The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

November 30, 2005

Long have I watched my prey, indoors, locked behind the glass.
Each day it would walk before me, safe, arrogant enough to ignore me.
Knowing attempt to be futile, no effort made, no progress gained.

Then one day the door is left open, and the trapped is loose,
Free to hunt in earnest.
But desire is lost and fear replaces instinct in the wild.
The prey, surprised that the game is not engaged, turns to look
Comes closer, pounces, and destroys.

And the hunter becomes the hunted.

I’m 42 today. It’s a good thing. I like even numbers, and it’s the kind of number that is a pattern. That’s even better. Don’t look me up in the DSM-IV, everyone has quirks. I’m not eating paint chips–not yet.

After the kids got up early, decorated a festive birthday table, gave me fabulous, thoughtful and thrifty presents, and dashed out the door to school trying not to drop too many hints about birthday evening surprises, I went to look in the mirror. 42–there are more than 42 gray hairs on my head now. Time to cover them up again. More than 42 pounds gained and lost and gained again. The “baby fat” I lost so diligently (as in I had a baby, not I was a baby) has come back, and there’s no new addition to our family to blame this time. Well, the cats are new; maybe I’ll blame them. Forty-two stacks of papers waiting for my attention. More than 42 dreams I’ve yet to realize and maybe 42 I already have.

So much to reflect on as an old year closes the door on me, and I move to the next set of delights, expectations and experiences. Time to cover the gray hair I earned with my L’Oreal whatever number it is. I have chosen to be in touch with my inner redhead for several years now, and I hope to see myself as a spry 90-year old with flaming titian hair. I’m conflicted sometimes about covering up the gray. The Bible talks about honoring gray hair, if it’s sitting atop a wise head. It’s supposed to be a badge of honor, not something to hide under Nice and Easy. And I’m not ashamed, not really. I just want red hair. It’s a way I treat myself after years of feeling like mousy brown-haired girl. It’s my “when I’m old, I shall wear purple” stand. I do it for me.

My younger sister leaves me a message reminding me that I am old. I expect when I call her back to be regaled with a verse of “You are old, Father William, and have grown exceedingly fat.” She tells me she can’t remember it though, so I’m spared this time. I tell her something I remember from childhood, and she tells me again she can’t recall it. This is from the girl who has said to me more times than I care to recount, “Remember when you were (insert age here), and you were wearing (insert shirt and pants color here), and you said (insert rude comment made by me here)?” In the terrain of childhood, our five-year age difference is sometimes a mountain I’ve climbed that she never saw let alone summitted. But the territory we traveled together is familiar, and I know she’ll laugh at a joke I told last week that drew a blank stare from every single other person at the table.

In the comfortable sparring that siblings do, I remind her that I may be old, but she had the first gray hair (and was foolish enough to admit it to me). She repostes, “Maybe, but you started coloring your hair first.” Can’t argue with that. And I end my day where I started, wondering what my red hair says about me. I hope it says more than I’m a middle-aged woman who’s hiding behind a bottle of peroxide (or whatever toxin I’m smearing on my scalp and all over my bathroom). I hope it says the things that I really hope to be: strong, passionate, fun-loving, self-assured, unconcerned with the opinions of others, happy with this stage of my life. As the old hair color commercial used to say, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Yes. Not older, better. Better and redder.

Happy Birthday to me.

Claude Monet
Nehru
Boutros Boutros-Ghali
Prince Charles
Me

I have the same birthday as Monet, and you don’t.

It’s eight-thirty in the morning, and I am unashamedly eating chocolate mousse pie. If I tell you it’s left over from my birthday luncheon yesterday, it might seem less decadent. A forty-something woman should at some point choose to stop eating like a teenager. Oh well, that’s a worry for another day.

I revel in the rich dessert and recognize the memories from yesterday are just as delicious. Unlike the cake, however, they are excellent for my heart. I’m filled: the humor of a spoon the size of a ladle for our tiny bowl of soup, a mini-burger dwarfed by the platter upon which it is served; the warmth of my friend’s smile across the table; the tingle of excitement as we discuss movies and books and other passions. Eyes sparkle, and laughter comes freely, along with heartfelt sharing of dreams and plans. Recountings of trips are shared without fear of jealousy or hurt feelings. Supportive friends applaud joy for each other as much as joy for oneself

Inside my head I repeat in wonder, “I belong here. These amazing women like me, want to be my friend, are interested in what I have to say.” I think I feel myself grow a little taller with that thought (not a bad thing for someone who’s 5’2″ and probably facing osteoporosis). I have never outgrown my childhood desire to be included.

