Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bringing "It" Up

When the time came to get a new vacuum cleaner, I went looking for info. One model caught my attention. It had a decent number of reviews on a decent variety of sites, many written in detail by people clearly -- and sometimes amusingly -- passionate about their vacuum cleaners. A few reviewers described it as a good machine, but with one significant drawback -- the canister is way too small. I looked awhile longer before finally picking up the one with the reportedly-too-small canister.

We got the thing assembled and went to work, and -- oh my. By the time I was halfway done with the main floor, that little canister was filled with dust, hair, little crumbs of doggie snacks left by our careless canine, even glitter. (Seriously, glitter! Where did that come from??) I had to empty the canister twice that night. Perhaps those reviewers were right, and this otherwise-quality machine has a major design flaw.

Sirius contributes much to the collection...
Then again, maybe the issue isn't with the machine. Perhaps the issue is one of mismatched expectations. After all, our house is clean, right? I should be able to vacuum all day long and still not have a a bucket of dirt, right?


There is all sorts of stuff I don't see beneath the surface, and to blame the vacuum for bringing it up would really be missing the point.

And oh, how like life. Even when it seems that everything is humming along smoothly, a discerning "vacuum" can bring up quite a variety of stuff not apparent to my unaided eye. Though I may not always like what I see, to place blame on God or the others around me for bringing it up (whatever "it" happens to be) would really be missing the point.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting."
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 3: Lost

The back door was open as I sat at our dining room table. Sirius slept on the floor nearby and the house was quiet except for the tippity-tapping of my keyboard. Then there was a sudden fluttering by my hand, so impossibly silent that I thought I'd imagined it.

Glancing up, I saw that a bird had gotten off track and found its way into our home. It darted over to the windows of our little kitchen alcove. I watched, fascinated by this tiny creature. It was not just a bird, but a hummingbird, and hummingbirds are amazing.

I approached hesitantly, not wanting to frighten him, and stood watching as he glided along the glass surface, bumping it gently in his quest for the out-of-doors. He fluttered back and forth within the bounds of the window frame as I started snapping pictures -- first from a distance, then gradually closer.

He was clearly out of his element, lost and confused. I was feeling a bit similarly, wanting to help this unfamiliar guest and not knowing how. I opened the nearby window and took out the screen, placing a piece of mango peel on the sill in case that might draw his attention. Then, very carefully, I raised the blinds. Fascinated, and uncertain what else to do, I drew closer yet -- so close, in fact, that I could feel the air beneath his tiny wings as he hovered just inches away.

He settled eventually onto the top of the blinds and rested there awhile. We regarded each other, each perched steadily on two feet.

When he finally came out from that window space, he did not go through the open window nearby nor through the still-open door, but instead ascended to the ceiling and followed its sloped contours to the far wall, to yet another window.

He continued his flight awhile, nudging the glass in his ongoing search for the bigger sky, before coming to rest, his tiny body beautifully balanced on the top edge of an open booklet.

I was intrigued. Like a small child, I found myself asking Can I keep him? The answer, of course, was no. This tiny creature belonged outside, and would need to soon be on his way toward his next sustaining meal. Slowly, gently, I placed a box over his body and a temporary cardboard floor beneath his feet, then released him out on the deck. He flew quickly away, finally unhindered by the transparent confusion of glass. I was appreciative of the encounter, and glad also that he was returning to his natural home.

I've been thinking about this feathered fellow for several weeks now. He was an experienced hummingbird, probably quite competent under the usual circumstances of his life. But when he found himself in a new situation, he couldn't seem to get past his own assumptions; the directly skyward orientation which probably serves well on other days simply did not work inside the house. He needed a little help from someone with a broader view and an outside perspective, and he needed that help to be not just informationally accurate, but sensitive and gentle, respectful of his situation and of his nature.

And doesn't that describe us pretty well in humanity, too? We learn and grow, developing understanding and skills to become generally able to respond to much of what life throws our way. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves in situations where the usual responses don't work; we get stuck, and stuck further by assumptions which have become so ingrained in us that we don't even realize they're there. At such times, the engaged presence of a friend with broader view and outside perspective, offered with sensitivity and respect, can be a tremendous gift.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Imaginary Friend

It was around fifteen years ago that I decided to test out the junk mail system by responding to one "request for information" card with five letters of our name changed. Several weeks passed and, sure enough, we started receiving quite a variety of mail addressed to this other name. Hundreds of pieces, actually, offering insurance, cable, cars, vacations, education, and all sorts of other stuff over the years, though we've never responded and have never written that fictitious name again.

We moved after two years and, within a matter of weeks, this other Mr. S. apparently moved back in with us.

