The Greatest Love of All

Photo by Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure

“Nicole is lucky to have you for a mother. You show her great love.”

These are words I frequently hear from those who know the lengths to which I go to find resources for her. I see this as my responsibility. I know it is a loving action, but I have the skills to do it and the only thing hard about it is finding the time to follow the leads and dealing with the disappointment of blind alleys and insufficient assistance and services.

Showing her love is something different in my book. Love is changed behavior and is, to my way of seeing, a powerful demonstration of love. It takes much more conscious effort. And it forces me to grow.

Nicole and I have both been showing our love by changing our behavior since she moved in with me a little over a year ago. After she reached adulthood, we tried living together before, and it didn’t work well. This time, we are both growing.

To ease the transition, I suggested we be intentional about giving each other a hug before going to bed at night. Expressing our love by hugging and expressing terms of endearment greatly reduced the tension in the air. It took about five months for us to begin to relax into a routine with each other that seems to be working for both of us.

Behavior I have changed:

  • I’m not as fussy about my home being neat and tidy.
  • I’ve stopped (except for a recent slip — I’m not perfect) screaming, yelling, and stomping when I’m frustrated or scared.
  • I take into consideration her preferences.
  • I watch TV programs she enjoys even though they are not my first choice and I wouldn’t normally give them the time of day.
  • I say “thank you” a lot more frequently.
  • I accept much more graciously what I cannot change about the way her disease affects her behavior.
  • When our needs clash, I engage her in problem solving to find a solution that works for both of us.

Behavior I’ve noticed that Nicole has changed:

  • She’s less messy around the house.
  • She’s forthright in her dislike of my frustrated/scared behavior.
  • She watches some TV programs I enjoy even though she finds them boring.
  • She initiates and takes responsibility for household chores without being reminded. (I really like it that she has taken responsibility to clean up the kitchen after I cook.)
  • She kids with me about my quirks.
  • She respects my need for silence and uses her headphones when I’m writing, meditating, or reflecting.

I know Nicole would rather live independently and I would prefer that, too. But that is not likely to be possible anytime soon. So, in the interim, we show our love through changed behavior. In my book, that’s the greatest love of all. And this is not what I set out to write today. Interesting.

The Blessings of Friendship

Many years ago, I received a compliment from Anne Wilson Schaef, author of many books and someone with whom I trained in Living in Process, a spiritual way of life. After observing me during a weekend workshop, she called me over and said, “You do friend well.” I have never forgotten that and I try as best I can to live up to that. Of course, I sometimes fail, but I do my best to make amends and change my behavior. Because I have so little family, my friends are very important to me.

Last Friday I was treated to a delightful day with a significant friend I met while I worked at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. Pam coordinated the Harriet L. Miller Women’s Center while she was a student. After she graduated, she went on to Union Theological Seminary in NYC to earn her Ph.D. in Christian ethics and then to teach at California Lutheran University. She has written three books:

  • She Hath Done What She Could: A History of Women’s Participation in the Church of the Brethren
  • Women Don’t Count: The Challenge of Women’s Poverty to Christian Ethics
  • Globalization at What Price?: Economic Change and Daily Life

While all of this is impressive, that is not what I value the most about Pam. She is a down-to-earth friend for whom I have a lot of respect. Visiting with her is a delight. We hadn’t seen each other for many years (our memories are different about the length of time). I found her on Facebook a few months ago and we reconnected on-line. That’s what I love about the internet, helping us find friends with whom we have lost touch.

Yes, Pam and I did talk about our concerns for the future of our country and the world, how we see what is going on, our fears as well as where we find hope. But for me, those were not my most meaningful exchanges with her.

I feel safe with Pam and believe she feels safe with me as well, because our from-the-heart conversations inevitably go deep. On this visit, we shared our experiences of aging, the losses we are mourning and how we deal with loss, travels and experiences that have enriched our lives (my life was enriched visiting Pam in NYC while she was working on her Ph.D.), the ways in which life for us personally hasn’t turned out as we imagined and how we’re dealing with that, the ways we are managing retirement and life as it is, and what we are looking forward to at this time in our lives.

Pam & Linda at Cox Arboretum

We started our day with an early walk at Cox Arboretum, hoping to miss the heat of the day. A man noticed our taking pictures of each other, approached, and asked if we’d like him to take a picture of us together. After taking this picture, he said, “Remember, Jesus loves you.” We smiled, gave each other a knowing look, and affirmed, “Yes, we know that.”

After returning to my home, washing off the sweat and changing clothes, I gave Pam several choices for lunch. Because she had never eaten at a Bolivian restaurant, she chose Nelly’s.