Belonging. This is what it means to be in community. Our book group discussion from yesterday focused on nineteenth-century women seeking the same thing and finding it, as we have, in each other (“One Thousand White Women” by Jim Fergus). Some things never change.

Now the question I must pose: if community is so good, why do I fight it so hard? Why do I drag myself kicking and screaming to every activity which involves other people? I already know the answer. Relationships are hard work. They involve people who require my time and energy. It’s like exercise. I know that I feel better when I drag my sorry behind to the gym and force my body to exercise–I think more clearly, have more energy, will be on this earth longer and with better quality of life.

The same is true with matters of the soul. Spending time with people involves giving of myself, but the pay-out is almost always more than the pay-in. Yet I continue to resist. Introvertedness feels like an encroaching disease, but it is not incurable. Not if I seek the remedy. I must run toward and not from opportunities for community.

Yes, my books and my writing tablet are dear friends. But they do not and cannot and must not take the place of the vibrant, surprising, and very real friends which God has seen fit to shower into my life. I must see relationships for what they are: priceless gifts to one who feels very undeserving of them. If I were to look in the bag in which they were given to me, there would be no gift tag to return or exchange them.

I know that God does not necessarily give us what we want; He lovingly gives us what He knows is best for us. I may wish for solitude, but God gives me people. When I embrace His gift, I realize it is what my heart truly yearned for but was afraid to admit. It’s as though I had anorexia–dying bit by bit–all the while thinking “This is what it means to feel good”. Then being rescued and nursed back to health and knowing that the starving was a search for the very thing I had denied myself–community, wholeness, life.

As I raise the fork to my lips and savor the cake, I acknowledge that I have miles to go before I sleep. By the grace of God, however, I shall not tread that path alone. The singers from Green Day who lament, “I walk alone,” are selling a lie. Walking alone is not a destiny, it’s a choice, and for today I choose community (and the chocolate mousse cake that goes with it).

(To Jill, Kathy, Susan and Barbara who have turned celebrating birthdays into something of an art form. You are the best!)

A poem by Jack, age 10

Veterans fought to keep our country free
Every day, for people like me!
Today and tomorrow we can live in peace,
Even in bad weather to fight they’ll never cease!
Ready in seconds, they’ll fight and stand tall,
And while they’re cross-planet they’re adored by us all!
Not everyone is willing to fight,
So veterans are full of power and might!

and Veteran’s/Remembrance Day wouldn’t be the same without the old standby:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– John McCrae

Thank you for your sacrifices members of the Armed Services.

Going for the Line

November 3, 2005

Likes most families, ours is a storytelling one. Each of us enjoys being the star of the story du jour, and hopefully we come out looking good. But when one family member gets too much air time, the others get a little jealous. Sometimes they make news, as it were, by trying to be funny. Even if the joke falls flat, at least it draws attention.

It reminds me of my Yorkie, Gino, who is now outweighed by each of the three cats in the house. He evens the score by biting them on the head when they least expect it. Then he’s on top of the heap again because everyone knows bad attention is better than no attention.

The other day, I was once again charmed by something my youngest child said (“every little thing she does is magic”–except never cleaning her room) and shared it with several people. The number one son, a little tired of playing second fiddle (he detests having to play the violin at all, second fiddle even less) decided to reassert his place as numero uno. As the conversation veered toward a discussion about women pastors, he jumped in and said, “Women shouldn’t be pastors. Men are smarter than women. That’s why they never have to ask for directions.”

His grandparents and I guffawed. He laughed, too, and repeated his comment. Then he asked me to email it to his father who was traveling for work this week. I declined, because I wondered if he knew why we were laughing. Not because we agreed with him, heavens no, but because he was completely off the mark.

Days later, I’m replaying that conversation in my head, and I wonder if my son didn’t already know the subtext. Maybe he too was laughing at its outrageousness. In many ways, a little Yoda he is in a ten-year old’s body. It reminds me of a coworker who used to say the most shocking things, and when I’d respond, she’d smile and say, “I was just going for the line.”

