Note on communicationMy friend Idoruby is helping me put my material on E2. Most often he is online under my name. Momomom is helping me learn to communicate via E2 messages. Idoruby responds to suggested corrections. I am supposed to respond to C! but I am still not comfortable with E2 communications and am behind in my thank yous.
These Vignettes were originally developed to illustrate certain psychological principles for my high school psychology students. When I wrote them down after leaving teaching, I arranged them chronologically. This makes them appear to be an autobiography but they are far more than that. Each story has a twist at the end which opens the door to self understanding.
Efforts to publish these stories have resulted from the enthusiastic support of participants attending Baltimore Yearly Meeting's Women's Winter Retreat. From sharing a vignette at the Saturday night coffee house to holding workshops in which participants write their own vignettes for analysis, these women's enthusiasm has led me to publish this material.
The workshop process is simple. I read two or three stories to show what vignettes are like. Then I ask each participant to write a description of something that happened to them sometime in their lives. When they have finished, we start around the circle and ask each participant to read what he/she has written. After one is read, we ask the group to describe what this story shows about the person who has written it. It is always revealing, especially to the person who did the writing.
In the one world we are rapidly becoming in this twenty first century, self understanding is essential to help individuals make wise decisions. The success of the democracy we have developed in the United States depends on such decisions. Vignettes are one path to help achieve this.
The kaleidoscope turns
As I sit and turn the bits and pieces of my life, I find the ever-changing patterns are composed of basic elements that were constant just as the pieces of glass in the kaleidoscope, constant as they are, form an ever-changing pattern in the view. Certainly no one incident has likely caused the effects I have observed, but the elements clear in each incident recurred a thousand times, each in a different pattern and eventually formed my traits, the composite of which is my identity.
According to the law of effect in learning, we remember the pleasant and forget the unpleasant. How could we bear life otherwise? The tinges of sadness that show in my kaleidoscope are far overshadowed by the love of my family, the kindness of people on the periphery of my life reaching into neighborhood and school, and the successful experiences I had. All of my relationships were not happy, I am sure, nor were all of my experiences successful ones, but the interesting thing about my kaleidoscope is that the ones I remember are.
Still, by turning the kaleidoscope, I realize that crystals not as bright recurred often in the patterns. Loneliness, guilt, and fear were hovering in the background. They provided contrast for the brighter hues, and the brightness is only clear because the darker shadows make them so.
The kaleidoscope of my budding years provides beauty and absorbing delight. I would enjoy new patterns still, but September is sliding silently by, and I must turn to the greening years. What will I find there?
The Farmer Takes A Wife"I like summer" my farmer says, and indeed he does. Long evenings, sweat and swimming are his méttier, and he lives more fully in summer than in the rest of the year. The summer of his life is just as good. The growing, producing years for him have been for loving wife and children. I think a man loves his children through loving the woman who bore them, and when he smiles at ours, he smiles with me.
He dreamed once of a five foot wrench and other tools as large strewn along a curve where he was engaged in fixing the timing of the universe. It was off a jot, and he had to try. This dream says so much about him, how he tackles stress and why. My first sprout, now grown, proclaims if he had to be lost in a forest he would choose his father first as his companion if he wanted to survive. My farmer chooses the simple way, but he can fix anything in time.
When my farmer took a wife, he took a lifetime of loving, caring, creating and protecting, but I love him best because when we walk the fields together he lets me walk alone. When the snows come, he will manage somehow a little fire someplace to remind him of summer, and to keep me warm.
Tilling the Soil
The day the world was about to end The first years of marriage are, in fact, like the early days of summer, stormy and changeable, but mostly pleasant. In the early days of our summer, all unknowingly, we prepared the soil, plowing and harrowing, mixing my clay with his sand. We fought and laughed and cried together. I learned never to accept an invitation without first asking him, and he could predict my menstrual cycle by my moods. We developed friends and loved our dogs. I taught him to love music, and he taught me to sail. As I gained skill in household tasks, he grew in professional stature so that by the time our children came, we could take care of them.
We left many clods and arid spots, but somehow some fertile ground was laid. Although we did not become one in the sense that romanticists claim, we did become two people walking in the same direction most of the time. The frost was well out of the ground and the soil prepared.