I was thrilled when the waiter sat us in a secluded corner. We had a lot of catching up to do. Before long, their house specialty, Nelly’s slow-cooked Charcoal Rotisserie Chicken, arrived. Nelly’s has a reputation for serving the best chicken in Dayton and it doesn’t disappoint. Pam said it was the best she has ever eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew when we scheduled this day, it would be over way too soon. These are precious moments for me. I’m blessed to count Pam as a friend and ever so grateful we are planning future re-connections.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Changing How We See

“Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.” ~Luke 11:34 RSV

In my October 8 post, “Scales Falling From My Eyes,” I shared how my former students enthusiasm about seeing me again and sharing about the difference I had made in their lives led me to go back to my motel room, look in the mirror, and say to myself, “Linda, I think it’s time you started looking at yourself differently.”

When the student is ready, the teacher appears

I find it interesting and awe inspiring how the Universe conspires to help us grow. Almost as soon as I said those words, I was led to listen to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I was aware of Susan’s book at least three years ago and knew I wanted to read it, but somehow I didn’t get to it until just the right moment to be able to garner its wisdom for me.

Teacher Number 1

quiet

In Quiet, Susan addresses how our society moved from being a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality.” Whereas we once valued good deeds performed when no one was looking, we now value magnetism and charisma. Instead of Abraham Lincoln as our ideal, we now idolize movie stars with just the “right” facial features and body types.

Listening to Quiet, I heard  Cain point out just how significant appearance is in our society. That has become abundantly clear in a most hurtful way in our recent presidential election. Our success in life is judged by the standards set for supposedly “the most beautiful people in the world.”

Awakening to the effects of our “culture of personality’s” influence on me, I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like it that I felt the sting of viewing myself negatively because I fall short of our society’s standards of beauty. I didn’t like it that I look longingly at the women who do possess our society’s standards of magnatism and charisma. I didn’t like the difficulty I have seeing beauty in those who don’t fit our cultural standards.

I wanted to rid myself of this scourge.

Teacher Number 2

In my October 29 post, I wrote about meeting Rick Guidotti at the Myotonic Dystrophy Conference held in Cincinnati on October 22. As an award-winning fashion photographer, Rick has photographed women and men who are considered the most magnetic and charismatic among us … our culture’s most beautiful. But he grew frustrated with being told who was beautiful and who he had to photograph. Because he sees beauty in diversity and finds it in places where others wouldn’t even think to look, he changed his life and is making an enormous difference in the lives of many others.

Because he SEES beauty in everyone

 

The mission Rick committed to through Positive Exposure is to transform the way the world views beauty. Wow, do we need that today. He wants to change public perceptions of people living with genetic, physical, intellectual and behavioral differences. One out of five children  in the United States is born with a disability making the need for society to understand and respect children and adults living with these differences critical. Positive Exposure’s educational and advocacy programs reach around the globe to promote a more inclusive, compassionate world where differences are celebrated.

Rick’s book, Change How You See, See How You Change features over 50 genetic syndromes through portraiture and personal narrative, giving expression to each individual’s heart and soul. It invites readers to see beyond diagnoses to the humanity we all share.

Thank you, Rick, for changing how I see.

I look forward to seeing how I change.

Now that my eyes opened to my faulty way of seeing, some synchronicities (The Divine’s way of remaining anonymous) began popping up all over:

More Teachers

A Tribute to Discomfort

On Pushing Through A Struggle:

“There’s incredible amounts of raw human and natural beauty happening everywhere.” ~Cory Richards

 

 

and

Sir Elton John speaking about his modernist photography collection:

“I was seeing through different eyes. I saw beauty that I’d never seen before.” Sir Elton John

Link

Glass Tears

 

 

and

thriver-soup

Heidi Bright noticing my attempts on Facebook to find beauty in the midst of cultural ugliness and sent me her latest blog post with this quote from Elsie de Wolfe:

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.”

Read about Heidi’s experience finding beauty in the midst of a terminal cancer diagnosis in her memoir:

 

and

Then I picked up one of my favorite spiritual books, The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul by Sandra Maitri, and read this:

spiritual-dimension-of-the-enneagram

 

“Yes, I see who you believe you are, but let me  show you what and who is truly beneath those beliefs. Let me show you your jeweled possibilities.”  ~Sandra Maitri

 

 

 

 

I am beginning to see my jeweled possibilities.

Link

8a35f-smiley2bsun2bface

A Life Well Lived

November 7 1933-November 5, 2016

Wayne B. “Dutch” Brady ~ ~ November 7 1933–November 5, 2016

“A life well lived,” the priest repeated. New to the parish, he didn’t really know my uncle. He couldn’t have known how true his words were as he paired “a life well lived” with “the importance of family” to my Uncle Wayne.

