfect. How did I get to be so blessed at this relatively late point in my life? I was nearly 44 at that time.

About a week before our daughter’s due date was the beginning of some not so happy news. Although all of our visits had shown a healthy girl growing at normal rates, she was now not gaining weight and actually losing weight. Perhaps there were issues because of my age, and I was not feeding her as I should inside. (These are memories of what I remember being told, or impressions of what I remember.) It was decided to induce labor in 3 days, on Friday, February 3rd. (Our son had also been induced nearly 3 years before. His was for opposite reasons. I was at my due date and he was huge. Although he ended up weighing 8 lbs. 7 oz., they thought he might be 10 lbs at that point.) Virginia Grace Pelham was born at 12:13pm on February 3rd, weighing 4 lbs. and a few ounces. Much easier labor and delivery than her brother. Immediately the doctor knew that there was more than her low weight at issue. Her features told him there was something more. She was whisked away from the delivery room immediately. I can’t remember how much later it was when Jack came back to my room to give me the news. I have a memory that my mother and my mother-in-law were in the room. Was new big brother James there, too? Jack sat beside me holding my hand and telling me that our new baby girl would probably not live long. They didn’t know exactly yet, but she most likely had a chromosomal disorder. He, and later the doctors, explained the possibilities. Turner Syndrome would allow her to grow up with physical abnormalities. Edwards Syndrome, Trisomy-18, would not. Oh, I prayed it was Turner.

They took my baby girl to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, about an hour away from where we were in Lebanon, TN. I spent the first night of her life away from her in the hospital where she was born. I remember nurses trying to comfort us. I remember reading about the Israelite King David crying out for the life of his child and his reasoning without despair after news of the child’s death. I remember Jack being by my side and together we worked through our thoughts and feelings. No matter the results, God still loved us, and it had been an honor to be Grace’s parents even for a moment.

He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether Yahweh will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  ~2 Samuel 12:22

One little extra chromosome. That’s all it took. I had one perfectly complete and healthy baby, and one that was not because of ONE little extra chromosome. How does this happen? Actually, I was curious. We were told that it happened at conception. That’s why I said what I said at the beginning of this post. From conception Grace was a little girl who could not live long. We were told that there is no way to know who did it — the mother or the father. Jack, knowing my insecurity and great ability to think little of myself, took the blame. He was sure he had done it. Very sweet of him, but we’ll never know. And what does it matter? We were told after the 3-day studies at Vanderbilt, that it was not genetic. Her brother James needn’t be concerned that he might have a Trisomy-18 child.  Yes, that’s what they decided. Trisomy-18, or Edwards Syndrome. We were told that 50% of these babies don’t survive until birth. And then few of those survive outside the womb more than a few days.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. And so delicate. Each part has its work. Down to the tiniest parts. The chromosomes. One extra one on number 18 throwing so much off. What a wonder. What a marvel. In all this very sad, extremely disappointing time, there is still the awe of how we are made. She wouldn’t be mine for long, but I still marveled, still felt honored that she had been for a little while.

Disappointment. Jack talked about that then. Jack talked about it when we buried Grace twenty-two days after her birth. Disappointment. I didn’t fully understand it then. But I trusted Jack. He was not just trying to make light of what we were going through. He wasn’t just speaking as a father who doesn’t feel things as intensely as a mother. Disappointment.

Oh, and another thing that we were told was that it was NOT my age that caused this. Does it matter? I don’t know, but it certainly was a relief to me. Trisomy-18 are born to mothers of all ages. I had declined the amniocentesis with both pregnancies. They were offered both times because of my advanced age. When we said we would never abort a pregnancy, we were told that knowing of any abnormalities would help us prepare for whatever future that would mean. But we were good, we said. We’d handle it when it came. And what’s the point of taking a chance with that big needle in your belly?! And so it came in February, 2006. Although, with little future. But we handled it. We did have 3 days before they finally confirmed it was Edwards to imagine adjusting our life for a disabled daughter. We would do it. But then we didn’t need to. Instead, it was life without a daughter.

