Ani DiFranco, Healing Memories and Places

Singer Ani DiFranco performed in my city recently. Curious about her, my internet surfing led to some of her great music. Ms. DiFranco is a political activist/artist in the mold of Peter Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. I am quite certain if we drank Fair Trade coffee together we would have lively conversation.

press photo of Ani Difranco
press photo of Ani Difranco

What intrigued me about Ani was the mess this New Orleans’ resident inadvertently got into last year when she booked the Louisiana Nottoway Plantation for a “Righteous Retreat.” The goal was to have a four-day songwriting and creativity workshop. Some of her activist colleagues, however, were appalled she picked a place built by slaves and now owned by a billionaire. They demanded Ani cancel the retreat, and she did. On her website she wrote, “I did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness.” This apology wasn’t strong enough so she had to apologize a second time!

To Ms. DiFranco’s credit she went the extra mile to make peace with her critics. But it felt sad that an opportunity to gather artists for a “Righteous Retreat” was squelched. It is a difficult balance to honor the past, work fruitfully in the present and envision a better future for both people and places. Can you think of places personally and in community that experienced grief and have been transformed? For transformation to happen there usually are some unselfish people behind the scenes envisioning something better and committing themselves to the labor. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth!”

FullSizeRenderRecently, my octogenarian friend Belle told me a sweet story that is connected to this theme of healing places and people. For years, Belle’s large family had gathered at her home for special events. On one of these occasions, Belle went to the door to be greeted by her little granddaughter, who had so much fun picking all of grandma’s tulips. Belle’s spontaneous reaction resulted in three generations of females suffering heartache that day. Their collective memory was a mess.

But here is the good ending: their memory was redeemed. Belle said just this past Easter–as at many other family gatherings–her now grown-up granddaughter presented her with a tulip bouquet. Smiling, the young woman said, “Remember, Grandma, when….”

Wherever you can, work to heal collective memories and places.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Grace at Mom’s Nursing Home

The coffee, juice and cookie snack is almost over by 3:30 pm at the Good Samaritan Senior Center. It soon will be time for hymn singing.

My 85-year-old mom, now legally blind and down to saying only “yes” or “no” most of the time, enjoys hearing the great songs of faith—Tell Me the Old, Old Story, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessings, Amazing Grace. Today, it is eighty something Edie Blankenship on the piano, a volunteer whose tight jeans still make her figure look like a teenager. And faithful tenor volunteer Arthur Schwartz is leading the hymn sing—just like he did in my little church in the 1970s.

I am caught off guard at the table companions Mom has selected this day; these are not her usual colleagues. They are Alzheimer resident Harriet Sauer and her daughter-in-law, Val.

photo by CSS
Photo of Mom in blue by CSS

Val’s husband, Ted, sits at the table next to us, smiling and listening to our coffee chat. Only 18 months prior, Val and I had talked about her husband’s scary emergency heart surgery. Thankfully, he looks healthy.

Time slows down in a nursing home—sometimes insanely slow for those of us who still mark off “to do” lists and rush from one errand to another. But this day I am reflecting on life’s amazing road. Ted was a couple of years ahead of me in high school, one of the handsomest guys in town. Now, during coffee time and hymn sing, he appears an amiable, balding fellow, not much different looking from a lot of senior guys. This man I can converse with, but in high school I would have not even dared to whisper hello.

All I knew in high school about Ted’s mother, Harriet, was that she and her husband ran a successful business, were Catholics, and probably swore like sailors. I concluded the swearing part because the Sauer’s other son, Bob, daily spewed expletives by my desk in English class. That was all I knew of Mrs. Sauer and her family.

But this day, during coffee time, she and Mom are contentedly sitting together, and Mrs. Sauer is smiling and singing the great hymns of our mutual faith. You can tell she knows and believes the words she sings. In spite of a disease robbing her mind, she has joy.

Jeanne Murray Walker writes in The Geography of Memory that her mother’s Alzheimer’s drew her, the adult daughter, back to a childhood mom through disjointed memories verbally expressed by her ailing parent. In my case, as Mom and I travel this nursing home road together, I experience the thawing of childhood memories as I bump into classmates and their elderly parents at the Good Samaritan Center.

“Why, I haven’t seen you since high school!” I have exclaimed quite a few times. This memory thawing flows into a fuller reservoir that views others less critically, more confidently. Perhaps Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves is taking hold a little. Indeed, here is some Amazing Grace! I feel blessed and humbled realizing this truth as I look at the beaming face of Mrs. Sauer and Mom’s peaceful smile. A single+Amazing+Gracelong life certainly can unfold wisdom in some truly unexpected and beautiful ways.

*Author’s note: I have changed the names here to respect the privacy of those involved.

 

Writer’s Destination: From North Dakota to NYC

Deer in western North Dakota
Deer in western North Dakota (photo by CAB)

There’s a traveler’s joke that goes something like this: a lost hiker asks a farmer, “Mister, could you tell me how to get to New York City?”

The farmer is thoughtful and finally says, “Missy, this is not New York City. This is North Dakota.”

The hiker is patient: “Sir, I know that, but I need to get to New York City from here?”

The farmer shakes his head: “Well, missy, if I were going to New York City, I just wouldn’t start from here.”

The pragmatic farmer is correct, but the hiker has a point too. She may be lost, but she must get to her destination with or without the farmer’s help.

For this blogger’s inaugural launch, let’s get out a few facts. I view myself as a little quirky, with some professional training in journalism and studying Christianity in the mainstream of American culture. I have some good stories to share. I love storytelling, history, nature, books, life’s mysteries, God’s surprises, the Big Arc of the Good News. All of these subjects are what “There’s a Blog in My Eye” will center around. But life can be unexpected. Who knows what might pop up?

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Until recently, I have resisted writing a blog and creating a writer’s website. The reasoning has gone that if I have time–or make time to write–I should work on projects rattling in the brain rather than blogging about those projects. And true confession:
there is a fear-failure factor in the mix of my excuses. But the professionals say I should have started a blog yesterday. A writer should write, right? The pros say my writings are my “products,” and myself is now a “brand.” Oh, ouch! But, after all, they are the experts, and I want to get to New York City.

Here is my challenge in a question: Can I be authentic to you, appreciated reader, and still pursue the business/marketing part of writing? As time passes, you will be the judge.

Here is my goal: I desire to build a positive community of readers who enjoy stories, often touching on history and faith. I want to entertain and enlighten. By writing well and truthfully, I hope I may lift a few reader burdens along the way.

It’s a long journey from North Dakota to New York City. Who knows what will happen? I invite you to come along each weekend and discover with me!