When I spoke with Terri, Uncle Wayne’s and Aunt Rosie’s youngest daughter, I asked her to tell me about his death. He had fallen, had a bleed in his brain, his kidneys were failing, and he had been in the hospital, in ICU, for a couple of days. On the day before he died, he was stepped down from ICU and  his vitals were improving.

At one in the morning on the day he died, Terri was awakened by a call from his nurse. He was agitated and they couldn’t calm him down. He was calling for Terri. The nurse asked if she would come.

When Terri and her husband arrived about an hour later, she had a meaning conversation with him that she told me she would treasure forever. During the visitation held on Wednesday, November 9, I heard more about that conversation from Aunt Rosie and Terri.

Uncle Wayne told Terri to write down everything he was about to tell her. He had his financial affairs in order and told Terri where she would find what she needed to take care of her mother after his death. Uncle Wayne’s hobby had been woodworking. He told Terri to write down the names of each person and the gift of his tools they were to receive. Once he had accomplished that, he relaxed and declared, “I’m going to die today.” By 2:25 that afternoon, he was gone.

During his funeral on Thursday, one of Uncle Wayne’s granddaughters sang with tears in her eyes. Her strong, rich, melodic voice led us in singing the most uplifting of hymns. Later she told me she had chosen all the music for his service. I’m sure Uncle Wayne was beaming his pride from the other side.

At the luncheon following his funeral, I was invited to sit with the family. In my mind’s eye, my cousins were still teenagers — my last significant contact with them. Now they are parents and grandparents. I marveled at the family these two produced.

wayne-rosie-wedding

April 16, 1955

 From these two came four.

Tim, Ted, Tammy, and Terri

From those four came twelve.

Grandchildren, the center of Uncle Wayne’s and Aunt Rosie’s lives.

And from those twelve have come nine.

Great grandchildren who  may never know the importance of their great grandfather’s intention for his life.

But they will benefit from it.

Around the table, I observed my uncle’s children relating to their nieces and nephews and grandchildren with such fondness and care. I watched Ted’s daughters wrap their arms around their father with obvious affection. He beamed devotion as he returned their endearments.

I couldn’t help but notice the contrast with the family gatherings of my youth after my parents, brother, and I moved to my mother’s hometown, New Bremen, Ohio. My mother and her three sisters talked loud and bickered with each other, jangling my nerves. Uncle Wayne, only nine years older than I and like a big brother to me, tried to lighten things up with ornery antics.  At ten years old, I came to see their behavior as the scars they bore as a result of growing up with a violent alcoholic father. I didn’t know my grandfather because my grandmother divorced him when my mother was pregnant with me.

In my forties, I read about patterns of behavior members of alcoholic family’s adopt in order to survive. To my surprise, I found myself in those patterns that get passed down from generation to generation, even when the active alcoholism or addiction is not present. I recognized in myself the hero child/lost child patterns.

I thought my family would enthusiastically support my archeological dig into family history. As astute as I had been at ten about the source of their scars, I had no appreciation for the depth of the pain just below the surface of their merry-making, fun-loving personas that often grew contentious. At first, my mother tried to answer my questions, but one day she said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” With that she closed the door.

I only asked Uncle Wayne once to tell me about his father, someone I could only remember seeing once when I was eight. He told me he had no use for his father. “He never helped, Mom. He never supported his family.” Seeing his pain, I never asked again.

After hearing Terri tell me the nature of her meaningful conversation with her dad, the import of his agitation became clear to me. He could not relax until he knew Aunt Rosie, who has health problems of her own, would be cared for. To the end, he was determined not to be like his father. He would take care of his family. Once he had given Terri all the information she needed to take over for him, he was ready to leave behind his pain-ridden body and move on for his next adventure.

A life well lived. May he rest in peace knowing he accomplished his intention. He loved and took care of his family well. And with that, he broke the chain of generations of family wounding and pain.

“Good job, Uncle Wayne. You got it right.”

 

Rare Resilience

“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” ~Zen Proverb

My experience at the Myotonic Dystrophy Conference on Saturday, October 22, reminded me of this Zen proverb. The morning was full of hope as the doctors and researchers enlightened us about the progress they are making. In their work, they chop wood and carry water looking for a cure. Their excitement is contagious as they move closer to their goal.

