Tag Archives: Gratitude

Mothers’ Day Reflections – May 12, 2019

Carol A. Hand

Walking down the street of a once thriving tourist town

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Two Harbors, MN – May 12, 2019

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I wonder about the stories these old buildings hold

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Two Harbors, MN – May 12, 2019

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about The Oldest Sister and the Muffin Makers
and those who spent their summers here long ago

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Enjoying Lake Superior – May 12, 2019

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I wonder if the superior lake carries memories
through all time of those who once visited her shore

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Family Celebrating Mothers’ Day – May 12, 2019

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Contemplating Sunsets

Carol A. Hand

Photos of a fascinating sunset this spring
made me wonder how many sunsets I’ve missed
during the 26,374 days I have lived

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Sunset May 4 – Duluth hill top

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I don’t remember how many times
I failed to notice which direction was west
in the scores of places I’ve temporarily called home

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Sunset May 4 – descending the hill

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The busyness of striving and surviving
as we travel down winding paths
sometimes keeps us too preoccupied to notice

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Winding down the hill toward the city

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Our vision clouded by so many things
that we believe are more important
than the ever-present beauty around us

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View of the Blatnik Bridge in St. Louis Bay

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Even ordinary scenes become extraordinary
when seen through the lenses of presence
surrounded by those whom we love

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View of the ridge from West Duluth

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Perhaps noticing is especially important
when the clouds roll in promising another chilly rainy night
after the longest coldest winter I remember

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Denfeld High School highlighted

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At a time when the world already feels so dark
I am grateful for the chance to witness and remember
the beacon of momentary but ever-returning light

Note:

These are not the best of photos. They were taken in poor light with an iphone through dusty windows in a moving vehicle. 🙂 Nonetheless, I’m sharing them in hopes they will remind others to find moments to appreciate the beauty and wonder of seemingly ordinary places.

Remembering Rita

Carol A. Hand

It has been weeks since I have had time to post and April has flown by. I have had brief respites to simply observe beauty.

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April 18, 2019 – Early morning moon

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April 13, 2019 – Crossing the Bong Bridge from Superior, WI

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I have also made it a priority to spend time with my daughter and grandchildren when possible.

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April 21, 2019 – Watching a creative and masterful performance of Cirque du Soleil with family

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April 28, 2019 – Sharing Sunday brunch

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Mostly, though, I have been working on the two classes I am teaching this semester.

Saturday, as I prepared for the macro practice class I co-teach with a colleague, I was lost in a stream of consciousness moment when one thought lead me down a path of memories that didn’t seem to have any logical connections other than my long life. As I put skin cream on my legs after my shower, I noticed my right knee once again. It’s still a bit puffy despite the decades that have passed since it was injured when I was taking care of Rita. Thinking of Rita always reminds me how precious and unpredictable life is.

Rita was a tiny woman when she contracted the brain cancer that was killing her slowly despite operations, radiation treatments, and medications. Medications caused her body to become bloated and stimulated her appetite. By the time I was hired as a home health aide to help care for her during the last year of her life, she had gained a lot of weight. She needed assistance with self-care and walking. She was often lost in another world of thoughts but she did love to eat. She would often joke about the meals I prepared. Cooking has never been something I liked doing, but I tried my best.

I was warned to remain emotionally distant by my employer. “She’s going to die no matter what you do, so don’t get attached.” Despite the warning, I discovered something that has stayed with me when I teach. I learned to care about her deeply and let her know I cared in many ways even though I knew our time together was limited. I knew I couldn’t do anything to cure her disease, but I could bring “soft hands and laughter” into her life no matter how long or short it was meant to be. I would sit and listen to her talk, cook things she liked, and take her on excursions when she expressed a desire to get out of the house even for a moment.

Gradually, Rita lost her ability to walk and spent much of her time in bed. Toward the end of her life, when I was helping her move from her bed to the wheelchair she had to use at that point, she had a seizure. It was heavy lifting for me at the best of times. I weighed at least 30 pounds less than Rita. As I was lifting her that day, her body went rigid as she shook with powerful spasms. It wasn’t possible for me to lift her back on the bed or help her flex into a sitting position. With my arms wrapped around her body, all I could do was lower her gently to the floor, injuring my knee in the process. With gentle hands and a calming voice, I helped Rita relax and was finally able to get her to help me lift her into the wheelchair.

She lived far longer than predicted. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to be with her until the end because I planned to move soon to another state. When I let my employer know I would be moving a month in advance, they fired me immediately and brought in another aide. The family was angry and asked me to stay and hired me themselves to fill in the hours when the agency aide was not with Rita. I agreed to help as long as I could.

