Easter always reminds me of my time in Slovakia, where I spent 1993 teaching English. I lived in a small village near the Polish border and tromped through more snow that winter than most folks in Louisiana have or ever will see. Snow was often up to my waist. Maybe the coming out of such a cold winter is part of why Easter is such a big deal to Slovaks.
They prepare for it for weeks, including small table centerpieces where they plant grass or wheat seeds and have these living arrangements growing throughout Lent. Families sit around the tables each night and watch the seedlings emerge into beautiful plants. Then, on Easter Sunday, teenage boys traditionally go in groups to the homes of their female classmates and proceed to throw large quantities of water on the girls. The girls retaliate by chasing the boys around with switches. Seriously, that water throwing-switch chasing thing is a major part of Easter in Slovakia.
But this year, I’ve also spent time thinking about a church I visited in 2011 when I returned to Slovakia for the wedding of one of my former students. Prior to the wedding, I visited a small village near Zilina, Slovakia, to spend time with the family of another of my former students. This student was one of the brightest I taught and is now a computer wizard building web sites for companies around the world, but when I taught him long ago, he was a lanky 11-year-old.
He isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the years that have passed. After Communism ended in the early 1990s and through the process of restitution, many Slovak families were able to re-acquire properties they had owned prior to the Soviet Communist regime. This family had lived in an apartment in 1993. In the years since, they’ve relocated part of the year to their family home in the small mountain village where they continue to work to restore it.
The village, nestled beside the Mala Fatra National Park, is quiet and peaceful. Every day I was there, shortly before dusk, we took a long walk around its hills and valleys. During one of our walks, we found ourselves standing in front of the village church. Like many buildings of Slovakia, it was freshly painted a pale yellow. It was contemporary architecture and featured a large crucifix on an exterior wall, near the front of the church. I must have commented on the large crucifix, because my friends began to tell me its story.
At some point in the not-so distant past, one of the community’s favorite and most famous sons, offered to donate a new crucifix to the church. The man had grown up in the village and gone on to become a rather famous sculptor. His family remained in the village, and the church was eager to accept the offer.
So, the sculptor began to work on the large piece.
When it was finally unveiled inside the church in its place of prominence, my friends told me the village was abuzz. I’m uncertain how much time passed before the rumblings became public, but apparently, some in the church thought the sculpture’s face of Christ bore a striking resemblance to the father of the sculptor — a man they all knew.
According to my friends, some of the church members said, “I don’t want to go to church, look up and feel like I’m worshiping my neighbor.”
And, as sometimes happens in churches, the issue became quite contentious. Finally, the crucifix was removed and hidden away, and the church decided to commission another sculptor to create a new crucifix.
So he did, and they placed it inside the church where the original piece had once hung.
Years passed, and things settled done. Somehow the church eventually decided to hang the original crucifix outside.
My friends and I stood there quietly looking at the crucifix, when one of them spoke.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “They say the sculptor of the crucifix now hanging inside the church also based the face of Christ on his own father. The difference is that none of these people know him.”
The story has stuck with me. There are many ways to look at it, but for me, I can’t help thinking of Victor Hugo and a line from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
The summer after second grade, Laura Ledford’s mother was still the leader of our Brownie Scout troop. That summer was the first year we went to Girl Scout Day Camp.
Today, this camp would violate at least a hundred public and child safety codes, but attending this day camp was a rite of passage in my hometown. It existed on the sheer will of half a dozen women. How they gained permission to take 100 or so girls out in the middle of the woods, with no facilities for a week remains a mystery, but they did.
This camp was run with the precision of the Swiss train system. There was order. There were traditions. And there were latrines to be dug.
We believed this camp would last every summer of our lives — or at least through childhood (and really, that’s all that mattered). The camp ended up continuing only one year more after that summer. I’m not sure why, but probably the same reason these things always end. Putting it together takes a force of nature. And in our case, the force of nature’s children were aging out. This camp had a major impact on my life and perspective. I struggle to believe that I only spent five days there.