The First Sprout
"The Moving Finger Writes"
The first born child is different than the rest. Perhaps primogeniture makes more sense than we realize, but probably it was the nature of the child. Tension was always there between us but, along with the strife, it made a bond so deep we found a common road. There were times when he was growing up that I would say to myself, "It's an invasion of privacy to understand so well what another human is thinking and feeling." The day I realized it was a two way road was a shock to me. He had no right to know as much as he did about me.
When he came back for vacations from college, I found this fascinating personality whose interests and views in common with mine provided a basis for interchange exciting and fertile. He can lead me to new avenues of thought and understandings as no one else can because we walk alike. And so the first sprout grew and thrived. He now has left my field to nurture the greater society, and I am well content.
When I was expecting my second child, I secretly thought, "It doesn't seem fair. I don't see how I can love another child as I do the first." I was right, but I needn't have worried. Love is a many splendored thing, and my love for the sturdy stalk was quite different, patterned to suit the object, but rich and wonderful in its own way.
The Sturdy Plant
The sturdy plant matures"One never truly understands," I have proclaimed, "the significance of individual differences until one has raised more than one child."
Pictures of my second son compared with pictures of my first born child at the same age show a remarkable physical resemblance which startles me when I see it. But how vastly different they are beneath the skin! The sturdy plant is strong because he is composed of so many layers of being. Each time a layer shows itself it but reveals the number of layers beneath that must be there to create this. The soil and the seed come from my husband and me, but the crop is a sprout of this, a stranger to us both. He thinks and functions as his father, but the dreams come from me. The combination creates a new, different, exciting being, a stranger to us both. Every family needs a sturdy plant. How else could we survive?
The House Has Firm FoundationsBetween our second and third son, my husband and I got carried away by the "Do It Yourself" craze that was sweeping the country, and decided to build our own house. He designed it, using a basic plan from a magazine, and we bought and cleared a patch of land and went to work. We were novices of the first order. We found we spent more time moving materials and looking for tools than we did working. We discovered building is an art rather than a science, laughing at the memory of how carefully my scientist husband made the design to an exact number of cinder blocks. (The blocks break, you know, and the mason, not the designer, makes them come out even). We blundered - I have one middle finger a little shorter than it used to be because of my new, sharp lathing hatchet which I didn't properly respect. We also, however, found inspiration in our task. I did not learn to lay brick, since our house was cinder block with a stucco finish, but I learned to look at a brick wall to see how true it was, a whole new dimension of life I would never have known without this experience. The view from our roof was entrancing, an opportunity to look down on the world, especially because we had earned this privilege by being there functionally while putting it on. I shall never forget the first time I heard the sound of rain on that roof. It was a fundamental feeling of protection from the elements that few have the opportunity to experience in today's push-button world. When our house was finished, I worried a little because it meant so much to us. "It's' not right," I thought, "to put so much value on a material thing. Material things should never be ends in themselves, only a means to an end."
When my husband had an opportunity to work in Florida, we turned the offer down. I was always secretly suspicious that the basic reason was that we didn't want to leave our house even though we had used other reasons on the surface. Then one day when I was arriving home from school late, having stayed for a departmental meeting after school, I found our street jammed with fire trucks, police cars, and people. "Is it our house?" I frighteningly asked the small neighbor boy playing with a stick at the intersection where I entered. "Yes," he said blankly. I left the car and started running toward the house. As the neighbors saw me approaching, they shouted, "It's all right, Debby, the boys are safe!" I didn't believe them until I saw the boys, the little ones - the big one was away - and I held them in my arms a moment to make sure by touch as well as by sight. Then I went on down to the house. The front wing was complete1y gutted, steaming still from the fireman's hose. Every window was broken, including the f1oor-to-ceiling picture window in our large living room, now black with smoke and smell. My husband was there, having arrived at almost the same time as I. We stood in that room and looked at each other and smiled. "It's all right," we said, and we both knew what the other meant. It was just a house. The boys were safe, and we didn't care about the house. We could rebuild it or live without it, and it wouldn't really matter. Yes, our house had firm foundations. Building it had made us better people, more loving parents, and free to seek new challenges in our earthtime life. The insurance company rebuilt our house, astounded that we wanted it exactly as it had been. The first experience of building a house was great, but we were glad we had insurance. My house is important to me, not so much as a material object as a locus of being, a center from which I can function and an area of self expression. When we left our home in the north country I had nightmares about what the buyers had done to it, and whenever I've moved to a new community, I've driven restlessly through the streets wondering with deep yearning, "Which spot will be my own?" The most beautiful spot in the world to me is the patio beyond our picture window where the ivy clogs the wall, the willow oak sends branches low to touch our passing heads, and the holly pops its berries red at Christmas time. I'll wander far from here in the future, I'm sure, perhaps never to return, but one part of me shall always dwell in this spot which is my home.