When I arrived for my first shift, I heard the new aide yelling. I peeked into Rita’s bedroom and saw the aide roughly slapping a washcloth over Rita’s face. At that point, Rita was in the final stages of her disease. She required total care and was unable to speak. I walked in to help the aide and let the family know what I witnessed. Within a week, Rita was gone.

Although I grieved her death, I knew that I had done the best I could to make her last year as kind and comfortable as possible. I realized that spending time with Rita was a gift. Being present in the moment and caring about others are especially important in times of transition. It lessened my sadness about loss.

My knee remained painful but surviving childhood abuse taught me how to function despite physical pain. Later, I learned that the injury resulted in “knee effusion, or water on the knee.” Although it was bruised, swollen, and stiff, I was still able to walk. A supportive, flexible knee bandage helped reduce the pain although it took more than a year to fully heal. Decades later, it’s still a little puffy but usually works just fine.

Perhaps my Saturday morning reminiscence about Rita was triggered by a frightening experience on Friday evening. I fell asleep curled up in my rocking chair, exhausted, after teaching the second to the last research class before the end of the semester. I awoke with painful cramps in my legs and was initially unable to walk. It was a frightening reminder of how unpredictable life can be. Thankfully the pain subsided quickly. (Next time I’ll take naps elsewhere!)

Reviewing student papers has meant hours of sitting in an uncomfortable chair, first reading original sources to make sense of student papers, and then, hours on the computer grading and commenting to help students learn how to read carefully and write clearly.

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April 16, 2019 – Grading…

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Like my experience with Rita, grading has been a mixed blessing. In the process, I learned a lot about access to safe, drinkable water around the globe. Someday, I hope I have time to synthesize what I learned from the kaleidoscopic assortment of research studies my students explored. The process of reviewing many different vantage points about the crises we are facing, however, reminded me to keep things in perspective.

One third of the world’s population is without access to potable water or sanitation at the household level (Cumming, Elliott, Overbo, & Bartram, 2014). One third! And we continue fracking, spewing out plastic garbage, pouring more toxic chemicals on farmlands, and building yet more weapons. I am so grateful for the opportunity to play a role in raising student awareness about these issues. Grading has also left little time for me to write or visit blogs. That is unlikely to change in the next few weeks before the semester ends.

Next semester I will have the privilege of working with the same group of students. Throughout my years of teaching, I have remembered to be mindful of the lessons Rita taught me.

Be present in the moment and care about each student.

I only have a short time to spend with each cohort of students before they move on with their lives. All I can do is my best and hope they will learn what they need to know while we are together so they are prepared to face a challenging and uncertain future with the ability to think critically and respond with caring creativity.

Work Cited:

Oliver Cumming, Mark Elliott, Alicia Overbo, & Jamie Bartram (2014). Does global progress on sanitation really lag behind water? An analysis of global progress on community- and household-level access to safe water and sanitation. Plos One.

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Reflections about Awakening

Carol A. Hand

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April Icing – April 26, 2017

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Life in the tragic gap between present reality
and clear visions (memories?) of what could be
is sometimes unbearably painful
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A fascinating visitor (American Pelecinid Wasp) – August 22, 2018
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The magic, mystery and beauty of life
in all its amazing intricate diversity
captures my undivided attention
filling me with a sense of reverent awe
yet beneath the surface almost simultaneously
I can feel the suffering of the earth
and the creatures who, like me, call her home
I sense the death throes of irreplaceable wonder
that nothing technology produces can ever replace
while too many of the earth’s children sleep

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Look west from Enger Tower – October 14, 2018
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I am grateful for the privileges I have had
to witness the power of awakening
as the students I work with discover things
which those in power never meant for them to know
Perhaps it is way too little and way too late
yet a prayer rises in my heart that the earth
draws hope from their awakening
and that of light-affirming others around the world
garnering strength to heal for the sake of all life
across uncountable generations to come

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On the road to Hana, Maui – 1998

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Afterward:

I do worry about the challenges that those who are awakening to the wonder of the world will face in the future. I wrote and titled this poem before reading an article by Tess Owen in Vice News. Owen describes a different kind of awakening among white nationalists from around the world who gathered in Finland this past weekend. They referred to their celebration as “Awakening II.” I sincerely hope they will awaken to wonder, too.

