In Spite of It All, We Still Have Hope

Sometimes our world seems hopeless as we watch people getting shot at a country music concert, wading in waist-deep flood water with no home left to go to, or fleeing wildfires that seem impossible to stop. Our government, however you feel about it, is in constant turmoil. We face so many challenges close to home. A friend just had a stroke. My neighbor just told me about a husband and wife who were both diagnosed with cancer on the same day. One of my father’s caregivers crashed her car into his garage door. It all seems hopeless, right? Let’s just go back to bed and stay there. But no. We still have hope.

It shows every time my father does his leg exercises in the hopeful belief that he will soon be able to let go of his walker and tell his caregivers not to come back. I’m not sure it will happen, but he has hope. It’s what keeps him going.

I thought about this the other day as rain soaked the chaise lounge cushions on my deck. I ought to admit that summer is over and bring them in, but no, I had hope that we would have some more sunny days. And we do. I see blue sky out my window right now.

I started making a list of the things we do that show we have hope that whatever the situation is now, it’s going to be all right. The list got long. I’m sharing some of my favorites here, and I invite you to make your own list and share it in the comments.

1. Hope is continuing to water the African violet although the leaves are turning brown and you haven’t seen a flower in a year.

2. Hope is buying two chicken breasts in case company comes.

3. Hope is showing up at a dance alone.

4. Hope is leaving the door unlocked.

5. Hope is casting your line out again.

6. Hope is planting two-year-old seeds in a muddy yard.

7. Hope is pruning your artichoke plants down to sticks.

8. Hope is unhooking your dog’s leash.

9. Hope is buying a lottery ticket.

10. Hope is calling him (or her) one more time.

11. Hope is getting a mammogram.

12. Hope is stepping on the bathroom scale.

13. Hope is going to get the mail.

14. Hope is pouring your heart out and hitting “send.”

15. Hope is taking your turn at a four-way stop.

16. Hope is buying jeans that fit a little tight.

17. Hope is putting a roast in the electric oven during a storm when the lights are flickering.

18. Hope is making a dentist appointment for six months from now.

19. Hope is buying a Christmas gift in August for someone who is very old.

20. Hope is leaving your jacket at home.

21. Hope is saying “I do” again.

22. Hope is stepping into the plane.

23. Hope is not defrosting anything for dinner.

24. Hope is leaving your birth control in your purse.

25. Hope is getting out of bed anyway.

Okay. Your turn!

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Choking in Smoke as The West Burns

IMG_20170905_184257376_HDR[1]As I get ready for church choir practice, it seems unusually dark for 6:30 p.m. I leave the porch light on for the first time this summer. The reason for the darkness becomes clear when I turn west toward Highway 101. “Oh my God!” At the post office, I stop the car and fumble for my cell phone to take a picture.

The sun hanging over the ocean is red-orange, discolored by the smoke from the wildfires burning in Oregon and throughout the western United States. Unlike the eclipse two weeks ago, I don’t need special glasses to watch it because the light is muted, not bright enough to hurt my eyes.

My photos don’t do it justice. I turn north toward Newport, frequently glancing left at this sun so like a harvest moon but redder and on the wrong side of the road. When I look again in the church parking lot, the sun, still an hour from sunset, is nearly hidden in smoke.

When we come out, it’s dark. I see neither sun nor moon. There are no stars. There is only smoke.

Unlike the eclipse, this sky show does not bring me joy.

We are over a hundred miles from the closest fire yet the smoke has turned everything gray since Saturday. In brief moments when the sun breaks through, it tints everything a strange orange color. My nose keeps running. I miss my blue summer skies.

But this is just the smallest taste of it. Inland, where the fires are closer and the temperature has been in the 90s and 100s, ash rains like snow. The smoke is so thick it’s not safe to breathe. Like heavy fogs, it covers everything but without the cool refreshment of fog. And the fires, my God. Judging by the photos, all of Oregon is burning. And not just Oregon. Fires rage in California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. See the map here. The fires are so big the only hope of putting them out anytime soon is a monster rainstorm to rival the one that flooded Texas and neighboring states with Hurricane Harvey.

Not long ago, my brother Mike’s home was threatened by such a fire burning around his home near Yosemite. His family was ordered to evacuate. They stayed with my niece in Merced, but Mike kept returning to his mountaintop home to check on its status and protect it from looters. At the same time, Mariposa, the town where he works as a superior court judge, sat in the fire’s path, evacuated but for a few people helping to care for the firefighters. The historic courthouse could have gone up in flames. In the end, his home and his town were spared, but the blaze, labeled the Detwiler fire, destroyed 63 homes and burned more than 81,000 acres. The miles of blackened landscape come within 200 yards of Mike’s property, a constant reminder of what could have happened. They’ll never forget the fear or the taste of smoke in their mouths. But fire season isn’t over. Another fire is burning today near Yosemite.

