Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Parla come magni

“Speak the way you eat” or something to that effect, is something I pulled out of a book I am reading titled “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. At moments in the book I find nothing and everything in common with the author, whose journey through Italy, India and Indonesia puts her on a journey of self discovery and one might argue her path to loving God. I had a similar journey about 10 years ago, but most of it occurred within a 20 mile radius of Sacramento. So boring, and I doubt anyone would really want to read my memoir about it. I am convinced this Thanksgiving that life is simply a journey where we are required to eat, pray and love; in the process however, it would be nice to leave something worthwhile behind. Parla come magni, at the end of the day means “Keep it simple”.

Parla come magni…I remember a similar journey in the summer of 1983. My parents decided that the family should see Europe in a manner of weeks, much in the tenor of the film “Its Tuesday, it must be Belgium”. I have some great memories from that trip. Sometimes a moment becomes a mantra and there was one event in Holland that indelibly defined my family. We had exited the tour bus in Amsterdam and my mom wanted to see the home of Anne Frank. The rest of us were hungry and disoriented after standing in front of Rembrandt’s famed ‘Nightwatch’. Mom was irritable and probably LBS (low blood sugar)…so she took off in a fit. Being a woman who is perimenopausal, I thought my mom was nuts back then (little did I know at age 20). Realizing that we should all probably follow her, we all sort of stepped into the pace, except we did it in single file, sort of spontaneously. Mom, Terry, Tricia, Dad and Me all walking single file down the street…when suddenly to break up the tension, Dad started to quack. Like a duck. “Quack..quack…quack…” with each alternating step we took, looking ridiculously American in the process, the spectacle of it became quite funny. I think at one point Mom couldn’t be mad any more. We were all laughing hysterically. It stuck. In later years, when Pop walked us all down the aisle at our weddings, he quacked. Whenever we found ourselves in line anywhere, the quacking would intuitively start. We were forever known as the duck family. We’ve added a lot of ducks since then and everyone has been initiated. Yeah, it’s a weird family thing. Families can be that way.

I am thankful for a life where eating, praying and loving is part of the recipe of my family. This thanksgiving, give thanks for the good times, the bad and all the in-betweens. My own family, that being JD, Shannon, Conor & Birdy have sort of followed me, lock, stock and barrel through some hair brained ideas, absolute demands and long term commitments. Whether it was whether or not, we were going to continue homeschooling, where we would go on vacation, go to Mass on Sundays or eat dinner, they always went along with the Mama Duck. When I took time off to take care of Pop and as I start my year long nursing program this January, the kids have always honored and stepped into pace with the disruptions in their lives. I asked Shannon to take on some major responsibilities now that she is all grown up, and she has complied with each request, without too much quacking and Birdy and Conor have done the same. I guess I am the luckiest mother duck on earth. No one complains much. I guess the duck family was born, long before Amsterdam 1983 somewhere in the genes of some Irish people with a sense of humor, or some Italians too mad to come to blows.

J.D. is willing to support his crazy wife who wants to be a nurse and has always been there to walk beside me in this journey of life, like a great spouse and best girlfriend. With a journey that involves simplicity, complexity and sometimes insanity, this Thanksgiving, I wish you joy in eating, praying and loving your family. It’s an insane and wonderful life. From my duck family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

All shall be well

Next week my Dad goes back to the hospital for surgery. It was three years ago this month that he faced a similar situation and we almost lost him. I know things are going to be better this time because I have faith that ‘all shall be well.’ It would be a waste to worry and fret. We’ve done that before and it made us crazy. I was cleaning out my old desk in my bedroom and noticed a card a friend had given JD a couple years ago with the words “All shall be well” inscribed across the card. I tossed it to JD and said that we should hang onto that. Reminders are just that…little urgings from the past telling us that everything is going to be OK. This brings me to a column I wrote a few years back during Lent and I wanted to revisit it again because I need to remind myself sometimes to stop fretting. Some things are just beyond my control.

The reminder is for those who might be going through a rough patch right now. Whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one or suffering some insurmountable loss of health or bad news about a loved one. You know who you are. You are the ones that suffer mostly in silence. You try your hardest at work and at home to put on a happy face. When people ask how you are doing, the only words you can find are, “Everything’s just fine…thanks.” But when you get into the shower or collapse into bed at night, you let the tears fall. In secret you are suffering because you have a lot of things on your mind and you know you need to keep going. Maybe life has dealt you some hard blows and bad cards. Perhaps you are suffering the loss of a job or financial woes. I see those of you who are not sleeping at night, maybe because you are losing your home or your job and you are wondering how bad it’s going to be, now that the Holidays are approaching. Maybe your business isn’t doing as well as you expected, or that home renovation project is driving you crazy. Some of you are struggling with managing it all…school, work and home. Perhaps you are failing to meet expectations you and others have placed on you. It’s very difficult. Hard times happen and we don’t always understand the reasons why. A friend of mine who is a priest reminded me today that there is the hardship of carrying a cross (a mystery), but our hope is in the glory of bearing it well.

Some of you have loved ones who are far away from home. The worry is getting to you. Your teenager might be having emotional or scholastic problems. Maybe your marriage has fallen into a rut. Perhaps you are lonely or have suffered a betrayal in a close friendship. Without becoming absolutely too maudlin in outlining common problems many people suffer in days like these, I offer you a few thoughts, only because you’ve been on my mind.

You are not alone, even when it seems as if you are. This too, shall pass….and no problem is bigger than your own strength to bear it. Don’t give in to despair. Try and persevere. Sometimes, the highest thing we can do to beat problems like these, is to be absolutely dedicated to helping others with a kind word or deed. Maybe you can’t do much right now. Perhaps picking up the phone and calling someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, mending a fence, delivering a meal to a neighbor, or writing a letter to a loved one would give you a brighter outlook. Finding a kind word, hugging someone who needs one, lending an ear and listening well, make our own problems seem less significant. Negativity breeds contempt and bitterness. Make time for family. Try to relax and slow down.

If you are ill, the very idea of usefulness escapes you. But your work is valuable and has meaning. Perhaps your primary job is that of using your own suffering as a means to sanctify those around you. Perhaps you are teaching patience to others by your own example of suffering. Your virtue is your patience.

So much is changing besides the season. Be patient and unafraid. Sorrow is seasonal, like a rough and cold winter. If you are in the throes of a difficult time, this, too shall pass and Spring is only a few months away.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and a bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@sbcglobal.net