A Mother’s Pride

At the end of each day, I try to think of something that happened that day that made me happy or gave me joy. Many days, I must admit, it’s a struggle. Sometimes nothing out of the ordinary happens, or maybe I just had a bad day. But today, my heart was filled with sunshine because of something that was said to me after church.

The choir director saught me out to tell me that on his music for the anthem today, he had made a note, many years ago, that the first flute accompanist for this anthem was Kara Hiland. Why he made that note, I don’t know. Maybe he did that when any of his young music students performed with the choir. But his telling me that filled my heart with joy.

I am a member of Stonybrook Church, and have been for the past year or so, after about a 10-year leave of absence. I had quit attending church there, in favor of attending a church that was within walking distance of my house. I love walking to church. But I never really felt that the people of that church embraced me as a member. They tried to be nice, but I just didn’t fit in. Still, for 10 years, I tried to make it work, because I loved being able to walk to church.

Then that church began to fall apart, and I thought it was the right time to return to Stonybrook. Besides, being able to walk to church is not a good reason to continue to go where you don’t feel comfortable.

The moment I returned to Stonybrook, however, I felt like I had come home. Back when my family was young, Kara was the most active of us all. Youth group, church camp, choir, and the Appalachia Service Project played a huge part in her life. Even after participating as a student, she returned as an adult counselor. Although I was very proud of her, a part of me felt like I wasn’t much use to the church, better known as Kara’s mother. So when Kara went off and started her family in another part of the country, I felt a little lost at Stonybrook. So I went away, and now that I’m back, I’m finding that I actually enjoy being known as Kara’s mother. She was my connection to Stonybrook back then, and now, the memory of her is my connection. It feels good to not only be proud of my daughter, but also for her church family at Stonybrook to keep her in their hearts.

The Diamond Bracelet Adventure

About 2 months after my mother died in 22014, I got a call from the assisted living home. “Now what?” I thought. It can’t be another problem with Mom, because she’s gone.” But they had just discovered an envelope in the office safe with my mother’s name on it, and inside the envelope was a diamond ring. This was strange, because I don’t remember that ring, but there it was with her name on it, so I went and got it.

I don’t particularly care to wear a ring, unless it’s a wedding ring, so I decided to have it made into a bracelet. I took it to a jewelry designer, who made a very simple silver bracelet with the diamond setting .

When I went to my daughter’s for Christmas, I took the bracelet with me, because I had planned to wear it to church, but I didn’t want to wear it while traveling, for fear of losing it, and I didn’t want to pack it in my suitcase, so I kept it in my purse.

On the way home, as I got off the plane, the flight attendant said to me, “Did you lose a bracelet? There’s one on your seat.” “No,” I said. “I wasn’t wearing a bracelet.” Then in the next breath, I said, “Wait a minute. Let me see that bracelet.” Yes, there it was, the diamond bracelet, almost lost once again. I call this a God moment. Had she not been looking at the seat that I had just vacated, and had I not changed my mind immediately and asked to see that bracelet, my mother’s diamond would be gone forever. Obviously, I need a safer place to carry a valuable piece of jewelry. I had been into my purse a dozen times, fishing out my phone and treats for Dora, Kleenex, cough drops, and any number of things, and I never touched that bracelet. How it jumped out of my purse and landed on the seat, I’ll never know, but I’m glad it’s now back on my wrist where it belongs. It’s a kind of anniversary surprise, because I picked up that bracelet from the jeweler exactly one year ago today.

Cantata

When the holidays are filled with commercials about loving families who all get together and bestow lavish gifts of diamonds and fancy cars, it can get pretty depressing. When you think that you don’t belong in a society where big family gatherings are the norm, and being alone is somehow un-American, you have 2 choices. You can wallow in self-pity, or you can find something meaningful to do for somebody even less fortunate than you. Yes, you’ve all heard this many times, but let me tell you about an experience I had this past weekend that not only filled my heart with joy, but also strengthened my faith in the Christmas story.

I was one of 68 singers in my church’s annual cantata. It’s a lot of work for me to do that. First, I have to have someone come over and dictate the words to 9 songs, so I can transcribe them into braille, being careful to insert page numbers, because the director skips around at rehearsal, from one piece to another, and tells us to turn to measure such and such on page such and such, never mentioning the name of the song or the word we are to start on. Then, if I can manage it, I have a friend come over and sing the alto part with me, along with the CD we’re given to practice with. This year, no one was available, so I had to rely on just listening very hard to the CD. During rehearsals, I recorded the whole practice, hoping to catch just the altos, so I can learn that part. I must have spent 100 hours practicing at home. Yet by the time we performed on Saturday, I still didn’t feel confident about the alto part. After praying about it, I realized that I didn’t have to know this thing perfectly. So what if I didn’t come in exactly on time. As long as I didn’t sing out whenever everybody else was silent, and as long as I did sing out when I was confident about my part, then it should be a good experience. I had been ready to quit several times. But then my friend Kathy reminded me of the joy I felt when I sang at last year’s concert. She was right. I did feel joy.

