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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The way of things: a story about connecting

or...How a wooden bench beneath a grove of redwood trees connected perfect strangers in life through two unrelated deaths.

I've been working so much this term we haven't had much family time as of late so we decided to head up to one of our favorite local museums today, the Polk County Museum,  and take the circuitous route up Kings Valley Highway (Oregon Route 223). We figured we'd geocache along the way, stop off at the historic Ritner Creek Covered Bridge, poke around the side roads for new areas to explore, have lunch and a play for a bit at Dallas City Park, take a walk around the Delbert Hunter Arboretum and sit on a bench dedicated to my paternal grandmother, Beverly Gowey, then hit the museum for a few hours before heading home. On our way up Hwy. 223 we decided to take a brief detour to Ritner Creek Park, one we'd seen the sign to before but never been out to take a look. As it turned out, it's a park we're going to have to explore some more - plenty of good trails, picnic-ing, creekside and forest views, the works. But that's for another time. Back to the story...

When we got the the arboretum where the bench is dedicated to her, we found an elderly man sitting on it, reading a Michael Crichton novel, enjoying the shade from the sun, the flowering plants, the sound of the falls and pond, just taking in the beautiful day. Rather than disturb him, we decided to stroll around for a bit and come back a little later, see if he'd left.

On the drive up I had been telling my kids stories about Grammy Gowey, who she was, what she was like, how I remembered her, when and how she died (her fourth bout with cancer finally took her after 23,071 days on this rock), how long her and Great Grampie had been married (44 years), her wish for Cat and I that we'd enjoy more years of marriage than her and Grampie had, recounting all sorts of things for them. Because in being part of my history, it's also part of my children's history. Though they'd never met her in person, it's important to me that they know her.

And I really wanted to get a couple pictures of the bench and some with my kiddos and I sitting on the it so they could know just a little bit more of her. We decided to wander around for a bit, played at the creek (Finn found a large shard of old pottery she was particularly fond of), smelled the flowers, took pictures of whatever struck our fancy - just basked in the splendor of being a family.

Upon returning to the bench, we found the gentleman still there reading his book and taking in the day. He seemed to be enjoying his time and it wouldn't have been right to ask him to move so instead I asked if it would be alright if I took a picture of him enjoying the view from the bench that was dedicated to my grandmother (I showed him her name carved on the bench). He graciously obliged. But instead of heading back to the car after taking the picture, something told my heart to engage with him.

As it turns out, I'm so glad I did.

Meet Mr. Bill Morris ("my real name's William but everyone calls me Bill" he says to me). I take a seat next to him on the bench and listen, unsure of where the conversation will go but my heart fully engaged, ready and expectant for this conversational journey. My kiddos sat down next to me and peered up at us through squinted eyes shielding the sun, wondering perhaps who this gentleman is or why their Papa was talking to him. Whatever they were thinking, they said nothing and just squinted up at us.

Born in 1926, Mr. Morris has enjoyed a great deal of life in his 87 years here on this earth; experienced a great many things, raised four children, lived through The Great Depression, witnessed a world war and connected with countless people during his 30+ years at the small post office in the sleepy eastern Oregon town of Milton-Freewater. Cat and I both have friends and family that live over there and we asked him if he knows any of them. He searched through the deeply creased recesses of his mind and says, with a faraway look in his eye, "I used to know pretty much everyone - by name - over there but time has a way of letting some of those things go". The faraway look returns to the present and he turns to gaze at us, casting a warm smile.

We ask what brought him to Dallas, Oregon and he says his wife DeLores did, or, more correctly the Alzheimer's disease that was robbing her of her memories. Having few options for her care in the small hamlets east of the Cascades, one of his sons recommended a facility in Dallas and so they found themselves heading west. That was four years ago, he tells us, and the Alzheimer's finally took her last week on April 22, 2013. He tells us, with a hint of heaviness in his heart but an acceptance of life's turns, that towards the end her memories had been so robbed that she didn't even remember him anymore, making it difficult for him to visit her. I asked how long they'd been married, a gleam came to his eye and he smiled at me and replied, slowly but deliberately, "sixty two years. Sixty two years".

My heart swam with emotions.

I rose, took his hand in mine for a heartfelt shake and congratulated him on such an amazing accomplishment, noting that Cat and I planned to see what sixty two years together was like. He indicated that he, too, hoped we would. We visited about a great number of things for some length of time that was completely (and happily) lost on us. Did we know the Waterman's in Corvallis? What was it like living through the depression? How many years were my grandparents together? The birth a couple of days ago of his most recent great grandchild. Photography, flowers, love and commitment, loneliness, relationships, life's challenges and rewards, missionaries, travel, you name it. No matter that we'd just met each other, the conversation seemed so natural, so meant to be.

Eventually, as the conversation started to wane and we prepared to head over to the museum, Finn stood up, walked up to him and explained that she'd found a piece of old pottery in the creek and she wanted him to have it. He looked truly surprised (and pleased/moved) to accept a gift that obviously meant so much to this little girl. And yet Finn was so content with it. We thanked him for the conversation, said we'd be praying for strength and peace for him and his family over the coming weeks and we started back towards the car so as to catch the museum before it closed.

On the walk back, Cat and I were both struck at how remarkable it was that we happened across Mr. Morris today; remarkable in that in the death of our respective loved ones, we were brought together at that bench; remarkable that given our continuously changing plans throughout the day, it worked out so that we'd bump into Mr. Morris. We were both of the same mind that the real reason we'd come up north today was NOT for the museum (as we originally thought) but instead to visit with Mr. Morris and reflect on how precious life is. And in that simple act of connecting, Cat said how strongly she felt that we'd just demonstrated to our kids something so precious, and yet so vital, about life - responding to our heart's call, connecting with people, sharing, listening, respecting, honoring, loving.  And I couldn't agree more.

In that one simple act of connecting to another person, we were reminded of how incalculably precious and fleeting life is, how truly remarkable it really is and how fully blessed we are. I hope you get the chance to respond to something laid on your heart and connect with a complete stranger. Such wonderfully strange things happen.

Mexican Mocha

Mummy's idea of a Mexican mocha.

Mummy (to Goo): I wouldn't mind a Mexican mocha this morning...
Finn: What's a Mexican mocha? Oh, wait. I know what it is. It's a mocha that Mexican's make.
Mummy (laughing): Um, well, no not exactly...

While that wasn't what Cat had in mind, maybe this is more of what Finn had in mind...
Finn's idea of a Mexican mocha.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Holding my son's hand

My boy grabbed my hand  in church this morning and said he wanted to hold it...like this. I leaned over and whispered to him that I loved it. He leaned over, smiled big, and said he did, too. I love being his father...