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From The Heart

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Carol Bossard

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What a variety of weather February is bringing us.   Shortly after Valentine’s Day, environmentalists on social media began encouraging us to leave garden debris for a few weeks at the beginning of the “season”, and “don’t pull dandelions.”  I’m thinking, “Umm.….there are still patches of snow beneath my shrubs, plus what we just got, and dandelions haven’t dared show a glimmer of green.  There’ll be no debris-removal until mud season is over and my fingers won’t freeze.”

Regardless of yoyo weather, I am appreciative of each morning; my heart has continued beating all night, and I’m up and relatively mobile.    Cardinals and nuthatches on the feeder make me smile, and I enjoy figuring out which creatures have been passing through during the night.  The ears of corn are nibbled away, indicating deer, and the large water bowl is empty, so I’m assuming skunks and possums are awake.  I’m glad to be awake myself.  I don’t take these privileges for granted anymore!   And, spring is working its way north, dandelions and all!

Yesterday, we entered the Season of Lent. Mardi Gras is over.  For Fat Tuesday, I had planned to make some raised-dough delectables from my Grandpa Dusett’s recipe.  The events of the day decided otherwise.  An appointment with the acupuncturist for shoulder pain seemed more important that the sugary wonders ---- definitely an all-day project.    I do enjoy carrying on traditions when possible and making family recipes is always a pleasure.  In addition to the doughnuts, I also have My grandfather’s recipe for oatmeal cookies – soft and chewy with raisins and just a touch of molasses.   I might make those soon, but the doughnuts will have to wait now, until we celebrate Easter.

Back to the Lenten season which is, for Christians, a preparation time, similar to Advent but without the hanging of the greens and stringing of lights.  It is the six weeks prior to Easter and marks the 40 days of Christ’s sojourn in the desert.  It is a time of less exuberance and more stirring of the heart; a time to recognize how far we fall short of who we could be, but also to rejoice and be glad in the possibilities of change and growth.

In the early centuries, AD, the Season of Lent was a period of severe personal sacrifice, and the custom lingers --- in a milder way.  Fewer and fewer people are tied to church liturgy, but even non-church people still ask “What are you giving up for Lent?”  Common responses are: “Candy” or “Lunch” or “Ice Cream” --- a far cry from medieval fasting and flagellation.    I suppose forbidding something appetizing does have a certain value in reminding us of what Lent is all about and if that works for you, it is good.  But more recently, I’ve felt that my offering should be more pro-active, something to create peace and joy.   I suppose this would differ immensely for various people, for how we live our faith is very individual.  Some possibilities might be to read more Scripture every day, or perhaps to spend time in praying and visualization of unity and understanding, or volunteering in a soup kitchen/food cupboard or being a friendly visitor in a nursing home.  We, who observe Lent, would do well to use the time in a way that gives us six weeks of soul-building and spiritual delight.

Jumping to a bit of back-story, you may recall that last October, along with my granddaughter, I attended a writer’s workshop in Vermont.  One of the speakers that day, was John DeDakis*, former CNN Senior Copy Editor.  In retirement, besides teaching, coaching writers and editing, he is creating mystery novels.   I have one of his books, and while it took me a couple of chapters to get into it --- possibly because I hadn’t read the preceding book and so didn’t know the characters ---- by the third chapter, I really wanted to see how this situation would resolve itself.  Who did it??  Oh NO, Lark is in jail……!” Only a compelling story would keep me up after my bedtime and Bluff did that.   More important (to me) than the good read, however, were Mr. DeDakis’ thoughts regarding the art of writing ----and communicating.  His words do not apply only to writers, but to how we relate, people to people.