So I ironed my white blouse, gathered up my brailled music, and took my place in the second row beside Kathy. We had been moved several times because one person or another couldn’t see the director, but Kathy insisted that we were a unit. She was the one who tapped my leg when it was time to stand up and again when it was time to sit down, which wasn’t always at the beginning or ending of a piece. In fact, when we first rehearsed with the standups and the sit-downs, Kathy wasn’t sitting next to me, and the people on each side of me did not think to let me know when the director signaled us to stand. There I sat, while everybody was standing, and I was angry and embarrassed. Did they think I was going to sit through the whole cantata. No, they just didn’t think. But after Kathy and I got ourselves together, things began to fall into place. And speaking of falling, there was the issue of climbing 2 sets of stairs to the choir loft. I wouldn’t trust anybody else to help me with that.

The bottom line is that it was thrilling, and singing made the Christmas story much more meaningful and believable.

If you can carry a tune, I recommend that you volunteer to sing in a cantata. It’s worth every frustration and worry. When you’ve sung the last note, and the choir and orchestra bring the whole thing to a crescendo, your heart will burst with joy.

Disability Day

Today, December 3 is International Persons with a Disability Day. I’d rather talk about our abilities.

The word disabled does a great disservice to those of us who have vision loss. It sounds like we’re broken, like a disabled car. While we may be able to recite a long list of things we can’t do, such as drive or make eye contact, there are many gifts we can be grateful for, that still remain as part of who we are.

My abilities, like many active blind people, include dancing, cycling, skiing, and swimming. But you don’t have to be a super athlete with mysterious talents in negating blindness and You don’t have to be a mountain climber or a pole vaulter to say you have abilities. Consider some simple everyday tasks, functions, and yes, talents that you might be overlooking.

Although I had to struggle with mastering the computer, I write every single day. Writing is a talent I did not have to give up with my vision loss.

I love singing. I sing with my church choir. It takes a lot more work for me to do that than my sighted friends, because I have to transcribe the words of the anthems into braille and learn the music by rote, but it’s a talent I didn’t have to give up.

I studied dance when I was young and hoped to be a ballerina someday, but with the onset of RP, that dream was not going to become reality. But I didn’t have to give up dancing. I enrolled in private ballroom dance lessons, so I could use that talent with the help of a dance partner.

Over the years, I have developed organizational skills for my personal life. Arranging for rides, making appointments, and budgeting my time are all abilities that allow me to live independently.

I’m not a great cook, but back when my family was young, I did the cooking at my house, the meal planning, and the grocery shopping. While I’m not fond of wrapping Christmas presents, and that’s putting it mildly, I am able to do it none the less. My gifts wouldn’t win any prizes, but they do the job.

I like to knit. I make simple things like scarves and dish cloths. It’s very relaxing to me, and it’s easily done by feel.

I clean my house, do my own laundry, rake leaves, and shovel snow. I walk every day with my very athletic and enthusiastic Seeing Eye ® dog.

When people I meet along my life’s path exclaim that they think I’m amazing for having these abilities, they often say, “I can’t even do that, and I can see.” That really pushes my hot button. What makes them think that being able to see is a prerequisite for living a full life? As a visually impaired person, I have more abilities than disabilities. It’s just that blindness is the big one, and the biggest disability of all is to get people to see beyond it.

Old Home Movies Treasured History

Have you ever been to a holiday gathering, and Uncle Bob is always pestering you to get in the picture. “Everybody scoot closer. Everybody say cheese. Now let’s get one with just you kids and Grandma.” And on and on. And you think, oh brother, this is such a pain. But someday, like me, you’ll be very thankful for the memories and for the history of your family.

For years, my garage has been filled with plastic storage bins filled with old reels of tapes and slides, useless to me. My dad loved taking pictures and even developed his own film. Then when he got a movie camera, he took everything from the dog walking across the yard to my dance recitals. But what to do with all these slides and old movies now that both parents are gone? I bit the bullet and took them to a professional familiographer, had 2 copies of the 5-12 hours of “viewing pleasure” copied onto 2 sets of 3 DVD’s, and presented them to my son and daughter on Thanksgiving Day. They were an early Christmas present, and I wanted them to be able to watch them together, helping each other recall who that was in the background holding the baby and which kid that was just learning to walk. Of course they didn’t have time to sit there and watch every minute, but it was a thrill for me to hear their smiles as they saw their grandpa standing in front of his new car in 1959. Here was our family history on film that we didn’t even know we had.

