A Trip to Plains

“Why don’t we go to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class?”  I asked.

The idea came up fast.  I’d just read an interview with Carter in the newspaper and was reminded of his Sunday morning classes, taught almost weekly at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.  Since we live only five and a half hours from Plains, the decision to go was easy.  In an instant (unlike most decisions we make) Rick and I began preparing for our trip!

Included in our plans was a several-hour stop in Savannah, Georgia, a city we had wanted to visit for some time.  We arrived on Saturday morning, barely in time to honor our reservations for a bicycle tour of the beautiful downtown.  After a delicious lunch and a walk in a downtown park, we traveled to a small town near Plains where we stayed overnight.  Awakening to a five-thirty Sunday morning alarm, we dressed, downed a bit of breakfast, and arrived at the church by 6:30 a.m., where we waited for the eight a.m. seating in the sanctuary.

Prior to the class, one of the church’s members led us in an orientation and information session.   I learned that the class hosted attendees from a variety of states as well as a number of countries, including France, Panama, Germany, Guatemala, and India.  (We were told that at one of Carter’s recent classes, forty-eight countries were represented!)

During this orientation, I learned more than I’d known before about the Carters’ generosity and commitment to peace between nations and wellness for all people.  The Carters, Jimmy and Rosalynn, have given to others through teaching, writing, working for human rights, and building homes for Habitat for Humanity.  Through their Foundation, the Carter Center, they have alleviated suffering from disease around the world.

As Carter began his class, his soft-spoken and caring message filled the sanctuary with a gentle, kind atmosphere.   The audience listened to this wise and thoughtful man who spoke with humility and breadth of knowledge.  Never preachy or dogmatic, Carter opened the hearts and minds of his audience, reminding us that everyone can choose to become better persons.

I left the church that morning inspired, grateful, and hopeful.  Many thanks to Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter for their selfless, caring work.

Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA
Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA.   Photo J. Stanton

 

Carter Teaches
Jimmy Carter teaches a Sunday School class.   Photo J. Stanton

 

Carters and Stantons
Rick and I with the Carters.

 

The Piano (with a quote from Wendell Berry, “The Man Born to Farming”)

My husband, a fine classical pianist,
said, “the piano
is a living thing.”

A living thing—not
dead
inanimate
lifeless
or even asleep—but
dynamic
animated
breathing
feeling
expressing.

It must be treated
respectfully, and
reverently.

Let me put it this way:
Wendell Berry says,
The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine thing.

In similar fashion, I respond,
The player of music, the performer, the man born to playing,
whose hands reach into the keyboard and sing,
to him the piano is a divine thing.

–Jan Stanton, 2017

A Memorable Family Vacation

This is what holidays, travels, vacations are about.  It is not really rest or even leisure we chase.  We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again.”

–Shana Alexander, “The Roman Astonishment,” in Life (1967)

Shana Alexander has named something so essential to not only travel but to life itself: our capacity for wonder and astonishment.  How much of life would we miss if we looked, but did not see, the amazement right before our eyes?  What would our lives be if we lost our capacity for wonder and astonishment? 

My family and I just completed an opportunity to enrich these capacities within ourselves. Rick, our son Brendon, and I traveled together to the northeastern states of Pennsylvania and New York and then crossed the border into Ontario, Canada.  We traveled along the rolling hills and mountains of Pennsylvania, witnessed past accomplishments  of talented baseball players at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, visited the home of one I have long admired, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who tirelessly pursued justice for women, and experienced the life-force, and yes wonder, of Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Of course, the best part is that we traveled as family, which for me increased the depth, meaning, and joy of all that we experienced.  How could I not return home full of gratitude for this venture?

Here is a photo journey that outlines the points and pleasures of our travel together:

Hershey, Pennsylvania

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Our first stop was to “the sweetest place on earth,” Hershey, Pennsylvania, where Milton Hershey perfected the process of producing milk chocolate.  A great story of innovation and vision.

 

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Flytes of chocolate, from dark bitter to milk chocolate sweet!  My favorite?  Always dark chocolate.  We were told there’s a little over 1,000 calories in these six flytes!

 

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Cheers!

Cooperstown, New York — Baseball Hall of Fame

 

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I was taken by this quote because of my family history.  On many an evening my parents sat on their front porch, listening to a Cubs game on the radio.  I am certain they “saw” every play!

 

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One of the Twins great players honored in the Hall of Fame.

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Brendon at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY.

Seneca Falls, New York — The Home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

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The home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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A statue of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton being introduced by a mutual friend.  It was a lifelong friendship, based on a passion for women’s rights, especially the right to vote.  The nineteenth amendment to allow women the vote was passed in 1920.  Neither woman lived to see it happen.