In his workshop, he began by asking us to jot down all the words we would use to describe “grief.”  He then spoke of his own deep grief at losing a son and went on to say that if we want our writing to connect with others, our pens must pull words from the depth of our own experiences; write from our hearts.  Stories should spring from what we know and feel.  I seldom write fiction; it’s not my forte, though I spun out some “Jonathan” stories for our boys when they were young.  Nor do I feel skilled at devising complicated, interwoven plots.  I am far more comfortable writing about life --- my life, the lives around me; my perspective on the world, especially my own small portion of it.   I can describe our snow-covered pergola, bright with three crimson cardinals.   I know about retrieving cows that have wandered onto the NYS Thruway, about catching polliwogs in vernal pools and the aroma of fresh hay bales on the wagon. I can describe mediating a contest of wills between a county legislature and a state human services agency, and am able to reflect on surviving a life with family, job and chronic depression.  I can share moments of delight, and urge a better understanding of history for its importance to our survival. My gardens, the singing birds, our feral cats, black bear visits, and the small homey bits of each day beg to be shared.  I try to send out sparks of hope, create moments of awareness and mete out a quiet kind of joy.  So, John Dedakis’s philosophy made sense to me for both writing and for conversation.

Personal stories connect us as humans.  We find healing as we share our lives, whether via fiction or non-fiction; whether written or spoken.   Our stories bring us connection and free others to tell theirs.   The Friday AM Women’s Study group that I help facilitate, is a fine example.  When we first came together, we really didn’t know each other all that well and were a bit cautious.  Now we know each other in ways that are, perhaps, different from, and in some ways, deeper, than we know many of our friends ---there is a soul-connection that is affirming and supportive.  Confidentiality is how we respect each other, and how we can trust in the sharing.

Families, too, need more awareness of each other.  Choosing a time that works ----after school with a snack, or around the dinner table, or just before bed along with reading stories --- is crucial.  Family members need to talk with each other about their day ---- and no reprimanding or preaching.  It doesn’t take much --- a little careless laughter, a pushing aside of an art project, a small scold --- to make a child think no one wants to hear from him.  Of course, parents get busy, worried, frustrated and tired, but if they want kids to talk openly with them when they are teens, the rapport and freedom to do so must begin when they are small children.    Being really heard is key to believing we are worthy of life.

A “Question Journal” works especially well with tweens and teens.  Parent and young person share a journal.  The parent writes a question in it, gives it to their kid, who then has the day to write an answer.  After they’ve found time to talk about the answer, the young person writes his or her question and hands it back to the parent to answer.  Honesty and consistency are crucial.  It is also honest to quietly say “I’d rather not talk about that now Let me think about it.”

When Kerm and I participated in Marriage Encounter there was a similar procedure.  Each person wrote on the question of choice for 20 minutes, then silently read the other person’s thoughts.  After writing and reading, there was 20 minutes of discussion.  This non-threatening kind of dialog assists in keeping up with each other’s thoughts and feelings.   How many people, after years of being together, don’t have a clue about what their partner is wanting or feeling? Communication skills need mending everywhere --- in families, in schools, certainly in Congress, and all over the world.  This, as well as other great movements, is a grassroots change that begins at home.

Here at my home, February is drawing to a close.   I saw a red-winged blackbird on my feeder; probably a scout sent ahead to assess the situation.  Yesterday, after the snow, the feeder was inundated with black birds of all genres.  There were also wild turkeys, coming off the hill, liberally scattering seed and scratching some in.   Sunflowers will be popping up everywhere!  But that won’t be happening for a while; both dandelions and sunflowers have the innate wisdom to lie low.   Finger Lakes weather can be capricious during February and March. “First gray skies, and then blue, Snow blows in on great gusts of wind while the next day is mellow with sunshine and aromas of coming spring.  Red-winged blackbirds come swooping home in spite of unfriendly weather….” **is descriptive of late winter/early spring here.    I try not to be impatient, but my heart is ready to be lifted by the sight --- and smell ---- of hyacinths and daffodils.

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

*---John DeDakis – novelist and writing coach.  Former CNN Senior Editor for “The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer”.  He is the author of five novels and is a manuscript editor ---- and, from my own experience, a really nice person.

**- portion of a poem from “A Safe Life” by CWB.

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