Monday, May 18, 2015

A Tribute to Donald Norman Morrison

I lost my last remaining grandparent this weekend. Don't get me wrong, I know I am among a rare few fortunate at my age who still have a grandparent. Being half-way around the world only added to my deflated heart. At Christmas time when I got to celebrate his 95th birthday with him, my dear Grandfather told me to "Stay in Hanoi if anything should happen to me." I was having nothing to do with this non-sense conversation. I told him I planned on him living past 100 so we need not have this talk. When my idea was nipped five years short my heart was torn asunder. I had amazing visits with my grandfather over Christmas holiday. We always signed off our visits with a kiss, hug and "I love you." No regrets there. However these times of grief are for the living and I wish I were there for my mom. (Maybe even more a bit of vice-versa as I grieve alone an ocean away). My parents reiterated my grandfather's sentiment that I "do not need to come home." Even my 11 year old gave me a firm chat ending with, "Mom it would be redundant to go home now when we fly out in a few weeks." My son was more empathetic. "Mom, look at the glass half full...okay, I got nothing. Papa Morrison being gone totally stinks!" He made me laugh, but also displayed keen empathy. It would be easy to say things like, "He was 95!" "He lived a full life." "It is just better." While these statements may be true, they do not appease the pain and sorrow I was and am feeling. It is difficult...for me. Another difficulty was capturing just how much this man means to me and who I am becoming. I agonized over choosing the right words and wasn't sure I was even close to hitting the mark until I Skyped with my cousin, who is like my big brother, and we wept our way through it. Me reading and him listening to my tribute to grandpa...

When I think of my grandfather I think of the word patriarch. He was the spiritual backbone of our clan. A staunch Scots-Irishman who tread lightly and thought deeply. Somewhere in my brain each story, laugh, and walk becomes a memory. As I wade through the river of his legacy I find myself faultily scooping water only to have it trickle through my fingers barely captured. My tears adding to the surge and rush threatening to pull me under.

My grandfather was a gardner.

It may have been his farm boy roots, agricultural studies at Michigan State, or it may have been his proclivity towards a green thumb, but his work in the garden yielded vegetables that my grandmother would turn into delectable culinary delights.

Gardening with him taught me that patience and care yields plentiful returns.

My grandfather was a Detroit Tigers fan. He cheered on Ty Cobb, the G-men (Gehringer, Greenberg & Goslin). He respected Al Kaline and Sparky Anderson. From Trammell to Fielder; to Cabrera and Verlander, he followed the team through ups and downs, triumphs and upsets, victories and defeats. Watching the Tigers with my grandfather taught me loyalty and grit during difficulty, and grace in defeat.

My grandfather was an explorer.

In my early youth we would set out meandering down the rural roads of Reeman, perhaps winding our way to the railroad tracks to place a penny on the rails to check later.

As we would amble along grandpa would be scoping out the just right size disk of a stone. When he would make the discovery he’d then pluck it from the gravel on the side of the road. The paradox of his rough gnarled and smooth hands would then nimbly flip the rock about between his palm and fingers, because “it was good for circulation.” We would talk and trek.

Walking with my grandfather taught me that moving stirs my imagination.

My grandfather was an ornithologist; a kindred spirit to John James Audubon.

Possessing tomes of birding books as well as field experiences on song, feather hues, flight patterns and migration tendencies. We would scope out the trees and skies as we would walk and he would readily share his knowledge with me. When last year from deep within the wooded heartlands of Michigan I brought back photos of a beautiful cerulean bird with a russet chest, we poured over his books to rule out the Indigo Bunting and discover the Eastern Bluebird. Birding with my grandfather taught me to observe the world around me and ask questions to seek the answers.

My grandfather was a story-teller. He could spin a tale like no one I’ve ever been blessed to meet. Typically he’d begin a yarn by folding his arms across his body, nodding his silver topped head with a twinkle in his eye. I would lean in knowing there was a tale to follow. His narratives would be punctuated with intermittent resonant bass belly laugh that I, or anyone else listening, could not help but chuckle along with him. Listening to my grandfather’s stories taught me about the fabric of character and the warmth humor can bring to any situation.

My grandfather was a tender caregiver. He held to his vows of “in sickness and health.” He was the perennial gentleman with my grandmother. For all their healthy years together whether it was a drive about town or a trip to Florida he made sure he provided what she needed. In her months of sickness he was vigilant at her side ensuring she was as comfortable as possible. Watching my grandparents together taught me the meaning of commitment.

My grandfather was a Biblical scholar. When I would bring to him my struggles with all the sorrow in the world, church decisions, or personal trials he would listen as a captive audience of one. Instead of offering any quick fix advice, or “chin up” adages he would say, “I want you to go read…”and would share a specific Bible passage. Don’t read it once or twice. Read it at least three times then we will talk again.” Confiding in my grandfather taught me that the good Lord provided inspired Scriptures, and blessed me with a brain to think and a spirit to love.

