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A Little Historic Ranting, A Little Laughter, A Lot of Joy!

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Carol Bossard

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Snow, snow and more snow!  Winter snows and winds have impacted several of our trees, especially our lilacs.  The oldest one, probably at least 60+ years old, had three large broken branches that we removed from its center.  Now it looks like two champagne flutes with space in the middle.  Kerm taped another newer lilac back together, hoping it will reattach.  Butternut and tulip trees have shed limbs all over the lawn, and one crab apple tree is split right down the middle.   The deer have been nibbling one rhododendron whose burlap cage was too low.  Winter can be a relentless pruner.

I’ve been indulging in garden dreams (catalogs); White Flower Farm, Jung, Bluestone, Pinetree, etc.  I particularly enjoyed this thought by Rumi*: “And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.  It is quiet, but the roots are down there riotous!”  Our 2022 gardening clarified some gardening choices for 2023.  We no longer wish to weed endlessly, to cultivate new spaces or even to process bushels of food come harvest time. I enjoy carrots and beets from my garden, but fresh produce from the local store or Farmers’ Market will provide adequately.  This year we will need more mulch, and we’ll be growing only what I won’t be without; potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, basil and lots of flowers.  Well ---- maybe some pumpkins!  I believe that working in the soil is so healthy for the body and mind, that unless I’m confined to bed, I’ll be out there with trowel doing something.  Just not quite as much!

Remember our pinochle group? Ten or twelve of us around the table playing with three decks of cards?  We even played by the light of many candles one night when the power went out.  This group hasn’t met for three years because of COVID and other obstacles.  We happily got together a couple of weeks ago.  It isn’t that we are super-serious about pinochle ---- which is fortunate---- because some of us were a bit hazy about a double run, what was trump, who led, and one of us (who shall certainly remain nameless!) even played an entire hand leaving meld on the table.  But, as we played, we caught up with each other’s lives, nibbled on delicious snacks and laughed quite a lot.  We are a diverse group; there’s a retired teacher turned life coach, a retired music teacher who continues to direct choirs and draws wonderful music from pipe organs of the region, a retired Head of Maintenance in a large company and retired dental hygienist, two retired human services administrators, and an entrepreneur currently running a book store.  We were missing the Bee Master and the retired University forester.  Pinochle is one of our vehicles for having fun and feeling better about life.  We are good for each other!  Everyone needs friends like this, not necessarily for cards, but to add affirmation, humor and understanding to life.

Anne LaMott** says that “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”  I like that because laughter lightens the heaviness that we all feel and it often improves perspective.  A sense of humor is a curious thing.  I’m not sure whether we are gifted with it, or whether one can develop it.  It is the old argument regarding nature and nurture.   My mother didn’t have the same sense of humor that I had.  She would laugh at a duly labeled comic strip and the antics of small children, but puns and small bits of coincidental humor never registered with her.  Fortunately, she managed to be light-hearted without this gift, but both she and I wondered why we didn’t always find humor in the same places.  Some people view life as super-serious.  To the too-focused (fanatical), laughter seems frivolous, and they find little humor in the surrounding world.  Some TV examples would be Temperance Brennan, forensic specialist on “Bones”, and the annoying young scientific geniuses in “Big Bang Theory”.  These characters are intelligent, inner-directed, and very, very serious with nary a gleam of humor entering their consciousness.  Laughing at themselves wouldn’t be possible!   My high school English teacher wrote in my year book, (with slight exasperation, I thought): “you made me laugh even when I didn’t want to.”  Maybe that was good --- a high school English teacher probably needs to laugh more.  I do know that seeing the humorous bits in most situations has been a boon and blessing for me.  Without laughter I’d be mired in the deepest despair for the world.

And because there’s currently so much world-wide anxiety, I would like to share a poem by Mary Oliver.***  In spite of fun and humor, I am a chronic worrier, though I’m also chronically trying to reform from undue worrying.  So, I keep this poem where I can see it regularly.

“I worry a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not, how shall I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.  And I gave it up.  And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.”

‘Tis a fine line between contemplating--- being prepared ---- and worrying.  I hope to step over that line less as I go along.  However, having made only small improvements in 80 years, I have to accept that I’m a slow learner!

One thing that would probably create less worry and more understanding universally, would be a better awareness of past events.  After all, “There is no such thing as the past; there is only someone else’s present!”****  Which means the same things keep happening.   The lack of historic awareness among the general population, is abysmal and frightening.  For example -- every one of us who lives in these United States (unless one is a Native American, and even then…) stems from immigrants who came from somewhere else.  Our forebearers were usually desperately escaping poverty or tyranny.   Those who know history, know that every time a new wave of immigrants enters the picture, there has been bigotry and tension with claims of losing jobs and rising crime to stoke the fires of fear. During the gold rush, the Chinese were scorned as heathens, fit only to launder the miners’ clothes.   When the Irish came, there were “No Irish need apply” signs in shop windows, and you’d never want your daughter to marry an Irishman!   When the Italians came, they were disdained and relegated to “Little Italys”.  The United States shamefully disregarded the danger to Jewish people at the beginning of WWII and refused them entrance.   Arrogance combined with ignorance, is scary.

There are many other examples of historic forgetfulness; The witch mania in New England,  two centuries of minimal educational opportunities for any except the elite, “blue laws” that trespass on the neutral zone between church and state, lack of labor laws for the welfare of children and other workers, the institution of slavery, the mistaken idea that during the “wonderful fifties”, there was little violence or unrest.  Ignorance of history allows us to judge the rest of the world by our own experiences and to think no one ever before had problems like ours today.  We are so busy despairing of each “new” issue that comes along, that we throw up our hands, and make little effort to solve the problems in a sensible and equitable manner.  The back story might actually help us see what works and what does not.   By the time situations are so bad that we must do something, we usually over-react and make laws that ignore common sense.

Most frighteningly, ignorance of history allows us to be easily duped by those who wish to manipulate us, using fear, our lack of knowledge and glib words.   Spending less time memorizing dates for the War of Roses, and putting more emphasis on what has changed mankind’s journey in the last two-hundred years, including the difficult parts, would be useful.  Our children are leaders of the next generation. They need to know about Barbara Fritchie’s flag and Nathan Hale – but they also need to know what conditions necessitated an inspired Jane Addams, Rosa Parks, Nellie Blye and Martin Luther King Jr.  Delighting in our heroic past needs to include honesty about where we’ve erred and how we can be better. History shouldn’t be boring; it should be enlightening!

There are only five more days before January is “history.”  We can feel joy because we are closer to spring, or be equally as happy that we have plenty of winter to go.  I hope we each find something that pleases us in every day, even the stormy ones.  Blue jays vs. cats with the cat food make me laugh.  In the stillness of a winter night, with flakes of snow filtering down I am grateful for living here.  It is often the little things in life that bring delight.  January is just the cusp of the new year, so as 2023 progresses, I wish that:

“God gives you blessings for this new year --- stars for your darkness, sun for your day, light    on your path as you search for the way, and a mountain to climb.”*****  And laughter --- may there always be laughter!

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

 

***********************

*Rumi –Poet and writer from the Islamic Golden Age.  His works have been translated into many languages.  1207-1273

**Anne LaMott ---American novelist and non-fiction writer, speaker, activist and writing teacher.  Her base is Marin County, CA.

***Mary Oliver –American Pulitzer-winning poet.  1935-2019

****-- David McCullough –American popular historian and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  1933-2022.

*****Myra Scovel –American nurse and missionary for the United Presbyterian church, and writer.  She wrote “Chinese Ginger Jars” among other books.  1905-1994.

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