📝 Generations

For a portion of the semester with one of my grade 12 classes, we focus on how values and beliefs influence our decisions. We examine how this plays out for characters, relationships, and societies in literature, as well as evaluate our own beliefs and decisions. We also compare the differing values of various generations and the choices that have resulted. The Internet is full of data, much of it conflicting, about the core values of Traditionalists vs Boomers, Millennials vs Gen X or Y or Z, or whatever title is being attached to the most recent demographic; however, the data is less important to me than the conversations and questions that students have as they explore the generational profiles. One surprising thing always comes up: students are harshest in their judgement of the values and beliefs of their own generation. They inevitably look to their parents and grandparents as having better work ethics, morals, and empathy. They worry for their generation.

Unlike my students who are an emerging generation, I am an “inbetweener.” My parents are aging, my children are adults; I’m in between them both. This is hardly a new phenomenon; for all of human history, our roles and responsibilities change as we move through the generational cycles. My parents require more physical care than they did several years ago; my children require less physical care, but still need parental support.

I’ve taken some of my thoughts about generations and turned them into the next issue of Jots & Doodles. The art “doodles” in this issue is gleaned from some of my older work that has been tucked away in sketch books and journals but seemed to fit with this theme.

There are only two “jot” pieces this time because one of them took up more space than most “jots.” For the first one, I was thinking about generational cycles and since I was also doing laundry that day, the metaphor sort of stuck — and works to the degree that metaphors are both appropriate and limited. Maybe it will get us all thinking about the core value of love and how it can affect our ability to both give and receive from one another.

The second piece is about fences, which on first glance has nothing to do with generations. I did the pen & ink drawing years ago simply because I was drawn to the contrast between the old fence and the new one. I actually titled it, “Generations” at the time. My thinking about the two fences has evolved and shifted over time, but when I actually sat down to write about them it took me a while to understand what the key focus needed to be. Was it about aging and the need for the next generation to fill the gap? Was it about the ultimate failure of one generation and the success of the “new and better” ideas of the next? I finally realized that aging and failure and success will come for every generation even if our perspectives and purposes may differ in their focus. What will determine our impact on each other, our communities, and our world, is how our values and decisions stand the test of time. Legacies are the product of time.

You can find Issue 6 of Jots and Doodles here or on the Jots & Doodles page listed in the menu. As always, it is free to download, print, and share. Your feedback and thoughts on this topic are also welcome!

☕️ Lilies

A Saturday Caesura

Almost ten years ago, someone brought several potted lilies to our son’s funeral service. After everyone had gone home and the other bouquets of flowers had faded and withered, I planted the lilies beneath a cluster of trees in our backyard. It was an act of hope that they would survive the winter — that I would survive this loss.

Since then, the lilies have bloomed every year, and each year I have learned more about living with grief.

In preparation for this year’s Great Backyard Redo, I moved the lilies last spring — built a raised bed specifically for them, watched them bloom in early summer, and then worried that their roots would be too exposed to survive the deep freeze of winter.

I began looking for signs of life as soon as the snow melted this spring. For the longest time there was nothing. I started to consider that these lilies could actually die and the thought began stirring and renewing the grief that had brought them to us to begin with.

I began breathing again when they began poking up green.

They had survived another winter.

The lilies are now thick with golden blooms. The taller ones will soon add splashes of burgundy red and I’ll keep breathing in the beauty and breathing out gratitude that although death is inevitable and grief is inescapable, life is full of unfathomable generosity and goodness.

Pebbles in Pockets

I find them near rivers and streams and on mountain tops. They come in all sizes and shapes and colours and textures. Rocks are beautiful and they fascinate me. I’ve gotten better at not slipping so many of them into my pocket or backpack to bring home. I tell myself that I can pick up as many as I want, but I have to choose the best one, the most unique one, and leave the others behind. Mostly I obey this self-imposed rule.

At home, I have pebbles in jars and picture frames, trays and boxes. I treat them as the works of art that they are even though I know that their presence in the world is not purely aesthetic. Rocks can be quite problematic says the chipped windshield and the stony, unproductive field. A pebble in a shoe is an irritant; grief is a boulder lodged in a heart.

I decided some time ago that this month’s issue of Jots & Doodles would be on rocks, or stones, or pebbles – whatever word seems most appropriate. Now that the month is almost over, I finally have it ready. In metaphorical terms, it has been a rocky month and its been hard to find the time to work on the ‘doodles’ in particular.

The first written piece is a true story. I still have the rock in my classroom where it reminds me to keep myself grounded in truth — to live it, speak it, seek it always.

The second piece about rebuilding is a reflection on how I have to rebuild a small decorative wall I constructed years ago to hide the empty space under our front deck. I collected the flattest river rocks I could find, but they really aren’t very flat. Every year part of it gets knocked down. Every year, I rebuild it. As I rebuild, trying to find new ways to fit all the pieces together into a coherent whole, I think of the ways we have to work to maintain communities and families and relationships when our bumps and bulges don’t fit together like a manufactured brick or Lego wall would. We falter and fail, crumble and stumble because we are people and fitting together will always require a commitment to rebuild — to apologize, to forgive, to love.

