Author Archives: Margaret

About Margaret

My life centers around the homestead we continue to carve out in our mountain cove. A "far piece" from my earlier lives as Ivy Leaguer, Senate staffer, journalist and Suzuki teacher and janitor and cafeteria cashier and....you name a job: I've probably worked it. Some things are constants: I write, novels (published and non-), a play, columns and book reviews. I read, endlessly and compulsively. I swim, a mile a day during the week. And somewhere in there, I homeschooled and raised three marvelous children who are now out in the world doing good things. And now, I'm going to....?

Still Waiting for Post-Race Euphoria

The medal and post-race free pizza weren’t the real reward for finishing Sunday’s half-marathon. The best gift was what I learned about my son Marshall along the way.

This is not a post about endurance sports. I promise.

Remember, in my day, once we grew out of kickball and four-square, sports for girls weren’t all that common. Anyway, I did music. As an adult, thanks to the hours spent watching my kids’ swim team practice, I did learn to swim. So when I exercise, laps are what I do.

But Sunday I walked the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon . (The half, I hastily add.)

FullSizeRender (12)What on earth for? I wish I’d kept the answer in mind during the race, because when surrounded by thousands of serious and spandexed  marathoners (Knoxville is a qualifying race for Boston), it was easy to feel like a lowly slug in comparison.

YES, those are fatal words, those last two, and it continues to be my goal to eliminate them from my mental vocabulary. But that’s another post for another day.

So, why the walk? My motivation was clear back in December when I decided to train for it. First, the osteopenia (pre-osteoporis) had gotten much worse since my last bone density scan.  Swimming doesn’t help that; serious weight-bearing exercise does. Making myself walk before my pool laps seemed a safer idea than taking the meds my docs recommended.

Second, I dread winter. I have several chronic illnesses, and illness isolates. I needed something to look forward to, a forced focus on spring. My husband dreams of his garden; I needed something more tangible. Training for an April half-marathon wouldn’t cost anything except better shoes, and I could multi-task on the track by listening to podcasts to ramp up my French, another goal.

But the real clincher for mother-me: I wanted to challenge my very busy son Marshall to get more exercise. He shot a challenge right back: he’d sign up if my husband and I would go see a financial planner to discuss pre-retirement planning, something we were about as enthusiastic about doing as going to an endodontist.  But we did, and he did (OK, not necessarily in that order), along with his wife Shannon and my husband, and the rest is history.

We trained, we stopped training due to various injuries, we trained some more. The weekly long walks (9 miles around the track? are you kidding me?) seemed interminable. But we made it through the Hal Higdon half marathon program I found online. More or less. I made it through winter.

And Sunday at 4:30 AM (my time) we got up to go race. And despite my joint issues (psoriatic arthritis) and the reactive hypoglycemia I also live with which can bottom out my blood sugar if I don’t eat frequent careful snacks  (NOT the Powerade and energy GU the kindly volunteers gave out en route which in my case could be disastrous), we finished.

Well, I completely forgot that just-finishing was all I’d hoped to do. (Some days, more than I’d hoped to do.) When I saw all those runners sprint home, I felt like, ‘hey, all I did was walk.’ I forgot WHY I did it in the first place. So, this reminder to self. I walked for health. I walked to show myself that just because I have illnesses and am nearing 60 (both my parents died in their 60s), life isn’t over. I walked to fight back against the near-crippling anxiety (ok, and depression) that too often want to paralyze me.

And I did all that. Plus I got the t-shirt, the goody bag, the cheers in Neyland Stadium when we crossed the finish line. Oh, and that free pizza.

marathon medal

But I also received one unexpected and much more amazing gift.