Because of these reasons, and a hundred more, my Grandfather, patriarch Donald Norman Morrison leaves a legacy of love. I may still wade about in the current of sorrow, but I won’t stay there. I won’t stay there because my grandfather was also a man of faith. He knew the struggles only last for a season compared with the glory that awaits; and THAT is the most important lesson he leaves me-- and all of us. Saying "goodbye" to this earth just means a phenomenal "hello" to heaven.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Origami Heart

"Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds." "Friendship" Essays by Raplh Waldo Emerson

This year, one of my students taught our class how to make an origami hanbok for her multiple intelligence presentation. The paper yielded beautifully beneath her graceful fingers as she demonstrated the technique. I intently followed along, and at the conclusion of her instruction I held a beautiful work of art.

I told her the fact she could teach me to create a lovely semblance of her model, despite my fumbling fingers and general ineptitude of folding a straight line (or cutting, waking, running, writing or drawing a straight line for that matter), warrented her earning an "A." I am not gifted at creating paper origami creations. There is however, another realm in which I excel at creating folds. I have a hundred fold heart. 

Matthew 7:1-5 is in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus lays out an avalanche of advice for Christians to walk the talk. The words of Jesus in these specific verses is focused on judgement, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." 

Do not judge. Judge not. Pretty clear. If that imperative doesn't quite sink in Jesus adds a qualifier. If one is judging, they too shall be judged. The standard one uses to judge others will be applied to that one. Jesus leaves the audience with a call to self-examination prior to even considering the life or behavior of a brother, sister or community member. 

I possess critical acumen when self-reflecting. I am brutally honest with myself, within myself. I am aware of my multiple "planks." I am thoroughly occupied by my own life's two by fours, thick and long enough to suffice for any pirate ship. Therefore I don't have the occasion to consider "specks" that may be present around me. I wonder where is the place for accountability in my life then? I am a hypocrite by definition. My folding away of my heart creates a facade that becomes the epitome of mendacity. 

There are very few with whom I share the whole of my heart. There may be glimpses among the folds for those around me, but no complete revelation. I wonder though if this makes me a bit disingenuous. I think Emerson would say these folds impede true relationship or friendship. I want to argue with him a bit. Not every individual with whom I come in contact needs to be my closest confidant surely? That surface level chatting, exchanging pleasantries is just part of human interaction right? Are those exchanges worthwhile? Then I wonder if this is another part of my struggle to "make small talk." I was just telling a friend the other day that I believe I prefer sincere cold indifference to feigned warm interest. Perhaps Emerson is positing that it is impossible to be genuine when their are two individuals involved. Can one only be authentic within oneself? What if each one were to be honest within a community of trust and each encourage the other to be a truer walk of faith? 

This week's focus left me with more questions than answers as to how to unfold my origami heart.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy." 

I believe in Miss Frizzle's philosophy. I encourage my kids and students to "give it a go." I adhere to the power, potential, and promise of YET...

At least I am really good at allowing that grace growth to other people, to my children, my students, my friends and acquaintances. However when it comes to self reflection, my allowance seems to dry up. In the de jure of my heart I abide by "messy" living, but when it comes to de facto I never cease to berate myself for falling short of where I had set out to be. I want to "get it right."

In the seventies I recall many shirts, bumper stickers and posters that stated, "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet." The implication is that our lives and developing into who we are to be is a process. It's more than a kitschy adage. "Be sure that He who began a good work in you will see it through to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) 

I think this reminder could be lived out in a community of trust. Perhaps the disconnect is not having a community niche where one feels it is safe to be authentic. A place where encouragement could be given and received when honest struggle is encountered. The students in Miss Frizzle's class all live out their personality and dispositions within the group. Arnold is always the uncertain tentative one offering words of caution. Carlos is a bit of a punny jokester who buffers stressful situations with humor. Wanda is an adventurous encourager. Tim is a keen observer noting important details along the way. Phoebe provides context and background knowledge for any situation (it is usually referenced to her "old school" yet still helpful). Keesha is the level-headed pragmatic one who offers a clear problem shooting method. Dorothy Ann is a research phenom who always has extra information to see the journey through. Ralphie is the daydreamer of the group offering the "What if" possibilities. Transported by the magic bus, and accompanied by Liz and "The Frizz," the class is questioned and guided through journies to discovery. They are kind with one another foibles and listen. There are always plenty of challenges, but they see one another through. We need to each consider how we may be that open, listening, non-judgemental person "keeping it real" within our families and communities because life, like Miss Frizzle's field trips, is messy.