The final piece comes from thinking about rocks and stones in the Bible. Just for the record, the Bible has much to say about rocks, both literally and figuratively. My brief poem mentions some literal ones, but the real focus is the image of Jesus as the Cornerstone, the one stone that ensures that all else is secure, stable, squared – a sure foundation upon which our faith is built.

You can find this issue of Jots & Doodles here.

☀️ Come

all who are weary and burdened,

which if we are honest,

is all of us:

fishermen and tax collectors,

doubters and zealots,

betrayed and betrayers,

women and children,

lame, blind, lost, bullied,

teachers, preachers, seekers,

carpenters, welders, garbage collectors,

doctors, mechanics, managers.

Regardless of skin colour,

earthly status or physical health,

or anything else —

the invitation is always, “Come.”

Come to me; listen and live,

follow and see what I, the Lord God,

have done…am doing…will yet do.

Come and find rest in me.

☕️ Destruction & Restoration: rethinking change

A Saturday Caesura

We (as in the friend-who-owns-a-backhoe), took out all the trees, dead and otherwise, from our backyard. This was a Hard Thing for me. The day before the Hoe of Destruction arrived, I wandered through the yard, noticing, touching, remembering…crying. Although I had already relocated my perennials and Justin’s lilies, most of what existed in the back yard was never planted by me, and I loved all these wild and wonderful green growing friends. They were so beautiful and so welcome, even as they always seemed to welcome me.

They are all gone now.

I know we needed to deal with the dead and dying trees, but I wasn’t prepared for losing everything else, too. So…I’ve been grieving this week.

But I’ve also been discovering.

I discovered shady hideaway places for the ferns. They seem to be enjoying their new homes beneath the remaining willows and tucked at the feet of a small copse of trees in the front yard. I enjoy the lacy sweep of their fronds uncurling in among the grasses and wild roses and honeysuckle. I envision more woodland shade-lovers adding texture and colour beneath these still standing, living trees.

I’ve also discovered the western sky. With no trees in the foreground, I can now watch sunsets from my deck or bedroom window rather than having to scuttle out to open spaces in the marsh to catch the full effect of the evening glow-show. I love the prairie sky as much as I love trees, so it’s felt like a fair-trade deal to exchange one for the other.

The yard itself is still a mild mess, but a Tractor of Restoration with tools like rototillers and harrows will do its thing and eventually there will be green grass and a new garden spot, which I am already “garden-scaping” in my mind. It’ll have space for the veggies I love to grow, but also nooks and crannies and islands where perennials can flash their colours and re-texturize the backyard view. We’ll re-instate the fire-pit (a necessity), add a clothesline (my wish) and an archery range (his wish) and some gravel by the sheds because it’s the practical thing to do.

I’m still adjusting, but I’m also realizing that a bare patch of ground is an invitation to possibility. Like many of us, I’m often most comfortable with what is. Even when what is isn’t really working all that well, it’s hard to accept that what could be might hold promise even though it requires change.

So, here’s me learning (once again) to let go of something I held dear and finding ways to embrace and appreciate change.

☕️ Small Things that Matter

A Saturday Caesura

Totally random and completely unrelated to anything else in my day, I went to bed last night thinking about cotter pins. Weird, right? I mean, who thinks about cotter pins when you aren’t in immediate need of one? I do, apparently.

Whether large or small, split, hairpin or bowtie, cotter pins perform a purpose more significant than a simple piece of bent metal might indicate. They hold things in place, keep things connected, provide a final measure to prevent things from flying apart, coming undone, falling off. I doubt that any farm could function well without a few cotter pins involved somewhere.

What if we used our words like cotter pins?

Image: http://www.thomasnet.com

☕️ There’s a daisy…

A Saturday Caesura AND Jots & Doodles

The artist Georgia O’Keefe once wrote that “in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and it takes time like to have a friend takes time.” O’Keefe knew something about taking time to see a flower because many of her paintings are of flowers. The most famous one, a single white Jimson Weed blossom, sold in 2014 for $44 million. Maybe the new owner doesn’t have time to see flowers in their natural environment, and the painting provides an opportunity to “really” see. Maybe the value of a painting is that it preserves a beauty that normally fades and falls away in the cycles of seasons.

In art and in literature, flowers are often heavily imbued with imagery and symbolism. My grade 12 English class just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet where an emotionally distraught Ophelia prattles to her bewildered brother: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance… And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts….There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” In most contemporary circles, we have lost much of the folklore and symbolism associated with particular flowers, but we maintain flower traditions for Mother’s Day, anniversaries, funerals. Red poppies are synonymous with Remembrance Day. We have national flowers (Canada’s is Cornus Canadensis, the Bunchberry) and provincial or state flowers: Alberta’s is the Wild Rose, a prolific presence alongside roads and fields across the province.

