I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Keeping me honest

One thing this blog does for me is keep me honest. I think about it during the week, what I'll write about, and why. It is so different from my other blog, because now that I've told how I got here in previous posts, I am now trying to find a part of my psyche that I haven't actually examined closely. It's also curious to me how much I'm learning about my own journey through the comments I receive, the sharing of the pain of existence, maybe. Everybody suffers, sometimes in silence and sometimes with valiant voice. I really don't think it's possible to live and not spend some time suffering.

I have some regrets that cause me suffering. In some ways they might seem small or even trivial to someone else, but they do still hurt when I think about them. Long, long ago, when I was a very young mother, I spanked my son Stephen. I didn't know why he was so cranky after he woke from his nap and I lost my temper and gave him a sharp whack, I'm sure it stung. I will never ever forget the look on his face, one of shock and betrayal. That was the last day he was alive, since I ended up taking his temperature and realized he was really sick. I didn't know how sick with deadly meningitis. Of course I didn't know, but every time I think of that moment I feel huge pain and regret still sitting there in my heart, unhealed. I wish I knew how to let it go.

I also regret the way I treated my first husband Derald. I was self centered and cruel to him in so many ways. He was a good man, I know that now, and I was just too young and ignorant to realize how much a marriage is based on mutual respect and trust. Today I see the same thing going on around me in relationships of all kinds, mostly young people trying to find their way through the reality they are facing, and thinking (like I did) that if only I had married someone else everything would have turned out perfectly.

The yearning I experience now in my later years is to find a way to continue to grow as a human being, to give a voice to some inchoate longing. It's hard to express what I'm saying here, but I am pretty sure everybody who has been around for awhile can relate on some level. I don't want to look up from some book one day and wonder where the time went, wonder why I frittered away the last years without a true purpose.

I have no doubt that I will find a volunteer activity one day that will enrich me. I'm hesitant to simply go through a list and unintentionally find myself tied up in activities that take up my time but don't satisfy that deep need to grow. I'm convinced that if I can just get centered enough, the next phase will find me, I won't have to try to figure it out intellectually.

The last thing I want to happen is to have regrets that I wasted these fertile years. So this little blog post is a step in the right direction, a step towards changing the possibility of another future regret. Every day is a gift, a small microcosm of a larger life, and I'd like to spend it wisely.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day 2010

I went to bed last night thinking about what I would write here this morning, with no idea. None at all. Since it's Father's Day, and my dad has been gone since 1979, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to see what I remember about him from long ago.

I'm older now than he was when he died at 62. Most years, I don't even acknowledge this day, since it's been so long since we both walked this earth. He was born in 1917, almost a century ago and died of a heart attack. One of my earliest memories of Daddy was sitting in his lap when I was very small. I put my hand on top of his and have a clear image in my mind of the difference in the sizes of our hands: his huge one and my very small one. It's amazing which memories stand out.

Mama never got up to send us to school, so I remember Daddy making lunches for Norma Jean and me and getting us onto the bus. He also would wash my hair in the sink, again I remember his enormous hands and how gentle he was. I wonder why Daddy is the one who washed my hair; I don't remember why, but he did.

After Daddy retired from the Air Force, the family settled in Fort Worth, across the lake from the air base. When I was sixteen, my parents started having babies again, and the three small children, my brother and two youngest sisters, grew up in one place, rather than moving constantly the way the first three of us did. I was a little envious of the roots they put down. Mama and Daddy had the most wonderful home for many years on the lake. I would come home to visit now and then, or sometimes to escape a failing marriage. I would come home for a few months.

Even though I had moved away from the family before they settled there, I always thought of it as "home" because that's where Mama and Daddy were. Daddy didn't actually retire but continued to work at General Dynamics after leaving the Air Force, and in a post I wrote about him on my other blog,  my brother made this comment:
Don't forget he also worked at General Dynamics (now Lockheed) for a number of years after retiring from the Air Force. GD was also across the lake, and he often piloted his boat (GiGi, pronounced "jee-jee") to work. It was cool watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of "white cap" waves on the lake, on his way to the office.
When I was home at Windswept (the name of the sprawling house on the lake), I found that Daddy would always get up before work and whip up some frozen orange juice in the blender, with small paper cups lined up on the counter, one for each of us who slept there the night before. The memory of all those tiny paper cups filled with frosty and foamy orange juice is vivid. The taste almost comes back when I think of it. He did that for so many years it became a family tradition.

Daddy was a family man, and he fathered seven children, one of whom died in infancy, but all the rest of us are still here. I'm the only one who will not further the family line; every other one of my siblings has children who are having children. I wonder just how many of us there are now. Norma Jean has just become a grandmother and I a grand-aunt. Daddy loved us all, I know that with every fiber of my being. It would have been nice to have him around longer, but now that I've come to the end of this post, I realize I answered my own question.

I do remember Daddy very well, and time has not dimmed his value to me, or to his other offspring, of this I am sure.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What is life?

This is a picture of my first husband, Derald Heath. This is what he looked like when I met him and ended up marrying him, although we had only known each other a few months. You can see why I was enchanted with his smile, his good looks. He was an airman working in the hospital when my mother was admitted for some reason I can't remember now. Mama spent a lot of time in hospitals, even back then before she had finished her childbearing years.