It was a bit of a challenge getting this done. I started by asking friends to go through the slides, of which there were hundreds. “hold them up to the light,” I would say, “and if you don’t see a person in the picture, then throw it away.” For the most part, that plan worked, but one picture, which did not have a person in it was saved anyway, and I was so glad. It was a picture of the little house my grandmother lived in, complete with the outhouse, which has long since been torn down and replaced by landscaping and a pond. My kids actually remember that little old house, so it was truly a trip down memory lane. I’m sure no one at the time considered these pictures would be cherished 50 years later, but there we were, drawn a little closer by old and new technology combined. There was a picture of my forty-year-old mother driving the boat that my dad was so proud of and many pictures of the Dalmatians that I adored as a child. My granddaughters could see that once upon a time, I too was a pretty young girl in a long tutu, getting ready for a recital.

I must admit that because of the expense involved, I worried that I would be the only one who thought it was worth it, but my kids did not disappoint me. They truly do appreciate having our family history in a modern day format. I am so grateful for all those times my dad trotted out his camera. It was fun for him, a hobby. But for us, it’s a treasure.

Someone Told Me to Believe

This is one of those thought provoking prompts that we did at our TTN writers group the other night. What would you say if someone said, “Finish this sentence. Someone told me to believe…”? Here is what I wrote.

Someone told me to believe by teaching me to believe. I was taught to believe that my day started with making up my bed. I was taught to believe that keeping my belongings in order and accounted for would keep my life in order. I was taught to believe in the power of making lists and marking them off as they were accomplished. I was taught to believe that telling the truth was the best in the long run, but a little white lie was called for in certain circumstances. I was taught to believe in the goodness of God and the love of Jesus Christ. I was told to believe that almost all dogs would love me, because they could tell that I loved them. I was told to believe in the value of work before pleasure. I was told to believe in the magic of yeast, that it does indeed turn flour and water into bread. I was told to believe in Heaven. I was told to believe in Santa Claus and then to believe that Santa Claus, like God, was in all of us. I was told that eating vegetables was much better for me than eating chocolate. I was told to believe that going to sleep on a problem would help solve it the next day. I was taught to say I’m sorry, and to mean it. Someone told me to believe in all these truths, but it is my choice to believe in some and not in others. As we mature and age, some our beliefs grow and age with us, and some betray us. This last is what I believe.

Thank You For Your Service

“Thank you for your service.” It’s a sentiment our veterans are hearing a lot today. But this was not always the greeting they got on returning home. Thanks to a national program called Honor Flights, my friend Bob, 92, received it all day long one day this past April. He had heard about these flights to Washington, D.C., for WW2 vets, but he kept saying no thank-you. His granddaughter had other ideas. One day, she showed up at his assisted living apartment and informed him that in one month, he would be going on a very special trip. When he finally guessed that it was the Honor /flight, she added that not only was he going, but she was to be his personal guardian, which deeply touched him. Each veteran who goes is accompanied by a volunteer helper for the entire day.

They arrived at the Columbus airport at 4:45 a.m. As they pulled up to the curb, 5 men in yellow shirts opened the doors, extended their hands and said, “thank you for your service Sir.” Then they helped him into a wheelchair and whisked him into the airport. Bob was expecting a very quiet and empty airport at that time of the morning, but there were people everywhere, bustling around, serving snacks and coffee to the 70 vets, and organizing which vets would be riding which busses From the Baltimore airport into D.C.

First, they flew to Baltimore, where they were greeted with marching cadets and a military band, along with cheering people who just happened to be at the airport that day. Once they were carefully and efficiently assisted onto the 3 busses, they had police escorts both in front and behind For the 30-mile ride into D.C. All other traffic was stopped in respect. The day was filled with visiting one memorial after another. At all times, they were treated with kindness and dignity, and Bob heard “thank you for your service” a thousand times that day. Their plane returned to Columbus at 9:15, and again, Bob expected to just get off the plane and get home to bed after an exhausting but wonderful day. But the fun wasn’t over. As soon as they all got through the arrival gate and turned a corner, a huge cheer went up, and the High School band played for 2 hours. “there must have been 400 people there,” Bob said with pride. Each vet’s name and rank was announced over a loud speaker as he went through a receiving line of well-wishers and grateful grownups and children alike. Bob told me that one man there had 4 purple hearts. I’d say it’s about time these men and women were thanked for their valor, their courage, and their sacrifices. These Honor Flights were created by volunteers for World War 2 veterans, but veterans from other wars and conflicts are now being honored as well.

It was obvious that Bob enjoyed sharing his story with me. He played the video of the home-coming, so I could hear the cheers of the crowd and the patriotic music of the band. This was actually my second visit with Bob. The first time, we talked about his military service, what his jobs were, what life was like back then, and we never got around to the Honor Flight, so I promised to come back, which I did today. I’ll be back for more visits, because I think there are a lot more stories this 92-year-old soldier has to tell. My dad served in WW 2, but like most men who did, he never talked about it. Of course I was too young to be interested or to care. Now I do care, and to my dad and all the others who are gone now, we thank you for your service.