Zing! Thwack! Bull’s Eye!

Years ago, I tried my hand at target shooting with a bow and arrow.  I had tried archery several times at Bow_and_arrow
summer camp, and had little success.  However, this time I had a teacher who taught me the proper focus, stance and grip.

“Keep your focus entirely on the target,” he said.  “Don’t think of anything else. Breathe slowly and calm yourself.”

I mimicked his stance and tried to follow his instruction.

He explained that the bow should be brought into position and the string pulled back in one motion, and promised me that when I found the rhythm it would feel right and I’d know when to let go of the arrow.  My first few attempts sent arrows everywhere but the target, but finally I centered myself and slowly heeded my instructor’s patient words.  It was like a form of meditation, only with a weapon, I realized. I considered the bow an extension of my own arm, and in one smooth motion, drew it up to my chin, pulled back the string and released it.  It was a Zen moment; I will never forget the “zing” of the arrow and the “thwack!” as it pierced the bull’s eye.

In many ways, life is like shooting an arrow.

Most of the time we go through life taking aim at what we believe to be the right target, and give it our best shot.  Sometimes we hit it. Sometimes we miss.  We take our shot and move on, often not seeing where the arrow landed.  But every once in a while, we hit our mark. And if we’re really, really lucky, we get to hear about it.

collegeThe day after Christmas I received the following message from an old friend I recently reconnected with via Facebook.  I had not seen or heard from him since the early 70s.  I clearly remember our last encounter.  It was one of those times when I took careful aim, shot an arrow, and walked away, never seeing where it landed. I doubt that my message was delivered with tact or skill. I was a know-it-all-twenty-something who shot first and asked questions later.  But what I lacked in diplomacy was made up in honesty, for I truly did care about the recipient of the message.

“Garrie, wanted to let you know something. When I last saw you in college, you told me something that I took to heart. You told me that you cared about me and that I was throwing my life away. You were much younger than I but I valued the message and it helped me straighten around. Not long after that I stopped the heavy drinking, focused on what I wanted and ended up landing a professorship at BU. It was an important “lecture” and you delivered it from the heart. Never had a chance to let you know. Now I have. Merry, merry Christmas!”bigstockphoto_arrows_in_the_target_1393338_v_Variation_1

It is a rare and special moment when we get to see that we have positively impacted someone’s life.  It may have taken forty years, but on December 26, I heard the “zing” and then the “thwack!”

Bull’s eye!

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Payback’s a …

Last weekend, my daughter Elizabeth was in town to do some Christmas errands.  When she was finished, she returned to my apartment to relax and have dinner.  She burst through the door and as she hung up her coat, she exclaimed, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to me!”

I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink.  Stealing a quick glance at her, I noticed she wasn’t smiling.  “What?” I said aloud, although I was thinking, “Oh no…now what?”

“Well, I was on South Willow Street and decided to stop at Starbucks…”
mochaI smiled, remembering how she recently introduced me to the evils of Iced Peppermint Mocha.  Such a delightfully decadent drink!

“And I went to take a left hand turn into the drive up.  A woman zoomed up on my right hand side and tried to cut me off.  I could see her yelling at me through the windshield.”

Holiday traffic on South Willow Street is a nightmare.  I’ve been on that road theroadrage2 weekends preceding Christmas when it’s taken thirty minutes to travel a quarter mile.  Like any city driving, there are times when you have to be fairly assertive, if not aggressive, least you become caught in the middle of a catastrophe.  However, I’ve always encouraged my children to be polite drivers and not allow themselves to be dragged into a situation where hot tempers and poor judgment prevail.

Elizabeth went on. “She didn’t succeed in cutting me off, but she ended up in back of me in the Starbucks queue.  I was furious.”

I nodded understandingly.

“But I got her back.”

I surveyed my youngest child’s face. She is strikingly beautiful; tall and willowy with huge eyes fringed by thick lashes.  Elizabeth is a free spirit- artistic, brilliant… and a bit impulsive.  She is usually soft-hearted and thoughtful.  I have often thought that she couldn’t be intentionally mean if she wanted to.  Still, the holidays can bring out the best, and the worst in all of us.

“Lizza!  What did you do?” I asked, fearful of the answer.

A smile played at her lips.  In an instant, memories of my child flashed through my mind.  Elizabeth elbowing an opponent twice her size during a basketball game.  Elizabeth throwing a rubber spider at a nurse in the Pediatric ICU and making her scream.  Elizabeth and her brother stuffing seaweed into Abby’s back pack before leaving the beach.

I have to admit that although my daughter looks angelic, she does not always make heavenly choices.

She hesitated a moment.  My stomach began to tighten.lizza beach_n

She broke out in a full faced grin.

My stomach tightened more, anticipating the worst.

“I paid for her drink.”

Merry Christmas to all.

Footprints

christmas_tree_decorations_200943It is December and Christmas magic is rolling in like fog across the ocean.  Secrets are whispered behind loved ones’ backs, bells and ribbons are pulled from the attic, and the aroma of pine and cinnamon send shivers down the spine.  The brown soil that November left behind is covered with fresh snow.  It is a time of peace, good tidings and joy.  Everyone is happy.  

Almost.

I came across my nephew’s post on Facebook tonight;

“The world has grown cold now that you’ve gone away, Constance Madison.”

It was followed by comments from my niece, my sister, and my daughter.  They shared the same sentiments.  As I read, the lump that I keep stuffed deep in my throat reminded me that it still lives.  My eyes threatened to spill the hot tears that I blink back whenever my heart longs for my mother, and I thought, “It has been almost four years.”  

It has only been four years.

Almost immediately, I thought of a Christmas carol I learned long ago.

When I was a child, my mother had a beautiful book of Christmas sheet music.  Each carol was meticulously illustrated with angelic children with blushing cheeks and curls gilded with glittering gold.  The pages were as much a delight to peruse as the strains of the noels it contained.

It was from this book that I learned all the traditional carols, from “Silent Night” to “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.”  My mother pounded the keys of our old upright piano, while we children clustered around her, eagerly chorusing for yet another favorite.   Some of the keys stuck. Some didn’t play at all, but to us it was music of the gods.

One of Mom’s favorite carols was “Good King Wenceslas.”  It’s not one of the more commonly sung carols, and I’ve never understood why, but I know why Mom loved it so.  

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. “
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

I remember my mother wearing the same old coat every winter.  She lived in a house with threadbare rugs and holes in the plaster walls.  But she never hesitated to give a portion of what she had to someone who was in need.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

I remember putting my small feet into my mother’s slippers when I was a child.  They were big and flopped from my feet.

“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

The slippers still held the heat from my mother, and warmed my icy toes.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

I think it is time to walk where my mother stepped.  To take up where she left off- to christmasmirror her love, and kindness. To give a little more and hold on to a little less. 

I close my eyes, and remember her smile, and the world is a bit warmer once again.

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