A Brief Book Review: Kadian Journal

On a warm and cloudless July evening in Wiltshire Downs, England, Thomas Harding and his son Kadian, bicycles with a group of four others to a family dinner.  At one point, their route ends suddenly and they momentarily lose their way.  Kadian, an experienced and enthusiastic bicyclist, finds another route and leads the way down a new, somewhat steep, route.  As the path descends, Kadian accelerates, but his brakes fail as he approaches an intersection, and a fast-moving van hits him, killing him instantly.  Only a few minutes before, Kadian had looked out across a field, smiling and saying, “It’s so beautiful here. It’s so beautiful.”  Now he is gone.

Harding speaks with raw courage and honesty in his book Kadian Journal: A Father’s Memoir, describing his son’s life and death and the grief that plagued him in the days, weeks and months ahead.  We learn of a fourteen-year-old boy who loved life with a passion, who shared many talents and interests with friends and family, who was curious and creative, unafraid to try new things and delve into new projects.  We learn of a husband and wife, devoted to Kadian and his sister, Sam, who frequently sought activities to enjoy together.  We learn about the grief Harding struggled with and the strength he found in his wife, Debora.

Both tough and tender, this book demonstrates that what is most personal is most universal: our human need for love and the pain we feel when loss occurs.   It is a book I heartily recommend, without reservation.

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.

 

Speaking out: The Women’s March

On Saturday morning, hundreds of thousands of women and men gathered in Washington, D.C. to stand for the rights of women and all those marginalized and threatened by the promised policies of our new administration.  This march was never planned as a protest but, rather, as a time of coming together in solidarity for the rights of all.  Their website states:

The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

More than six hundred sister marches also took place in cities around the country—even around the world.  Charleston was one of those cities.

In spite of rain, over two thousand people marched and gathered at Brittlebank Park in downtown Charleston, where Rick and I, along with a friend, joined them. I was inspired and encouraged by those who expended their time and energy to speak boldly and loudly of their strong convictions.  We hope these efforts will continue.

womens-march

Rick and I, with friend Art, at the sister Women’s March in Charleston, S.C.

 

 

 

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.

WP_20160901_17_28_21_Pro (1)
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.

Reconciling Grief: Choosing Proper Conditions

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Winters are long in Minnesota.  Some years ago, however, winter seemed especially long.  I grew weary of its icy temperatures, sidewalks, and streets.  According to the calendar, spring had come over a month ago, but I was not convinced that it had—or that it would.

Then one day in May, temperatures climbed and the sun beamed.  The first real spring day had arrived!  As I looked around outdoors, I noticed an almost magical transformation around me: hosta plants poking through our backyard soil, buds forming on our red maple tree, and multi-colored tulips adorning neighborhood yards.

At last spring had broken through winter’s grasp!  But spring had been there all along, waiting, poised on the verge of breaking through winter’s hold.  Springtime life could not blossom until the proper conditions of warm temperatures and radiant sunshine had appeared.

When we grieve, we may wonder if we will ever feel good again.  Our grief, like winter, may linger long and become tiresome.  Though our grief will last as long as it needs to, we can facilitate the process toward new life by choosing “proper conditions.”  We too can choose a warm, nurturing climate: a safe, supportive setting of love, compassion, and understanding.

And perhaps we can offer these proper conditions to others—in an encouraging word or a listening ear—and assist them in emerging from their soul’s winter bleakness into new springtime life.

Red Maple 1
Red Maple tree in Minnesota backyard. Photo JStanton