Thursday, July 30, 2020

A Tapping At The Window
a short story
by Virginia K. Bergman

The Southbridge Apartment complex encloses a sterile courtyard bereft of any sign of nature. From my window, I see only a small section of sky above the rooftop across from me. My neighbors and I face opposite buildings and for privacy, we keep our blinds partially closed.
It’s Sunday, and I debate splurging on gas for a trip to Brownsville where my children grew up. Sentiment wins. Beneath an open sky, fields and forests beckon. Leaving Chicago behind, I exit the freeway and head down a two-lane road. It’s early fall. A few trees aflame with reds and yellows are still outnumbered by their companions, lush and green from plentiful rainfall throughout the spring and summer.
Today, the weather is clear and due to cataracts developing in both eyes, I’m blinded by the bright light. I miss my turn a couple of times, and the needle on my gas gauge creeps south. I’m in no hurry, though, and when one driver after another tailgates me, I pull over and let them pass - far be it from me to cause someone to miss his or her soap opera.
Down the road apiece, signals from my bladder grow urgent, but no golden arches punctuate the rural landscape. The sign up ahead reads: “Henderson – 15 miles,” and I floor the gas pedal. Minutes later, I spot a Subway Restaurant in this larger town a short distance from Brownsville. I run inside and dash for the restroom. Back at the counter, I part with a couple dollars for cookies and lemonade. Resting arthritic knees, I sit near the window to enjoy my mid-afternoon treat, but I can’t tune out the voices of the middle-aged couple in the next booth:
“So that old fossil called you in and told you it was all over?” she said.
“Yeah,” he replied, “Harley laid me off. It’s that Great Recession they’ve been talkin’ about on TV.”
“Didn’t that panel of experts just say the recession was over?”
“So, what’ll we do now?”
“I’ll start looking right away; we’ve got a little money saved.”
“That won’t last long. I’ll see if I can get a few more hours at WalMart – they’re not hurtin.’”
My eyes mist over as I pass the couple on my way out to my car.

County Road 15 from Henderson merges with Brownsville’s Main Street. I turn right on Walnut, and there it is. Our former home looks just like it did nearly 30 years ago. I circle the block and go down the alley past the backyard where a few perennials still bloom, and the black Maple tree radiates its mystical aura.
I fell in love with the dazzling white house the first time I saw it. Its features include a bay window in the living room; an open stairway setting off the dining room; and a sun porch that brings the outdoors indoors. The east windows face a small grove of pine trees screening the view from the neighbors. The three-bedroom house easily accommodated my late husband George and me and our two children.
George worked as a TV technician back then, and I clerked at the drugstore. Shortly after our younger child graduated in 1979, the Savings and Loan crisis struck. First National folded, forcing several local business places, including the TV repair shop and the drugstore, to close their doors. Out of work, George and I took a loss on the house and moved to Chicago.
Circling the block again, I flashback to rolling out pizza dough as George and the kids scrounge up pepperoni, onions, and mushrooms. Saturday nights, we ate in the living room while watching All in the Family and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Weekday evenings, we slurped chocolate sundaes or munched popcorn while catching the news and an occasional variety show. When the kids trudged off to their rooms to do their homework, George and I sometimes turned off the TV and enjoyed a game of cribbage.
The late afternoon sun is still bright when I head back to the city; I fear missing my exit again and winding up in fender-bumping downtown Chicago. I finally pull into the Southbridge parking lot. Upstairs in my apartment, I microwave a frozen dinner – living alone, I’ve nearly forgotten how to cook. I eat my macaroni and cheese while gazing at a family portrait taken a few years ago when George was still with us. 
Then comes a tapping at the window. A snatch of gray. Wings flutter to stay aloft. Our windows lack outer ledges, and the gray dove hovers in mid-air like a hummingbird. It taps its beak once more before soaring over the rooftop of the opposite building. Roused from the past, I make a cup of honey-flavored chamomile tea, settle into my favorite chair, and resume knitting an afghan for that homeless shelter down the street.

Acts of Kindness

George Floyd, a 46-year-old, black American man died when a police office held his knee on Floyd's neck for about eight minutes. A bystander took a video of the murder of  this man whose only crime was allegedly passing a counterfeit $20.00 bill. The video of Floyd's violent death was repeatedly shown to TV viewers around the globe. Considering the violence on the news and other programming, I can understand why many of my neighbors and acquaintances have become a bit cynical since the advent of TV. Imagine how viewing such scenes as Floyd's brutal death for hours every day might influence one's perspective on life.