Then in the afternoon family sharing group, I experienced almost immediate discouragement as we began to share our experiences of chopping wood and carrying water. While we wait and hope for a cure, we deal with many frustrating day-to-day challenges caring for our loved ones.

kathleen-cain-facilitating-faminly-support-group

family-support-at-dm-conference

shields-family-at-dm-conference

Nothing discourages me more than the overwhelming challenge of interfacing with or hearing others’ stories of interfacing with a callous bureaucracy that doesn’t understand or seem to care about our needs. I’m not sure I could take it all in, but this is what I remember from the group meeting.

Painful memories were triggered as I listened to parents share about challenges I faced in the past:

  • Two mothers of preschool children shared their challenge in finding a school with a suitable special needs program.
  • Parents shared their concerns about their children’s difficulty making friends and being bullied at school.
  • Several shared their challenges receiving social security disability and other vital services.

Fear surfaced related to current challenges Nicole and I face:

  • One Ohio mother shared that they have been on the waiting list for a medicaid waiver for ten years. Ten years. We just applied in July and knew it could be months. But ten years. I may not even be alive in ten years. I think I was the oldest parent there.
  • The difficulty finding suitable housing for our disabled loved ones. The facility where we applied told us about three weeks ago that it could be years before there is an opening.

Sorrow arose related to our fears for our children’s future:

  • We all worry about what will happen to our children after we are gone.
  • Because cognitive impairment, emotional blunting, and social apathy are features of the disease, our children manifesting these symptoms have little contact outside of their immediate family. We worry about who will love them after we are gone.
  • Who will care for them the way we do now after we are gone? That is why I held such hope for being granted a medicaid waiver. Then Nicole would have an aid and a case manager who would help her with the things she can’t manage that I take care of now. Apparently, if she hasn’t received the waiver before I die, my death will create an emergency that will generate approval. I wish we could be proactive so these services were in place before I die. Then, at least, I could die in peace.
  • One father related his fear that if they don’t leave their child enough money, she will be forced to live in inadequate and scary public housing.
Pam Speer Lewis, MDF Project Development Manager

Pam Speer Lewis, MDF Project Development Manager

I am so grateful that MDF has broadened their base beyond just looking for a cure, as important as that is. Talking with Pam Speer Lewis after this support group meeting helped lift my spirit. MDF is now advocating for easier access to the services that meet the day-to-day challenges DM families face. They have added “Care” to their mission of finding a “Cure” as their bracelet conveys.

care-cure-bracelet

I looked around our circle and felt such admiration for each person. Despite all our challenges, we keep chopping wood and carrying water, putting one foot in front of the other and doing whatever we can to make life better for ourselves and our loved ones.

Our last activity was responding in small table groups to two questions:

  1. What do you struggle with the most?
  2. How can we be of more help?

When I shared the responses from our table, I emphasized the need to support caregivers because some of us experience our own health challenges related to the stress of caring for our loved one. A much younger caregiver than I am at our table had experienced a recent stroke. Thankfully, he is recovering nicely.

As the conference was breaking up, a man who has adult onset came to me to thank me for advocating for caregivers. He told me a bit of his family’s story. He deals with his own challenges with DM as well as serving as a caregiver for family members experiencing a totally unrelated healthcare crisis. He knows both sides of the coin. My heart went out to him.

dm-image

I could not help but notice what rare resilience each DM Warrior in that room demonstrates — those who carry this rare genetic neuromuscular disease, those of us who love and care for them, and the doctors and researchers who won’t give up until they find a cure. We are quite a community.

It Takes a Village

One of the presenters at the Myotonic Dystrophy (DM) Conference held at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital yesterday noted that it takes a village of doctors and researchers to address the issues associated with DM.

I thought, “It also takes a village to live with the issues associated with myotonic muscular dystrophy.” I was grateful to make some in-person connections.

Connecting with the DM Village

When Nicole and I walked in, Jane Shields from Indiana greeted us immediately. She recognized me from our Facebook caregivers’ page. Here are pictures of Jane and her family. Later we ate lunch at the same table.

shields-family-at-dm-conference

The Shield’s Family from Left to Right Andrew, Kelly, John, Matthew, & Jane

Immediately after being greeted by Jane, Ted Salwin walked up. He is the leader of the Indianapolis DM support group. Ted has gained a lot of wisdom while dealing with his wife’s and son’s DM and generously gives so much of himself to the DM community. He blesses many of us in myriad ways. Sadly, he has lost both his loved ones to this disease. But that hasn’t stopped him from his involvement in the DM community. He and I are Facebook friends and it was a thrill to meet him in person. I spontaneously reached out to give him a hug.

Ted proudly wearing his DM Warrior sweatshirt.

Ted proudly wearing his DM Warrior sweatshirt.