For me, it was waiting a whole year to clean out her room and give away her clothes. Now, that’s not entirely as desperate as it may sound if you consider that in the fall we left for Columbus, OH where Jack worked until a month after Grace’s first birthday. But I did spend from February 24 until our departure in October not dealing with it. Maybe I went in to visit the room from time to time. But I think I mostly kept the door closed.  There would not be another baby. The doctor took care of that a few hours after Grace’s birth. I have never regretted conceiving and giving birth to Virginia Grace Pelham; I will always regret (that’s not a strong enough word for) what I did after. It had already been scheduled. Why didn’t I cancel it???  Oh, my, that is another post.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I believe and I am totally convinced that this is TRUTH — that it is NOT my body, my right. It is another body marvelously, no matter the outcome, growing inside of me. What an honor to be chosen by my Creator to be “the host” and the nourisher for this new life. If a woman decides that she cannot be responsible to raise this child after birth, then make your last responsibility be to see that someone is found that can. Until that moment of birth, you are responsible for that life. You are responsible for Life, not Death. It is not your right to choose Death. No more than me deciding I can’t or don’t want to take responsibility for my 15 year old anymore and going in there and putting a bullet in his head. This is just the TRUTH. REALITY. SANITY. RIGHT. Get over yourself. Be in your Right mind. All of you mothers. All of you legislators. All of you medical professionals. Be Human. REASON and LOVE with ALL your HEART, MIND, SOUL, and STRENGTH.

I ponder from time to time where Grace is now. Having lost my dad in 2015, my brother in 1998, and Grace in 2006, I sometimes imagine them being together now. Maybe watching me. Looking out for me. But I just don’t know how it works. I look for answers in the Scriptures, but although they tell of a life after this life on Earth, I don’t find any details of who we are there, and what we know, and who we know, and what we remember from here, etc. I also haven’t found the answers to when we really begin. The real us. Our soul. I do believe that life begins at conception, but when does the soul enter? And where does God get that soul? When did my particular soul, the real Kay — not just this flesh, come into existence? And I’ve wondered if when a soul didn’t get a chance to make it to birth, whether through an abortion or miscarriage, does God give that same soul a second chance to do life on Earth? How about if they only got a day or 21 days like Grace did? Would that soul get a do over? The other day as I was considering this again, I thought, You know, I’d be really upset if Grace’s soul got a do-over and someone else got to raise that soul when I didn’t. Silly, yes. But it is what I thought. I want to know that there is only one Virginia Grace Pelham soul, and sadly, for us, she didn’t get to stay here long. But she’s waiting up there (or wherever it is) for us. She’s okay that she didn’t get to stay here long. She knows that her 9 months plus 21 days mattered. They still matter. She had parents and a big brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles that cared about Life. That still care about Life. Her family on this planet love and honor their Creator. I know that her parents are different people because of her. We love Righteousness and abhor Evil even more because she came to live with us for a little while. Our grief, our disappointment, brought us nearer to our God.

Amazing Grace, how very sweet the sound.

What a Wonder. What a Marvel.

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Thoughts about Veterans Day and The Greatest Generation

You can look it up to see if I’m right, but what I think I know is that November 11th (and I believe it’s down to the minute at 11:11) was originally called Armistice Day, and commemorated the end of what was then called The Great War, or for us today, World War I. At some point it became known in the U.S. as Veterans Day, and we are to honor those that have served in the military. (According to the inevitable Facebook scoldings, May’s Memorial Day is reserved for those who died while in service to our country.)