I beg to differ from the too prevalent cynicism that I witness in my daily life. I'm an older woman, and I actually enjoy going out to do my errands now and then instead of fearing that I might be assaulted and robbed. On one occasion, I decided to take a break, and I pulled into the parking lot at a Starbucks coffee shop. Just as I started to get out of my car, a young man ran over and said, "I see you're using a cane. I'm going to help you get to the door."

I'm in pretty good shape, considering my age, and I didn't really need the young man's assistance;  however, I politely accepted his arm. By the time we reached the double doors at Starbucks, two women were holding them open for us. As the young man and I passed the lineup at the cash register, a woman stopped us and said to the man, "I saw you help her, and I'm going to pay for your order."

I went ahead and found a table where I waited for my new friend. He was smiling when he got there.  "Hey," he said, "That lady really did pay for our order!" The young man introduced himself and explained that he was meeting his wife there in a few minutes. After finishing my coffee, I assured him that with the help of my cane, I could safely make it back to my car.

After a few experiences like the above - and I've enjoyed more than a few - it would be hard for me to lose faith in humanity.

I might add that for as long as I can remember, whenever I've witnessed and act of kindness, I've believed it was evidence of God's presence.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

No Clumping, Please!

So we seniors in my 50-plus apartment building are now adapting to new rules to prevent the spreading of the corona virus. We're sensible people who recognize the life and death nature of these rules. However, most of us were brought up to consider socializing a desirable behavior, and we became accustomed to large gatherings at an early age: think high school athletic events. Remember those crowds at the football games in autumn when the band marched and soft drinks were dispensed at a makeshift refreshment stand? 

Hey, I played the snare drum in our band. Big crowds were fun! Now to prevent the spread of that nasty virus, we're advised to stay six feet apart and avoid large gatherings. That all takes some getting used to even though we appreciate the necessity for it as our lives could be at stake.

Coincidentally, I just read this paragraph from Fannie Flagg's novel, A Redbird Christmas:

"The evening ended with the lighting of the tree. As soon as everyone was outside, they all mashed together in a large clump, and Oswald found himself in the middle. He could not help but think about the photo in the old hotel brochure of those thirty people standing under a rosebush. People in Alabama must love to stand around in clumps..."

Well, people in Minnesota also love to stand around in clumps - left to our own devices, we clump in our hallways, the laundry room, the lobby, outdoors in front of our building and wherever we find ourselves.

Sadly, a pandemic makes clumping with our friends and neighbors a risky activity. So we've learned to keep our distance from each other in the lobby where seating is no longer available and outdoors where chairs are kept several feet apart.

Actually, a pandemic makes breathing a risky activity, so now we wear masks to protect ourselves and others with whom we come in contact. Have you noticed that customers and staff at your local grocery store are now wearing masks?

It's summertime, yes, but life has changed considerably - I even find it hard to recognize my neighbors wearing those face masks that cover the lower half of their faces. And a frequent comment these days has to do with "when life gets back to normal." 

Some of us wonder if it ever will.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

An Early Morning Quiet Time

It's 7:38 A.M., and I see beyond my window that it's another gray, rainy day. I remind myself that recent rainy and occasional sunny days have turned grass and trees green after a long and sometimes brutal winter here in Minnesota.

In the meantime, bouquets of peach-colored carnations in my entry way and living room still brighten my home several days after I bought them at the local supermarket, where I buy both food for my body and occasionally food for my soul.

Early morning is my time for writing in my journal, reading spiritual material, and meditating. It's a quiet time in my huge seniors' apartment building: as yet, no grocery carts are rumbling down the halls, and I hear no sounds of conversation and laughter from neighbors visiting with one another while taking out the trash.

Appreciation for my early morning quiet time began years ago when I was married and had two young children. I got up an hour or two before my family rose to gather at the breakfast table. After which, we went our separate ways to work or to school.

Over time, I've become increasingly grateful for my habit of rising early that continues to bless me with opportunities to journal, meditate, and read spiritual books, such as Donald Altman's One Minute Mindfulness, which I'm currently reading.

