Wednesday, July 31, 2013

stalking the past

For the last few days I've been immersed in genealogy. I ventured into the files thinking I was relatively familiar with a path to a certain cluster of ancestors, only to find myself awash in history and tangled family lines. The tangling is, in part, a consequence of the connections some ancient kin have to one another, but I also have to claim some responsibility for entering names and relationships multiple times, unaware (or having forgotten) that these individuals were already present in the database. 

While mining records to verify--or establish more clearly in my own mind--some of those relationships I also had the opportunity to open new doors to older generations. In search of images to attach to individuals as a way to help me identify names more readily with time, place and story, I've stumbled into all sorts of places and people that deepen a yearning to connect with the roots of my own story. In the process, I've experienced something of an awakening.

I don't have to go back far to encounter one of the mysteries of my family tree. My grandfather's mother was adopted, and although we know her birth name and date and the name of a biological brother, it's astounding how difficult it is to find information that can lead to unearthing her family's history. A full eighth of my genealogical past is blocked from view, a frustration as present as a scab begging to be picked.

Not long ago, thanks to an encounter with a previously unknown cousin of Ken's who I got to know while probing his family's past, I was able to find and fill in pieces of the life of the adoptive parents of my great-grandmother. I began to plug that information into the family tree, then stopped. These weren't my relatives, after all, why invest in further research?

That's when it hit me as a seeker of family history. Although I believe that knowledge about our own kin matters, our lives are shaped by the people who are in them. I know from my own experience that a I am more emotionally connected to a step-grandfather that a biological one. That relationship--not bound by blood--is an important one in my life, and a touchstone to my understanding of myself and the family to which I belong.

Last night, while on the quest for images to attach to individual records (portraits, headstones, family churches or homesteads...), I discovered a file that calls into question a lineage that, for all of my life, I have believed to have been connected. Through that lineage my family traces its history to Edward III. It's a bit of a bombshell to learn that the possibility exists that an entire segment of the family tree might be wiped from the grid. It's also the section of the tree, between my tenth great-grandfather and that royal seat of the 14th century, where I've spent many hours during the last several days.

I admit that it's fun to claim descent from royalty, though in truth there are other stories along the line that are far more interesting, and certainly less tainted by intrigue, power, and politics. The wheelings and dealings, and the "hatches, matches, and dispatches" of long ago have been as distant tributaries to the river that is our present life. I believe that understanding the forces that contribute to our existing shape and condition is useful, and maybe even welcome. In the end, though, how we navigate our own choices and circumstances today and the impact those choices may have on others in our lives is where we find our pulse. 

I will continue to follow the paths that lead me to the lives and stories of those who came before me because it's something I enjoy, and--if you'll pardon the pun--it seems to be in my blood. My attachment to my genealogical blueprint, however, has been released with a certain gratitude. And a growing affinity for the name Maud.

*the image above is of John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of Edward III, through whom I am allegedly descended through all three wives.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

update, long overdue

I was in touch by email awhile back with the most regular readers of this space, but I have been remiss not to share the following news here earlier for others who have been following along. In short: Vocational Breakthrough!

The pieces came together while sitting out on the deck of our daughter's home visiting with our newest grandson, Rock, then two days old. Ashley had their Yorkie, Madison, on her lap, and was explaining that as Madison has gotten older (she is now 10) she has become increasingly hyper and anxious. When you consider the changes Maddie has experienced in her life--multiple moves, four new humans and two new dogs added to her domicile--it makes sense that her behavior reflects stress. As is typical of my brain, my thoughts leaped from one point to the next, and I was reminded of Zeke, my brother's dog. The previous year Zeke was hit by a car, suffering multiple, debilitating injuries. Among the treatments attempted to restore Zeke to health was massage. At the time I had never heard of massage for dogs, or other animals, but my brain left a bookmark in that page of information to which it now returned.

Hmm. Animal massage. Although I  have never been drawn to human massage as a vocational opportunity, animal massage beckoned me. As you all know, I am mad about dogs. I have wanted to find a way to work for the benefit of dogs for a while now, but various deterrents kept eliminating a number of the options I explored. Time to learn more.

When we returned home a couple of days later I spent several hours with Google, finding web sites and information about animal massage. What kind of training was available? What sort of financial investment would be necessary? Could I make any money? And so on. What I learned is that animal massage is a viable course for me. Although prayer and discernment were invoked, in the core of my being I already knew that my prayers and the quest of so many years were being answered.The inner peace, relief, and joy that flooded my being felt like a divine kiss.