Early in the summer, girls between the ages of 7 and 18 from our town went to the camp for one week. We arrived shortly after the crack of dawn and stayed until 3 in the afternoon. It is important to note that the rest of the year, this area was not a camp. It was simply a small patch of land in the middle of the woods within walking distance of Moore Tower — the most exciting landmark in the area (used to keep a lookout for fires in the Bienville National Forest).
Moore Tower, an oversized erector set with steps zigzagging around its sides leading to a room the size of a Hyundai, was the center of much intrigue and lore. Climbing the tower was a rite of passage. Moore Tower was off limits. Only forest rangers could climb its hallowed steps. But every now and then, with a permission process akin to passing a Congressional budget, a group would earn the special right to climb to the top.
Seriously. Climbing Moore Tower was epic. I cannot emphasize enough what a big deal it was — doing so opened all kinds of doors for a girl of seven or eight, or even nine or 10.
At the camp, each of the five or so levels of Scouts had its own area. An elaborate system of paths (that we made by trampling tall grass and briars) connected the various camps.
The primary task of the week for the different troops was to dig a latrine for each camp. There was also the weeklong competition to see who could create the best camp, which basically boiled down to who had the best latrine. Occasionally, we came together to have sing downs — Mrs. Strode would divide us into groups and give us a category like “girls’ names.” On cue, each group would sing an appropriate song until there was only one group left singing. The camp-wide sing downs were fun, but mostly we stayed in our areas and worked on the latrine. We also created elaborate rows and boxes of pine straw buildings (with imaginary walls) to build our camp.
And, we waited for Thursday.
On Thursday, every group of Scouts would be escorted by our very own forest ranger all the way up the steps of Moore Tower. Per my eight-year-old understanding, this is the way things happened every year.
On Thursday, because we were the youngest troop, we were the last troop to climb Moore Tower. The older the troop, the earlier/cooler in the day they were allowed to climb the tower.
I remember not being able to sleep the night before because I was so excited about the prospect of climbing Moore Tower. My fellow troop mates and I waited with butterflies in our stomachs for our cue to climb. Every conversation was about the feat ahead of us. We recounted every story anyone had ever told us about climbing Moore Tower. We wondered how many steps we would have to take to reach the top.
And we waited.
It seemed like we were waiting to long to me, and I wanted to go check, but Mrs. Ledford assured us all our turn was coming.
So, we waited some more. Surely, the forest ranger would come for us soon.
We heard tales from other troops about their escapades up and down the tower. One girl fell down the steps and surely almost died.
And we waited some more.
Finally, one of our leaders went to see to the whereabouts of the forest ranger. The moment she walked back into our pine straw estate, I knew something was wrong — and I was right.
The forest ranger was gone.
The leader of the troop ahead of us, for reasons she will surely take to her grave, told the ranger that her troop was the last to go up the tower. And he left — taking all of our tower dreams with him.
I mean, we seriously wept. That moment was as disappointing as any I had ever experienced in my life. With our hopes trounced, we didn’t care so much about the beauty of our immaculate, pine straw imaginary walled camp — or even our glorious latrine.
It had all been for naught. Moore Tower was outside our grasp.
I could tell the adults had no way of understanding what not getting to climb that tower did to us. In retrospect, I believe that may have been the day a mistrust of authority took hold in me — and the day I decided that if it were within my power, I would do my best never to disappoint a kid. Of course, I have failed and that too along the way, but I have have that reminder to be vigilant to do my best.
I love foreigners. I love learning about their cultures and listening to their observations about ours. So, I decided to seek out some folks who moved to Acadiana from other countries recently and find out what surprised them about life in Louisiana.