Speaking of gratitude, Altman writes (pp. 36-37):

Gratitude is a potent vaccine that inoculates us against negativity. If you are feeling any kind of negative emotion, you can counteract it in the next sixty seconds by noticing something for which you are grateful. Use the next minute to ask others what they are grateful for. Gratitude is a means of overcoming short-term pleasure seeking. It lets us tap into deeper and more sustainable ways of experiencing fulfillment. Besides, when we're grateful for what we already have, we don't have a reason to be disappointed."

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Touching the Bluebird of Happiness

When my son, Sandy (name changed for privacy), was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, we moved to a different school district. As young as he was, Sandy's grief for his former teacher and his classmates was painfully obvious. His sadness evoked memories of my own childhood when my family had moved several times. I recalled my own sadness, my uncertainty in my new surroundings, and my loneliness.

My heart went out to Sandy, but what could I do? It happened a week or two after our move, that I noticed a photo of a bluebird in our daily paper. The author of the accompanying article mentioned the popular association of the bluebird with happiness.

So it happened that I took my scissors and cut the bluebird's picture out of the paper. The next day as my young son was grudgingly getting ready for school, I handed him the picture. “Put this in your pocket,” I instructed Sandy, “and when you get sad at school today, touch the bluebird and you'll feel better.”

Sandy's smile when he got off the school bus that day and ran to my open arms, told me the bluebird of happiness was no myth. Sandy was happy,

Years later, as I sat here reading Donald Altman's, One Minute Mindfulness, I recalled Sandy's childhood experience with the photo of the bluebird when I read Altman's instructions for finding peace wherever you are (page 66):

...bring an item that evokes pleasantness. This object can be a a picture of something you love, maybe a pet or a place you have visited or would like to visit. It's good to have something pleasant and meaningful that is portable as well, something you can carry with you and touch or look at when you need to feel calm and centered.”

Something like a newspaper photo of a bluebird...

Monday, February 25, 2019

March begins this Friday!

Looking out the window at the foot or so of accumulated snow in my apartment building's courtyard, I can only sigh as I check tomorrow's forecast for another inch or so of the white stuff. By the way, white gray, and the sketchy black outlines of trees are the only colors visible on today's dreary Minnesota landscape.

The clouds up above are also gray. And according to the latest weather forecast, we're due for another inch of snow tomorrow.

Every so often, I take the elevator down to the lower level where we park our cars and as a precaution, I warm up my 1999 Honda Civic for a few minutes. It's a good little car – the engine roars to life instantly at the turn of the ignition key. I look forward to the day when I can pull out of the garage and onto the road to go for a drive and do a few errands. So far, thankfully, my groceries and household supplies are holding up; I even have a pot roast and some fresh vegetables to toss into my slow cooker.

Also on the plus side for wintry days, I have reading material from our apartment building's library – Readers Digest's Select Editions offers a few spellbinding novels to pass the time while awaiting a change in the weather when I can get out and about.

In addition to reading, I exercise and keep up with household chores – regardless of the weather, one has to do the laundry. I connect with family and friends by phone and email; and socializing with neighbors in my apartment building helps keep up my morale.

Did I mention that if I start running out of food and other supplies, I can order what I need online to be delivered at my door in a day or two?

In sum, I have little to complain about on this gray February day, and it just occurred to me that March begins this Friday – whoa! March is the month when Spring officially begins! That's when little yellow dandelions shoot up through green grass to brighten Minnesota's gray landscape.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Revised Loving Kindness Prayer

Dear Katalusis friends, the snow continues to blanket Minnesota this weekend. I'm glad I stocked up on food and necessities the other day – as you know, I don't like driving in bad weather. Discovering a copy of my revision of the Loving Kindness Prayer in my files this morning has boosted my morale. And it helps to know that I have several books on hand for the pleasure of reading. I hope you also enjoy my revision of the Loving Kindness Prayer.

May we release all burdens of guilt, shame, fear, and loss that no longer serve us and needless fear and anxiety about the future;
May we be free from suffering;
May we be filled with loving kindness;
May we forgive those who have trespassed against us; and may those we’ve trespassed against forgive us;
May we be protected from all internal and external harm;
May we be as healthy and whole as possible;
May we make the most of our talents and resources on behalf of ourselves and the common good;
May we enjoy both spiritual and material well-being.
May we be centered, peaceful, and at ease;
May we be happy.