Kathleen Cail helped organize this conference. She said they hoped to attract at least twenty people. Sixty people registered. People were there from as far away as Rochester, New York and somewhere in Illinois. And I actually met someone from Dayton. She just happened to sit next to me in the family support group. It was the first time either of us has met someone from Dayton dealing with this disease.

kathleen-cain-facilitating-faminly-support-group

Family support group being facilitated by Kathleen Cail (black boots)

family-support-at-dm-conference

Bonnie from Dayton with dark ponytail.

The Faces of Hope

John Kissel, Nicole’s Ohio State University neurologist, was our first presenter. He co-directs the MDA clinic at OSU. DM is one of his areas of interest and he is a principal investigator for a promising study of a therapy that could lead to a cure for DM. Here he is checking his messages after talking with John and Jane Shields during our lunch break.

dr-kissel-jane-john-shields

John Kissel, M.D.

Lubov Timchenko, heads a laboratory located at the University of Cincinnati, where research is being done on the molecular pathophysiology of DM. She is a renowned expert researcher in the development of molecular therapies that will hopefully lead to clinical trials and a cure. She was our second presenter. I connected with her after lunch and she agreed to let me take her picture if I was in it. Here we are:

Lubov Timchenko, Ph.D.

Lubov Timchenko, Ph.D.

I didn’t get a picture of our third presenter, so this one is from the web. Joseph Horrigan is a pediatric neuropsychiatrist who recently accepted a position as the head of clinical development with AMO Pharma. Dr. Horrigan is leading a team that designed and commenced the first clinical trial specifically targeting congenital and childhood-onset DM.

dr-horrigan

Joseph Horrigan, M.D.

I did get a picture of two of the people who work with Dr. Horrigan at AMO pharma. Talking with them was exciting because they told me the drug they are developing will help with the executive function deficit aspect of DM, the feature of the disease that has most affected our family.

Joff Masukawa and Lisa Wittmer

Joff Masukawa and Lisa Wittmer

In his presentation, Dr. Kissel mentioned Shannon Lord and asked if any of us remembered her. I think I was the only one in the room to raise my hand. She is one of the founders of the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation and unfortunately died of cancer in June of 2013. Click her picture to read an inspiring tribute to her.

shannon-lord

Shannon Lord

Dr. Kissel mentioned that Shannon advocated strongly to researchers and doctors to deal with the effects on the brain as well as the muscles, noting that it is easier to deal with muscle issues than with cognitive and personality changes.

I never had an opportunity to meet Shannon in person, but did view a video of her presentation at the 2012 conference which used to reside on the MDF website. When she described her son, Hunter, it was like she was talking about my son, Doug. Decades of guilt and shame dropped off my shoulders as I listened to her describe the behavior and life challenges of a small percentage of those suffering from DM. Here was a mother who understood what I had gone through like no other could.

Dr. Kissel noted that researchers are only beginning to address the cognitive/behavorial aspects of DM in a serious way. I hope my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, adds to Shannon’s voice in advocating for and supporting this area of research.

While I don’t totally understand the technical aspects of the presentations, despite my pages of notes, what gave me hope is that DM is in the spotlight now, progress is being made on many world-wide fronts, and a cure is in sight.

The Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation has been leading the way bringing DM to the attention of some big players. I was unable to attend the national conference in Washington, D.C. held the same weekend I was in Port Clinton for the 50th high school reunion of my former students (September 15-17). Pam Speer Lewis, MDF’s project development manager, filled me in on some of the advocacy work accomplished at the conference.

Pam Speer Lewis, MDF Project Development Manager

Pam Speer Lewis, MDF Project Development Manager

Historically, it has been very difficult for people suffering from DM, a multi-systemic and little understood disease, to receive disability. Nicole and I are well aware of that.

At the national conference, people with DM, their family members, and an attorney who represents people seeking disability met with high ranking officials from the social security administration to educate them. Pam said they left with a much greater appreciation of the challenges faced and a better understanding of how to determine the eligibility for DM applicants.

In addition, representatives from the FDA were present to learn about the strides being made in researching drug therapies to alleviate symptoms and possibly cure DM. Gaining this knowledge will help facilitate the approval process, making these therapies available at a faster pace for those suffering from DM.

This was my first in-person connection with the DM community. I left the conference feeling eternally grateful for all the interest in finding a cure for DM and for the advocates who are trying to make life easier for those who have this disease and their caregivers. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto hope when you experience or witness DM’s ravages.

It takes a village to keep hope alive…Hope was alive in Cincinnati yesterday! Praise be!!

Scales Falling from My Eyes

After the 50th reunion with my former Port Clinton students, I went back to my motel room, looked at myself in the mirror, and said, “Linda, I think you need to start looking at yourself differently.”

