PERSPECTIVE

By Lisa Huddleston

 

 

 

 

Sitting on the screened porch looking out across layers of diminishing domesticity:

the furnished porch,

the dogs in the yard,

the goats in the field,

the deer beyond the field,

and the woods …

Still lovely dark and deep.

 

Interesting layers of an onion halved.

 

I wonder if the woods look back and think they, too, are the center of the universe?

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

By Lisa Huddleston

Perhaps the greatest pain is to be misunderstood by someone you love. By misunderstood I don’t mean that they didn’t clearly hear something you said or that they got the details to a story confused. No, the misunderstanding I mean is a misjudging of your character, your soul. A lack of familiarity and recognition of who you always thought you were—both in relationship and isolation.

Now it would be presumptuous of me to assume that there can only be one correct perception of ME and that I am the only one who knows it. I acknowledge that how I am perceived is at least as important as the ME I think I am. After all, true communication must have a message clearly sent, clearly received, and clearly understood.

But it hurts to find the message of ME twisted into a form I no longer recognize.

You know my name, Lord. You knit me together in the womb and touched every part of the person I am. Please, open my eyes. Show me the wicked ways within me and give me the will to change. And then, only then, help me clearly to express a SELF that is not selfish, a ME that is not mean, an I that is not an idol but a flesh and blood message of understanding both given and received. Insomuch as this is humanly possible and for the glory of God.

Amen and amen.

LETTING GO–AGAIN

Not me!

By Lisa Huddleston

This morning I took the risk of pushing my 56-year-old body up into a backbend. It took a lift from my yoga instructor and a lot of courage from within to accomplish, but there I was, upside down looking back at the wall. I had been afraid to try, afraid of the brittleness I’ve been experiencing, the stiffness of my self. But the stretch felt good as I let go of my practical doubts and pushed up.

On my drive home, I listened to NPR’s “On Point” host a discussion of the television series, “13 Reasons Why.” I will not get into the debate over whether or not the series is positive or negative in this post, but I do want to record a small epiphany that occurred as I listened to a high school student share why she was drawn to the idea of suicide. And this may be obvious to everyone but me, but she said that she had contemplated killing herself in order to gain control over her situation. It was all about control!

Aha! Control, my old familiar nemesis, rears its ugly head once again. As I said, although it may have been hiding in plain sight, I have missed it before this morning. And, big duh, suicide really is the ultimate step of mastery over one’s situation—at least for that moment.

So much (God?) has been pointing out to me my desperate desire to have self-determination in a world that feels so out of control. We humans search for purpose and meaning and happiness and beauty and wealth and power–whatever will control the fact that we are from dust and to dust we will return. Pippin’s four weeks of dying naturally were a microcosm that let me vicariously (and actually as one who could have chosen to end his life) experience letting go. And yesterday I attended the funeral services of a wonderfully warm and brave family member (Jerry Denton) who chose to forego extreme medical intervention and let nature take its course in his dying—or rather living all the way until he died. I remain so moved by his courage and example of trust. I know it must have been unbelievably hard to let go of the reins of control, feeble though they are.

And this morning this aha. Control is a mirage anyway. Fear is a faker. Letting go and pushing into the moment is the courageous choice and the only honest way to live all the way stretched up and into the space of the day. Why is it so hard to do?

 

A LONGSUFFERING WEEK

By Lisa Huddleston

My husband has gone to a conference, and I’ve had a lot of time to myself this week. That can always be a little risky for one with introspective, depressive tendencies, and that I’ve spent my time being the hospice nurse for my dying cat has added to my melancholy. Honestly, I’ve spent the week thinking a great deal about death and dying. (Doesn’t that sound fun?)

Interestingly and perhaps not coincidentally, I chose this same time to pull out a book a friend had recommended to me (twice) and to begin a serious contemplation of the value of life, the existence of the soul, and The Givenness of Things (essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson.) Heavy stuff but good and well worth pondering during a week of longsuffering.

Questions have floated back and forth in my thoughts as I’ve watched my cat hang on to his ninth life with tenacious claws. What is it that makes us alive? Is it more than the working of our bodily machines? And what is it that leaves when we die? We all have seen it or rather the effects of its departure—the deflating of the tent, the darkening of the lamp. There is a point in time at which alive becomes dead. A changing of the guard so swift that the ghost is gone without so much as a fare thee well. What is this thing and when will it leave Pippin and me to rest in peace?