My Dad was a veteran of WWII. He and others of that war have been called  “the greatest generation.” On Veterans Day 2016 I posted this comment on Facebook:

The difference between the maturity level of my dad and other 20-somethings and teens of the 1940s and these college kids today is amazing! Have we spoiled them or what?! My dad lived through the depression and saw some horrific things while serving in Germany, and came home and NEVER expected anyone to comfort him or coddle him or financially support him. He didn’t cry for a safe place. You bet my dad was emotionally affected and traumatized to some level by the experiences of his teens and 20s, but he totally took responsibility for his life, as well as the lives and well-being of his wife and 5 children that came in his 30s and 40s. We have surely messed up big time to have created this latest generation. What will it take to turn it around? — especially when these cry-babies are the parents of the next generation. I know it’s not all bad, and I have some pretty level-headed young friends on here, but these stories coming out of our institutions of “higher-learning” are mortifying to me.

I am so grateful for my dad. I was blessed

Today as I read that comment in my FB memories, I thought again of that generation. They went through hard times, with the Great Depression followed by yet another awful world war, where so many young people were sent over to die in foreign fields. And I once again compared them to what I see around me today. I pondered about the character of those young people of the early/mid 20th century. Were they really better than what I see around me today? How would 20-somethings today respond if they were in the same situation? Did the hardship of the Depression help create willing soldiers to go die for a cause? And did the war experience build character in the survivors, such that they returned as responsible citizens, demanding little from their communities and nation?

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain. ~ John Adams

John Adams was willing that their generation be focused on the fight for independence so that the following generations would be free to study things a little more peaceful and beautiful. (It’s interesting to me to note that he says “politics and war,” as if assuming that politics might go away as he hoped war would do.) This was the dream of Adams for his sons, grandsons, and so on. You can look at the lives of Adams’ sons, with the exception of John Quincy, to see how well that worked out.

If war and the sacrifice that comes with it builds character, must we always be in a state of conflict to remain in general a people of noble character? I would hope that human beings, with all that our Creator built into us, would be capable of much more. “The land of the free because of the brave,” I read on the sign every time I pass a little diner in my town. But what are we doing with this liberty with which we’ve been blessed? The fact is, if we’re doing it right, the freedom we now have to “study mathematics and philosophy”, “painting, poetry, music”, etc. can build those same virtues in us which the “study of war” did for the generation before us.

So what are we missing?

It is unfortunate that the study of history is mostly about the study of wars. “Thus has it always been”, but does “thus shall it ever be” have to be our reality? War, truce, order, general indolence, some excessively spoiled brats out of control, leading to War…

What can we do to prevent ourselves and our children from allowing our cushy lives to turn us into a culture of indolent, self-centered, spoiled brats?

He gave up this

To be a soldier

So that I could do this

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Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Anyone who knows me well and either reads here or at Facebook knows that it doesn’t take much to get me to remember and talk about my daughter. Here’s something I posted last week at Facebook after I saw a few posts from friends remembering their children:

When our daughter was born they knew by her features that all was not right. It was decided pretty soon that she needed to be taken to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. She spent the night without us there, but I was released the next day and Jack and I went to Nashville where we stayed with her for the next two days. On day 4 of her life she was released from the hospital when they had determined that it was Trisomy-18 and there was nothing to be done for her. Reading my friend’s story of her own loss and never getting to hold her daughter, I’m remembering how, after they had disconnected Grace from all the wires and machines, I walked around the hall at the hospital, holding my little girl in my arms, and introducing everyone I met to her. I felt like a little girl with her doll. I felt like I was playing at being a mom to a baby girl. I knew that my baby could die at any moment. But I was so proud to call her my own and show her to everyone that passed by. How weird that only a few days before I totally was anticipating having a daughter, and now I knew that it wasn’t to be, but I could pretend for a little while.

Virginia Grace Pelham, February 3, 2006 – February 24, 2006

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A Friend Loves at all Times

Love always Hopes, always Trusts

Last week while we were at rehearsals for a play in which our children were involved, I asked my friends if I could get a picture of the two of them because I wanted to tell you about them. They wanted me in the picture, too, because that’s just the kind of people that they are.