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Rainy Day Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Rainy Day Reflections – March 27, 2019
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Greeting the morning
listening
to the sounds of the awakening city
the loud constant whirring of traffic
on wet pavement just before school starts
joined by deep thrumming in the distance
as the train whistle sounds and the school bell shrills
Sounds crescendoing accompanied by thunder
rumbling in the distance then booming overhead

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Retreating inside
listening
to the refrigerator quietly humming
before my dog and parakeet awaken
to greet the morning with song

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I miss the long ago sounds of the forest
but I have to believe there’s a reason
for being here now
questioning
whether simple loving actions matter
contemplating
the importance of purpose,
perspicacity, persistence, and patience
as the storm moves on to the east,
clouds clear and traffic sounds fade
allowing bird song to be heard once again
as my little dog awakens and explores the new day
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“I think I’ll try to climb up the steps.”
“I know I can do this!”
“I can do this, too!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For My Daughter

Carol A. Hand

I feel your concern as I walk slowly now
trudging up and down hills or on icy sidewalks
following behind as you lead the way
heading toward a future that is yours alone
I need to travel at my own pace – sure-footed
to avoid adding to the burdens I know you carry

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Loving you means trusting life and letting you go onward
accepting the limitations of a frail aging frame with grace
watching you with love, compassion, joy, and heavy sadness
remembering conundral choices that I suspect hurt you
hoping one day you will understand that loving you deeply
gave me courage to face daunting challenges to keep you safe

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My daughter, Turns Falls, Massachusetts, 1975

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Yesterday, March 5th, was my granddaughter’s twelfth birthday. We had a lovely family celebration. But it’s a date that always makes me feel both deeply grateful, and deeply guilty.

I was traveling when I learned that my daughter was in the hospital giving birth to her daughter prematurely. In the midst of a powerful late winter snowstorm, the airports were closed in both of the cities where my daughter and I were. Renting a car to drive hundreds of miles through the storm wasn’t an option. There was no way I could be there. I could only fly home to a distant state the next day while the storm continued to batter the city where my daughter was.

When the airport reopened on the third day, I was faced with a conundrum. I was carrying heavy responsibilities for gifted, at-risk graduate students in a university that was unsupportive of those who were different in some way. If I left again to be with my daughter, it was likely their graduation would, at best, be delayed. I decided to send my partner, my daughter’s stepfather for most of her life, to be there instead. It was several months before I held my granddaughter for the first time.

All of the students I was advising graduated, many passing their final requirements with distinction, and they went on to careers helping vulnerable people. Yet, I know my daughter was deeply hurt. I will always wonder if I made the “right” choice, just as I will always remember that her birth was the greatest gift in my life.

A Snowy Birthday – 2019

Carol A. Hand

The super moon brightened the sky
on the night before my birthday
despite increasing cumulus clouds
promising another imminent storm

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February 19, 2019

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The snowiest February on record
was older than me on my birthday
yet the sight on the morning after
brought this year close to a tie

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February 21, 2019

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It seems all I’ve done is shovel snow,
grade student papers, and prepare classes
My yak trax are wearing thin with use
and my little car, White Pony,
is surrounded by growing piles of snow

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February 23, 2019

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Given the weather forecast for this week
we’re likely to set a new record
Ah, my aching back and shoulders
make me hope the meteorologists are wrong…

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Yet I am grateful for so many things
The chance to work with colleagues
who genuinely care about students and teaching
The opportunity to work with students
who are eager to learn and think critically
Virtual friends whose creativity, passion, and kindness
bring blessings of beauty, laughter, and new knowledge
A long life that has brought me to an old house
in the northlands where I can marvel
at the beauty of tiny crystals and wonder
how many billions it takes to blanket the earth
for hundreds of square miles under three feet of snow
And the health and strength to shovel
and shovel
and shovel
wondering
if spring
will
ever
come
again

 

PS – If you’re curious to know how my car got the name “White Pony,” here are some links to older posts that tell pieces of the story:

https://voices-from-the-margins.blog/2015/01/01/reflections-on-winters-past/

https://voices-from-the-margins.blog/2015/07/25/la-joie-de-la-vie/

Reflections about Aging

Carol A. Hand

Soon I will greet
my second septuagenarian birthday
I never envisioned living this long
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As I look back I realize
there is one piece of advice
I wish to share with those who are younger –
Take care of your physical body
It may last far longer than you imagine
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I look at my sagging skin suit, chuckling
It has had to stretch and shrink
more times than I can remember
and despite the claims of clothing manufacturers,
one size never really fits everyone (anyone?) well

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Me early in my journey

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Now my skin suit is a bit too big
Perhaps that’s a blessing
the bones that support me
are lighter, more porous and fragile
making flights of imagination and fantasy easier
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Still, this body serves me well
reminding me to exercise mindful discipline
and move with a greater sense of purpose
humbly, gratefully, and compassionately

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my daughter’s most recent birthday – October 18, 2018

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