That was two months ago. Since then I have zeroed in on the where and how of training: a combination of distance learning and hands on work through a program in Toledo, Ohio. The cost, while not pocket change, seemed doable: $2500 for the program plus lodging and travel expenses. A combination of supply work (filling in for clergy on Sundays), stipend for doing a wedding, selling off Pampered Chef inventory at our yard sale, and an appeal to my bishop for aid yielded the funds I would need. Phew! Originally I would have been returning today from a week's training in Ohio, but low enrollment in the July course resulted in that class being cancelled. This was not happy news for me. The sooner I have the training the sooner I am able to generate revenue, but... I am now enrolled in the September class, leaving me more time at this end to read thoroughly all the material and get some practice time in. 

For the short run, we will convert what is now Ken's office/den space (the former garage) to my work space where clients may bring their dogs for massage sessions. The delay in coursework benefits us here, as that process has been delayed due to some health issues for Ken (torn meniscus --> knee surgery and recovery). I can also offer mobile services, though that is less desirable for a number of reasons. I am confident that all of that will work out. 

This week I am fine-tuning plans and goals. I have a meeting at our local chamber of commerce in a couple of days with a small business consultant. The financial piece of this is the greatest challenge--I have no real capital with which to launch--but the good news is that I have a decent network of resources to help me market my business, and the overhead for the work is minimal. A grooming table is really all I need, and the search for a used one has begun. 

The greatest challenge thus far has been landing on a name for my business. I like naming things. The process is creative and fun, and usually something clever materializes. The advice from the center through whom I am doing my training cautions against using the words therapy or healing in the name, as well as avoiding anything cutesy. No matter which way I ventured in my thinking, however, I was coming up with nothing.  I finally posed a very dull idea to Ken, who offered an alternative, and at last there is a result: Cumberland Animal Massage. Cumberland is a geographic reference to the region where we live (a river, a plateau, a university), and animal doesn't confine me to dogs, although I expect the bulk of my work to be with canines. (I hope to expand to horses eventually, but that will be down the road.)  The name isn't what I had hoped for, but as I live with it it becomes increasingly comfortable. It sounds like substance, and that is what I want it to reflect.

So! There you have it.  I'll keep you posted in a more timely manner from here on.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

let us pray

This morning my heart is in California, where a friend is at the bedside of her dying mother. Mere days ago, Glenda Crosley was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The latest facebook update informs those of us who are praying from afar that Glenda has been removed from life support. According to that same update, all three daughters are present, one of whom had not seen her mother in 12 years. With that sliver of information it makes sense that the update also informs us that they are all sharing laughter, tears, and shouting. 

This scene probably doesn't differ much from other families when estrangement is part of the story. But what is different is that this particular bedside is in a prison hospital, where Glenda is serving 15 to life for killing her abusive husband. She passed the 25-year mark last year. In January she was denied parole, again, because the parole board didn't seem to think that Glenda had come to understand that she could have "just left" her husband at the time she killed him (referred to as "lack of insight"), acting out of fear that he was about to kill her.

Before I left MTSU last summer, Glenda's daughter and I were busy planning a domestic violence awareness event for campus in the fall that we hoped would herald Glenda's release. The passage of two bills in the California legislature, known as the Sin by Silence bills,offered significant hope for this possibility, but such was not to be. The kind of release Glenda will soon experience is not at all what we had in mind.

My heart is heavy on behalf of Glenda's family, now robbed by cancer and the justice system of the possibility to mend some of the holes torn into their lives by domestic violence. I am angered by what I believe is an injustice not just to Glenda, but to women (and men) everywhere who suffer abuse at the hand of people they love. 

Assuming that in due time Glenda would have been released, her plan had been to move to Tennessee to be near Stacy, who is a fierce and constant advocate for victims of abuse. Glenda would have spoken to groups of men and women about her experience, about what she had learned, about the insight gained not only about the dynamics of abuse, but about the battle to find courage and confidence within. I can't help but shake my head about the waste of Glenda's extended incarceration. Although a documentary film chronicles her story, from prison the impact she is able to have is limited. Her release would have allowed her to spend what she could of her remaining days making a difference on this side of prison walls. Now that will never be.