 

Niagara Falls–Ontario, Canada

 

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Niagara Falls, where we shocked ourselves “into astonishment once again.”

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We spent our last evening in Canada at a casino, where a delicious buffet meal of various ethnic dishes was served.  Rick won eleven Canadian dollars!

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary

“The incredible gift of the ordinary! 

Glory comes streaming from the table of daily life.”

–Macrina Wiederkehr

 

A simple new recipe landed in my inbox the other day.  It called for an aromatic mix of clove garlic and fresh basil, combined with diced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and a few other ingredients. It was all added to a large pan of cooked linguine, completing a perfect dish of pesto.

Rick and I thought it looked both delicious and easy (and I like “easy” when it comes to cooking)!  After slicing, dicing, and mixing, we set our new never-before-eaten-on table with our new, deep blue stoneware, complementing our individual places with a bottle of wine.  Suddenly dinner was no longer just a meal.  Dinner had become elevated, transformed into a moment that called for savoring and basking in the joy and satisfaction of the present moment. The ordinary had turned extraordinary.

This experience got me thinking about the ordinary moments in our lives.  Most of our days consist of routine, ordinary moments when we celebrate nothing in particular and have no special plans.  We tend to think of them as less happy and less fulfilling than those extraordinary times when we celebrate birthdays, weddings, reunions, and various rites of passage.  Of course we’ll always remember and hold dear these limited, special occasions when laughter came more easily and worry was nowhere around.  Special days and special memories are part of life.

But so easily overlooked is the joy found in ordinary days.  The extraordinary can erupt surprisingly in an ordinary moment, often found at the least suspecting time, circumstance and place.  For example, one of my ordinary-extraordinary moments occur when I run in the morning and settle down to a simple breakfast of cereal and toast!

And what joy it was to cook a new recipe and lavish ourselves in its delectable taste.  This moment was not in some fancy, expensive restaurant, but right in the simplicity of our own home.  Perhaps this makes it all the more extraordinary.

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A new recipe and an enjoyable meal.  -Photo: J. Stanton

 

Each New Day

I love the mornings,

the dark slowly rolling up its blanket,

awakening the light,

giving birth to a new day

honored for its invitation

to breathe, once again, the fresh breath

of opportunity,

to learn from its wisdom.

 

Smoky Mountains
Pausing to reflect in the Smoky Mountains. Summer 2015.  Photo JStanton.

An Anniversary I Remember Each Year

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  It is a date that stays firmly in my mind each year.  If they were still alive, they would be celebrating seventy-nine years of marriage today. Their wedding, by the way, was a double ceremony with my mother’s brother, Russ, and his chosen partner, Dorothy.

There’s something important about anniversaries.  Whether it’s a marriage, birthday, or other remembrance, anniversaries invite us to revisit significant and important events in our lives.  Without remembering these important dates, we could go through life unseeing, failing to reflect—or even recognize—the significance of our life experiences, the lessons they taught us, and the personal growth we gained as a result of having lived them.

They may even give us pause to be grateful, and today I am.

(Note:  I have a picture of my parents on their wedding day that I recently came across but today cannot find.  I will publish it when I do)!

The Journey of Grief

Once in a while I read a book that’s more than good or even great.  Over the course of years I’ve read a few books that seemed to have deep personal significance and whose impact usually took me by surprise.

I just finished such a book.  Letters from Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman is a compilation of letters written by daughters whose mothers have died, whether in the past year or more than twenty years ago.  Having lost my mother thirty-five years ago, I was interested in following the reflections of these women.

I could not put this book down.  The letters, written with passionate, emotional honesty and depth, expressed the grief they experienced–and still experience—with their mother’s death, and how it had influenced the future direction of their lives.   Many felt that the choices they made (not always good), other familial relationships (sometimes troublesome), and their own mothering issues were influenced by their mother’s death and the grief that followed.  Their stories testified to the fact that grief is not a linear process, but a cyclical journey. 

One of the most interesting things I learned was something called the “correspondence phenomenon.”  Coined by psychologist Therese Rando, correspondence phenomenon refers to the threshold when daughters reach the same age when their mother died.  Like a spark in the night, this ignited my attention.  I suddenly realized that I’m now at the age of my mother’s death.  I wondered, Is this why I’m drawn to reading this book about motherless daughters?   Is this why, a few months ago, my grief surfaced, unexpectedly, as I sat on my back porch facing the woods?  (See “The Wisdom of the Wild Woods”).

Reading Letters from Motherless Daughters was a spiritual experience that centered me deeply.  My feelings of grief were unearthed, and I usually read with damp eyes, but it was not a sad experience.  Instead, I learned more about myself, and I felt grateful to have discovered the quiet grief—and the continued love– I still carry for my mother.

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