Whether we pay close attention to them or not, flowers capture our collective imagination on some level.

I don’t attach particular meaning or psychoanalytic significance to flowers, any more than I care about star charts and the zodiac, but contrary to Georgia O’Keefe’s generalized conclusion, I do notice flowers. I first began paying attention to them during my childhood roaming of the forests and meadows near our home. When I found out that flowers actually had names, I wanted to know them all — not the confusing Latin ones, but the common ones like butter-and-eggs toadflax and bedstraw and saxifrage. I pored over wildflower identification books. When our family travelled somewhere, I watched the roadside swish by, looking for recognizable snatches of colour — blue chicory, yellow goldenrod and salsify, magenta fireweed. I met my first Mariposa lily from the window of a vehicle, grateful that my father understood my love of flowers enough to pull over so I could have a closer look.

I grow flowers in my yard that are not native to this area, but I’m grateful that they don’t find the cold winters so disagreeable that they refuse to grow and bloom. I extend an open invitation to indigenous ‘wild’ flowers to make themselves at home on this patch of land I claim to own, so I have hybrid lilies and irises and harebells and wild roses and false solomon’s seal and lily-of-the-valley all living together in harmony. I see them all and they fascinate me. It has taken time to make friends with them, but it has never been time wasted.

This month’s Jots & Doodles zine contains some words and images that arise out of my appreciation for flowers, and especially, my gratitude and worship of the God who saw fit to include them in his creation. May your eyes be drawn to see — really see — the flowers around you, and your heart opened to know — really know — the creator of them all.

☕️ Seasons

A Saturday Caesura

Spring has finally settled in to stay. The snipes are back, the trees are leafing green, night temperatures are staying above zero. The sun-snow-rain-freeze-thaw-frost of the past few weeks felt too much like the in-school-online-school-open-close-isolate-vaccinate of the ongoing coronavirus season. So much tossing to and fro, back and forth, in and out. It feels like rest for spring to just. stay. put.

This past week a friend and I met in a park for an after-work picnic and overdue visit. The summer-haunted warmth of the evening mirrored our friendship, one that has found deeper roots while standing together through a particular life-storm. I love that the all-season friends in my life come from all seasons, ages, backgrounds, experiences. I am grateful that they embrace relationships in ways that promote beauty and unity in a world increasingly prone towards the ugly and divisive. It feels like a settling and a hope-sprouting spring.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and whatever else it is for me, this day usually becomes a reflection on all the seasons of motherhood. So much delight and pain wrapped up in a single role. I have regrets. I have treasured memories. I have tears. But I am grateful for this season of being a mother to adult children. It feels like a settling and a fresh-washed spring and a joy-filled grief-tinged blessing.

Tomorrow is also our 40th wedding anniversary, and if motherhood has predicable seasons as children grow from newborn to adulthood, marriage seasons come and go with regular unpredictability. We grow, storm, stagnate, forgive, compromise, love, laugh, cry, cling, withdraw, pray, pray, pray, give, cherish, for better or for worse. Forty years. Two-thirds of our lives. We are not the same people who pledged to have and to hold till death to us part all those years ago. And yet we are still uniquely us, aged and shaped by forty years of individuality and togetherness. I’m grateful for this season of continuing to grow in oneness. It feels like a settling and a long, languid summer and a rich undeserved blessing.

He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty…and fills your hearts with joy. Acts. 14:17

☕️ A School Week

A Saturday Caesura

Students filled the desks in my classroom again after almost three weeks of emptiness related to spring break and COVID-removals to online teaching. We were happy to be back, to see actual faces and whole bodies, to feel the comforting illusion of normalcy.

On Monday a few students needed a reminder that English class is for English, not for Bio or Math or CALM or Duolingo or searching for truck parts online. But mostly we read our books and experimented with odes and word sonnets and parsed gerunds and crafted truisms and raged at the unjust treatment of Jutta and cried real tears when Werner died and WHY WOULD THE AUTHOR DO THAT ANYWAY!

We talked about iambic pentameter and the plums no longer in the icebox. We practised the art of paying attention to our world and shared grad photos. We vented about COVID and named our aspirations for the future. We wondered why Monday always comes after Sunday and determined that we would never be careless people like Tom and Daisy. We blamed the masks for our shortness of breath after coming upstairs to Room 210 because farm girls could never be that out-of-shape. We made excuses for unfinished work and tried to complain about the sub in another class and satisfied the burning need to talk about how that novel ended.

About mid-week I realized that my plan to retire in three years (maybe?) means I would no longer have this messy delight of teenagers in my life.

I already feel the shape of emptiness forming in my heart. It is heavier than I ever thought it would be.