While that point of time passes in the blink of an eye, a heartbeat, the getting there can take what feels like forever. Longsuffering is just that. L O N G and S U F F E R I N G. I nobly wrote last week that I was going to gift Pippin by allowing him to pass away at home, but more than once I have considered calling our veterinarian to make an appointment to have him put down. Please, don’t misunderstand, if he were in great pain, I would. But he is just slowly and quietly dying. I am the one who is suffering, and it is I who wants to be relieved of this gift. (Of course, Pip can’t really express his wishes to me, but he seems comfortable enough sitting and shedding on the back porch furniture and squinting into eternity.)

I woke up this morning hoping he was gone. I am ready to remove all traces of cat life and death from my house. I can already uncover the leather sofa my husband has protectively plastered with blankets for years in order to prevent the scratches and tears Pippin and his predecessor, Dusty, were so good at making. Mom, too, has tried to little avail to protect her furniture from the stiff white hairs that weave through any fabric and resist removal as strongly as Pippin himself. I need to remind her that she can clean to her heart’s content. And finally THE LITTER BOX can go! I have hated it for 20 years and even though my uninvited outdoor cats plead to take Pip’s place, it will be gone without remorse ASAP.

But really what I want to get rid of the most is this longsuffering and painful waiting and the useless plastic bubble wrap I have wound around my heart.

HOME SWEET HOME

By Lisa Huddleston

Sweet old Pippin, the cat I picked up in the Cracker Barrel parking lot as a kitten over 13 years ago, is dying. At least, I assume that is what’s happening. He has barely eaten more than a bite or two a day for about a week. He is drinking water, using the litter box, and still meowing like the bossy cat he has always been—but not very often and not quite as bossily. I have offered him a smorgasbord of treats from which to choose, and he has eaten some vanilla Greek yogurt, some cat food “gravy,” and a few bites of tuna, but not enough to really keep him going. I am sad.

I think of how Dusty declined when he reached the end. Weight dropped off and then his organs began to shut down. I took him to the vet, and he ended up dying in an animal hospital about a week later. I hated not being able to explain things to him, and I don’t want it to be like that for Pippin. So, for now anyway, I think Pippin will be given the privilege of dying at home—or at least living here in his comfortable surroundings for as long as he possibly can. He looks content right this minute sitting with me on the back porch listening to the birds sing and the wind blow through the chimes.

We stopped by Chuck’s folks’ place the other evening so that he could plant some sweet potatoes in the newly ordained “family garden.” His mom came out first, and they dug into garden talk about seeds and rows and mounds and dirt. I wandered around to look at the back of the old barn where the wood bows out and the indoor and outdoor meet. She asked me if I liked to garden, and I said I do not, but I was glad for those who do. And we smiled at one another.

New plantings were being watered when Mom brought Dad out to see us. He asked Chuck, “Is this your car?”

“Yes, Dad, it is.”

“Are you going for a walk?”

“No, Dad. We came to plant the garden.”

“Is this your car?”

“Yes, Dad.”

 

And the gardeners wandered off down the dampened rows.

 

“Is this your car?”

I smiled and said it was, and he asked what I was doing there.

“Going home in a minute,” I said.

“Then go. Get in the car or he’ll leave you.”

I smiled again, watching the gardeners and waiting for Chuck to finish up.

 

“What are you doing? Is this your car?”

“I’m still waiting to go home.”

“There are lots of ways to go home, you know. You can go in a car, or you can walk. You can even go in a casket. You know that?”

“Yes, you’re right,” I said. “There are lots of ways to go home.”

 

So I climbed into the car and waited for Chuck to take me home. And home is really where we want to be when all is said and done. Home sweet home.

SKUNKS AND DOGS

By Lisa Huddleston

I think I am going through an identity crisis! I’ve always scored high on the controlling or “bossy” end of every personality test I’ve ever taken until today. Today I took the Enneagram test and scored as “The Peacemaker” with “The Investigator” and “The Helper” rounding out the top three.

What? Who have I become—or who am I becoming?