In retrospect my junior Jedi master might have known full well the adult perspective on men and directions. Or was he just redirecting the laugh track back his way at any cost, like any one trying to shift position on the totem pole of life? Biting his sister on the head was out of the question, so he restored equilibrium by saying the first funny thing that came to mind. Whether he’s a budding ironic or just another Yorkie clawing his way to the top, it worked. He went for the line and was a star once more.

Of bead and bookshops

November 3, 2005

Today we shopped, Al and I. We went first to the bead store and soaked the beauty of the beads in through every pore. A delight to the senses, we plunged our fingers as deeply as we could into the bins and luxuriated in the feelings. She picked up a bead shaped like a grape, and with a wistful look whispered to me, “I want to put it in my mouth.” I smiled, understanding completely.

The next place on our list was our favorite bookstore: Anderson’s. The Mecca of all independent bookstore lovers. The only thing they need is more chairs, but then noone would ever leave. We picked up Jack before going there, and the two of them disappeared at the door with nary a backward glance. They were completely at home, and I found them a short time later at the back of the store, flopped on their bellies, foreheads almost touching, noses in books. Without constraint I could wander the aisles, and I did.

Senses alert, I ran my fingers across the titles, feasted my eyes on words and colors, attuned my ears to the rustle of pages and the chatter of customers, flared my nostrils to catch the binding glue and paper smells. Like Al at the bead shop, I wondered what I could find to put in my mouth to complete the picture. Every book is a present waiting to be opened, a friend beckoning to come play, a lover reaching out to embrace. My passions are stirred as I stand in the midst of so much riches. Tempted to buy all, I choose to buy none, and that in itself feels good. I know the books will be there when I return.

We leave, and the children sprint ahead of me up the hill to the car. I admire the burning bush set ablaze in the setting sun, and the surprisingly warm fall wind whips across my face and across my spirit, awakening a sense of wonder and joy. Who needs drugs when the simple graces of walking through a bookshop or an autumn gust gives me a high I couldn’t hope to buy.

Maybe the best things in life really are free.

The Circle

November 3, 2005

Outside the circle
Watching every move
you make
Inside the circle
Confident, sure,
larger than life
Large hands
grasping small ones
Picking up,
dusting off,
trying again

Outside the circle
Wishing to be a part
Not daring to step in
Seeing the surface
Hungering
Inside the circle
Lean face
Quiet
Strength

Outside the circle
Each hour staring
Waiting
Yearning
Cold
Outside the circle, me
Inside, you

This time
Outside the circle
seeing
knowing
Inside the circle
filled, laughing,
proud
Perfection

Outside the circle
Joy for you
Alienation
Inside the circle
Them

The last time
Outside the circle
You
looked
I knew you knew
Eyes locked
Intensity
Inside the circle
Like a wake behind you
They came

You stepped in
I stayed out

As the leaves change colors, I know fall is here. The leaves swish as they sway in the wind. Red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves rustling in the wind. They’re probably thousands of brilliant leaves falling to the playground. I see sparkling rain drops. Smelling the autumn smell is wonderful. I love fall, even when it’s freezing.

by Alana, age 8

I Hate Scrapbooking

November 2, 2005

I had a breakthrough the other day. I realized and acknowledged that I hate scrapbooking. That may seem as profound to you as the fact that toenails need clipping, but I found it very liberating.

I have been surrounded by a bevy of overachieving scrapbookers who chronicle every single event of their lives and the lives of their children. I always feel vaguely uncomfortable reading the “journal entries” on those perfectly executed pages, as though I caught little miss scrapbooker in her underpants and saw something I really never desired to see.

With my epiphany came a lifting of a great burden. In the past, I felt guilty for being a bad parent. My children’s baby books are not so much books as a collection of papers shoved inside the bindings in no particular order. And their pictures can be found somewhere in some box in the storage unit I’ll clean out some day.

I’m sure the scrapbookers with their memories intact, their pristinely organized shelves of paper and supplies, and their endless zeal can lay claim to being better parents and better human beings than I, but I’m hoping that my kids will give me credit for living life with them instead of spending all my time chronicling it. Maybe they’ll forgive me like I forgave my parents, eventually, for not being all I thought they should have been.

And if they don’t, that’s okay. They can journal about it in their scrapbook. Or not. If they are anything like their mother.