I often feel very lonely for like-minded friends and while I am blessed with many such friends across the globe who I can interact with daily online, locally the story is different. Recently I went through a situation where I was overwhelmed by the opposition to my family and our values, and it seemed to me that no one cared about the truth. It seemed that way. But then Heather comes and asks to hear our story. Annie messages and sends encouragement. I remember, once again, that I do have friends right here that stick closer than a brother. I do have friends right here that seek the true, the good, the beautiful. I do have friends that trust my heart, and the heart of my husband and son.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.    ~Ecclesiastes 4

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You’re Better Than You Think You Are: Life Lesson from a Cello Lesson

Near the beginning of cello playing with certainly many things wrong here

I have been playing piano for 49 years. One year and a half ago I began cello lessons. I have attempted other instruments through the years, but this was the first that I took seriously enough to go beyond buying the instrument and a few books and then letting it all collect dust. I got a teacher. And, boy, did I get a good one. I scheduled weekly lessons. I practice most days. Some days are better sessions than others.

Now, this may be obvious, but playing cello is different from playing piano. Much more than I thought. It’s humbling to have been a trained musician for nearly 50 years, having a master’s degree in music, and currently teaching over 40 piano students in my studio, to basically start all over. My fingers look like my young students as they awkwardly try to find the right place to be. It has definitely made me a more understanding teacher.

So here we are 18 months later, and I’m still making sounds on the cello that sound more like a moaning cow than the beautiful, rich tone that inspired me to want to play this instrument. I come into my lesson, and while my teacher greets me very warmly and asks me how’s it going, I generally answer with, “Okay,” and I suspect my teacher hears the hint of a sigh, and he says, “You say that every time.”  I get my instrument out — and, boy, what a different process that is than just sitting down at the piano — and we proceed to play a little piece, which has been preceded by yet another sigh, and probably words of where I think I’m failing. We finish said piece, and he says to me, “That was nice. You know, you’re better than you think you are.”

This evening I was walking up the steps to our home, weary from an emotional few days full of alarm and disappointment at the actions and thinking of others for whom I would have expected better, and I recalled how a few weeks ago I had been thinking, “I wish I was a better person. I wish I was kinder. I wish I was more patient and thoughtful.” And then I thought of all the mean things that have been said and done this weekend, and how it hurts me because that’s not the kind of person I want to be, and then I thought — even before I hit the last step — that’s not the kind of person I am! “I am better than I think I am!” I will always be an examiner of my heart and strive to be better, and while one shouldn’t feel good about themselves simply because there are meaner people in the world, this episode has shown me more of what I’m made of and what I had forgotten is there. I still hope to grow in kindness every day. My model is Christ. I have a ways to go. But at the same time, I will fight the mental demons that tell me that I am less than I am. I am on the right path. The narrow one that, sadly, few find. I will never deserve it, but I’m there. I’m going in the right direction, and I am a-okay.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

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What I Learned 20 Years Ago

  1. You don’t always get what you want. Certainly, I had this figured out by age 36, but my 31 year old brother’s death was the hardest lesson I had had up to that point of the reality of this. (And regardless of my own daughter’s death 8 years later, probably still the hardest lesson.) I had prayed and prayed and begged and begged and had family and friends praying, but July 28, 1998 brought us a definite No to those wishes.
  2. Even though you can never reverse the event, you must use the beauty of your brother’s life and the tragedy (to you) of his death to live your own life to the fullest. You have to make there be a reason for it all. My brother’s 9-month illness and death caused a boatload of spiritual turmoil in me. Actually, I had been struggling for years, and this just increased matters dramatically. In being determined to make his life and death matter, I made decisions to remove myself from bad spiritual and mental situations. I remember thinking as I was making these decisions and beginning to feel relief and light in my heart and spirit, that my brother had saved my soul.  (Don’t freak out Christians; I know what Jesus did.) I remember feeling a very strong sense of homing in on what is really important in life; I had a intense desire to get rid of what was weighing me down and keeping me from the true, the good, and the beautiful, whatever was robbing me of joy and really just complicating my life so unnecessarily.
  3. I also learned things that were helpful to say to the grieving and things that were not so helpful. For example, one person said to my Mom, “At least you have the other 4 kids.” That’s in the not helpful category. Perhaps I’ll share more in another post.