During those 13.1 miles I discovered I have an eldest son who has a heart as tall as he is (six feet).  Through the entire walk I witnessed him put aside every one of his own race ambitions and become our family team’s spirit and cheerleader. He and his wife Shannon could have finished long (long!!) before my husband and I. But, no, he stayed with us, encouraging me on, urging (ok, insisting) that I eat, even and especially when I hit that “leave me alone, I’m not hungry, I hate eating, go AWAY!” growling stage of the hypoglycemia that hit hard around mile six. He swallowed his impatience when we old people took stretch or port-a-potty breaks. He stayed level-headed and upbeat throughout, insisting when I suggested he and Shannon go on ahead, “no, we trained as a team. We finish as a team!”

So we did. Walking four-abreast into his beloved Vols’ Neyland Stadium to the cheers and applause of the kindly spectators who still remained.

That’s a lot to get out of one walk. That’s kind of euphoric enough, if I think about it. Here he is, my race hero, Marshall, with his wife:

FullSizeRender (11)

 

Though now I am kind of wondering–how hard would it really be to run it next year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strangers in our Strange Land

wire-fenceI was stopped cold this morning at Mass in our recitation of today’s psalm. The words were almost too painful to say, given our president’s recent travel ban on refugees trying to enter our country.

“The Lord keeps faith forever,

secures justice for the oppressed….

The Lord sets captives free.”

And

“The Lord protects strangers.”

If I were sitting at an airport with the few possessions I had left after fleeing a place like war-ravaged Syria, I would wonder where that justice is. Where that God is, who promised to set me free. Where the people of faith are, for that matter, those who supposedly live by such words, the people who profess to believe that they are to follow the Gospel, which outright declares its support for the poor and wretched of the earth.

The Book of Deuteronomy puts it even more bluntly:
‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Ouch.

I used to wonder how a victim of one of Hitler’s concentration camps could possibly manage to retain faith in the face of such horror. Faith in humanity or faith in God.

Many of them, I suspect, couldn’t. I don’t know if I’d be able to. If I were crying out day after day for help, for sustenance, for some end to what I was enduring.

The fact is, God doesn’t usually swoop down and with some swish of the divine magic wand open gates and free the oppressed. God tends to leave that work up to his faithful, indeed, entrusts that work to the faithful. We are explicitly called to minister to the sick, the poor, the abandoned, the imprisoned, the stranger. In today’s second liturgical reading, we are reminded of that: “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.”

Are we remembering our calling? Or are we preferring the much more comfortable state of blindness, to others’ needs, to our own responsibility?refugee-words

Not to mention to our own nation’s tradition from its inception of welcoming immigrants to our shores.

I don’t know what action each of us is called to in response to this latest ban on refugees. I understand that most of us don’t have the ability of a leader like the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to say–to America’s shame–Come on in! We’ll take you! We welcome you!

But each of us is called to do something.

 

Healing Our Land

In an effort to put a few positive moments into a recent week of mostly negative, James and I went for a woods walk on the Sewanee Domain.  It’s something we don’t usually do because there’s so much work to do on our acreage, but this was a psychological necessity.

James pointed out this one spot:

fullsizer

Do you see anything wrong with it? To me, it looks exactly like the rest of what we were walking in.  Quiet woods, leaf-coated earth. Trees and more trees.

But that’s the point. It used to be the site of the Sewanee dump. James, who roamed all over this mountain as a teen, remember several decades ago when it was piles of bottles and tin cans, rusted bedsprings, a discarded washer and dryer. And now it’s woodland.

It’s healed.

This made me think of what’s needed in order for healing of any kind to happen. Time, obviously, but not just that. Some active effort to deal with what was there.

Beginning with the decision to stop adding more junk.

There’s something in this that seems to offer a lesson to us in this tumultuous year, as we try to heal some of the wounds caused–and revealed– by the election.

We need time, obviously. A little distance. Already, several weeks post-election, the emotional intensity has lessened.

But not simply time. Because I’m not advocating that we pretend the wounds–and the issues– aren’t there.

So we need to take a couple of active steps as well. For instance, each of us might think of some way to reach across whatever division we believe exists between us and whoever we consider “the other.” We might think of some positive action that would contribute towards our nation’s well-being.

