In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Returning to Old Places

The Walnut Street Bridge from the Hunter Museum Sculpture Garden on the river and above right, through

the lens of the Hunter Art Museum's new addition

In my recent visit to Chattanooga, where I had lived and worked for ten years before moving west, my friend and I drove out to the Chickamulga Lake area where I had lived for nine of those years. The development was in its infancy when I lived there, and I expected changes. I wanted to see whether the new owner of my place had kept the roses I so loved.

We walked around one side of the town homes and saw that the long planter that divided my next-door neighbor's yard from mine was no longer in place. We noted that the yards were uniform--as if they were an extension of the golf course that meandered down a drop-off several hundred feet below the yards. We noticed several people working around--from what we could tell--an elaborate garden with water, flowers, rocks, benches, at the back of one of the properties. My friend, willing to show up as nosier than I was, walked to the other side of the town homes and wandered into the view of the folks working on the project. Quickly, a sprightly woman came to see if she could help us.

When we told her I had lived at 5914, she said, "Oh I remember you--the writer." I nodded, wondering about the memory of me as a writer. "You remember Jack," she said. "Yes," I replied. "We got married three weeks ago!" she said. "Come on down and say 'hello.'"

Jack greeted me with a big hug, though he, like me, remembered the differences we had about how the yards were to all look alike. After telling us he would soon be ninety, he pointed to a lone rose bush. "It is still alive," he remarked. "No one does anything to it, but it blooms every summer." I allowed that it was a hearty old-fashioned rose and was doing its job. I didn't ask how soon the new owner of my place had ripped out the other bushes. The rock-lined rose garden in the center of what had been my yard was filled with a large spreading bush. It and the lone rose bush were the only things that kept the expanse of yard from being solidly grass down to the old codger's elaborate fish pond, chairs, flowers and shrubs. It was pretty in his ornamental garden.

When I commented that he had gotten rid of the trees that he had disliked, most of which had been on the back of my lot, he pointed to the two large evergreen trees that remained. "We're going to get rid of those next. I hate evergreens." He referred to the woman who had bought my old place and said that she wanted them gone too, but I had the impression that he was paying to have them taken out and away.

Jack's bride, some twenty-five or so years younger, was delighted to report that both their spouses had died and that they had been traveling and having so much fun that they decided to get married. I sold my place about twelve years ago, and would not have expected this old man to be living in his town home continuing to be committed to having the other yards looking exactly the way he wanted them. The photo of my blooming back yard and the trees beyond, taken shortly before my move West, barely resembles the place now.

It was an enjoyable and surprising visit. They suggested that we drive to the back side of the development to lots that jutted out over the large TVA lake and see the "castle." During that drive I saw that almost all of the wildness of the place--what made it an area I loved--was now replaced with mansions and manicured lawns. The woods where I could climb down to water's edge had been thinned or cleared and were back yards. The development had been successful. It was attractive and upscale--and I was glad I no longer lived there.

Downtown Chattanooga was beginning to experience beautification before I left. There are truly lovely spots in its landscape. The photos here are in the heart of the city. Two are taken from the Hunter Art Museum's new addition. The Walnut Street bridge, completed while I lived there, is for pedestrians. Places change--for better or worse, depending on the viewer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Healing -- A Journey

Healing is always present for me. It is a huge part of my journey. I think of healing primarily as emotional and spiritual, although I have learned that with healing in those areas has come healing of body stresses as well. From time to time through the years I've had a role in accompanying others on their final journies on this planet. There had been a respite in this area of life, but at my age, that's never expected to last.

Cancer has come to our family--technically to my children's family, their father. Although divorced for more than 30 years, we have remained part of an extended family, sharing holiday celebrations with children and grandchildren. Tom's cancer has brought up feelings of "it's my job to fix this." I too often saw my role in our marriage as that of the fixer so now--the healer. I was supposed to heal Mother, I thought as a child. Those old feelings have resurfaced--coming to the forefront to be released at a deeper level.

That release brings a lighter feeling on one level and a more helpless one on another. We react differently. Our daughter, who lives here in Colorado, is planning to take her father and his wife to the beach this summer. That was a place we all enjoyed being together, a good spot for another kind of healing. Our son, who lives in Nashville and sees his dad often, is listening for the oncologist's prescription. He's walked the last months of a difficult cancer with a close friend so knows something of what is likely coming--and he'll be the one close by. Two of Tom's brothers are anxious to visit before he's really sick. That's his birth family's way.

I pray for as many kinds of healing as possible for Tom and our children. I pray for openness for the healing that's available to all of us, including Tom's wife of many years and her children. Each about ten years younger than ours, they got the better fathering.

Going deep isn't easy. It isn't the way we live. Our culture doesn't support introspection. We want a quick fix, not a journey. I'll admit that when I think of a good death, I think of a quick one or at least one that's mostly pain free. Not knowing what lies ahead isn't comfortable. Pain makes us want a pill, a shot. Being present to what is--that takes courage. I know that journey when it comes to emotional and spiritual healing. I know pain that comes from being with those feelings and the release and healing too.

I too know about watching a spot that could be cancer. I didn't have a doctor doing it with me like Tom has had. I pulled my bangs down over my forehead spot and went to France for six months. The dermatologist was alarmed when he saw the spot, was 95% sure it was melanoma, rearranged his afternoon schedule to do the surgery. I was lucky, he said. It was growing down a hair folicle and would have spread quickly. It was fast--diagnosis, surgery, pathology report, more surgery, all gone. I am reminded every six months when I go to the dermatologist for a check up and they say, oh yes, you had melanoma. Briefly I am present to cancer. Daily I am present to my spiritual healing journey.

My role in Tom's journey will primarily be to support our children, to pray and have my prayer groups pray, to follow from a distance. For me that's more uncomfortable than doing something tangible. I've been invited to his 75th birthday dinner at their home May 22nd, the day prior to grandson Will's high school graduation, since Tom's birthday's on graduation day. It will be an unusual birthday dinner--with lung cancer joining us at the table and with only our children and grandchildren present. (His step-children will be there this coming weekend.)

I have at times thought I might be a healer--not that I didn't recognize that God does the healing. But I thought of myself as perhaps having a contributing role. Looking through a different lense today, I see praying and being present to what is as my contributions--one simple and the other, presence, being a practice. Presence to being on the sidelines and yet involved--maybe that is what being with another's healing journey is.

The journey may be rocky, but there are always beautiful moments. Light may shine only on a tiny part of the path. Looking deeply won't be easy. And sometimes the path will climb steeply, with a golden glow appearing in the distance.

Prayers for the journey that we are all taking--and peace.