The biggest fire in Oregon right now is in the Columbia River Gorge. It is burning on the Pacific Crest Trail, around Multnomah Falls, and even across the river in Washington. It was started by kids playing with fireworks, a stupid, horrible thing. A cigarette reportedly sparked the Mariposa fire. Lightning started many of the other fires. Some say the fires are a natural process, designed to clear out the forests and start fresh. People and their buildings don’t fit into that equation. Nor do people help when they ignore firefighters’ pleas not to burn ANYTHING.

It has been a crazy year. After four years of drought, California experienced epic rains. So did Oregon. Day after day after day. Then came weeks of extraordinary heat. The result: wild growth of grasses, shrubs, and trees that make perfect fuel for fires. Now we’re burning.

Out my window, it’s as gray as any winter morning, but the grayness is smoke, not moisture. I like sunshine. I like to sit out in the sun, to bathe in its warmth. I dread winter. But today I’m praying hard for rain to put out the fires and clean the air, to give us back our sun and moon and to help all those people losing everything to the flames. If you are in the path of the fires, floods or hurricanes, you are in my prayers.

What is it like where you are? Are you or your loved ones in danger? How are you coping?

 

I Should Have Listened to My Mom

When you visit the doctor’s office complaining of chest pains and pressure, people tend to panic. Even when you tell them you’re pretty sure it’s gas. Driving to Portland, stuck in traffic, thinking I should have gone to the ER because it hurt pretty bad, I sent up a prayer for God to tell me what to do. He sent me a giant burp. Which made me laugh and say, “Thank you!” But doctors still think, HEART ATTACK. And I kept thinking of how Rosie O’Donnell described her own heart attack and how women experience heart attacks differently from men.

But I was on my way to a conference in Portland, middle lane of I-5, cars not moving. I was going to teach a class, pitch to agents, represent the Timberline Review, attend workshops and network, network, network. Meanwhile people from my church kept dying, and I would be playing music for a funeral the day I got home. I had received a scary recall notice for the car in which I was sitting. I had nonstop music activities, Writers on the Edge president duties, and a troublesome situation with a certain someone in my life. Plus I had to leave my dog behind. A little stress?

I don’t do well with stress. Neither did my mother. As I took my troubles to Google that night in my hotel room, I suddenly remembered the night she went to the hospital with similar pains. Forever after, whenever my brother and I misbehaved, my father would scold us with the words that our mother was sick because of us. Dad never beat us, but he sure could pour on the guilt.

Anyway, Mom’s pains were exactly where mine finally settled, top of the stomach just below the ribs. There’s this valve there, the pyloric sphincter, that was the source of her troubles.  When I read the name, I sat back on my cushy bed and thought, “Oh my God. That’s exactly what I have.” Yes, I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac, but I think this will turn out to be the diagnosis. It’s a chronic pain at the entrance to the stomach that happens when it doesn’t open and shut properly. Like mother, like daughter.

When we’d start to get upset, Mom used to say, “Don’t get your bowels in an uproar.” She wasn’t kidding.

So I showed up at the doctor’s office a week after the original pains had settled below my ribs. She went into hyper-drive, ordering an EKG (normal), chest X-ray (normal), blood and urine tests (normal), and an ultrasound (not till Thursday). She put me on Prilosec, one pill every morning, and took me off foods like spices, tomato sauce and—say it ain’t so!—chocolate. A week later, I’m feeling better. I’m probably going to live.

Meanwhile, Annie had to go to the vet. She had a fungal infection in her girl parts. For the last 10 days, I’ve been hiding antibiotic pills in her food and massaging said parts with cream. Fun! She feels better, too. Or at least she has stopped licking down there. Now I think she has fleas.

After the conference, I rewrote my entire novel in two weeks and sent it to two agents who were interested. Cross your fingers. I have a pile of Timberline Review submissions to read, another pile of authors to consider for the Nye Beach Writers Series, songs to prepare for church and for the kids in religious education, another book to finish writing, and a dog that wants to walk at precisely 3 p.m.

Stress? What stress? I saw my shrink on Wednesday. She upped my meds and had me do breathing exercises. In, out, in, out.

Too much information? I know. I was going to write about the fires destroying huge swaths of the western U.S., including big chunks of Eastern Oregon. The smoke has made its way to the Willamette Valley and points west. Terrifying. None of my troubles compare to this. Please pray for rain.

And if you have chest pains, don’t wait a week to go to the doctor, even if you have a busy schedule. It might be gas, but it might not. I was lucky.