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!

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.

Discerning the Bridge Run

It took me months to decide.  Could I really participate in Charleston’s Cooper River Bridge Run?

This 10K run, a major event held annually in Charleston, draws thousands of runners every year from Charleston and beyond. Even before I moved to Charleston I wondered if I’d ever run (and be able to run) this significant race.  When the April fourth Bridge Run approached this year, I faced a decision.  Would I make this run a reality for me?

Three Months Prior

I began early to train for this run, hoping my progress would tell me whether or not I could compete.  I set a goal to run 6.2 miles by early March, about one month before the race.  I did not make that goal.  I had trained at 4, 4.5, and 5 miles, but had not reached 10K yet.  I began to think that I probably would not run this race, and a part of me felt disappointed, in myself mostly.

One Week Before

Time was getting close.  I needed to make a decision soon in order to register.  So one morning I sat down on my beloved back porch and tried to discern about the wisdom of doing this race.  I asked myself these questions:

What is really holding me back?    Fear, mostly.

Do I want fear to limit myself?  Do I always want to remain in my comfort zone?  No.  I want to push myself a bit.  I want to stretch to a new level.  Yes, I want to set a goal that would push and stretch me, but would do so safely.

Do I have the ability to perform at this level?   I’d done a few 10K races in the past but not with this steep elevation.   I decided to go to the gym and test out my ability on the treadmill.

With the treadmill set at a significant slope, I ran 6.2 miles.  At one point, I had to slow down and cool off, but I did complete the distance.   My decision was made.  I’m going to run the Bridge Run.  I came home, registered, and began to chronicle the thoughts, feelings, fears, and events of the week before the race.

March 28, Six Days Before

It was a hot Monday afternoon when I completed five outdoor miles on my run.  My pulse kept elevating, probably due to the heat, and my legs felt tired.  It was a hard run, but I held on to the hope that I could complete the upcoming race.  I won’t know if I can do it, I thought, until I do it.

March 30-31, Two – Three Days Before

It was the Wednesday before the race when I became sick, fighting some kind of virus. I became concerned because I knew I could not do this difficult run with less than 100% physical energy and well-being. By Thursday evening I was feeling much better.  But I also felt alternately scared and excited.   I was ready to stop thinking about this race and do it!

April 1, The Day Before

That afternoon I went to the Expo to pick up my bib and other materials.  Accompanied by my husband Rick, I enjoyed looking at the various booths selling all things running: shoes, clothes, treats.  Excitement was the mood of the day.

The weather, however, proved to be a concern.  All week forecasts had shown the likelihood of rain Saturday morning, but on Friday evening a tornado watch was posted in Charleston.  No race would be held in threatening weather, and I watched the weather updates closely.  The watch passed late in the evening but rain would be present for the race, making decisions about how to dress for the race  more complicated.  The evening was filled with anxiety.  Would I even sleep?  I did, but not much.

April 2, Race Day

On race day I got up at 4:15 a.m., checked the weather, dressed for the race, ate breakfast and headed out the door to North Charleston, where I caught the shuttle that would take me to the starting line.  This would be a busy race, with nearly 36,000 people participating.

Runners waited in their “corral” or “wave” for the start of the race.  Assigned to a later wave and surrounded by other sleep-deprived runners, I slowly advanced to the start line.  At the “go,” we took off, looking ahead for the anticipated Ravenel Bridge.

The 4.1% slope up the bridge is nearly one mile long, and the longer I ran, the more tired my legs felt.  Nevertheless, I was determined to keep running and I did, though slowly.  What a relief to reach the top and head back down, but at that point I was only half-way finished. I had another three miles to go.  One foot in front of the other.  Every step a closer arrival to the goal.  And that’s how I finished the 39th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run!

Now it was time to sit down and enjoy a bagel and banana.  And that’s exactly what I did.

What Did I Learn?

Bring my own water next year.  Hydration was an issue and part of my struggle out on the course.

Strengthen those quads!  The quadriceps want to be your best friend on that bridge!

Feel good about my accomplishment.    Running encourages me to challenge myself beyond what I think I can do.  Perhaps there is something about the human spirit that wants to soar, transcend itself, and running does this for me.

Enjoy your next goals.  I enjoy setting goals and immersing myself in a meaningful project. Choosing this race helped me move past my fear, something that has never been easy for me.  I can let this memory help me apply this lesson to other parts of my life, reminding me that a fulfilling life sometimes involves risk-taking.

Will I Run this Race in the Future?

I hope so!  This race will always be a challenge that’s waiting for me, calling me to stretch just a little more…and a little more.

Bridge run

 

 

 

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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The Journey toward Home

Seven months ago Rick and I moved from our home of many years in Minneapolis to a new home in Charleston.  This passage from one home to another was an enormous undertaking, overwhelming at times, but it was also a journey of joy, anticipation, and excitement.  After these seven months, we’ve found ourselves involved with the adventure of creating a new place that we now call home.

The word “home” has long intrigued me.  Full of emotion, desire, and longing, home characterizes our human yearning for love, acceptance, support, meaning, and belonging.   As the late poet Maya Angelou said, “the ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”   Yes, we long to be home, and we long to live “at home” within ourselves, wherever we may be.