I spoke mostly with college students — including Silvana Zaldivar, 21, of El Salvador, 21, a UL student since fall 2011 majoring in industrial design; Hanh Vu, 19, of Vietnam, a student since the fall 2012 majoring in marketing; Marta Umba, 22, of Angola, a student since fall of 2009 majoring in petroleum engineering; Bandita Parajuli, 31, of Nepal, a student since fall 2012 and is a grad student in communications; Jennifer Perenchio, 24, of France, a graduate student in communications and, finally, my lone non-college student — Justin Back, originally from Australia, who now works for Acadian Ambulance.
Here is a sampling of their observations:
- “People don’t have time to cook. Everything is boxed and frozen. In El Salvador, fruit is cheap and boxed or frozen food is expensive.”
- “Donuts are overrated.”
- “The food in Lafayette is known as the finest cuisine in the USA….For me, I have to be careful as it’s too good. I have to be disciplined. The first time I ever saw a fryer in a home was here in Louisiana.”
- “In Louisiana, you guys fry everything. It’s so expensive to eat healthy. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I’ve gained 15 pounds living here in the dorms.”
- “Restaurants aren’t open late. In our country, if you want to eat late, there are still options — including healthy street food.”
- “Here, even the really poor people are obese. In my country, the poor people are really, really skinny. I don’t know. Maybe here they can afford the fast food restaurants and not cook at home.”
- “We don’t go to restaurants that often. We cook at home every day. Restaurants are for special occasions.”
- “Generally, most people here lack etiquette. In my country, we were taught to eat with our mouths closed and not to burp. I’ve seen people here do that — and they don’t even say, ‘Excuse me.’ But, I have seen some people here with good manners.”
- “The way people here hold the door open for others is nice. Back home, people don’t do that.”
- “I’ve forgotten my phone at the library here three times and someone has always given it back. Back home, that doesn’t happen. People just take it.”
- “With the cheap cost of fuel in the USA, it’s no surprise that these large SUVs and pickups are the vehicle of choice. The cars back home in Australia, the cars in Europe, Asia and Africa where I’ve lived are much smaller. Only the Middle East has cars this size.”
- “College sport blew me away when I moved to the USA. I’d never even heard of televised college athletics. When I played Australian Rules Football at university level and at the Royal Military College, we had no one come to watch the games for the most part. Certainly there were no TV cameras or even seating for spectators. I was injured pretty badly on the field once and thankfully the sole spectator was a surgeon.”
- “When my wife took me to a Cajuns game, I almost had a heart attack. That many people, bleachers, parking, food, cold beer and all the rest of it, to watch a college football game. I thought it was brilliant; and I still do. You can imagine what happened when she took me to Tiger Stadium!”
- “Here being athletic is appreciated. In Vietnam, they don’t like the girls with muscles.”
- “The tailgating and American spirit is awesome.”
- “Americans like violent sports, but I played flag football.”
- “American athletes look like a cube. It looks super unnatural.”
- “Also tailgating was a great thing to discover. Aussies could never be trusted to do that peacefully back home. What sounded like a bunch of people drinking in a carpark, has turned out to be one of my favorite traditions in America.”
- “They don’t know what’s going on in Venezuela or Ukraine. They are really bad with geography here.”
- “My country is a democratic country. The freedom people have here to express their ideas is different. We are still working on that. They can talk about the president and nothing happens. “
I’ve gotten so many great responses that I will save the rest for at least one more week. Stay tuned for more!
At 16, my oldest child is taking a class on world religions. So far, she’s studied a variety of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism and Judaism. I am amazed at all she’s learned and believe the broader world perspective at a younger age could serve her well going forward.
Personally, I’ve been curious to learn about other cultures and religions since I was young, but without an opportunity to learn formally, I’ve made a point to seek chances to learn on a personal level.
Just this week I had the pleasure of meeting with the Venerable Tsering Phuntsok, a Buddhist monk who has been visiting the area. During our time together, he explained four truths of Buddhism — each a good reminder, regardless of religious beliefs.
The first truth was regarding the preciousness of human life. He explained that Buddhists believe that because our human life starts with our mothers, our mother is the first person we honor.