Today, thirteen years later and having moved again, we were welcomed to our neighborhood by a dry cleaning company offering its services -- to this fellow who is nothing more than a figment of my imagination.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Seeing People

While introducing a song recently, the radio guy talked about someone (the artist, perhaps?) whose heart has been captured by the reality of the humanity all around him. As a result, this fellow is intentional about really showing up more fully in his interactions -- not just with family and friends, but in gas stations, coffee shops, and all sorts of other everyday places. He learns the names of people working at places he frequents most regularly, as one little step forward in showing respect for their individuality and perhaps even getting to know them a bit along the way. He described seeing those around him more as people now, "not as if they were props in a movie about me." That is a great perspective, and an example I want to follow.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 2: Mutual Threat

The school where I taught was mostly surrounded by fields with cows and horses, so it wasn't entirely uncommon for the critters of nature to find their way onto the grounds. And, because I was the science teacher, people tended to bring them to me, figuring that science teachers like such things. (I had a different perspective -- but it's the thought that counts.) One of the biggest, hairiest spiders I've ever seen (other than tarantulas) was bottled up on my desk one day. Another time, someone excitedly yelled for me to come, so I went running -- into a small room where he'd found a black widow. There were a few rodents, a bat which had taken up residence on a back wall, and various other creepy-crawlies during my years there.

I'm a bit squeamish, mostly because I really don't like being surprised and the little buggers are sneaky. Still, I know lots of good reasons to appreciate these animals, and really didn't mind them too much under reasonably controlled circumstances. I even took a field trip where I intentionally set an example for my students by holding the animals handed to me -- not just a bird, but also a tarantula, a Madagascar hissing cockroach, and some rather large snakes.

Fast-forward to the present...

I returned home and suddenly noticed this at our porch:

After a few moments of "Auugggh! Snake!" I recovered my senses and approached.

Yes, this was indeed a snake, but I reminded myself he's just a little guy, and not really hazardous. These ones tend to respond cautiously to the world around them, slithering away from perceived threats rather than attacking. And really, even an attack isn't much of an issue for a me-sized mammal. In fact, I eventually decided that he was small enough to be non-threatening while still big enough that his back half was a decent distance from his mouth, so I took a deep breath and reached out to touch him. True to his species, he quickly slipped into that cement crack, out of sight.

Fear faced and disaster avoided... right?

Except that the place his slipped into is a snake-sized crack where the steps have shifted a little bit away from the porch as the ground has settled. And when I came out of the house a little later, I found that he'd returned to that same spot to sun himself, as snakes do.

He slid back behind the steps when he decided I was too close again.

...and then came out yet again awhile later.

The snake rustles noticeably as he drops back into the soil and dried leaves which have slipped into that crack and accumulated there, so it sounds like a much bigger creature, or even (to my active imagination) like a wild snake party back there. Unfortunately, I really can't see much from any angle:

It's just a snake.

Just a harmless little garden snake.

And he's more frightened of me than I am of him.

But I still wish he were not hanging out at our front porch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Encountering Nature, Part 1: Mountains

When I was a kid, our house was surrounded by trees. Not a few trees, nor an orchard of trees, but entire forests of trees. I spent many hours walking through the forest with my collie dog, Shadow. More of a city dweller now, and planted in a desert rather than a rain forest, nature still draws me.

I drove to Evanston and back yesterday, and admired the mountains. They stand bold and sturdy against the sky, colors reflecting the season they're in, shaped slowly by the forces of nature.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills --
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth."
(Psalm 121:1-2)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Meaningful Space

I have an office at home now, which is awesome. It is pleasant space, intentionally created. I'm not very artsy, not very design-oriented. But the process of moving in here has been significant to me in pondering what is important and beneficial, both in "practical" terms and in the deeper parts of being human.

bookcaseThere are three sturdy, adjustable bookcases -- enough for the books which really "fit" in my office, without being so much that I'd try to put all of the other books in there, too. So the books I use are pretty much all within arm's reach, which is convenient.

These books represent significant influences in my life, people who have played a part in shaping my thoughts and my character. I haven't met most of the authors, of course, but have been changed in some way by many of them. Even more, they remind me of real-life people who have challenged and encouraged me in so many ways. As I work, the books around me stand to silently proclaim that none of us exists in a vacuum, none stands alone.

shelf stuff
The bookshelves have other stuff on them, too, including a handmade doll, movie action figure, clay cup, stuffed bear, and several sculptures. They are touchable, holdable. Their value is far beyond monetary, far beyond mere intellectual ideas. These items represent significant people, a-ha experiences, and line-in-the-sand moments. All hold stories -- of hope, transformation, challenge, purpose, legacy, life, love. These are stories close to my heart, the kind that come to mind often in conversation, though not always spoken aloud.

There is a storage cabinet in the office, too, and I am trying really hard to figure out how to use it well. Office supplies are a potential source of constant clutter, which I'm trying to eliminate. But the stuff in here is actually useful and gets used, and I've narrowed it down to what truly belongs here. The biggest exception, of course, is the Dust Bunnies on the top shelf, who stand watch against excess clutter forming in their cabinet domain :)

The window is south-facing, so the sun streams in with the warmth of its light. In the winter, I will be able to see the dawn from the cozy warmth of this little room. The progression of the day is apparent through this window, too, a reminder of the passing of time, of the importance of each day -- and all the more clear as I look out into this neighborhood with its people whom I am still just beginning to get to know and love.

And, in my little home office, pretty much every day is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Once he's been fed and outside in the morning, Sirius naps awhile, usually settling nearby on the rug. He snores and twitches occasionally, and sometimes meanders to a new spot and walks in little circles to create a virtual little nest like his relatives in the wild. He doesn't do much, and I enjoy having him nearby. He doesn't have to be useful to be loved. None of us does.