My brother, James Lester Davis, was born October 30, 1966, the 5th of 5 children. How delighted everyone was that here was a second boy. Mike, 11 years older, would not be alone anymore. Although that age difference didn’t exactly make a close friendship in their early years, the beautiful thing is that as adults they became the best of friends. James died in Mike’s home.

Our oldest sibling, Rita, refers to James as her first baby. Her sweet baby James. She was 15 years old at his birth. Our sister Karen certainly had adventures with her baby brother growing up and was privileged to have him live with her for a while when he was in his 20s, with more adventures which she can relate so well.

I was nearly 5 when James was born. Amazingly enough, with that age difference, we got along pretty well growing up. We shared comic books, which I wrote our names on and scratched his out when he made me mad. Ha! Good times. We played games inside and outside, rode our bikes long distances across town. He was in 8th grade when I went to college 12 hours away. I remember coming home that Thanksgiving and seeing this stranger with these long arms coming out of the house to greet me. “Hi, Kay,” James said with this changing voice I didn’t recognize.

Five years later James was in college in Arkansas, studying art. He made a lot of friends there, friends that remained a part of his life until his death 14 years later.

My brother James was about the most laid back, energetic person I’ve ever known. Yes, I said ‘laid back’ and ‘energetic’. He was excited about life. He loved art and architecture and music. He was kind. He was generous. He was interested in people. He was thoughtful. He was open. He loved truth and sought truth.

James loved his parents. He honored his Dad and adored his Mom. He said of Darice, his girlfriend at the time of his death, “She’s so much like Mom.” Yes, he wanted ‘a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad‘.

James loved me. He wanted the best for me. My little brother encouraged me in my love for music. I heard from him daily thanks to the very early days of emailing. He made me travel tapes. He sent me sheet music. He visited me in NYC several times. I was so proud to share my brother with my friends and co-workers and to see the city through his eyes.

Then that call came in October, 1997. From him. “I have cancer.” There was a tumor on his tongue. Even in that first phone call, he acknowledged his readiness to die, although he didn’t want to. His 31st birthday was October 30th. The following day he had surgery, removing about a 1/3 of his tongue. Nodes from his throat were tested, and they found that the cancer had spread to his neck. (My siblings can correct any of this. I am, and am pretty certain I will always remain, medically and biologically stupid.) He was medicated and chemoed and radiated for the next 9 months. By the beginning of June, the doctors were acknowledging that his time was short. My bosses in NYC graciously allowed me to go to Alabama to be with him, where he was staying at our brother Mike’s house. Mike’s wife, Judith, was his chief caregiver there. She was wonderful. On Tuesday morning, July 28th, around 9 o’clock, he had asked that we wait a bit for his next feeding. I sat on the couch next to him, playing some hand-held game. Then I heard a rustling sound and saw one of the worst sights of my life, never to be forgotten. Judith and Mom came into the room. Mom held James’ hand as he bled to death, saying, “You were a good boy, James.” Judith called 911 and kept her 4 and 6 year old out of the room.

And here we are. We have survived 20 years without him. Unbelievable. Wasn’t it just yesterday? James’ old Dad (49 at James’ birth) lived on after James’ death another 17 years. I guess you all know that I have a son. His name is James. You can probably figure out why. You can also read more about that here.

