& a poem and prompt by Pastor Drew Jackson on learning by example
Can I live as I am dying? As I sat by her bed, knowing in my heart that she was dying, I watched in awe as my life-partner gathered all her strength to hold a pencil and stuff wool into the legs of a soon-to-be sturdy felt pony. Monica had very little physical strength left, yet she focused her attention fully to the task of finishing this beautiful pony. Almost ten years have flown by since her death, and this pony stands firmly on my bookshelf where I can “say hello” every day. Monica lived as she wished to as she was dying. She died with a smile on her lips. Best, David 🏮
Hi beloved community! I learned from my dad to be the same genuine me no matter whom I’m with. When j was around 7, dad would take me on his rounds in shoe factories that he owned. If the workers were struggling with a shoe last dad would gently and respectfully show the worker where the problem was. I could tell the factory workers loved my dad. Then we would go out to dinner with some rich and powerful people, and dad would be the same genuine human being. Thru those experiences I learned to be the same genuine me no matter who I’m with. What a gift!! And added note “I love you all beloved community, because of all the beautiful things I’m learning about you all. My life is enriched because of all of you. Thank you and bless you
In the early 1970’s I lived in New Mexico for two years. Often I would visit the pueblos along the Rio Grande River. These were days of ceremony, drumming and dancing. My most vivid memory is that of watching, listening to, and feeling the way the women danced. Very slowly, each step a tender greeting to the Earth. These dancers spoke through the way they placed their feet onto the Earth. Each step was sacred. Each step carried their full attention. Each step was a prayer, a blessing. Each step spoke to the past ancestors and the present moment. Each step cared deeply for the future. Best, David 🏮
Emma, my kitty and I her human, for 20 years together. She had been showing me it was her time to leave this Earth, but I just kept saying, "She's just getting old. She's still eating, drinking, purring." I was not listening to what she was trying to tell me through the quiet language we had developed over our many years together. One evening, I was in the kitchen, and I smelled this burning smell. I had a candle lit in the living room as I always did. My sweet Emma came to me. Her belly was singed as she had walked across the candle. I held my sweet baby and cried tears I still have today. They were tears of sorrow for not listening to her, not honoring her needs above my own. That was 19 years ago. My fur baby taught me to "listen and heed the needs of others, the time of others, and the desire to pass into the next world." Sweet, sweet Emma. My greatest teacher.
Clarence taught me about love--Praise the Lord
Clarence was the handyman at Sunny Oaks, a hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York where my father sent me every summer after my mother died. He knew the owner from volunteering at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Brooklyn. I loved going to the mountains, where I had little supervision and could spend my days swimming and rock climbing and nights talking to Clarence. He was from the south and came up north to Philadelphia with his wife Theola and their son Willy.
Clarence was a very religious Southern Baptist and I considered him to be I considered him to be my second father. Every night we would sit out near the shed on a bench near where the garbage was kept and he would tell me stories that began with “Praise the Lord”; I loved to hear him tell Bible stories and about his life down south. Once, Clarence asked Theola to comb my hair; which was unruly and unkempt. “Every little girl has to have someone come their hair real nice and you have such pretty curls” Theola took me up to the attic room where I stayed and spent what must have spent hours, combing out the knots. When she was satisfied we came back to where Clarence was sitting and I remember him saying, “ Praise the Lord, your sure are pretty.”
During the winter, I missed Clarence so much and when feeling poorly, I would cry for his comforting presence. I looked forward to seeing him every summer, and our talks sitting on the bench near the shed where the garbage cans were kept. When I was thirteen, Clarence told me that we could not sit together anymore because people would talk. “One day all this will change; Praise be the Lord” That summer Sunny Oaks lost its luster, and I never returned or saw Clarence. Again.
Praise the Lord.
Many years ago, heaps of snow were on the ground and while I was in to get warm, then out again to play, I observed my aunt on the morning the day before my brother’s funeral. She was cleaning the silverware. On first reflection, why not sit, why not cry for the very young nephew, now gone. Why does this moment, in particular, take hold as time goes by, long after the reception, long after the funeral? Her gesture, in preparing silver, was a tribute to the one now gone, and allowed me, as I grew, to know it’s ok to move forward. It’s ok to be outdoors in the snow.
As a young clinical social worker at Fox Chase Cancer Center I had the privilege of working with 27 year old Belinda and her family. Belinda had AML when there were no viable long term treatments. Being close in age, our connection was intense as we looked together at the beautiful and challenging events of her life, the people she loved, and her fears of leaving them and this world. Belinda passed on to the heavenly existence she and her family believed so strongly in. For the next 43 years (!) I received a beautiful card every September wishing me a good jewish new year. Included were heartfelt messages of gratitude, loss and remembrance of dear Belinda. I would send a card back for Christmas with my thanks and remembrance. In September of 2021, the card came late and I held my breath. Mrs. B, explained she had been ill. No card came the next year. This gesture of gratitude following such profound and unspeakable loss has had indescribable meaning to me that I need to capture in more writing ...but ...”Touching the earth” seems to hold it all in my heart and actions.
