At the Very Least

  •  Maida Korte

“The way you do small things is the way you do all things” – Jens Wolff

            Well, you know what time of year it is and I don’t need to add to the incredible marketing push to get you to join a gym, eat better, address your sagging skin receding thinning hair aging face problems or begin your paper project and finally go digital.  This year I realized that my external self is a bell curve of sorts – starting on an upward trajectory of hopeful bliss, blithely ignorant of the impending downward slope that once started, accelerates for the rest of your life.   Putting the skids to this roller coaster slide into the aging abyss can be a full-time job.  With so much to worry about it is amazing that we have time for anything else.  Wake-up and stretch else I pull a muscle by getting out of bed, so I do ankle circles while lying still, hoping for the best.  My ankles can no longer be trusted to do their simple job of keeping me upright, connecting my feet to my legs. Sometimes it is as though they have had enough and decide that a sharp deadening knifelike stabbing pain will remind me of all they have done over the years, so I gently circle my clunky feet around my easily offended ankles telling them that I love them and need them and please don’t abandon me this day.  I rise aware of the impending disasters that await my body, but my mind and spirit are intact and able to grow and change and improve.  This is where I ultimately live and so it is here that I launch my efforts at renovation.

            At the very least be kind.  When my girls were little I would loudly launch into a statement verse about kindness whenever I detected a deflection in play.  Sisters arguing about a toy?  Grabbing and running?  Doll sharing problems?  Ephesians 4:32 to the rescue.  To this very day my adult daughters can all repeat this verse with enthusiasm whenever the behavior requires.  Kindness should not be rewarded; it should be expected.  Much like a common denominator of communication, it is our baseline for conduct.  Niceness can be measured by open faces, spirits that embrace one another’s thoughts, opening dialogues that listen and answer slowly.  Once when troubled a very long time ago, one of my best friends had me over to her house.  Her husband was tucked away in another room and my friend lit a cozy fire, poured me a hot cup of coffee and then nestled comfortably on the sofa. She made sure I had a pillow to crunch as she smiled at me gently and just let me talk.  I have never forgotten this simple act of kindness and how I left feeling loved, cherished actually.  Other times our kindnesses are soft smiles at strangers or warm embraces or opening a door or saying thank you or simplifying our souls by singing while cleaning or baking or leaning over and moving a stray tress of hair out of a child’s eyes.  Practicing kindness needs repetition and what better habit to employ as a new year begins.

            At the very least be generous.  She stood on my front step handing me a casserole as I had just had my fourth baby.  It was bitter cold outside and her coat looked warm, large and comfortable.  I commented on it, complimenting her on the color, shape and warmth.  Without one moment’s hesitation she quickly slipped out of the coat on that very cold day on my very cold steps and pretty much threw the coat at me as she ran to her car and sped away.  It happened so fast and of course I called her at a time when no one had mobile phones but to no avail.  She would not take the coat back.  This act shaped much of my thinking on generosity. This friend’s gesture was unplanned, spontaneous and therefore a reaction.  Her spirit was generous and shaped her conduct.  I have known generous people with nothing to give but time and I have known generous people with worldly goods shared at every opportunity.  There is a sameness of spirit among those with much to share physically and those with much to share emotionally – they are at the ready all the time.  They leap at the chance to give as they consider themselves mere custodians of possessions of time and money.  I read recently of a man who lived in poverty with his family but would take what they had and give it away, ultimately leading his family to hide even their bedding as he could always find someone with less who needed it more.  I marvel as those who give their life away so easily when I need reminders of my life of ease and respectability.  I will open my eyes to those in need this year.  

            At the very least clean up.  Two of my little grand-children slept on a hide-a-bed while staying with us over Christmas.  Running up the stairs from the lower level they shouted that they had “made their bed and put it away.”  I smiled as this was indeed an accurate description of folding up a bed into a sofa but reflected that they have learned more than the pleasure of getting into a neatly made bed each night.   One of my daughters has taught her darling boys the simple life fact that we are in it together – we family members.  Doing life as a unit is more than a holiday away or a dinner out.  Cleaning up after ourselves is one of the ways we show respect to those around us.  Christmas Eve dinner always has a nice saunter to it as we linger at the table.  This year two of our grand-daughters got up unannounced with no prompting and gently whispered to each adult asking if they were done.  They removed the plates and carried them to the kitchen allowing the adults a few more precious minutes before present opening where copious amounts of ribbon would be strewn across the floor.  Another of my daughters has taught these precious girls what it means to share in the toil of life and gain the praise of parents in the doing of it.  The bustle in the kitchen after the holidays is where conversations flower from the buds appearing throughout the day.  The spark of an idea is bridged and blossomed while rinsing, stacking, washing, and drying.  Much like raking leaves in the fall, or planting annuals in the spring, working as a family grows community and one-ness of soul.  We talk now of projects from the past and we laugh at antics and escapades that only dust and dirt and gloves and boots can achieve.  Get moving this year and tackle a project together where cleaning up will produce a wide-open space in your heart where familial growth will flourish.

            At the very least keep learning.  When my older brother went to kindergarten, I was two years behind him but anxious and jealous during the wait.  So, I planned learning endeavors and carefully exploited small friends tricking them into practicing elaborate rope jumping skills and memorizing magic tricks where I charged a penny a pop for the privilege of watching me cut paper into loops.  I couldn’t leave my mom alone to her baking as I pestered her daily and I planned doll activities when all supplies fit into a bright patent leather red case.  Learning to read, rather, being expected to read after learning to read, changed my life to live beyond the now and jump into the endless possibilities that words on pages describe. When I was seven, I read of a girl on a dude-ranch who solved a crime against horses, so I wanted to be a rodeo girl with fringed skirt and vest solving crimes out west while I won riding competitions.  I moved on to wanting to assist Harriet in her problem solving endeavors to becoming a math wizard writing equations in French since I was learning basic vocabulary en Francais.  By seventh grade I wanted to be a make-up artist and ultimately a painter a few years later who would travel thru Europe and perhaps live in the coal mining town where Vincent got his start.  I wanted to live on a grassy knoll, an Irish meadow, a tempest over the sea, under water in a world where creatures were our friends, live in a castle as the mistress of the manor to a small house on a farm in Canada where I would lead cows home.  Expanding my vision to history and politics and gardening and growth and parenting where the pruning of children into majestic adults would leave me gape-jawed at the beauty of their minds and souls and spirits and I have come full circle back to my mother who taught me that the greatest learning comes from loving a child.  This has pointed me to God who is the seat of all learning and the beginning of all wisdom.  Seek and see.  Look and learn.  If I must be the center of my daily world, setting myself aside is my greatest chore with the greatest rewards.  I point my nose east and keep moving. 

“While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” (C.S. Lewis)

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