After a discussion about the importance of honoring our mothers, he suggested that I consider the many other people I know who have played roles in sustaining and nurturing my life. He explained the importance of honoring them as well. Then, he asked me to think about all the other people I don’t know who have touched my life through the years.
For example, he asked me to consider all the food I’ve eaten through the years. He asked me to consider all the people, animals and plants that have given to nurture and sustain my life — the person who planted the beans for my soup, the person who picked the beans for my soup, the person who transported the beans for my soup, the person who packaged the beans for my soup, the person who sold the beans for my soup — and the list goes on. He then explained the importance of honoring each of those people, plants and animals that gave and served in the process of nurturing me.
“In a sense, all of these things contribute to giving, sustaining and nurturing your life, and so we honor them too,” he said. He took that a step further and compared all the living things around us and their role in giving us life to our mothers.
“Look at all beings as your own mother. So wherever you go, you can feel at home,” he said. “It becomes easier to fit anywhere.”
The second truth was all about the impermanence of everything — including my own life and the lives of those I love, including my parents, my siblings and my children. None of us are permanent. Our time in this life is finite.
“We can’t learn everything in this life here on earth. We can’t completely love everything either. But, we do what we can while we can, and then we will have the chance to learn and love more in the next life,” he said.
He explained that by accepting the impermanence of everything, we become more peaceful because we live each day knowing that no state will last.
Thirdly, he spoke about cause and effect — karma. When you give positive, you get positive. When you give negative, you get negative.
Lastly, we spoke about the importance of recognizing the suffering of others and in nature. I need to give further consideration to this tenant to grasp it more fully.
He said, “Change is suffering.”
To not surprise, there are parallels to other religions for most of these thoughts. Our conversation gave me food for thought for the week. If you would like to meet the Ven. Tsering, all are invited to the Phuoc Minh Monastery, 7311 W. Congress in Duson. The temple is also housing the Jade Buddha for Universal Peace, a giant Buddha carved from more than four tons of gem quality stone. All are welcome, but today is the last day the Buddha and Ven. Tsering will be in Duson. There will be a 10 a.m. ceremony and the Buddha is available for viewing until 6 p.m.
(This column ran yesterday, but after my big party, I was too tired to post it until now!)
Fair warning. This column is schmaltzy. I offer my apologies up front. You see, today is my last day to be 49. And while I am very cool with that, I have reflected more in the past week than usual.
Before launching into the sentimental journey, I owe thanks to Carolyn Pons, a participant in a writing workshop I facilitated this week. She inspired a different perspective on my soon to be 50 years in her piece called “Things don’t last” about her upcoming 50th wedding anniversary.
She and her husband tried to remember all the things they had through the years. She started with a blue vase they purchased in Gatlinburg on their honeymoon. Chronicling the years, they added up how many sofas, how many cars, how many washers and dryers, etc. Her husband deducted that, in fact, things don’t last — but somehow their marriage had.
Carolyn’s recantation of three sofas, seven cars and an orange candle put me to thinking. As I celebrate a 50th anniversary (of my birth), what do I have that has lasted through the years? With Carolyn’s blessings in the sharing of her idea, here goes:
My oldest possession is the tiny woven twill river cane basket my great-great grandfather, William Hawkins, gave me when I was five years old. I believe it was the first week of November and remember the day vividly. I went to see him with my grandmother and my great-grandmother, his daughter and granddaughter. I was his oldest great-great grandchild and remember sitting near him in a rather dark room, with light coming in through the window. He gave me this little basket that he told me he made earlier in his life. I knew it was something to keep because this guy was old! In homage to my roots, I’ve taken the tiny basket with me for each of the moves of my life.
Since I was the first great, great grandchild, the folks around me did their best to make sure that I appreciated the significance of these moments and carried their stories with me. You may wonder how I’m sure exactly when my great-great grandfather gave me this little basket. The truth is I remember earlier that day or week, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Harris, sent a note home with each of the students in my class. The mimeographed note said that PBS was going to start a new television show just for kids — and the show would be called “Sesame Street.” The iconic children’s show first aired Nov. 10, 1969. My great-great grandfather died Dec. 30 that same year.