I arrived a little late for the reunion because I couldn’t find the Yacht Club. When I walked in, the class was gathered at the far side of the room for a group picture. I walked behind the photographer looking for Yvonne, the student who called me on June 29 (See June 29-30 posts). She spotted me, jumped up from her seat, and ran to give me a hug, exclaiming “My goodness you’re tall,” just as she had done when she walked into my shorthand class in 1964. She escorted me to my seat next to her husband before scurrying back for the picture.

yvonne

Miss Marshall and Yvonne on her tip toes. She refuses to call me Linda.

She reminded me why I had such an influence in her life. She came into my class a week late and was having difficulty catching up and grasping this strange shorthand language. She tried to drop out after receiving an “F” the first six weeks. I allowed other girls to do that but said to her, “You will get it. Just don’t give up.” Then, after receiving an “F” the second six weeks, she spoke to me again about dropping out. This time I looked at her with “very caring eyes” and said, “Yvonne, I have faith in you. You will get it. Don’t give up.” The next six weeks the light bulb went off and she got it, receiving an “A” every grading period from then on.

Yvonne also told me how strict I was while teaching typing (See July 1 post) and how disappointed she was that I only taught at Port Clinton for one year. The teacher who followed me was too lenient. She credits me with preparing her for the outside world. During her 39-year career, she used her skills at the U.S. Department of Interior and the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station. Every time she wanted a promotion and had to perform well on typing and shorthand tests to receive it, she said to herself, “Okay, Miss Marshall, you have faith in me so let’s get this done.” I had instilled in her the faith that if she wanted it badly enough, she could do it. And she did.

I am grateful I said what I said, but her career success says more about her than it does about me. Still, I am pleased that as a young woman of twenty-two, I had the presence to give her the support she needed.

Other students attending the reunion were also eager to tell me how they had used their typing and shorthand skills in their careers.

Joyce worked for three judges throughout her career.

Linda and Joyce

Linda and Joyce

Linda sidled up to me asking, “Do you remember me?”

Linda and Linda

Linda and Linda

In truth, I remember very little of my time in Port Clinton 52 years ago and in my usual fashion, what I remember reflects negatively on me as their teacher. Linda told me a delightful story that challenges these damaging memories.

She said it was unlike her, but when she came into my shorthand class, she found something funny. She sat in the back and created a disturbance with her giggles. “And there you were, a young teacher. (I’m only six years older than these students) I could tell you were frustrated, but you didn’t say anything for three weeks. I thought I should apologize to you.” She used one of her hands to make a slicing motion across her other hand adding, “Then one day you cut me in half. I was so embarrassed.”

I have no memory of this. I do remember having some difficulty in my student teaching keeping order in the classroom. I am a soft-spoken introvert, after all. But I must have learned. Still I have difficulty visualizing myself saying something that embarrassed her so much, and she wouldn’t tell me what I said.

But I’m glad I said whatever I said because Linda went on to say, “I got serious after that and I want you to know I did you proud. I worked for the State Department in Washington, D.C. for three years and walked by the White House on the way to work everyday.”

Sharon won this award and then said she wasn’t fast and accurate enough to use shorthand in her administrative assistant position. She thinks she tried to draw the characters so they would be perfect versus write them. Oh, Sharon, how well I know that “perfectionist trap.” At the reunion, she was having a lot of fun with and quite skilled with a camera.

award

Linda and Sharon

Linda and Sharon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My last connection was the most remarkable because it really had nothing to do with what I did as a teacher but with who I was being as a person.

Linda and Judy

Linda and Judy

Judy and her husband approached me toward the end of the evening. She said, “I didn’t take any classes from you. I was in your homeroom. I thought you were beautiful and I wanted to grow up to be just like you.”

She wrote next to her senior picture in the commemorative booklet provided for the event,  “Thank you  for being such an awesome role model for us.”

While she wrote, her husband said, “Yes, she talked to me about you and told me how she wanted to grow up to be like you.”

I said, “This is blowing my mind.”

In 1978, fourteen years after I taught at Port Clinton, I had a conversation with Harold Platz, the professor who led my core group while I was a student at United Theological Seminary. I loved and respected Harold, one of the pivotal influences in my life. I think I was seeking his wisdom, sharing with him my puzzlement about how someone had reacted to what I said during a core group session. He looked at me with gentle caring eyes and said, “I don’t think you realize the effect you have on others.”

I didn’t know what to say. He was so very right. That was 38 years ago.

Throughout my life, I have often heard, “You are so hard on yourself.” Even when I have been in the process of making a concerted effort to be gentler with myself, I would hear this. Often I was puzzled because being hard on myself felt normal. When someone liked me, I was puzzled about what there was to like. I could not and still have difficulty seeing who I truly am. Today, I know where this comes from. I am sensitive and when a sensitive child receives a lot of criticism, they internalize it. That is what I did.