Going beyond acts of service to acts of celebration. What a wonderful way to live. Now I'm thinking about all of the ways I can elevate the acts of service ever so slightly, to bring them to a level of truly celebrating the people around me at every opportunity. That thought it going to stay with me!
by John Shaw
Same time every evening. The jingle of keys outside the door, the key in the door, the door swinging open.
Drop everything – model car parts, guinea pig, homework – whatever, just drop it and run! A sprint down the hall, around a chair and the coffee table, and there he is, squatting just inside the door, big brown briefcase on the floor, arms reaching out. I finish the sprint, into those hairy arms, wrapping around his youngest.
“What’s the surprise, Daddy? You got a surprise for me? What’s in there?”
I fumble with the latch on his briefcase. No promises, but every once in awhile, there’s a candy bar in one of the pockets or compartments. For Dad, a hurried thought on the way out of the office, a couple of coins dropped in the vending machine. For son, a treat – “but not until after dinner”, says Mom. Candy bar or no, it’s one of the best times of the day for me. Maybe for Dad too.
One evening is different. Payday. Dad stops at the bank on the way home, deposits his check, pockets a little cash. The routine. But this time, I don’t know why, he takes out one hundred dollars cash. Big Money in the mid-Sixties. And, he takes it all in one-dollar bills. A perfect stack of brand new, crisp, straight-from-the-press dollar bills, with a tight wrapper around the stack that verifies its contents: “$100, one hundred one-dollar bills.”
Now one hundred dollars is a pretty fair chunk of money. But when you’re young enough to get a ten-cent a week allowance and the couple of bucks to your name are stuffed in a Snoopy bank, it’s more than a pretty fair chunk. It’s a huge chunk. It’s a ton. It’s a so-much-money-I-can’t-believe-it-you-must-be-rich-Dad kind of chunk.
The kids all get to see it, hold it, and fan it out. Doug and Dave and Donna and I ask how much our cuts will be. We even figure how to split it between the six family members, with Dad getting the extra buck or two for his trouble.
Nice try, kids. This is for groceries, clothes, allowances - all the usual stuff that saves a family from wandering naked and hungry in the streets. Dad is just going to have some mathematician’s fun with the money in the meantime.
After dinner, he sits at the head of the dining table with the stack of money. Fans it a few times, drops it on the table with a heavy thud for emphasis. Off comes the wrapper; up go the cries for a share.
“Lemme have some!”
“Just one Dad!”
And he won’t say it again. If we want to stay and see it, fine, but we must behave ourselves.
Dad starts with the top bill, showing us the detailed engravings. The portrait of Washington. The pyramid with the weird eye on top – I’ve forgotten why. The shadings and curls and lines.
But Dad is a mathematician, so he soon moves to the most important detail: The Serial Number.
This stack of bills is the work of the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, so the serial numbers start with “L”, with eight numbers and a letter after that. Dad tell us they print the bills in huge sheets. The press sequentially numbers the bills as they’re printed, then passes the sheets to a cutting machine, trims them to size, stacks them in increments of a hundred, and bands them tightly with the identifying wrapper.
Dad turns the first bill over and we look at the next. Sure enough, the serial number is the same, except for the last digit. Same with the next. And the next. And the next.
Numerical order. Dad loves it.
A little further through the stack and he loses us. It’s clear that we aren’t getting a cut of the riches, and serial numbers hold only so much interest – unless you’re a mathematician. We all leave the table to do other things. Dad keeps turning through the stack, one bill at a time.
Half an hour later, he’s still at it. A bit of sarcasm in passing from Doug: “Are they all there, Dad?”
“All there. And then some. I’ve got an extra bill here.”
Word spreads quickly. This is cause for renewed fellowship at the dining table.
Dad had counted them. And counted them. And counted them again. $101. He subtracts the first serial number from the last serial number. We all take turn counting them.
One-Hundred-And-One-Dollars! Somehow, some way, one of those intricate machines at the mint had miscounted.
The debate is on. “I get the extra one!”
“No, I do!”
“It’s mine, Dad!”
“It’s mine, mine, mine!”
“No kids. It’s not yours. And it’s not ours.”
Here it comes.
“I’m taking it back to the bank. It’s theirs. And it wouldn’t be right to keep it.”
Matter of fact. Routine. That’s the way it is. No big deal.