Aside from elementary school yearbooks, my other oldest possessions are few and far between. In one of my high school yearbooks I have nine ribbons I earned in track and field in junior and senior high school. Turns out the benefit of placing third, fourth and fifth is that the ribbons’ colors hold. My only blue ribbon, won in the seventh grade for the 440 relay, is now an interesting shade of brown.
Most of my ribbons are from relay races, but the most prized two are from the high jump and low hurtles. The truth was that I was a mediocre-at-best hurdler and high jumper, but I enjoyed the thinking and practice required to get my whole self over those bars. I knew I would never be great, but clearing the high jump bar and the hurdles offered a definite sense of satisfaction and joy that is difficult to explain or duplicate. Either you made it over or you didn’t. In a world that isn’t very cut and dried, I still find that the things that are refresh me.
The third thing I found that I’ve had with me a long time is a small wooden box I bought at the USS Alabama gift shop when I was 10. It’s the kind of small, carved wooden trinket box with a hinged lid that holds change, charms and old cookie fortunes. Inside, there is one-dollar coin from 1974. My grandfather gave it to me the same year I bought the box. Also, there are a few safety pins, buttons and two charms. One charm is from Philmont Scout Ranch. A friend gave it to me years ago. The other is a Sweet 16 charm I bought for myself the day before my 17th birthday — my last day to be 16. I bought it because I recognized that there would come a time when I’d want proof I had been 16. I realized time was passing fast.
I was right.
Tree house logic is clear and simple. Some trees are simply well suited for tree houses, and some are not — I have built tree houses in both types of trees.
Pounding nails and steps into trees were regular occurrences throughout my childhood. To be clear, my tree houses were not masterpieces like those you might find on Pinterest. In fact, my tree houses usually amounted to a single plank stretched between two limbs. Even so, the planning and engineering required was exhaustive.
The steps did their job. They served simply to get us to a limb. From there, if the tree was right, we were off.
Building tree houses was more fun with friends, but occasionally I built alone — especially when I was, as we said back then, “out in the country” at my grandparents’ farm and no cousins happened to be handy.
There was a pecan tree directly across the road from my grandparents’ home that was not an ideal tree for a tree house, but that didn’t stop us. I vaguely remember being a part of a cluster of cousins fighting to hammer 2-penny nails through four boards of various lengths and widths to serve as a ladder up the truck of the pecan tree.
I was toward the tail end of a dozen cousins born within a six-year span — which translates in tree house speak to, “For several years the steps up the side of the tree were too far apart for me to use.” I couldn’t reach the next one up to climb any higher.”
But time passed.
And you know what happens as time passes, I grew. And as I grew, my cousins did too. By the time I was tall enough to climb the steps up the pecan tree, they had lost interest.
Which is how I came to spend as much time on my own in that tree as I did. The first time I realized I could get up the ladder, I was five. I was alone and I climbed far higher than I should have.
Anyone who has ever climbed higher than they should have in a tree knows the problem there. I suppose it boils down to Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, doesn’t it? As I was going up, gravity was going against me and kept me stable. As I began to go down, several things happened, starting with:
- I had no idea how high I had climbed until I looked down, which brought my new heights into quick perspective.
- Gravity was happy to assist in the process of getting me down the tree.
- I recognized the possibilities gravity offered.
So I did the only thing I knew to do.
I started hollering. As loud as I could. I knew only two people might be able to hear me — and they were both inside the little house on the other side of the road. To my great relief, they eventually opened the front door and came out on the front porch. I don’t know if that says more about their hearing or my hollering.
Even way it’s impressive. I just did the math and realize now that my grandfather would have been 77 years old, when I was five. This tree was about 50 yards from their house, and they heard me yelling and came to see what was wrong.
Finding me took a while. I kept yelling, “Up here. Up here. In the big tree.”