As I was going through the aftermath of his death and the great emptiness I felt at the loss of such a great friend, I don’t think I imagined where I would be twenty years later. I’m not sure I thought I’d be here twenty years later. Part of me thought that I was next. Every little pain was a tumor, and I’d be gone soon, too. I felt very alone. Me was all I had, and I wanted to get her right. In whatever time I had left. If James was with God, I wanted to be able to see him again. I wanted James to look down and be proud of what his sister was doing with her life. I wanted him to know that his life had mattered.

It did.

It still does.

I will remember you, will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories ~Sarah McLachlan, Dave Merenda

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.  ~Aeschylus

James Lester Davis 1966-1998

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An expensive trip to the neighborhood coffee shop and some analysis

I’m going to try to type this up really fast, so that I can enjoy the rest of my evening, hopefully as planned and without event. Jack said, “And now you can blog about it.” And so I will.

I decided that I would have a productive Sunday afternoon in the studio. I would do my calendar for the week, do lesson planning and research for piano students, and be a very, very good girl and have a great session or two of practicing cello. Then I decided that what would be really cool is to go to the coffee shop on the next block and get a refreshing beverage and a snack. It would be like the old days of my singlehood when I would patronize a breakfast vendor on my way into work. So I prepared a few things and decided to go light to the shop and just put the few necessaries into my pockets and head out. Upon my return, just as I’m reaching the studio door, I think, ‘where are my keys? surely they’re in my pocket.’ But, alas, no, they’re not. They are inside the studio.

Remember that part about kind of reminiscing about single days? Well, I’m single today because Jack and James are out of town. And the landlord is also out of town. I’m able to communicate with Jack because, although I left without keys, I did have my phone with me. He calls a locksmith. The locksmith (who turns out to be the father-in-law of the friend who ends up rescuing me) is unsuccessful. So I text a few friends (again, thankfully I have my phone, but it would have been nice if the phone and keys were reversed — but that’s in my brief analysis below) and track down the lovely Christina, who comes to my rescue, giving me a place to be inside. The landlord, who was expected back in town by 6 (this we know because Jack had contacted him) actually gets back by 4. It turns out that his key won’t work for the studio. He is able to get our apartment door open, and I retrieve a second copy of the studio key, which also will not work. What is up with that! I just had used a key to get in 4 hours ago. So the landlord calls the locksmith back. He tries his little tools again. No luck. They decide the lock has to be replaced. So with 30 minutes until closing time, the landlord goes to ACE.  Lock is replaced successfully.

As much as I didn’t want to, I did my work and practiced cello a bit, and even went on a planned Walmart trip. And now here I sit safe and (too) warm in my apartment, getting near the time that I didn’t want to be typing this post anymore.

Now, about that expensive trip to the coffee shop. I’ve recently been reading “The Undoing Project”, in which the working relationship of two psychologists who won a Nobel Prize in Economics for their studies in judgment and decision-making is discussed. At about 50 pages from the end, I finally came upon the use of “the undoing project”. Throughout the book, the author has gone over their work in how people make choices (one of particular interest to me was how the anticipation of regret influences decisions), but this “undoing” is about what our mind does after the fact, after a negative consequences of a choice, or a tragic accident or death. It is the “if only…” Although we cannot change the results, the mind wants to imagine scenarios that could have prevented this embarrassing, irritating or painful event. But interestingly, there are limits.

So I found myself this afternoon living all those “undoing” things that I had just been reading about. Feeling frustrated with my afternoon lost and anticipating the cost to my pocketbook,  I ran through all the “it could be worse”, “at least I had my phone”, “I do have some friends to call”. And I did a few “if only”s. And I realized that I was in the middle of that book. Isn’t it something that the mind insists on doing that? Maybe some of it is helpful in helping you not do that again, but am I really not going to plan to go to the studio when Jack is out of town? (hard to teach lessons that way); am I really never going to go to the coffee shop again? really never going to decide to walk the block with a light load? Now, I will hopefully check my pockets for keys, maybe think keys before phone. That’s the good thing about an “ordeal” (yes, I know, it could be far, far worse) like this; it is memorable.

