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[I wrote this post last summer but didn’t feel brave enough to post it then.  My friend is visiting again soon, and I’m posting now in happy anticipation of her visit.)

 

Every girl wants to be Beautiful.
wine & candlesThere have been two or three times in my life when I’ve actually felt “pretty”.   And I’ve been called, more than once, “cute’.   Now, cute may be flattering when you’re eight years old, and maybe again when you’re 80, but when you’re in your middle years, mature and lovely, “cute” is not what you want to hear.

We had a dinner party here the other evening.  Aromatic reds and chilled white wines and sparkling crystal were set on white linen out on the table in the garden, bright flowers all around, and avocado-spread toasted rounds, tequila-glazed grilled chicken, creamy risotto, and arugula salad.  A friend who travels the world, volunteering with service and education projects in unlikely locations, returns to Vermont about once a year and spends some time with us.  She also happens to have a Masters  degree (from an Ivy League School) in French Bread (honest!!), and when she visits, loves to put on a dinner party.  I simply offer to help cut vegetables and set the table.

The air was clean and warm and laughter flowed, well into the night after the stars and bugs came out.  After the second mosquito, we  took our wine glasses and meandered inside, and at some point, I think after I dribbled some wine onto my chin as my Palsy side doesn’t work so well and sometimes drinking without a straw is a challenge, anyway, somebody said “ah you’re so cute”.

I know it was meant as a sincere compliment, but I worked at a smile and a laugh  through my trembling lips and ducked into the potty room.  I sat on the edge of the tub and had a good 4-minute cry.  Then I splashed some cool water on my face, holding my palsy-side eye closed with my finger of course.  And then I looked in the mirror.

I so long to be composed and sure and beautiful, able to sip a simple wine without concentrating on how my mouth is working; and feel instead awkward, lopsided and disfigured.  The face looking back at me wasn’t me at all — I’m still unfamiliar with this palsied face, even though it has been three years.  I don’t know who this person is, that looks so unattractive to me, with her twisted smile.  The threshold to this pathway of thinking is wide and strong, and there alone in the bathroom, with sounds of laughter and conversation coming through from the room on the other side of the door, there at that moment I had a choice to make.  “I am NOT my face,”  I chose to remind myself.  Inside, my life is full of fun and joy and strength and dignity and, yes, beauty.  My life and love can still shine through my one good eye.  And these people here are all friends, which means they know I love them, and enjoy them, as they do me – and they see past my face.  Way past my face.  I stood there, and chose to smile at myself in the mirror.  And half of my face smiled back, and my eye was full of joy, and it was a beautiful smile.

“I’ve learned my face is an incredible gift,” said Mr. Roche…”Not the kind of gift I was excited about, but it’s a gift because I’ve been forced to find my inner beauty….And I’ve learned that my experiences are universal experiences. Everybody feels disfigured, whether it’s on the inside or the outside. When you step out of the shower in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror, you know what I’m talking about.”

[Quote from a 90-minute program on ‘Inner Beauty’ with Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman serving as moderator]

 

You can see my other posts on living with facial palsy:

“What’s in Your Smile?”

“Smiles, souls and Zinnias”

“Til We Have Faces”

 

 

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A NEW FRONTIER !

Well, the crows pulled up half my corn, in spite of the black cloth effigy of a dead crow fluttering there.  So grows my garden.

Then, for the past week or more Vermont has been beset by substantial rain storms and besieged by high temps and humidity – so my time in the garden contending with weeds and bugs and rodents is set aside for now…

But, hunkered down indoors, feet propped on cushions and laptop on my – lap! — I’m cool and dry (and clean) and I’ve been discovering another kind of gardening.  A new field, untilled soil, unknown crops; and the best part of gardening – the surprise of miracles (now how did THAT happen?) and satisfaction of hoped-for-but-unexpected results (wow! look what I did!).  And did I mention that my fingernails stay clean?