Through the years, many friends and mentors who have loved and believed in me have tried to help me see myself more realistically as they see me. I’m a slower learner than Yvonne. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of how they saw me, but thick scales of conditioning cover my eyes.

Miraculously, on September 17, when I returned to my motel room after attending this reunion, I looked in the mirror and realized as never before that it is time to see myself differently. A chunk of scales fell from my eyes and I caught another, even clearer, glimpse of my true self.

Yvonne, Joyce, Linda, Sharon, and Judy served as agents of a Divine Presence who clearly wants my sight restored. I am still amazed that Yvonne searched for me until she found me 52 years later. Those are extraordinary lengths…not just for Yvonne…but for the Spirit working through her to finally open my eyes. I think the least I can do is begin to cooperate with the process of having my sight fully restored. My therapist has given me an assignment to further that process. What a priceless gift of grace. I am in awe and eternally grateful.

“So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.” Acts 9:17-18a NRSV

My Irish Roots Revealed

After my fabulous weekend in mid-September, I began reading Sharon O’Brien’s memoir, The Family Silver. To my surprise, she shed light on my Irish relative’s puzzling behavior. 

the-family-silver

Click on book for link to Goodreads

On page 34, O’Brien writes: “I come from a people for whom abrupt and often unexplained severings of contact were the way to deal with conflict, hurt, loss, and separation. The Irish are great talkers and storytellers, but they prefer silence to speech when it comes to the realm of emotions. Simply cutting off a family member by not speaking or writing is a common pattern in Irish and Irish American families. Sometimes the black sheep may live only a few blocks away, and yet the silence may endure not just for weeks, but for months or years or decades.

“The Irish-born writer Frank McCourt attributes this form of punishment to the importance talk and conversation hold in Irish society. To shun someone, placing her in a circle of silence, is to cut her off from the family’s and the culture’s lifeblood. It is the cruelest thing you can do.”

~ ~ ~

Knowing about that Irish cultural pattern explained so many things about the Brady clan.

Celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

The Brady clan: Me, Dad, Aunt Mary Ann, Mom, Aunt Vicki, Aunt Earline, Uncle Wayne, and my brother, Phil celebrating Mom & Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

Everyone in this picture is now deceased except for Aunt Vicki, Uncle Wayne, and me.

As a deeply-feeling child, when I witnessed silence and shunning among my mother and her siblings, it created a longing in me for a happy, harmonious family. My wish seemed always out of reach. As I grew older, they directed this behavior toward me.

At first, I took it personally. I couldn’t understand what it was about me that was so bad as to warrant this withdrawal of love. As I matured emotionally and studied family dynamics, even though the withdrawal hurt, I came to know that it wasn’t all about me. Still, I had difficulty letting go of the feeling I had done something wrong or I was bad and wrong. I had no idea until reading O’Brien’s memoir that silence and shunning are part of an Irish cultural pattern.

O’Brien helped me understand why negative feedback is easier for me to handle than silence. It explains why I needed for Alice to give me honest feedback about her thoughts and feelings about my blog posts (see September 28 post).

~ ~ ~

For as long as I can remember, my brother and I idolized Uncle Wayne.

Below is my earliest picture of us with him and our grandmother. I was about three and Uncle Wayne about twelve.

Grandma Brady, Uncle Wayne, Linda, and my brother, Phil.

I turned ten when my parents, brother, and I moved to New Bremen, Ohio, my mother’s hometown. Uncle Wayne was nineteen and often had dinner at our house, especially when Mom fixed apple dumplings…one of his favorites. I developed a crush on him. When he married Aunt Rosie, they asked me to serve as their junior bridesmaid. That’s me on the right in blue. My brother and I spent a lot of time visiting our newly-wed uncle and aunt in the apartment they rented in the upstairs of a big, old house.

wayne-rosie-wedding

~ ~ ~

Now I understand my ambivalent feelings.

amy-scheer

My childhood friend, Amy, called me a few weeks ago to tell me it was time for a visit. She had seen my Aunt Rosie and noticed she has lost a lot of weight and looked frail. Aunt Rosie indicated that Uncle Wayne wasn’t doing well either and is usually grumpy.

I am always the one who reaches out to them. Since my immediate family members save my daughter are all gone, I wish we were closer. Their only contact with me is a Christmas card. I don’t think they are shunning me. But I can’t help but wonder whether the distance the Brady’s maintain with each other is part of this cultural pattern. While I wouldn’t avoid a visit, especially with the two of them in declining health, I noticed my ambivalent feelings. O’Brien’s memoir helped me make sense of them. With every contact, I risk silent disapproval and shunning–an even worse kind of distance.