Once they spotted me, they crossed the road. My grandmother stood at the foot of the tree and my grandfather began to climb the steps my cousins and I nailed in to the tree’s trunk.
If I close my eyes just right, I can still see him balancing on the branches through the leaves of that tree, helping me get down.
I am so grateful that I grew up knowing that if I hollered loud enough somebody would come.
And they did.
Even though he was born and bred in the South, my grandfather was an Irish storyteller. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Papaw Greer.
A friend recently learned that her husband got a promotion and her family of six would be moving to Australia. The four kids are between the ages of 10 and 15. Even though they’ve moved several times as a family, this new experience will surely change all of their perspectives for life.
Because she’s always done such a good job of moving, I was surprised when she wrote me not long ago and said, “You’ve moved several times as an adult and I’ve always been impressed with the way you integrate yourself in a community. What advice do you have for us as we get ready for this move to the other side of the world?”
She’s right in that I’ve moved several times as an adult — 10 different cities since I was 16, including the city where I went to college. Clearly, I thrive on change more than most and have approached each new locale with great anticipation. In fact, the only move that was a struggle for me was our move here to Lafayette. We’ve been here for a dozen years now. It’s the only home our daughters know. Even so, I have lots of thoughts on moving to a new place and starting a new chapter of life.
From the moment you learn where you’re moving, become a student of that place. The Internet makes this process much less complicated, but there are still several steps in that process.
1. If there are guidebooks, buy them. Study them. Get a feel for the fun things to do in what will soon be your new home. If you’re a list maker, make lists of the things you want to do and the order you want to do them in. I will confess that I have a guidebook addiction problem, but you would be amazed just how much you’re able to learn from them — from exactly what to order in great local restaurants to hidden trails that take you to special vistas. I recommend first focusing on the area within a 60-minute drive of your new home. Then branching out from there for weekend trips and getaways. Look for diversity of activities. Keep at the guidebooks, long after you’ve arrived.
2. Start reading their newspapers and other publications. Get a feel for their news, politics and culture. Find out about big events in the area that are happening now. Next year, you’ll be familiar with them and already know which ones you want to attend. Like the guidebooks, keep reading the paper once you get there. It will give you insights and connections to that place and people that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
3. Start reading and watching good fiction set in your new home. No, it’s not all accurate and some of it is over dramatized, but it will offer you insights and familiarity that is impossible to get otherwise. Especially with your family going to Australia, there is so much literature and film based there. The possibilities are wide. I’d recommend a family movie night once a week until you knock out the big movies of Down Under.
4. Start seeking out music from your soon-to-be home. No matter where you’re moving, there is bound to be a variety of local music — new and old that will give you a sense of place that you simply can’t get any other way. (As far as Australia goes, The Waifs — a band that came to Festival International a couple of times years ago, is a personal favorite!)
5. Start researching the school and sports options for your children now. Figuring out where you want them to go to school now will help in the house hunting process. If you contact schools, they will often put you in contact with other parents whose children already attend school there. I recommend communicating with those families in advance to help determine where your children will go to school. Plus, it’s a great way to have some pre-connections for activities once you get on site.
6. Research clubs, groups, churches and other organizations you might be interested in joining once you arrive in your new home. Once there, join them and get involved.
7. Once you’re in your new home, instigate outings and dinner parties with new friends. Even though you’re the foreigner, don’t wait for others to invite you to do things. In fact, the best thing about being a foreigner is that you’re not expected to understand all the local customs. So don’t worry about that kind of stuff at all! Invite people into your home and lives — and they will do the same. Of course, every outing won’t be a love connection, but in time, you’ll find your people. And your world will never be the same!
The bottom line is to get engaged with that place and its people. Volunteer. Ask questions. Seek advice – especially from people who have lived there a long time. Personally, I love to talk to old people in a new place. They also offer a sense of place that you just can’t get from another source. Listen to everyone’s stories — people love to tell their own stories. In those wonderful exchanges, you will not be able to help falling in love, bit by bit with your new home.