Today I invite your prayers for Glenda, that her remaining hours will be filled with grace and peace; for her family, that the balm of God's love will minimize the effect of this gash in their lives as they seek reconciliation and bear the mantle of grief; for victims of abuse everywhere that they may find strength and courage for a life of hope, and justice to redress wrongs; for members of the justice system who bear the responsibility of making decisions that can diminish or empower the lives they touch; for all of us, that we may act in ways that celebrate and encourage love and compassion, and do our part in whatever way we are able to advocate for peace and justice in this world. And finally, for perpetrators of abuse, that whatever fuels the anger that results in violence may be diffused and redirected, that injury may be avoided and healing may ensue.

Go peacefully, Glenda. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"fur"rowing into the heart

photo from the facebook page collection
You all know by now that I have a long distance relationship with a dog I've never met. His name is Atticus. He doesn't actually know me, but I read his story last year and was utterly captivated by him, and inspired by the journey he and his human friend have shared together. Since finishing Following Atticus I have followed Tom Ryan (author) and his household on facebook and their blog. Daily photos, stories, quotes, and wisdom have a way of sending roots of affection into the lives and hearts of others who now follow Atticus (and company) as well. It should come as no surprise, then, that when life's shock waves rock their world, my heart feels the tremors.

In the last little bit two significant things have hit the Ryan household that have sent me reeling, with tears erupting and heart squeezing with the kind of ache that can only exist as a result of deep love. Let me say up front that I am aware that my reaction is counter-transference empathy, or something like that. I've known my share of relational heartache, and I have loved a dog so deeply that, well, I still ache with his loss five years later. I love all of my dogs deeply, and each are unique and special and I am utterly devoted to them. Dooley's place in my heart, though, has been unparalleled. All this is to say that although we can never know exactly how another person feels, we can empathize with what they are experiencing and feel compassion for them. And, yes, a piece of my own grief is punctured and released as well, blurring the line between my history and Tom's present. Nonetheless, I am empathizing with Tom Ryan right now following the mutual break up with the woman he loved, and now with a health event for Atticus that could prove life-threatening. 

I know that we can become attached and feel connected to people and animals we don't know, real and fictitious. Our hearts are touched by their lives, their actions, their quirks, their tenderness--when something happens with them or to them, the ripple of that event washes over us as well.  So it is right now for me with this household tucked away in New Hampshire.  On Friday Atticus will have a toe amputated, the result of what appears to be a festering mass.  If the subsequent biopsy reveals cancer, the prognosis is likely unwelcome.

Sob! The ache of a deep love whose trajectory has taken a different path, and the raw and isolating nature of that grief must now absorb this new threat to the incredible and intimate relationship that Tom and Atticus share.  I am both astounded by and grateful for my reaction to these happenings in their lives.  It is a testament to the rich and simple life they live and share with others on their own terms, achieved through determination and commitment to basic principles about what is valued in life.  It is a joy and privilege to witness the integrity and authenticity of their lives and feel that, by following along, a piece of it is our journey, too.

For as long as necessary, I am committing my prayers to this special household, to hold them in the light and ask that their lives be showered with love, healing, and a community of support that may take the sting out of whatever may lie ahead. It is the very least I can do for them after all they have provided to me.

Monday, July 08, 2013

on today's agenda

An hour from when I am beginning to write this, I will head out the door to join up with some of my icon-writing buddies for some unsupervised icon creating. I say unsupervised because we're doing this on our own, without our instructor (who lives in California). We're gathering on Monday afternoons in July, painting assorted icons of our choosing. I think there are four of us--one is doing St. Michael, one the Sinai Christ Pantocrator (both of which we've done in previous workshops), and two of us are plunging headlong into uncharted  territory with a new icon: St. Mary Magdalene.

I have to tell you, I'm psyched. It's a little daunting to venture out on our own without the calming hand of Teresa to keep our anxiety at bay, but each of us have painted at least four icons previously and feel that we know our way well enough to support each other through the process. I've been wanting to do Mary for a while, so this is a great opportunity to "git 'r' done!" 