But first we need to stop the trash-talking.

Which means that at a fundamental level, we need to recognize that differences of color or race or political affiliation need to matter less than the reality that we’re all human beings worthy of respect and compassion. That we’re all, well, Americans.

This is the hardest part, I think. Accepting that it’s up to us to make the decision to change our attitude.

Or end up with a ruined land full of junk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Words When There Are None

america

I’m not a crier, but so far I’m three-for-three in terms of places visited and number of emotional breakdowns this morning.

Words fail.

But here’s my disjointed attempt to articulate a fraction of my reaction, here in this buckle-on-the-Bible-belt, reddest-of-red areas in a red state, after yesterday’s election.

I’m not going into the whys and wherefores. News and social media will continue to do all that. I just want to offer this sentence from the late Robert McAfee Brown, Presbyterian minister, activist and author:

“A moral society will be a society of participants rather than spectators,” he says in his book on the famous Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity:

There are many troubling parallels between the German election of Hitler and our own recent contribution to history. One of Hitler’s great appeals was that he gave a troubled and divided Germany a simple reason for their discomfort: the Jews. And a single solution: get rid of them. People then and now seem to prefer simple solutions. And self-proclaimed saviors to rally around.

A point made months ago by a national elected official reluctant to support Trump but doing so anyway was that any threat from the man at the top would be minimal because he could be controlled by his advisors.

They said the exact same thing about Hitler.

Chilling that today is the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” the night when the hitherto-quieter actions against the Jews in Nazi Germany became public, with Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes smashed and burned and thousands of Jews arrested and thrown into concentration camps.

While the vast majority of German civilians stood by and watched and did nothing.

So this is what I want to say. Let’s not be bystanders. If we see injustice or prejudice in the coming months, let us speak up. If we’re troubled by whatever occurs, let us speak out. Whatever it is, let’s do our part to create a moral society. Let’s be participants, not bystanders.

In the middle of the nightmare that was last night’s electoral college counting, I finally was able to fall asleep by reciting the first lines from one of those songs we learned long ago in grade school: “God Bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her, and guide her, Through the night with the light from above.”

It feels like we’re in that night. It feels like we need that light. But we can’t just sit passively and assume some higher power –or somebody else –will provide it. We need to light a few candles ourselves.

candle

 

 

The Language of The Game

marshall-vols-stadium

Caveat: my understanding of football came to an abrupt halt in my early teens when my brothers got a whole lot bigger and stronger than I was, and touch football in the front  yard became a thing of history.

But I have one observation after watching the Tennessee Vols lose to South Carolina last night in a game that should have been a shoo-in.

It’s easy to say ”they lost” and shake your head in dismay (or disgust, depending on how much of a Vols fan you are).

But those two words don’t even begin to explain all that went on.  Mistakes, yes, but also a lot of injuries and missing players who’ve been key to the team. “They lost” essentially erases all the effort and training that go into making up each individual moment of each separate play. “They lost” dismisses the reality of three hours in which a few dozen young men risk their bodies and their brains in a game they’ve spent years trying to perfect.

Isn’t this sadly so much like life? Especially life as we’re experiencing it right now in our divided nation?  It’s so easy–aka usual–to sum a person up in a few words and leave it at that. “He’s Republican,” we say, and immediately assume we know all about him. Or “she’s a liberal,” ditto. In our tiny college town, plagued by town/gown division from the beginning of time, it’s easy to say “he’s mountain–(ie a townie)–” or conversely, “she’s faculty,” and believe we’ve pigeon-holed a person’s educational status and political beliefs.  To think we’ve predicted how they’ll speak and act in every forthcoming situation.

Which also means we’ve dismissed all the struggle that have gone into making  that person the nuanced individual he is. We’ve ignored the entirety of the person in favor of a single easy label.

Which makes it very likely we’ve predetermined the way we’re going to view the person from then on.

Another word for “prejudice?”

