It was THE perfect summer day in rural Ohio circa 1994. The sun was bright but there was a slight breeze that made the hot and humid air more tolerable. (Bless). The royal sky was speckled with fluffy, little cumulus clouds. It was next to impossible to keep at your normal activities. This day called for throwing responsibility out the window, sprawling out in the grass (or if you hate nature, on a blanket), sipping sun tea (remember that?) and taking it all in.
And that is exactly what I did. I made myself comfy and watched clouds resembling dinosaurs and faces roll by. But this beautiful day wasn’t the only thing I was taking in. While I often lost myself in nature, this time, I wasn’t alone. She was sitting next to me in a white resin patio chair under a shady Maple tree. She was holding a juicy peach in one hand and a pairing knife in the other. Every few minutes she’d cut a slice of peach and savor it slowly.
While she was enjoying her peach, I watched her. (I know, complete creeper.) I noticed the deep-set wrinkles on her face and the age spots on her small hands – a working farm and hot southern sun to blame. She sat legs crossed, with her tiny feet in classic white Keds. She always had an affinity for things that sparkled and today was no different. She wore colored cotton capris and a glittery tee shirt. Rings adorned her short fingers while a heart necklace hung around her neck. Her curly snow-white hair seemed to mock the clouds and she smelled of Jergens and hair spray. I loved everything about her. Her presence made for the best two weeks of my summer.
What wasn’t visible to the naked eye was the size of her heart. She was uncomprehendingly loving. She loved everyone as if they were her family – even people she had just met. Her love had no bounds. Her house was as open to people as her heart was to love them. Every holiday I spent at her house with our family, people would just drop in and join us in our celebrations. I tend to think that she was “home” to a lot of people. She’d always tell them, “You fellers getcha somethin’ to eat.”
If you were in her house, you were part of the family and you were encouraged to eat, or at least drink a cup of coffee. And, while you were eating your food and drinking your coffee, you’d be graced with demonstrative story telling, loads of conversation and laughs, and maybe even a card game or two. Rook anyone?
She taught me so much about being The Church, loving people and serving others without saying one word. My Mawmaw’s actions were louder than her voice could ever be and this is what they said:
Open your heart to love others. Tear down your walls and invite them in. Invite them into your heart and home. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be challenged. Know where you end and other people begin. This is the foundation of learning to love unconditionally.
Don’t base your decision to be authentic, vulnerable and relational on how other people behave. Be those things, and look for the people that treat you well and add value to your life. These are your people.
Cook for people.
Prepare a seat at your table for them. So what if you aren’t the Pioneer Woman! This is the Age of Pinterest, my friends. Find a simple meal, make it 100 times if you have to, but have people over to eat real food at a welcoming table. Sharing home cooked meals makes for satisfied bellies, open hearts and creates space for bonding. A recent study suggests that when sharing food “family style”, people engage with their prosocial selves and become more altruistic. Let’s do that, for ourselves and each other.
Make time for others.
Be inclusive. Bring people into your life and “do life” with them. It truly is as simple as spending time with other people in your normal every day activities. This is how intimacy is built among friends. Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, you don’t have to have a 5-course meal prepared, you don’t have to be completely organized and you don’t have to finish that project before you can hang out with someone. Keep the focus of quality time with others where it belongs and make spending time with friends and family a priority. If you absolutely have to have something finished, run errands, or make dinner for your family – invite them to be a part of it! If you are just sitting around doing nothing, do nothing with other people! You don’t always have to “entertain” people.
Cherish the old.
Old ways of doing things like churning butter, canning, making jam, growing a garden and tending to an apiary.
Old friendships that have withstood all seasons of life.
Old ways of spending quiet time like reading books and poetry, writing hand-written notes, knitting, sewing, playing music and games.
Old ways of doing life with people; raising kids, going to church, and helping each other with things around the house – as a community.
The “old” way of doing things is such a lost art in this postmodern, tech-savvy society. So often, free time is spent inside on a device instead of connecting with others, spending time in nature or engaging our creative selves. There is such value in simplicity and quiet. Put down your phone and lift up your head. Go outside, write a letter to a friend, plant a garden. You will find your life enriched and peace restored.
Make time every day to just BE STILL. Get a swing, hammock or rocking chair, put it outside and spend time in it. No one can be upset in any of these things. It’s a fact.
July 1, 2017, Minerva Carolyn Kirk moved on to be with Jesus. It’s hard for me to see these words in text, still. She was my first Great Loss. Grief has a way of ripping off our security blanket, stripping away the blinders and making us question everything. It can reveal things about us that we never knew were there and can be a profound teacher, if we allow it.
I found myself wanting to cling to things that reminded me of who she was. If I could remember who she was, maybe I could carry on her values to my children who will unfortunately never know her – except through me. So, I will wear her ring and remind myself to reach out my hand to others and be open. I will cook for people and serve them food at my table in her Corningware. I will spend time with others and share coffee in her mugs. I will grow a garden and remember how much I grew from her example. I will install a porch swing and learn to be still.