Truth be told, it was a challenge to find this icon, not that there aren't a whole bunch of versions out there to use as inspiration. But since we work from a "life-size" image (the size of the board--8 x 10 in this case), there were a limited number of icons in internet-image-land large enough to use. The one I liked most was too small and a bit dark, but I was drawn to this one for its simplicity and for her hair. I'm less keen on this interpretation, that Mary M was the woman who anointed with oil and then wiped Jesus' feet with her hair (hence the bowl and towel), but c'est la vie. This isn't intended to be a theological statement but a spiritual tool, and in the course of painting, a spiritual practice. 

If all goes well I may attempt to write an icon on my own, though part of what makes this effort so worthwhile is doing it in community. We'll see. For now, Mary awaits, and I need some lunch before departing. 

Peace, out!

Monday, July 01, 2013

sunday review, part 2

One of my tasks as chaplain of our priory is to plan the priory's first-ever spiritual retreat. Have you ever tried to find a retreat location that includes the amenities you want AND is economical? I dare ya! At least here in middle Tennessee. It seems that if your group is small enough, places abound. Once you cross a certain threshold--in terms of numbers--look out. Most places that accommodate a group of more than 20 are prepared for youth groups. That translates as dormitory-style rooms and bedding, and minimalist comfort and decor because where young people go, damage seems to follow. Sigh. Places akin to hotel lodging get pricey very quickly, and understandably. 

Once the lodging question is resolved as well as can be expected, there is the matter of food and facilities. We're an older group, and we have folks who use walkers. Second-floor bedrooms without elevator access (which describes most intimate environments that one might desire on a retreat) basically don't exist. Sigh. Grounds for recreation? Add that to the mix.

We wanted a location that was as centrally located as possible, since our members are from as far west as Memphis, south as Huntsville, southeast as Atlanta, east as Asheville, north as Ft. Campbell (KY), and northeast as Virginia Tech.  Nashville fills that bill, but we also wanted to be far enough away from Nashville so that local folks wouldn't be tempted to go home at night. Continuity of experience counts for a lot on retreat.

I can't tell you what a frustrating search it was as I weeded through prospective sites that eliminated themselves almost immediately because of one of the criteria noted above. And then...

Though not perfect, I discovered the gem that is Five-Star Retreat. It is literally out in the boonies, an hour west-south-west of Nashville (central to all but the folks in the eastern parts of the priory). Tucked into 300 acres of mostly woods, this facility was built by a guy to house his extended family when they got together for family reunions. His plans started simply enough, but morphed into a project with a bit more sophistication. He built the lodge, pictured here, and there are also a few cabins for more intimate gatherings. Yes, it's got dormitory rooms, but they're exceedingly comfortable. 

The lodge is a one-stop-shop of Great Room meeting space, den leisure space, to die for kitchen, a deck to enjoy the outdoors, bedrooms, and two sitting areas adjacent to a handful of suites with double beds that include a day-bed and trundle each. Forty-five people can lay their heads down at night on comfortable mattresses.

The Great Room.  
You can't see it in this picture but there's a an elevated platform in front of the high windows.
Kitchen serving window is on the right. 
Upstairs sitting room area visible at top of the stairs.
The den, with wet bar area in left foreground.
The dream kitchen. 
Everything you need is included (yes, plates, bowls, coffee cups, etc!).
Ice machine!
Lower level bunk room. Yes, that's carpet!
Outdoor facilities include a basketball court, shooting range, trails for hiking and ATV's, a modest lake (more like a pond) for canoeing and paddling, and a creek with a fire pit to enjoy s'mores or a wade into the spring-fed refreshment. 
The fire pit area by the creek. Benches included. Shade seasonal.

The Prior and I made a field trip to check out this option back in March, and we were hooked. This past week we returned with spouses (who will be heading up the food committee) and they are likewise enamored. Just before heading out Thursday morning an email arrived from one of our members announcing his intention to attend the retreat, with the offer to bring equipment for 1) some instruction in fencing, and  2) a little Scottish country dancing (something many in our priory, which is filled with Scotophiles, know how to do, yours truly included). We noted upon our arrival at Five-Star that the floor of the lodge is perfect for dancing. I am praying fervently that my broken toe is healed fully by then (it should be).
Great Room Mantel decorated for a recent wedding. 
I'm hoping this will inspire me for some ideas for the retreat.
If you have any thoughts, please share!

Enough oohing and ahhhing. I invite you to enjoy the photos and share my sense of bliss about the discovery that we made. I'm sure you'll hear more as the time approaches (mid-August). Ta!


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