Regardless of how much I reason and look on the positive side —if the lock was broken, me locking my keys in helped us discover that in a time better than a worse time to discover that, and definitely the comfort of having friends nearby and available, the security I felt at seeing how hard it was for a professional to break into our studio  — I’m pretty confident that my mind will always associate this day with my decision to go get coffee and that raspberry bar. Good thing they were both really good. They sure were expensive.

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Who Got Here First and What in the World are We to do at this point

“Illegal” immigration. Oh, the debates that this brings up. Are the immigration laws even moral and just? That’s the present. Do we consider the past in determining what should be done in the present? Who got here first, anyways? And what did we do to them? We? Who is the We? If we’re all thrown into a blob, then We are the largest governing unit on this continent, the United States of America, which was founded by 13 British colonies. So what are We to do about the fact that We came here — invaded, that is — and committed genocide and stole land and force peoples off their rightful land?

I wonder this when I see people comment in the great internet debate that We were illegal immigrants, too. Just ask those that were already here, they say. So what are We to do to pay the penalty? Leave, as We are making current “illegals” do? Or should We let them in to repeat history and even the score by allowing them to take whatever they want and kill groups of current residents or push them off their lands? How are We to rectify the past?

Paternal great-grandparents, James and Laura Johnson Davis

And then there is Me. Who am I? For whom and what am responsible? With which am to identify? How did Kay get here? Part of me was “already here”. I am Cherokee. My ancestors were a people pushed off their land. Part of me came here from Europe. I am  some kind of mix of mostly western European. So am I victim or robber/murderer? And then there’s the part at how relatively late my Europeans came, and I’m pretty sure there’s not nary a conquistador nor revolutionary amongst them. Just farmers and crafters looking for a better place to live and make a living. They heared about this here place and they come. Some of those Europeans even married natives (Cherokee), and lo and behold, a few generations later, here is Kay.

Okay, that’s where my mind goes in all this. Actually, I do think we need to fix this immigration mess. I am not of the belief that anything that is Law is moral and just. I don’t think the solution is that all of We should exit and go home to wherever we came from. And part of that is, like I said, that and so many others are both “native” and “invader”. But that’s not the whole reason. And I also don’t think that anyone is thinking my extreme example above that We should just let them in to conquer and slaughter as We did. Actually, that’s not true; I think some (We’s and not-We’s) do think this way. Or maybe some think that We should just dissolve our European-based government of this part of the continent. (I have no idea if similar debates go on in Canada, Mexico, and the countries of Central and South America concerning the conquering and displacing of native societies.) If We are allowed to keep the current form of government, then what ought We to do about who gets in and for how long and when are they officially a part of Us. Should there even be such controls? Why or why not? If so, how far should those controls go on how they are to live once here? If the current governments are allowed to remain at the city, county, state and federal level, are they to expect the new occupants to follow their codes and charters? Quite honestly, this is something that I hear often. “They come here and don’t obey our laws. They bring the messy way of life they were fleeing from here. [Shoot! this is even said of those Californians that come here to Montana.] They comes here and think they don’t have to work and can just live off the government.” So should We be allowed to expect them to conform? Can it be enforced?

This is worthy of discussion and restructuring. What would be glorious is if it was honestly, fairly, and humanely reasoned out, and stupid comments and reactions would disappear from these online discussions and out of the mouths of supposed powers-that-be. And I go on dreaming.

Come now, let us reason together ~Yahweh, according to Isaiah 

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
~ Jesus of Nazareth, according to Matthew

My great-grandmother’s brother, Jacob Johnson and family

My grandfather, Lester Davis, son of James and Laura (above), and family

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Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (or, I Wished to Live Deliberately)

I stole those phrases from Thoreau. One is a chapter title from Walden, and the other is the very famous phrase from that chapter: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…” I’m currently reading Walden in my grand effort to preread my son’s books for the upcoming school year. I learned a few things from his freshman year of high school (AmblesideOnline Year 9), one of which involves my changing role as his teacher. As we have moved into his more mature student years, in my zeal for promoting self-learning in his life, I believe that I was more hands-off than I ought to have been in this past academic year. But that’s another post. Just know I’m doing A LOT of reading this summer.