So here’s to using just a few more words. Here’s to remembering that language is a tool that can metaphorically dig us into the ground (where we leave our metaphorical heads and also our brains) or expand our understanding, our vision, and– oh yes– our compassion.

Here’s to saying “they lost, but…..” And filling in a few of the circumstances. Here’s to saying “he’s a Republican AND…” (or a Democrat or a Catholic or a Floridian or whatever) and filling in some of the blanks.

Here’s to making ourselves work just a tad harder to see the whole complexity of the person, not just the tagline.

(And if you want to know more about the game last night, here’s Coach Butch Jones himself to fill in the details.)

(photo credit to Marshall Stephens)

 

 

I Kid You Not, a Kangaroo?

On a lighter note–since a couple of readers commented that my last post was a bit dismal–picture me sitting at a stoplight in Manchester. Picture me bored with the usual scenery: McDonalds, Baskin-Robbins, Raceway, and glancing over at the trailer in the next lane. Picture me looking closer to see if there’s a horse inside.

Then picture this face sticking out, grass dripping from either side of a busily-chewing mouth.kangaThat, my friends, is a kangaroo. (Not my picture, sadly. I don’t take pictures while driving.)

Give me  a break, you’re saying. In Manchester? Sure it hosts Bonnaroo every June, and our quiet rural Tennessee is flooded with a lot of peculiar-(to us, anyway) looking people. But–a kangaroo?

Am I sure it wasn’t a llama? On first sight, no way. I’ve seen a number of llamas around farms in our area, and it didn’t look like that.

i.e. This:llamaExcept, yes, on further investigation, I have to admit they do look an awful lot alike.

So maybe it was just a llama, on its way to a new farm to do whatever llamas do best. Guard other livestock, apparently, or provide pricey fleece.

But I’ll stick with my original belief. Because it’s a time when I could use a moment of pure nonsense dropped my way (see last post). Perhaps you, too. And, apologies to any Australians, there are not a lot of animals more amusing-looking than a kangaroo.

kanga mother

So, a poll here, folks. Llama, or kangaroo?

And I won’t hold it against you if you vote against the latter.

Like a Stone

poolWhen my youngest brother was a toddler, he managed to fall into a swimming pool, diapers and all, and sink straight to the bottom where he sat (he claims today) eyes open wide, gazing around while he waited for our oldest brother to jump in and pull him out. (Which he did.)

Possibly, knowing Paul, while he was waiting he continued calmly pondering on with whatever deep philosophical problem he’d been preoccupied with when he tumbled in.

Leaving aside for now the question of why the grown-ups–our parents and the friend who owned the pool–didn’t notice, it’s the image of Paul at the bottom of the pool I want to talk about.

Because that’s me and always has been. Sitting at the bottom of the pool, in over my head, at times waiting not-so-patiently to be pulled out because I don’t have the life skills to rescue myself.

(The grownups–yes, those two–were too preoccupied with their own insanities to have taught those.)

Yet time after time, I did figure out a way to get myself afloat again. No matter which deep pool clueless-me got tossed into. And I was usually fairly clueless, indeed.  I learned I was leaving Tennessee at fifteen to go north to Exeter, for instance, when I came home from swimming (seems to be a theme here) and found an admissions rep in our living room. I sat on the piano bench, still in my wet swimsuit, and answered his questions without a clue what it was I was getting into. It’s a boarding school, I told my friends, like where girls go to learn to ride and dance. Which is what I’d gleaned from reading various British girls’ books.

Not.

But I figured out how to survive there, even to thrive.

A scenario repeated again and again.

lake

So why so hard this time around to figure out how to navigate the deep waters of empty nest (to wildly mix metaphors) and ended (homeschooling) career?

Maybe because we’re less resilient with age? Maybe something to do with the peculiar situation of living in such isolation in our remote mountain cove? Or maybe I just haven’t been trying hard enough?

It doesn’t actually matter why. The point is I’ve got to figure out how better to push off the bottom.

Because big brothers aren’t usually around to pull us out.