The White Tornado
The Gale Quickens
The White Tornado storms through my life, making it rich and varied. There is a magnificence to storms that stirs my soul, and so it is with him. The helplessness I've had to face because of his suffering has cultivated deeply the roots of my being, and in many ways I've suffered more than he. Deep roots make tall trees, however, and both of us are tall. His tallness has a grace and symmetry all of its own, a silhouette of beauty in the storm he creates wherever he goes.
As I look toward the harvest, I realize these crops are not for me. "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth," claims the poet, Gibran. If these crops belong to anyone, it is to the society which bred them, and they must go forth to serve.
My harvest lies, rather, in the by-products of these crops -the things that have happened to me because of them. This harvest is rich. The sense of identity with my first son gives greater dimension to my being, casting me into the future as much as from the past. The sense of security that comes from knowing my second son makes me sure of myself, a quality much needed in autumn. My third son stirs me to action, stimulates the poet in me, breathes life into the harvest. What would I have been like if I had had twenty sons? A drudge, no doubt. Three have been a magic planting, filling my summer and making it good.
The Summer EndsI tilled the soil vigorously these summer months, often so involved in cultivating I seldom saw the crops. They thrived, however, each in his own way, and were blessed with a good season --a world of plenty -- suffering more from aff1uence than poverty. I left little fallow land. The early phase, when the crops were tender, I cast from a narrow base to fill my time, but as they became stronger and needed less attention, I taught school, a crop in itself. I've always had trouble defining a weed. Anything that I did that interfered with my crops was a weed, I'm sure, and I raised some of those. A myriad of social activities, each of value in itself but the combination of which sapped my energy and interest leaving a messy household and cranky children at one time, threatened my garden. Teaching, however, because I consciously kept it secondary to my main crops, seemed a good supplement. Some things happen to the soil when crops are raised. Some crops deplete the soil; others enrich it; most are in between. Fallow soil may become so rank with seeds of weeds that it is of little value. My crops enriched my soil. Their roots went deep, freeing fertile areas of my lower layers which would have otherwise been dormant. Some depletion occurred as well - my gray hairs are well-earned -but the gains were greater by far. I must look to these for my harvest. September has slid by while I have been reminiscing. It is time I started the harvest....
Of all the seasons in the year, autumn is my favorite. In the area where I live, the humid-zone land tucked close to Chesapeake Bay, has three long, beautiful months of delightful weather. The blistering heat and humidity of summer fade into warm, bright days, and then to brisk ones, darted through with crisp frost as autumn moves toward winter. The trees are brash with their autumn beauty, daring effects most unseemly for the summer. Autumn flowers, rich and full, freed from the summer draught, cover the hills and line the flower beds. The harvest is ready. My September has been good. I feel as though I've been watching a moving picture of my life in which the camera stopped at intervals long enough for me to analyze the elements that made the pictures. As I face the autumn of my life, I will select those elements that can serve as tools for my harvest.
The Teaching Years
I taught ten years at an almost new high school near where I lived. I started mid term teaching psychology from a book that had already been covered the first semester. That was no problem for me. With a sociology major and psychology and philosophy minors I had much to draw from to create my own curriculum. Eventually I wrote the entire curriculum which was subsequently taught in all the high schools in Prince Georges County.
In essence what I developed was an introduction to the social sciences which focused on the individual. The first quarter focused on the intellectual nature of man, the study of intelligence. The second was the social nature of man, the study of personality characteristics and vocational guidance. The third was the emotional nature of man, a mental health unit. The fourth was the spiritual nature of man, comparing religions of the world to help the students develop a philosophy of life.
Though this curriculum was uniquely relevant to high school seniors, that was not the most important quality I brought to my teaching career. This quality I had developed during the years that I worked as a volunteer in girl scouting. I knew how to build community. My desk was in the back of the room and much of the time the students were in charge.
The Autumn Days Grow Dim
I taught two more years after the "Thinkathon" class graduated. My experiences with that class went so deep that I matured in a strange kind of way. I was part child perhaps. When the school had dress up days I had the impulse to dress up with them. I did not do it because the faculty would have been shocked at such behavior.