I’ve been discovering how to create a website.  Like jumping off into outer space, zero gravity, unknown worlds… To me, it feels like I’m going where no one has gone before.  This site has been in the some-day-maybe stage for a couple of years, but the time now seems to be RIGHT.  Plus, no one else in the family was doing it.  This site is a family history, genealogy, story, connection site for (we hope!) several generations.  Descendants from one Eben Whitney Chaffee of Ellsworth, CT; creating a successful land company in the Dakotas when the prairies were first being opened; his son (my great-grandfather) taking over the company and becoming the “managing genius of the Bonanzas” (quoted from the ‘definitive’ book of the era); and tragically, sinking with the Titanic, leaving his widow to carry on the great business; and, finally, generations scattered from North Dakota all across the continent.  It’s a big job, this website, and I’m learning a lot!  I even (#excitedlypattingmyselfontheback) wrote a little bit of my own html the other day.  WOW!!  That’s HUGE for me  ((:

Now, those of you that live and breathe this techy stuff can have your chuckle.  Here’s a middle-aged lady who barely passed algebra II, and gets freaked out about how a telephone works.  So, in spite of the strange and alien cosmos I’ve entered, I’m boldly surging ahead, and trembling ever so slightly each time I click on the “update” button, like heading into a black hole, not sure if I’ll even know how to get back if it doesn’t work out.  Outer space, for sure.

For my dear Chaffee family reading this, of course you’ll get a special notice whenever the site is launched, which I hope won’t be too long.  Let me know if you want in on the ‘beta’ testing.

 

IMAGINE – This is God’s Garden!     Some of the photos in this video are absolutely breathtaking.

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French lavender and thyme. My small old-fashioned metal-tined rake releases the rich scent into the garden. Sage, tarragon, lemon balm. Peppermint and chocolate mint mingle in the air. I am almost giddy. I’m sure this is by far my most favorite garden chore: cleaning up the herb garden. Sometimes I just sit on the stone path in the middle of the garden where I am working, close my eyes and breathe for awhile. It is delirious.

Today is the last 60-degree day of the season, and I am taking advantage of this nice weather to FINALLY rake out the tangle of dead leaves and weeds and cut back the mints and tansy and oregano and chives. The rose hedge was lopped back a few weeks ago (thanks, JR!) and this is the last thing on my list. Well, at least the last thing that wasn’t scratched off for this year and added to start next year’s list instead, like “clean out the garden shed”. That will survive for another winter in its current messiness. I think I can still find everything.

Dusk is settling in as I haul the last load of debris to the compost pile. There is absolute satisfaction in a neat and tidy garden, sweet and pungent aromas still wafting in the early sunset, and the final “THUNK” of the shed door closed and latched for the winter. I stand for a moment to absorb the last of it, head tilted far back to see the pinks spread across the sky, breathing deeply.  All my senses are tingling.  Thank you, Jesus. This is peacefulness.

lavender and roses in July

It’s after I’ve scrubbed my hands in the laundry sink, changed out of my dirt-caked jeans and into cozy sweats and am heating milk in the micro-wave to make a cup of hot cocoa before I start supper, that it occurs to me.  Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we, God’s saints, are a pleasing aroma of Christ.  I imagine our fragrances are each unique, and mingle in a pleasant way.  Maybe God breathes deeply and rejoices.  I have a harder time imagining that mine is a pleasing aroma, but I take that bit on faith.  And even though sometimes I think I’ve known the ‘THUNK’ when that last bit of soul clean-up that God is working on in my heart finally settles into place, there is always more, isn’t there…
It simply begins the next list…
In the meantime, I will tilt my head far back and breathe deeply. This, too, is peacefulness.