Until recently, I would have blown these results off as just being an error, but now I’m not sure. Today I wonder if maybe I have changed. And I don’t think that would be a bad thing.

Dogs gotta be dogs.

As I’ve noted before, I often have to see something multiple times to really get it, and the lesson I’m currently being taught is that I am not in control—not of others’ happiness nor their health nor the world’s condition nor the lifespans of the animals in my neighborhood. I am not in charge.

This weekend the dogs found a skunk’s den near the driveway in the ditch under the iris bed. It is a place in which skunks have built before, and both Chuck and I knew what would happen if we let nature take its course. So Chuck tried to keep the dogs away. Every time the dogs headed down the drive, he would call them back until I finally said, “Are you going to be out here watching them every time they go outside? Because I know I’m not, and if we aren’t, then the dogs are going to dash down there and dig that skunk right out of the ground.”

Chuck looked at me for a few seconds then said, “You know what? You’re right. There’s nothing we can do about it.” And so we just relaxed into the patio chairs and drank our coffee. About 30 minutes or so later, Dottie came running back up the driveway with purpose in her steps. Yes, she had been sprayed right in the face, and she couldn’t wait to share it with us. And, yes, it was upsetting, but it was inevitable. Dogs chase skunks. Skunks spray dogs. And that’s part of what makes the world go round. Could we have stopped it? For a little while, we could have—but not forever. We are not in control! Dog nature and skunk nature ruled that situation, and there was nothing we could do effectively to change that.

And that’s the truth about so much of life. No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop every bad thing from happening. And it shows wisdom to stop trying to control what is not mine to control. Yes, I have my choices to make and for them I will strive to be responsible. But many, if not most, things do not really fall into that category. And just maybe I am finally learning to make peace with that.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

By Lisa Huddleston

When I was a young girl, my best friend, Marilyn, and I used to sit with crayons and notebook paper and map out a future we called, “Castle in the Clouds.” In that castle, I had a husband who loved me, children (at least 3), dogs, and a sweet homey house. I didn’t plan for riches or great adventures or notable discoveries. I wanted a simple, quiet life. And I got it all, and I lived happily ever after.

Swoosh! Just like that. I met my husband-to-be in high school, started dating him in college, and we married a year into his medical school training. A month after his first paycheck in residency, I was happily expecting baby number one, and numbers 2, 3, and 4 followed like a string of daisies–with number 2 sadly ending unexpectedly in a miscarriage. Despite that heartbreaking disappointment, most things went according to plan. Of course, we had all the typical struggles, but we lived a very happy and very good life. And it flew by faster than I ever could have dreamt.

The only problem I have with all of this is that my plans were very short-sighted. I never considered what the “happily ever after” would contain. In some ways, that makes this time of my life unhindered. I am free to create whatever I choose (short of being young and starting all over.) In many ways, that is wonderful, and I know it seems so to those who are just beginning their journeys and are longing for a day off. But in other ways, it is frightening. What does one do when all her dreams have come true?

She may have to find new dreams, build new castles in new clouds. Oddly enough that seems to have brought me back to parts of myself that were present in the little girl with the crayons, but they never made it on to the paper. Things that I could and still can do all on my own. Like writing things and making things and loving things like dogs and cats and goats! Quiet things that will not make headlines nor win awards, but will still bring joy to my heart and populate my cloud-filled dreams.

Many days I am filled with fear at even the idea of trying to make these dreams come true. What if I can’t protect my goats from coyotes or dogs–even my own dogs? What if I never will be able to learn how to warp properly that creaky floor loom I bought second-hand from a woman who taught herself how to use it (no pressure)? What if my writings never speak truth to another soul and remain forever unnoticed? What if my old dreams were for young dreamers only? I really do struggle to the point of going days even weeks without making even a tiny step forward.

Then there are days and weeks when something nudges me like an elbow in the ribs–it may be Hope but it just may as easily be Despair. I watch three “How to Warp” youTube videos that remind me that people have been weaving their own fabric for centuries. Chuck and I settle on the fence we want for the goats who will be coming as soon as they are weaned–and, yes, people have kept goats for centuries. And I sit down to write a blog post that will be read by at least a few others who will be women my age who are trying to live in the “happily ever after” days of their lives, too.