I’ve been reading about the thoughts and feelings of others who have pondered the meaning of home.  For them, home can be characterized this way:

  • Where you are with family, friends and neighbors and feel loved, accepted and supported. On the contrary, homelessness means feeling unloved, unseen, unheard, unacknowledged.
  • Where you feel at peace, know you belong, and experience a sense of wholeness. Home is where you remove those uncomfortable shoes and be your needy old self.
  • Where you can easily and freely express yourself and can say outrageous things without fear of judgment or anger.
  • Where you can learn about yourself.
  • Where certain roles, such as parent, instill a sense of home, as do rituals and traditions.
  • Where spiritual practices that foster love, healing and health are performed and respected. These may include meditation, entertaining, reading, writing, exercise, cooking, creating, traveling, or whatever connects us to our deeper selves.

In reading these descriptions, it’s apparent that home is more than an external place.  Home is within each of us, and connecting to its gifts of joy, peace, comfort, and love is a journey, an archetypal pilgrimage depicted in some of our favorite myths and stories.  Its call is a universal one, but one that we take up individually.

I tend to think this journey never really ends.  We can always mature, deepen, and open ourselves to the possibility of increased wholeness, moving us ever deeper toward our inner home.  Though it requires work and courage, it’s a journey worth traversing.

 

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We Made It!

These three words–“WE MADE IT”–says it all!

After planning a retirement move from Minnesota to South Carolina for over a year, our dream of living closer to our son and being active outdoors throughout the year was materialized this past month.  On July 24 (our 44th wedding anniversary), we closed on our newly built house in Charleston.

It’s been a busy, if not hectic month, to say the least.  Those of you who have experienced a move, which is probably most of you, know the extent of work and planning that goes into such a process.  And packing and lifting and moving and stuffing boxes are only part of the experience.  There’s the emotional aspect as well.  Our exhaustion and excitement sometimes gave way to moments of homesickness, of missing Minnesota, where we lived so many years and made so many memories.

And now, after being in our new house in Charleston two and a half weeks, we are able to slow down a bit. Though not everything is put away, hung, or organized, I was able to take some time this morning to download pictures of our moving process. Though I try to stay away from simplistic cliches, I do believe that in this case pictures are worth a thousand words.  Hence, here are some pictures of our move that may well tell the story best.  Enjoy!

Our home of 22 years in Minneapolis
Our home of 22 years in Minneapolis
Our house sold in a few days.
Our house sold in a few days.
Boxes accumulated right to the very last day!
Boxes accumulate right to the very last day!

Rick is hard at work

And don't forget the garage!
And don’t forget the garage!
The movers arrive to our front door.
The movers arrive to our front door.
Four men (one unseen) move the Steinway.  This was our biggest worry.
Four men (one unseen) move the Steinway. This was our biggest worry.
The car is jam-packed and ready to start a long journey.
The car is jam-packed and ready to start a long journey.
Every night we loaded up a cart and carried into our hotel room.  Thank goodness for wheels!
Every night we loaded up a cart and carried into our hotel room. Thank goodness for wheels!
Pausing to reflect in the Smoky Mountains.
Pausing to reflect in the Smoky Mountains.
We stayed in downtown Charleston a few nights before closing on our house.  What a great view!
We stayed in downtown Charleston a few nights before closing on our house. What a great view!
We made it to our new home, grateful and exhausted. And then...
We made it to our new home! And then…
We do it all over again!
We do it all over again!

Leaving: Beginning a New Journey

In his book, Journey of the Heart: Reflections on Life’s Way,* Gerhard Frost writes a thought-provoking essay about journeying (pp.12-13).  He begins by saying, “Journeying begins with leaving.”  I’ve read this essay a number of times, but it holds more meaning to me today.  Over the past fifteen months or so, my husband, Rick, and I have been preparing for our retirement, and now as our dreams and plans have slowly taken shape, it is time for the next point of our journey.  It is time to leave.

My leaving has already begun.  This past month I left my longtime position as a chaplain at a Minneapolis nursing home.  In a few weeks I will leave Minneapolis, where I’ve put down roots, invested in a long career, raised our son, and learned so very much about life, about living, and about myself. Rick and I are ready to begin our next chapter of life in Charleston, South Carolina, where we are building our new home.

In his essay Frost explains that the act of leaving can happen for one of two reasons.  Sometimes leaving is necessary, caused by circumstances we cannot control; other times leaving is a response from a deep, internal yearning.  It is this reason—an inner longing—that I make this significant change.

My leaving comes from a long-held yearning to experience the fullness of life in new ways. I leave for a desire to spend generous amounts of time outdoors, where I can run, walk, hike, and bike much of the year.  I leave for a desire to be closer to our son, so that we can visit more frequently and spontaneously. I leave for a desire to rest, really rest, and to heal from the bumps and bruises of a busy life.  I leave with the longing to delve more deeply into a reflective life that more time will hopefully offer.  And I leave with the hope of continuing to be present to others, to hear their stories in whatever ways are offered and through whatever doors are opened.

And so in a few weeks, we will take the risk of leaping into the somewhat unknown, knowing that there are no guarantees that our dreams and plans will be fully realized.  But we also know that the greatest risk is to take no risk at all.

I leave with much gratitude for Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  I’m so grateful for the academic and recreational opportunities they have offered me over the past number of years.  I will always treasure these memories.

Meanwhile, I will seek to remain open to the blessings and memories yet to unfold in this new adventure.

* Published by Augsburg Fortress, copyright 1995.

Boxes ready to go! Photo J. Stanton, 2015.
Boxes ready to go!
Photo J. Stanton, 2015.