What I’m about to share may need to turn into a series of posts. [Added as I end this post: Yep! it will be.] I want to share about where all I’ve lived in these nearly 57 years (oh, no!) and what I lived for, and how much of it was deliberate choices for some pretty deliberate living. I wish I could say that now I find myself in a cabin in the woods with plenty of acreage surrounding me, where I grow my Joel Salatin-approved plants and animals, (or, rather, let them grow) but, alas, it is not so…yet.

The first two homes in which I lived my first 17 years in Illinois were not my choice, obviously. But they were good homes. In good places. With very good people. I was blessed. My parents left their homeland of Macon and Clay Counties in Tennessee in the early 1950s shortly after their marriage. As I shared in a previous post, my Dad was 32 at the time of their marriage, and along with serving overseas in WWII, had traveled out-of-state a few times for work, and traveled as a musician. He felt that it was the right thing to settle down now with this responsibility of a family, so he took his very young bride up north to the Quad-Cities, an Iowa/Illinois metropolitan area, where he knew there was steady work. For the greater part of the nearly 40 years they spent there, my Dad worked for International Harvester at their Farmall plant in Rock Island, Illinois. I don’t know on which side of the river (Mississippi) that they first lived, but I do know that shortly after their move there, they were both baptized and helped to build (physically and spiritually) a church in Davenport, Iowa. My parents were familiar with the Church of Christ in Tennessee, but neither became members until their move up north. My parents remained very active members of the church for all those nearly 40 years in Illinois — they were members of at least 3 congregations of the Church of Christ in that area. I was the 4th of their 5 children and came along during their 12th year of marriage. As you may imagine, church activities were a big part of my growing up years — twice on Sunday, Wednesday nights, week-long ‘gospel meetings’, summer Vacation Bible School, special events and suppers, area-wide singings, singing at the nursing home, holidays and other celebrations with church friends, summer evangelism campaigns, youth rallies.  And most importantly of all, my parents lived the morality that they taught. Like I said, I lived with very good people. I was indeed blessed.

I wanted to tell about those choices of my parents about where to live and how to live because they obviously much influenced who I became and why I have made the various choices that I have in the 40 years following my exit as a full-time resident of their home. What you also need to know is that for 23 of the 40 years of my adult life I was a single woman. The choices I made were by me alone and for me alone; I had no husband or child to consider, no family for which I was responsible. And yet I was able to take those values (most of them, that is — oh, the debt…) of my Dad that were associated with family responsibility and put them into practice in a single life. But as you will see, the way that I have most imitated the values, and thus, choices, of my parents, both as a single woman and as a wife and mother, is in their spiritual life. This life of mine has definitely been for the most part a spiritual journey. [For those of you that don’t know me well, you might think from the previous description of my family church life that what this means is that I’m going to go on with this long saga and fill it with 40 years of church activities, but you would be off there. It might still be more church-going than you can stomach, but trust me, my spiritual journey has been much more than church-going, as well it ought to be. I think there will even be surprises for some that think they do know me well. This could potentially be a Kay coming-out time. Now, aren’t some of you interested. Don’t worry, family, it’s not like that. (smiley face)]

End of Part 1. For real. I think I need to map out the sections of my life and decide what years to share with each post. I anticipate agonizing over significant things that I will forget to tell about and stressing about just how to tell what I do remember. I’ve lived in 8 U.S. states since I left my parents’ Illinois home, and several residences and cities within some of those states. Forty years and all those states is a lot to cover. What a ride it’s been. See you in Part 2.






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