September 2008

It's September 1 and I'm here! Hurrah for Stonecreek Media and my new website! Thanks for being patient with us all.

Late in August we finally lured two of our friends from French Prairie to come to visit and have dinner with us. The Howards, Brenda and Roger, helped us immensely in working on the Marie Dorion series and we’ve remained friends ever since. It’s one of the great gifts of the writing life, meeting good people who you take into your circle and whose circles occasionally cross with others.

They arrived later on a day when 12 intrepid readers from Beaverton caravanned down the reptile road. They were part of a church group who had read my books and Dave Swehla has followed Emma’s story all over the country I think. He organized this journey. Both that group and the Howards met at the Sherman County Museum on the same day and discovered their mutual connection. I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner to see what the Beaverton crowd had to say about the road!

Brenda told me that earlier she and her sister had been going over old monthly memos posted on this site and now renamed as “words of encouragement” and how they liked the essays especially when I talked about the Psalms. I just finished reading Kathleen Norris’s new book and she’s a great lover of Psalms too and I realized then that I hadn’t been reading them much of late. So Brenda and her sister Judy turned my path back to them.

I chose Psalm 106 and discovered that while it begins with praise it quickly provides a litany of all that God did through the ages for the Israelites and then how the people would forget. They’d praise, be happy, then “turned back to their craving.” I do this so much! What a great phrase: turned back to their craving. And what do we crave for?

Recently in a magazine article that I now can’t find to provide the source for you, a man wrote that this was his philosophy of life: “to do what you can; love what you have; be who you are.” Such a spare and splendid life mission. A grand reminder for the days in which I forget how blessed we are. Jerry’s elk hunting (black powder); our kids are clean and sober; our other kids we’ll see again in September for a wedding of a grandson; a granddaughter called to thank us for her birthday gift; the other granddaughter got a job; we’ll be meeting Canadian readers who I’ve corresponded with for several years and spending time in Jasper, Alberta for a few days following my keynoting Inscribe, a Canadian writer’s conference in Edmonton. Next week it’s a workshop in Hood River and then family time in Minnesota and research along with a quilt presentation in Wisconsin at Quilt Expo. We have so many blessings.

For that Wisconsin event, I bought a new projector and lap top so I can make the presentation. But my computer guy says the projector is so powerful we can do movies in the park here. Or rather, movies in the canyon and show it on the rocks! Yet another adventure.

I digress.

There was another day in August that touched me greatly and reminded me of all we have. We were getting ready to go on an Alaska cruise with our friends from Bend, Blair and David Fredstrom. Yes, we’d gone three years ago but Jerry was very ill then and this would be a different trip. No flying anywhere. We got to spend a night with friends in Everett who kept our car for us and picked us up when we came back. Blair’s in a wheelchair so I planned to spend time with her while Jerry and Dave went into the towns that I’d seen before but Jerry hadn’t spent much time in. And we did have a grand time despite fog, high winds and seas for 36 hours. Blair and I did “On Deck for the Cure” the last day with her pushing herself around every other lap and me pushing her on the others. We did 5K which is 9 laps and 3.5 miles, or so we were told as we pumped away. It was great to have a week with good friends just hanging out.

Anyway, before we left Jerry wanted new jeans and he wanted me to go pick them up at Tony’s Town and Country in The Dalles, a clothing store. I could see all the possibilities of choices that I could mess up so I asked him to call in and tell them exactly what he wanted: size, boot cut or not, stretch or not, brand, etc. He did.

When I went in to pick them up, the female clerk was helping two little boys look at jeans. They were maybe 7 and 9 and had crew-cuts that needed mowing but they were bright and energetic and knew what they wanted. They bounced around and reminded me of my nephews when they were that age. I watched as she helped them. So respectful she was of them, asking what kind of pants they liked, size, etc. One of them said he wasn’t sure of the size so he scampered past me to go upstairs to the women’s section to ask his mother. The clerk made eye contact with me then and she continued to help the other child for a bit. He kept looking so she politely told him she’d just help me and be right back if that was all right with him. He said it was.

Jerry’s pants were at the cash register and she rang me up as the owner came in. She told him the two little boys needed help and he turned to go do that as I gave her a compliment.

“I want to thank you for being so kind and respectful to those little boys,” I said.

Her face opened up in surprise. “Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked.

“Sometimes adults aren’t.”

“Oh, but how will children know what kindness and respect are if they don’t experience it themselves,” she wisely said. “If they don’t see it they can’t give it away. If they experience kindness they’ll be able to pass it on.”

Indeed. How will they know, I thought. I said it was just so wonderful to see. I reached out to take her hand and squeezed it and apologized for the tears that I didn’t expect to be flowing (and are now as I write this).

“I have a new grandbaby,” she said. “Just born and that’s what I want him to know. “ She was tearful now too.

“What a lucky baby,” I said.

We blubbered for a bit, reaching for tissues, laughing at this moment of camaraderie standing at a counter.

I took my package, nodded to the owner who was chatting with those boys still. (Respect is obviously something modeled from the top down in that store) and headed off to pick up Jerry’s prescriptions still wondering why I was so tearful at seeing compassion expressed in everyday life like that.

At the pharmacy, it turned out that Jerry’s prescription had a problem. His insurance card that had always worked, didn’t. The clerk was very apologetic and had this look of fear in her eyes about what I’d say to this glitch in my day. But I’d seen kindness just minutes before and I said, “That sort of thing happens. I’ll have to call the insurance company and figure it out.” Her shoulders actually sank in relief. “Thank you,” she said. “It does happen and it’s no one’s fault. Thank you.”

Ordinarily I might have been annoyed, maybe even shown it or expressed it to the clerk even though it wasn’t her fault. Like everyone else I get stressed. But for some reason, there was this calm. That clothing saleswoman had given me a great gift in modeling kindness and it was really easy ten minutes later to pass it on. I felt light as a leaf.

I still think about the tearfulness. Maybe those tears arose because I’ve seen children abused and hurt or watched them be ignored in stores or heard someone say in harsh tones, “Where’s your mother?” Or maybe it was my acting on the witness I’d seen and telling her. It’s not always easy to give a stranger a compliment but I do try to do that.

In a course I took some years ago we’d occasionally be asked to tell different people in the group, one on one, something to make them feel good about themselves. The instructors called it “gifts of confidence.” It forced us to pay attention to who that person was and what their journey was during the rest of the class so we could give away a gift to build their day. It also gave ourselves something: pleasure at noticing something in someone else that is admirable. We always ended feeling lighter, happier, just for giving kindness away.

Whatever it was, it has stayed with me, that woman’s gentle spirit. And Brenda and her sister commenting on reading old monthly memos and how they affected them, that’s a gift of confidence they gave to me that sent me to the Psalms, reminding me now of the richness of everyday life and how small things do truly make a difference not only in the lives of those boys, but in the pharmacy clerk later and in my own as the memory of that good day stays with me.

You can guess what I encourage you to do this month!

My website is nearly completed and I’m learning how to add things on my own. We’ll see if this arrives at all J I still don’t have adding photographs down so you’ll have to wait with that.

Meanwhile, as many of you head back to school with your children take a deep breath, compliment a teacher or two as they’re likely as rattled as you are and maybe together we can pass along that kindness and respect that truly does reduce the “craving” reminding us to be thankful for all we have and to pass that goodness on.

Thanks for visiting the site! Warmly, Jane