Whoa. Hold on here. It’s JUST a dollar, and the BANK or the MINT made the MISTAKE, and they’ll NEVER know, and who knows how many times WE got shortchanged so this just makes up for it an EENTSY bit, and it’s OUR little secret and isn’t it funny how a MACHINE messed up and WE got an extra buck and if Dad hadn’a counted ‘em WHO WOULD KNOW AND IT’S JUST A DOLLAR SO WHAT’S THE BIG …
He took it back to the bank.
Next day. Stands in the teller line, the stack of bills and the torn wrapper in his pocket. Takes out the money and explains it to the teller. She is confused.
He explains again. She’s still confused, About how this could happen and why this man IS standing here, trying to give back a dollar bill?
She gets the manager. The manager is confused. What to do? This has never happened before. Where would they put this extra dollar? How would they account for it? How could they make the teller’s drawer balance at the end of the day? And the ledger?
“Sorry for the trouble, Mr. Shaw. We appreciate your honesty. You go ahead and keep the extra dollar. Please.”
“No. It’s not my dollar. It’s yours. You figure out what to do with it.”
And he turns on his heel and walks out of the bank.
Over forty years later, not one of Cliff Shaw’s four children has forgotten it. A lesson in action, beyond words. That dollar bill was Dad’s way of being consistent with what he said and believed. I wish he was still alive so my sons could know him better; so they could see some of the lessons that I saw; so they could see the legacy.
I’ve told Kenny, Brandon, and Ryan this story. We’ve talked about honesty. About being known as a person whose word is true. There have been too may times when what I’ve done wasn’t consistent with those talks, and I’m way short of Dad’s example. So what will my sons remember? What stories will they tell? What lessons will they have learned? Heavy stuff to consider.
Kenny and I are driving home from his soccer game. A typical hot, humid, spring Saturday in Texas. Soccer games on hot, humid spring days in Texas make you thirsty. Incredibly thirsty.
“Can we go to 7-11, Dad?”
A sixteen-ounce Gatorade, Citrus Cooler flavor (Michael Jordan’s favorite) for Kenny, a quart-sized lemon-lime for me.
We stand in line. I give Kenny some money. The clerk rings up the Gatorade. Kenny pays and takes the change, and we head out the door.
I get to the car and Kenny isn’t with me. He’s still inside, talking to the clerk. Out he comes, and I ask what’s up.
“He charged eighty-nine cents for mine. The price tag says ninety-nine cents.”
“I gave him the dime we owed.”
Matter of fact. Routine. That’s the way it is, no big deal.
Maybe he knows my Dad better than I thought.
When I was around 10 yrs old, someone in our country neighborhood told me that one particular neighbor was going to paint their house a similar color to ours. They implied that this neighbor was trying to "out do" us. When I told my mom this, she said, "What they do is none of our business." My mom was not the least bit interested in what other people did or how they lived their lives. If you said to my mom, "Don't tell anyone," she didn't. Ever. She read, she played piano, she played bridge, she loved to travel, and she didn't give a rat's ass what anyone thought of her. I learned. I keep my nose out of other's business, I know how to keep my mouth shut. Drama is uninteresting. But I am empathetic, it took a lot for her to be that but she would say to me, "You have a lot of empathy." So she recognized it, and appreciated it, it just wasn't her. I find it interesting to look at my two siblings to see how her personality shaped the three of us.
Great prompt. The person i have from is my daughter. She's been through alot the last couple years. Last year really knocked her down. How I see her bounceback this year is wonderful. I have seen that joy I've seen prior to 2022 come back. For me everytime i see that its a reminder to not take life so serious and try to enjoy it. I watch her play the water park and really enjoy watching her splashing around without a care. She has difficulties and differences but i do love how she brushes off the judgement and moves on. I personally wish I could do the same. That's something I'm working on.
Betty Wright, the late great soul singer, taught me to make space for and celebrate others. She was larger than life yet fully present with you. She asked questions and listened intently, only speaking to learn more about you. She found the best parts of you to celebrate and remind you of who you are and who you are becoming.
Makes me think of years ago now when I worked at the central library in downtown Oklahoma City. Every so often all the employees would cook together in the lounge kitchen. All of us stirring pots and bowls of our offerings to one another. Bumping hips and elbows as we carried food to long cafeteria tables. Eating together. Cleaning up together. Thrilling. Really. The feeling of working together to feed us all was overpowering with care and love and communion. Whatever you call the feeling come from that it’s the only religion I know. The only philosophy I adhere to.
WHAT a gorgeous poem, in thought, word and deed. Wow.
I just loved today’s column. I love reading about your and Jon’s experiences. Your humanity shows through every time. Stay healthy and thanks for the love that comes through loud and clear.