Amy and I made plans for me to visit the weekend of September 16-17. I called to let Uncle Wayne know I was coming to town and made arrangements for a visit on Saturday morning. He told me that since he turned 80 three years ago, his health problems have increased. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years and wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be one of my most meaningful visits.

When he hobbled to open the front door to let Amy and me in, I was shocked by how much he has aged.

uncle-wayne

Even though he seems much frailer in his body, his mind is as sharp as ever. I was pleased to notice a softening.

I spared him the discomfort he seems to experience when I tell him I love him, but I did reach out to greet him with a hug. In the past, he stiffened. This time he relaxed into my arms. Soon we were in a spirited discussion. He expressed admiration for strong women, a softening of attitudes toward women that are common for men of his age.

None of the Brady’s like to talk about their painful growing up years, so I no longer ask. I did risk telling him about my interest in genealogy and the research I’ve done. I even asked if he would be willing to let me swab his cheek so I can get a read out of our DNA ancestry–to see if there is something more there than Irish and German. He agreed! Then, he expressed interest in seeing my research.

Best of all, he asked if I was finished writing my book. I didn’t think he even remembered I was writing one.

That he remembered and asked touched me deeply.

Then he accepted a departing hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed genuinely pleased that I did. He also seemed happy about my returning soon to collect his DNA sample and share my genealogy research.

Uncle Wayne is my only remaining uncle, my mother’s youngest sibling. To share these significant moments with him before he is gone means more to me than I have words to express.

~ ~ ~

After our visit, I started out on the next leg of my trip with a heart filled with gratitude for the meaningful connections I had made with Amy, Alice, Uncle Wayne, and Aunt Rosie.

That was only the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend from beginning to end. I’ll tell you about the mind-blowing experience I had in Port Clinton in my next blog post.

A Fabulous Start to My Weekend

On Friday evening, September 16, I enjoyed dinner with Alice, a very special influence in my life, her husband, Duane, and my childhood friend, Amy. Alice is the parish worker who recommended I go to college when I was an insecure high school student who didn’t think I was smart enough to take that step. (See my July 1 post).

Alice Hegemier

Alice Hegemier & Linda

A few weeks prior to this, we reconnected through a wonderful hour-long phone conversation. I called her after receiving a Facebook message from a former classmate who had talked with her. Evelyn said Alice wanted to know if my my memoir had been published because she wanted to buy it.

Alice doesn’t do computers, so she is unable to keep track of the progress I post on my website and doesn’t have access to my blog. Because she expressed so much interest in my writing, I told her I would make copies of some of my blog posts and send them to her via snail mail.

As I was addressing the envelope, fear of disapproval raised its ugly little head. Since much of my writing is about my spiritual journey, I wondered if she would think less of me for my contemplative bent. Some refer to us as “navel gazers.”

contemplative-quote

Since silence is the response that distresses me the most, I asked Alice to be honest about her thoughts and feelings after reading my writing, especially if she didn’t like what she read. I explained that I find it easier to deal with negative feedback than with silence, which I most often interpret as disapproval for who I am.

I need not have feared. When she heard I was visiting my hometown, she called to arrange for us to have dinner and told me, “I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog posts. Thank you for sending them to me.”

Whew! Alice’s opinion matters to me and I felt grateful our relationship hadn’t been damaged.

Before I left for New Bremen, I made a copy of the pages in my memoir where I honor Alice’s influence in my life. I decided not to make her wait for its publication to read what I have written about her.

pages

After dinner, we gathered back at Alice and Duane’s home for desert and more visiting. I heard more about her journey. Her parents also thought girls would just get married and have children and didn’t need a college education for that. She, however, believed in herself and had the confidence and determination to pursue her dream. Whenever she spotted a young person in New Bremen who she thought had some special quality, she encouraged them to actualize it.

How blessed I am she saw something in me that she encouraged. Her recommendation that I go to college opened doors for me that has enriched my life beyond measure. My college education made it possible for me to make a difference in the lives of many others in a way I wouldn’t have been able without that degree. In addition, college was part of what prepared me to meet more effectively the life challenges that lay ahead for me.

When I handed Alice the memoir pages I had copied for her to read later, she said, “I’m amazed at the depth of your writing.”

music-notes

Her words were music to my ears. I felt a little like that shy insecure high school kid all over again…receiving encouragement to be all I can be in the world. I fell asleep that night with a big smile on my face and a heart filled with gratitude–aware and in awe at the threads of influence in all our lives.

And that was just the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend.

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