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herb garden in need of rest

Looking out on the sun-shiney day, crunchy bronzed leaves on the ground and the gardens all to bed for the winter except for the herb garden…  yes, too late for the basil, but gotta get the parsley in the freezer  —   yes, about the parsley, I remember that I forgot to start the chicken stock from the roast chicken last night and so it goes; well, you know how it goes…

So, before I head outside to finish the gardens, must get a load of laundry started.  Oops, before I can sort the dirty clothes, should fold the clean ones in the basket from two days ago.  So, first I have to make the bed, so I have somewhere to put the clean folded things; and then, whoops, here beside the bed is the book I was reading last night with the letter from my sister that I must respond to immediately, well, at least a quick FB message so she knows I got the letter, and while I’m in facebook, might as well check email and Oh my! here’s someone I haven’t heard from in awhile…

An hour later it’s  “where was I?”  Oh YES, the laundry…

By the time I remember I was headed outside to do garden chores, it’s too late to bother getting started because my appointment will be here in half an hour, so I might as well unload the dishwasher, and here is the chicken stock simmering and I still forgot the parsley.

 

always life somewhere...

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Ah, Summertime….

Conjures images of children splashing in the swimming hole; carefree, broad days of endless imagination playing pirates and cowboys and knights and dragons; and late, starry nights of Hide-n-Seek in the shadows.  Memories of stomping down the next-door field of alfalfa into mazes to play tag (sorry, Mr. Farmer…); games of Five-Sticks with the neighborhood kids on the front lawn, after the chores are done.  (Do these memories date me??)

Actually, some of my favorite summer memories are the long hours spent curled in the big armchair in the cool of the house, reading.  Hours at Gramma’s, stretched out on her smooth, green velvet carpet, reading.  Hours in the hammock under the apple trees, reading.

I read everything on the bookshelves at home – Alcott, Austen, Baum, Cooper, Dickens, Eliot, Kipling, London, Maugham, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Stevenson, Thackerey, Tolstoy, White.  In alphabetical order.  Gone With the Wind, Sherlock Holmes, Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Montecristo – over and over again in no particular order.  I was Scarlett, I was Jo, I was Dorothy, I was Mowgli.  Every once in a while, I would discover a hero, but I don’t think I understood it at the time.  I only knew that something inside of me stirred and shifted; grew bigger and more hopeful; and I seemed to find myself crying for no reason that I could understand and had to put the book down until I wore myself out and fell asleep and then woke up and could start reading again.

C.S.Lewis says that we read to know we’re not alone.  I must have been a lonely child, for reading was my best companion.  When we recognize ourselves or are stirred by some deep, indistinct longing put out there in words, I believe we aren’t so much shaped by what we read, as by what is revealed and exposed in us.  It is a vulnerable thing to read a book.  Heroes, perhaps, help us to know, and believe, the unknown, un-accessed, terrifying part of our better selves.

Now, thinking about those long summer days, there are fictional heroes that come to mind from those pages.  Not the everyday hero with a sword; I mean the quiet kind.  But only a few, really, still stir me.  For today, here are my top five:

#5 – Polwarth

#4 – Sydney Carton

#3 – Rose-of-Sharon

#2 – Cordelia

#1 – Bishop Bienvenu

Polwarth is the unassuming gate-keeper in George Macdonald’s trilogy of parables about the curate of Glaston. He goes about his business quietly, kindly and with his eyes and heart open. Though a dwarf in stature, his simple honesty and wisdom have a gigantic impact on those who tarry with him.  One curious scene, in The Lady’s Confession, portrays Polwarth’s benevolent and humble character as he absorbs the fastidious re-arranging of his familiar old bookshelves by a well-meaning young lady who is slowly recovering from a terrible trauma, and it is a year or more before he manages to get his beloved books  “muddled into order again.”  This scene quite unsettled me for awhile; I recognized my own fierce desire for control even of my ‘messes’, and the agitation that comes with their disruption. I wrestled with what I took to be, at first, cowardly dishonesty on Polwarth’s part, to not, respectfully, ask the young lady to leave his bookshelves alone.  But in a moment of compassion, I was able to grasp what Polwarth understood; her “usefulness” was an important part of her healing, and he graciously set his preferences aside, for her sake.

