August 19: Set on a gentle rise, the Bon Secours retreat center overlooks Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland. Mature trees circle the grounds and, eastward, one sees nothing but forest — and the sunrise. Sometimes, depending on your room, one can even see the sun flare into the sky from one’s bed.
Not so lucky this year, I awoke today at dawn and looked at the westerly trees from my window. They glowed in a magical light. Aha! Maybe I can still catch the sunrise. I scurried down one hall, then the next, and burst into the sunrise room. Too late. The sun was galloping upward, beyond the clouds.
Inspiration struck: I’ll go back and look at those beautiful trees from my own window! So I scurried back through the halls and burst into my room. Too late. The trees looked lovely and perfectly ordinary.
I mentioned this to my spiritual director. (One could preach a week of sermons based on my silliness.) My spiritual director steepled his fingers. You’ve received a great gift, he said. Think about a life-giving thing you are inordinately attached to. It might be a sunrise or something else. Then turn your back on it, if only once. You might see something just as beautiful behind you.
August 20: My friend Kathy settled into my Prius and off we went, homeward. (Picking people up at the airport has become my sneaky way of getting an early download of travel tales.) From Spain, Kathy had cautioned me about flight delays and insisted she’d take a cab. Her graciousness gave me a chance to reflect on my offer: was this an obligation or an opportunity? Definitely an opportunity. I insisted right back, and so my dear friend sat beside me tonight.
This reminds me of a story recounted at Mass earlier this week, about a woman who told of helping a very old woman down an escalator. The storyteller noticed the frightened woman as the storyteller descended the escalator, and she offered to return for the woman. The frightened woman assented. The storyteller ascended the “up” escalator, gently helped the frightened woman navigate her first steps, and descended with her. Bidding the woman farewell, the storyteller said she suddenly felt “whole, pure, purposeful — and happy.” And she marveled at how such a small gesture could inspire such large feelings.
Retirement has given me ample time to perform tiny acts of kindness. If I’m kind to you next week, I confess right now: I might be giving a little something to myself as well.
Bonus: And remember — I speak to those of you who (like me) are tough, independent, and determined to do it by myself — accepting another’s offer of kindness is itself an act of kindness. Thank you, Kathy, for your kindness.
August 21: Kevin left early this morning for a long bike ride, so I kept my phone handy in case he needed something. (He’s recently had wheel and shifter issues.) Two hours into his bike ride, he texted. He did need something: a date for lunch! I jumped into the car, and 45 minutes later we were seated in a lovely canopied garden, savoring complimentary crab dip, and collapsing with laughter over our hapless attempts to take a selfie.
“Can I persuade you to accept a ride home?” I asked. No thanks, he said. “It’s only 40 miles [!!] and I need to train.”
I popped back in my car and fired up Patsy Cline. She sang, “You made me love you.” Indeed.
August 22: Yesterday, with Patsy Cline and Kevin Morby on my car stereo and contentment in my heart, I decided to take the slow road home from lunch with Kevin. I was open to anything. So I wheeled around to read an intriguing historical marker. And I followed signs to a mysterious side road lapping the highway. There I found a tiny wooded park safeguarding the “African American Burial Ground for the Enslaved at Belmont.”
Beautifully maintained by the Loudon County Freedom Center, the park offers a gravel walk, a restored schoolhouse, a preacher’s rock, and a very small burial ground holding 220 years of remembrance. The park also holds the 2020 resting place of a 16-year old boy. A miniature football gridiron, flowers, and stones scattered around the gravesite pay constant tribute. The family had lain their son just steps away from the graves of ancestors.
As I left, I walked again under the gateway that greeted visitors. On this side, the gateway sang a benediction, “Heritage. Healing. Hope.”
August 23: Odesseus has returned to Ithaca.
An arduous 18 hours of travel (by plane, train and Metro) deposited Nate at our doorstep. Over dinner, he spun tales from Spain of a week-long Bilbao music festival (“for some reason, people threw flour in the air”), the Bilbao Football Club (“Basque pride”), and surfing (“beach-break, with waves as high as my head”).
Excluding two bookend days of travel, Nate spent 15 days savoring Paris, Crete, Athens, Mykonos, other Greek islands, and Bilbao. High school friends converged in Greece to celebrate the wedding of a basketball teammate, and different combinations of friends joined Nate here and there. “Sometimes it was ‘march or die,’” Nate sighed, echoing how our family describes my travel planning. “And I organized a lot of it!”
Nate then mused that planning people’s foreign travel would be a fun side-career. I immediately volunteered to be his first client. “But you know you’d need to take me with you,” Nate said.
It’s a deal.
Bonus: I’m transfixed by this image entitled “A Bud Carrying a Drop Carrying a Garden” composed by blogger Nes Felicio Photography. Perhaps you’ll like it too.
August 24: “Mom, I brought you a present!” Yummy. Nate often returns from his travels bearing gifts. I thought of my bowls from Cambodia, a silk scarf from Thailand, and a tablecloth from the Gambia.
He reached into his backpack and pulled out a pamphlet, entitled “Surfing Sopela, enjoy it!”
In English and French, the 14-page pamphlet offers surfing and safety tips. It briskly asserts the surfers code of conduct (ne jamais “drop in” on another surfer with wave priority). And — here’s what Nate was most excited about — it has a glossary of 38 (!) surfing terms and a two-page spread on surfboard shapes.
Nate and I have spent more than 20 minutes discussing the ambiguous terms “in” and “out.” Now I’ll keep my gift handy when I open our new Surfer’s Journal magazine (or ride in the car with Nate).
Bonus: Although I already recognize a surfer’s leash, I was charmed by the humility of this definition: “Leash: a rubber cord that is attached to the board and the surfer’s foot to prevent the board getting lost when we fall off.”
August 25: Jeremiah placed a large box on the coffee table. “I’m going to FaceTime with Alex and Fiona as I open this package,” he said, “and they want Mama Ogle to be part of it!”
While Jeremiah cut through the packing tape, I happily chatted with Jeremiah’s friends. And then the surprises spilled out: two classic movies, “Night Train from Munich” and “L’Humanité”; a Czech board game for two called “Codenames Duet”; a Godzilla postcard; Vermont maple syrup; two fountain pens and cartridges (Alex: “when I saw the shark pen, I didn’t hesitate”); a special pad perfect for fountain ink; two lovely notes, including one addressed to “Carol Ann!”; and a Christmas sweater of Godzilla wearing a Christmas sweater (with the claws of his short forearms piercing the sleeves).
Jeremiah and I are saving the box. We can’t wait to send it back with our own version of love.
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