In one month, I will turn 50.
Once again, I am throwing myself a party.
I learned long ago that it isn’t fair to others (specifically my husband) to meet my personal party expectations. So, I’m going all out and planning the whole thing myself. Others are helping. I am not averse to giving assignments in the planning process.
To celebrate, I’ve rented cabins at the state park near my hometown and have invited dear friends representing each of the decades and places of my life to join the fun. They are making plans to come from near and far. I am touched and honored that they are doing so.
Once there, many of them won’t know each other. So we’ll have plenty to discuss to change that, but this is not going to be a weekend of rest, relaxation and conversation.
Nope, we are going to have a field day.
My father, the master of all field days, is in charge of that portion of the weekend’s activities. For years, he served as the athletic director at the only school in the tiny town where I grew up. Beyond that, he was the town’s recreation director. Every spring, we had a field day at the school with at least 50-60 competitions. It was fun, but it was also serious business.
My dad had that thing organized. Different faculty members facilitated various activities from the sack race (which was run in heats, with the top five from each grade going on to the finals), the egg toss, the three-legged race, the baseball throw, the long jump, bubble gum blowing contest, water balloon toss and the list went on and on.
For the grand finale, every grade assembled a tug of war team. Points were tallied and the class who earned the most points was appropriately lauded. Winning was a matter of school pride. This was important stuff.
At least it was to some of us! But back then I was not aware enough to realize there were probably people who did not relish every moment of field day. I did not notice the folks who were probably simply enjoying a day away from regular classes. For me, that day was close to nirvana.
For many of us, we mapped out our day and strategized to have key people participating in the competitions we knew would give us our best odds of winning. Field days were magical.
In that spirit, I’ve asked my father to dust off his field day hat and whistle and organize another afternoon full of competition.
At first, he balked. “Jan, I really don’t know what I could organize for women half a century old,” he said.
I politely told him to figure it out. We were up to the task.
So, my friends are making their plans and preparing themselves for a field day. No, it’s not how they expected to spend the first weekend of spring this year, but they’re up for it — or at least willing to go along with it!
I believe we’ll have a good time, despite — or maybe because of — having half a century under our belts.
She swings through the air with the greatest of ease. That’s the girl on the flying trapeze.
A young friend of mine will turn 30 in March. Last year she made a list she called “30 by 30.”
Her list contained 30 rather ambitious things that she wanted to do or accomplish by the time she turned 30. She has already marked off a number of items on her list — she visited the White House. She has done a yoga class, bought a real Christmas tree, caught a fish and water-skied.
She’s slept on a houseboat, done Asian karaoke, eaten crab and done a round of speed dating. She’s participated in a Fantasy Football League, seen a Broadway show in previews, ridden in a helicopter, eaten Ethiopian food and had her caricature drawn. She went to a hockey game and completed a home repair without anyone else’s help.
She has almost met her weight loss goal, getting closer every day to running a mile without stopping and will soon pay for someone else’s drink at a coffee shop.
Two weeks ago, however, she was able to mark off a biggie from her list. For reasons beyond my powers of comprehension, she included “Flying on a circus trapeze,” on her to-do list. Fortunately for her, she lives in Washington, D.C., where the Navy Yard played host to a trapeze school recently. So, she signed herself up and went with a friend.
I’m not certain what all was involved with the training or how many times she was able to experience the trapeze itself, but she sent me the video of one of her attempts and has granted permission for me to write about it.
On the video, my friend is hooked up to wires and harnesses. She stands on the edge of the platform and on the verbal cue, she lets go and swings through the air. The coach then gives her another cue to put her feet on the bar. Then, “Let go with your hands.”
And my friend swings through the air hanging by her knees.
Then, the caller and coach yells for her to place her hands back on the bar and gives the final line of instruction, “On my call, three big kicks and let go.”
My friend follows the instructions perfectly as the caller yells, “Kick back, forward, back and let go.”