Sydney Carton, the alcoholic lawyer who steps up to the guillotine instead of his look-alike and love-rival who is the true condemned man in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, says that it is “a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done”.  It may be argued whether his death is noble or suicidal, but in any case, he humbly and bravely is willing to sacrifice everything so that another man may live – the condemned husband of the lady he loves. It is suggested that he lived a “worthless” life, but perhaps the honest worth of one’s life is determined by its impact on another, and in this story, Sydney Carton certainly gives back life, liberty, love and family to a doomed and hopeless couple.  And this isn’t even talking about the hope and courage he is able to impart to the imprisoned little seamstress at her death.  You’ll have to read the book.

Rose-of-Sharon – such a delightful name, one of the Okie Joads suffering in The Grapes of Wrath.   She was a self-absorbed, petulant, skinny girl, too soon pregnant, and as the migrant family finally lost every last shred they owned struggling to survive, she too lost her baby.  Barely escaping in the swirl of a muddy flood, they stumble upon someone closer to death than they, and Rose-of-Sharon’s new milk is the only hope of survival. I first read this book when I was 13, but I knew about breast-feeding.  It was a frightening awakening for me that summer, that a young woman could set aside her own dignity and modesty, and, for the first time in the story, despite her own need offer herself for another’s life.  I think the terror was that it might be required of me someday.  This was a scene that never made it into the movie.

Cordelia, of course, is the youngest daughter of Shakespeare’s King Lear.  Her simple statement of loyalty to her father cannot compete with the extravagant protestations of love and flattery offered by her two sisters, and she forfeits her reputation, position, share of the kingdom and, ultimately, her life, for her honesty and integrity.  How I hate to be misunderstood!  How quick I am to defend myself, attempting to secure what I believe I deserve – maybe pardon, sympathy, esteem, good feelings…   Cordelia reminds me that I can “entrust my soul to the one who judges justly”.

Monseigneur Bienvenu, the Bishop of Digne is one of my most favored characters, described thoroughly and delightfully by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables.  Not altogether human, meaning that he is too perfectly good and humble, he lives without disdain and always with serene benevolence.  He once said of a big, black, hairy horrible spider, Poor thing, it is not his fault.  He is the one who restores to paroled convict Jean Valjean both his freedom and his dignity, in the form of two silver candlesticks that he forgot to steal. Free from any need to protect his own safety or possessions, the Bishop treats the tramp Valjean with unexpected respect and kindness, thus shifting the entire course of his life. Forget not, never forget, he blesses, that you have promised to use this silver to become an honest man.  I find inspiration in the character of this humble Bishop, showing me what it could be to live as a peacemaker in the small moments of every day.

These are the heroes I gathered from the summers of my youth.  Not understanding their importance, or knowing what to do with them, I returned them to the shelf and went outside to splash in the sprinkler or play Tarzan in the woods with my siblings; but they each one stayed with me.  Only in time have I gone back, re-read and re-remembered.

Popularly, we tend to think of heroes in the sense of a mighty deed for a mighty cause, a Dragon-Slayer.  My little collection of fictional heroes are unsung people, unnoticed for the most part, doing simply what they each must do to be true to themselves.  They relinquish something that is dear to most of us – life, livelihood, comfort, dignity, reputation, security, – so that some one else can be set free. Someone who may never know, either the gift or the cost.  Yes, reading books helps us to know we’re not alone…. and comforts us in the companionship of humanity.

SYDNEY CARTON

The GOOD PRIEST  Les-Miserables-Movie-Clip-The-Good-Priest.html

This blog joins others participating in a synchroblog for August.  Be sure to check out the other bloggers:

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All I Really Need to Know I Learned in my Garden (inspiration:  Fulghum’s Kindergarten)

1.  There is a Creator.  And it’s not me.

2.  Death is necessary for Life.

3.  No season lasts forever.

4.  Not everything can blossom where it’s planted.

5.  When harmful bugs are plenty, expect many butterflies as well.

6.  A turnip will never grow from a lettuce seed.

7.  A weed is only a matter of perspective.

8.  The only way to prevent growth is to stop life.

9. Health begins at the root.

10. The richest soil is composted garbage and manure.

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