Now such impulses were gone. With that teaching became a heavy burden rather than a challenge. I was so disturbed over the inadequacy of our school system that I needed to get away from it. Our system was designed for an agrarian society and needs radical changes to make it work. One person cannot make a significant difference.
My husband makes an income adequate to take care of our family and the Quaker in me told me that we did not need my income. So I quit.
The Writing Years
I wrote for ten years. At first I did free lance projects, but when our second son was about ready for college we felt I needed to get a salaried job to make sure we had enough money to support him. Costs had risen dramatically in the seven year interlude between the boys.
I changed jobs several times during that period, finding some of the elements in teaching that bothered me were also present in the writing world. Mostly, though, I had fun with my cohorts and all of my jobs were interesting. The challenges of teaching were far different than the challenges I met in the business world.
Worlds Beyond My Work
During the teaching years my work related in some degree to my family. The school where I taught was within easy walking distance from my house. Some of the children that I taught lived in our neighborhood. My oldest son actually attended the school where I taught through his high school years.
When I moved into my writing years, however, I moved away from anything that was connected to my family. For most of my writing years I commuted into the District of Columbia, our nation's capital. This was another world. I left my family behind when I crossed that line until I came back home after working hours were over.
Much was going on in my personal life during those years. Our children grew up and left home. My husband's work involved so much travel at times that he was home only on week-ends. We found and became quite active in Adelphi Friends Meeting, a Quaker community. I developed an interest, and some skill, in duplicate bridge.
One of the most important elements in our personal lives was the sail boat that we bought and sailed on Chesapeake Bay. Stories of these activities reveal much about ourselves, enough, indeed, to warrant another category of our autumn harvest.
The Sailing Years
Living In The Natural World
One element common to all members of my family is a love of sailing. What a wonderful way to learn to love the natural world! Today we live in cities so insulated from the natural world that many do not know the wonders that exist beyond the scope of man's imprint. My ten year old grandson did not come in when his mother called.
When asked to account for his behavior, he replied, "I was waiting to see Orion." He had met Orion when he was going to sleep on the deck of Aquarius, our sailboat.
One grandson, trained as a journeyman in operating heavy machinery equipment, gave up that career to develop his own business entitled "Anything Boats" and how he loves it! My oldest son, an Exxon researcher, dreamed of purchasing a sailboat to sail in the Far East (he worked in Malaysia much of his career), when he retired. Many summers he arranged family sails for vacations when the whole family sailed in romantic waters. One of his sons plans to sell out whatever he is doing, buy a sailboat and sail it around the world when his children are about ten years old. I single handed our sailboat from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico when I was sixty three years old. My husband was Skipper, literally, until the day that he died.
As I look back on my harvest during the autumn years I find that I measure up to the goals I set for myself rather well. My sense of adequacy grew during the teaching years. As I lost the child in me, the adult I became was secure enough to weather the storms of the ensuing years. Because my husband provided for our basic material needs I did not need to depend on my income. My sense of purpose, though not clearly defined, grew during those years especially through my experiences in the natural world.
Adventure abounded in the life I lived. Opening the door for students to find each other through group development was not always easy, but it was wild at times. What more adventure than sailing the seas is possible? Watching three dolphins dance alongside my boat was breathtaking. Seeing a fellow member of my Meeting stand and stare at my flower arrangement before taking her seat was an adventure into her spirit.
Beauty was everywhere as well. The bulletin boards my students made were often true works of art. Leadership News was beautiful as I watched it roll off the press. The natural beauty on the Intracoastal Waterway was constant and the smiles on the faces of the young Friends as they observed their own flower arrangements were lovely to see.
My sense of service was greatest during my teaching years. I cared deeply about what was happening to the students and actually left teaching because I felt our system was not working for them. For the other phases of my harvest I mostly set goals for myself and then sought to achieve those goals. By the time I got to the gardening years, my faith had deepened to the point that I served myself by feeling the presence of God as I worked the soil.
Love is the most important crop of all, and this, indeed, was my most important harvest. When I was raising my children I was able to realize that, though I might not like what they were doing it did not mean that I did not love them. Working though the many scenes of my harvest I learned to do the same with others. I am able to say today that God is love and that some part of God exists in every person. I do not hate people.
As I move into my winter years, I hope this harvest will serve me well.