This time of year is one of deep darkness, when the light of day shortens and the cold settles in our bones. Even in Charleston, the nights have been dropping to near freezing and some days have been cloudy and gray.
These winter months invite us to slow down, hunker down, and perhaps take time to bake bread, light a fire, brew a cup of tea. It is time to befriend the darkness, trusting that something new, something regenerative will come of this still and quiet season.
One of my passions when I was working as a chaplain was providing support for caregivers. It still is. Last summer when I discovered that the 30th Anniversary Summit of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving would be held in October in Americus, Georgia, I decided to register. I’m glad I did.
It was a sold out event, including various opportunities for learning and inspiration, including a one-woman play about the life of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter as well as workshops and panel discussions on education, advocacy, research and support for caregivers.
Most inspiring for me took place Friday morning when these three women spoke: Rosalynn Carter, Sandra Deal, wife of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, and Lee Woodruff, contributing reporter to “CBS This Morning” and Co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation spoke. All three had been caregivers and knew personally the difficulty of giving care and how much caregivers need education and support.
As Rosalynn Carter has said, all of us fall into one of these categories: 1) We’ve been a caregiver, 2) We will be a caregiver, 3) We are currently a caregiver, or 4) We will need a caregiver. With a large percentage of the population growing older, caregiver support and education is needed more than ever.
To learn more details of the Summit, go to http://www.rosalynncarter.org/30th_Anniversary_Summit.
Life is rich with teaching moments, those seemingly small events that impart something about our world, or more importantly, about ourselves. Teaching moments often come in surprising ways. A friend’s thoughtful gesture reminds us to become more considerate; our response to one spoken word teaches us something about ourselves. It’s important to be on the look-out for these subtle moments; they have the ability to help us grow into better persons.
A few weeks ago I had a wealth of teaching moments from a surprising source. Rick and I drove to Maryland to visit our son, Brendon, and his puppy, Meeple. While visiting, we took numerous walks with Meeple, a one-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. When not walking, we sometimes sat on the sofa with him, petting his soft black fur. During our visit, I became aware of some admirable qualities in Meeple, reminding me of some important life lessons. Here are a few:
Be curious and aware. The world is full of jewels and Meeple knows that well. He pays attention. A leaf resting on the ground does not go unnoticed. Towering trees are not just to look at but to examine with scrutiny.
MyLearning: Don’t miss out on the world’s treasures! Behold the sparkling morning dew while it lasts and marvel at the orange-rust-red colors of autumn that take your breath away.
Live in the present. When Meeple naps, he naps well. When he hears a noise, he listens. When he walks, he’s committed to it.
My Learning: Wherever you are, be there. Whatever work, study, or play you’re doing, do it with full immersion. The present is all we have, and it’s plenty rich for all of us.
Love extravagantly! Meeple excels at this. One day, after taking him for a stroll, a few of us were walking up the steps to his home to reunite with our son. Meeple was excited about this, but when he saw that I lagged a few steps behind, he turned around, came back down the steps where I stood, and walked me up the stairs. He made sure I was coming!
My Learning: Greet others with joy. Include everyone. Ask yourself, Who might benefit from a smile, a phone call, or a greeting card today?
What teaching moments have you received from your pet?
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.
“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.