We had a TV and I was a fan of Ben Casey, a doctor show that started in 1961, right at the time I met Derald. He wore a white coat just like Vince Edwards did in Ben Casey, and he wore it open exactly like in this picture. I thought I was in heaven. When I brought my mother's things to the hospital, Derald asked me out. I was eighteen and smitten.

On our second date, we had sex. It was my first time, and we were in my parents' little Austin Healey Sprite. If you know what the car looks like, you know how challenging it must have been to actually do the deed in that little car. Derald didn't own a car, so I borrowed my parents' car, and we drove to an abandoned gravel pit. Romantic, I know. The moon was full, and I remember very well seeing the mound of white gravel reflecting in the moonlight. It was over before I thought it had begun, since Derald was really only interested in one thing, and I was confused and totally inexperienced.

After driving him back to the base, I remember clearly going home and taking a bath. A hot one. I had a bad feeling about the possibility of becoming pregnant, since we didn't use anything; heck, I didn't even know what that meant in February 1961. I know you can probably guess what happened: my son Chris was conceived that night.

I know it was that night, because it was the only time I allowed that to happen, and it was too late. I knew within a few weeks that something amazing was happening in my body. We were married on March 1, 1961, and Chris was born in November. I wrote a post about that time here.

But this post is really about life. What is it exactly? Derald died in the 1980s, many years ago, and Chris died in 2002. Our other son Stephen is also dead. They are all gone, and I am here, in 2010, writing about these things, these people. I am beginning to look ahead to the inevitable loss of more family, friends, and the end of my own life on earth. It must be something we all begin to ponder eventually, unless we turn away from it and pretend that death is not a fact of life. A precondition of life, if you will. I remember hearing a phrase once that life is a terminal illness, because it always ends in death.

The other day I read a very interesting article about the nature of life, which I will expand upon in my other blog, probably today. I reserve this blog for personal reflections and don't try to keep it short, and don't necessarily follow editorial conventions to grab the reader, tell a story, don't get too verbose. This one is for me, and for any readers to give feedback if they are so moved. I am covetous of the followers on my other blog, sifting the number through my mental hands as if they are jewels that tell me I am worthwhile. Here, when I see another follower has joined, I am a little amazed and try very hard to keep in mind that I am writing for ME, for understanding my own journey, not to amass an audience. I do enjoy the comments, because I learn something about myself, and something about the commonality of our journey through life.

I have always wondered how other people deal with grief. It seems I've had so much of it in my life, but I don't feel it now, or even most of the time. I am naturally optimistic and don't dwell on my losses. At my age, most of my friends have lost their parents, although now and then I'll overhear somebody my age at the gym talking about visiting a parent in a nursing home, and I notice that it seems like a foreign language, since no member of my family has ever lived long enough to end up in one. Years ago I volunteered in one for a short period and found it to be a horrible, horrible place: the vacant stares, the smell, the hopelessness.

But you know, all of those people were at one time vibrant, healthy, productive people. What happened to them? What is real? If we were to actually survive death, in another life, what person emerges into the spiritual realm? If the beautiful infant that was my son Stephen was transported into heaven, did he continue to grow into a man? Surely other people must wonder about these things. Do you? What is life to you?

The article I stumbled upon deals with biocentrism, which says that life creates the universe rather than the other way around. That when we die, space and time reboot, so to speak. It posits that time does not have a real existence outside of our own experience of it, and that space, like time, is not an object or a thing and doesn't exist outside of our own reality. Does that boggle your mind like it does mine?

What it really does, though, that makes me interested in it, is the feeling of peacefulness that comes over me when I think that maybe time and space are rebooted upon our death, and that event has already happened to so many of my loved ones. They aren't dead at all, and when one of them visits me in my dreams, they are just reminding me that we exist outside the space-time continuum.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


This picture was taken a few years ago in Eloy, Arizona, over the Christmas holidays. We are both in it, Smart Guy and me, in the far left corner. I'm in purple and he's in white behind me. It's not so different from what we did yesterday (although the size of our formation was much smaller) when we went down to Snohomish and made three jumps. It was in the car as we were coming home that we had one of our conversations.

"How were your openings today?"

"Pretty good, except I think I opened in a track once and got whacked."

"Mine were all great, but I had closed end cells every time."

"That happens to me, it's almost expected with a Stiletto."

"The wind got strong enough that I had to cut my downwind leg short so I wouldn't get caught over the buildings, and then I was long on my final. But I even landed in the peas once."

"I saw that. I've been setting up to the north and starting my final a little higher, but you're right, it does make it hard to keep from overshooting."

"Remind me to clean my cutaway cables when we get home, okay?"

"Sure. Good idea."

"It was a great day today, huh? I always feel so satisfied after a jumping day like today."

"Yup. Me too."

This is not your usual senior citizen conversation after spending a day together. I don't know how long we will be able to keep on doing this, but it's been twenty years now (for me, he's been jumping for 47 years) and we're both still going strong. I feel like life is really good when I've had a chance to play in the sky over Puget Sound, opening my beautiful Stiletto parachute and taking a look at the ocean, the clouds, the mountains peeking through like ice cream. My life is good, and I'm happy to take a moment to say thanks.