For that moment, it was like beautiful choreography, but my friend does not let go. Instead, she swings back and inexplicably starts putting her legs on the bar again. The coach again yells, “Let go!”
And my friend begins to swing forward again.
The caller yells in a stern voice, for the third time, “Let go!”
And even though my friend is half dangling from her legs and in the wrong swing position, she finally obeys and lets go of the bar — and meets the net with a lovely face plant.
I watched the video a number of times, trying to figure out what it was about it that mesmerized me so.
Then I realized.
My friend’s experience on the trapeze is a lot like what many of us do with big things, little things and other disappointments in our lives.
We know when we’re supposed to let go rather than hang on. We know we’re supposed to take three big kicks and let go. Instead, we start putting our feet on the bars — swinging back and forth when we have no business doing so anymore and not nearly as gracefully as life once was.
When we’ve exhausted the possibilities, are out of strength and momentum is fading, we’re finally convinced to let go. By then, we’re in the wrong position and scared to death. We flail more than necessary, but we finally let go and land in the net with a face plant rather than in a much more agreeable position — all because we didn’t let go when we should have done so.
In my effort to get more exercise and take more steps, I’ve been going on walks all around town. Last week as I was walking down a short block of Dover Drive in the Broadmoor area, I looked ahead and saw a small bridge that led toward a bright green post with a pale yellow box on top. I thought it was an elaborate birdhouse, complete with a fancy roof. The whole scene had an unusual, aesthetic appeal and stirred my curiosity. With each step, I tried but couldn’t figure out what was going on.
When I was upon it, I could see the tiny structure wasn’t a birdhouse or an artsy mailbox. However, it did have a lovely glass door with a small sign beneath the box. The sign read, “In memory of Frankie Bourgeois Rue, Little Free Library, Lover of Books. Take a book. Lend a book. #10988”
And through the glass door, I could see books. I felt like Alice in Wonderland and crossed the bridge. I couldn’t believe someone had taken the time, energy and expense to build this little structure — with its own lovely bridge, no less — all in an effort to give away or share books.
I opened the door and checked out its very respectable selection of bestsellers and lesser known books, fiction and non-fiction — something for almost everyone.
There was also a leaflet that read, “Welcome to our Little Free Library. Take a book. If you see a book you want to read, take it. Return a book. If you don’t have a book with you, that’s OK. Next time you come by, return the book. Or, bring another book you want to share.
What kind of books to return? Books you would recommend to a friend; that you would read to your children or grandchildren; books that teach, intrigue, engage, delight. Novels, children’s books, young adult fiction — good books!
Want to leave a note for the next readers(s)? Please do. On a separate slip of paper, inside the cover, include a short rating, comment, full review, new words, favorite quotes. No spoilers, please. Optional: Write your name and city inside the front cover. LFL books travel around and there’s no telling where a book you read or donated may end up.
The Little Free Library is part of an international network registered with the Little Free Library organization. Go to www.LittleFreeLibrary.org.”
Here was someone after my own heart. The day that I took this walk was one of those polar vortex, record cold kind of days, but I stood there feeling all warm and cozy knowing that someone had started this organization and someone else loved Frankie Bourgeois Rue enough to go to the trouble to create something this beautiful. I was amazed, and I wished I had known Frankie Rue, a lover of books.
After I got home, I read about the Little Free Library network that was started by Todd Bol in 2009 in Wisconsin, as a memorial tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. “He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS.”
And so a movement was born.
The original goal was to have more Little Free Libraries than Andrew Carnegie built libraries — 2,510; a goal was reached in August 2012. By January 2014, there were between 10,000 and 12,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. According to the website, there are 47 Little Free Libraries in Louisiana, but only one in Lafayette.
People who create them say the tiny structures help build community in ways they didn’t anticipate. They meet more neighbors and others than they have in years. All in all, they’re just good things and serve as a way to share books with others — spreading knowledge, ideas and literacy.
Frankie Bourgeois Rue, here’s to you and the good you have inspired.