Monday, May 16, 2011

Lessons From the Lady in the Laundry Room

The apple blossoms have disintegrated and only dark green leaves remain on each of the tree's branches. While driving to work this morning I reflected upon the lessons I learned from my dear friend, Ellen. It has not yet been a full week from her passing, but I thought it worth posting.

1. Know who you are. Ellen made no bones about telling everyone,"I'm not a cancer patient. I'm a child of God. I don't let this run my life." It is because of this tough as nails attitude that she survived so long. Her doctor told her that if anyone else had the type of cancer she had, they would have been dead a long time ago.

2. Love yourself and others. Ellen always used to say, "I love Ellen." She was always kind to herself and others. Eating right and exercising were a way of life for her. She was good to herself. For others, one of the last things I did with her was to bring some goodies and cheer to an old friend that was ill. She loved it and so did the person we visited. Upon returning home, Ellen took care of herself. She rested.

3. Be honest. Ellen never held anything back. She was very transparent with me and God. "The hair, Lord. Please, can you do something about the hair? I just want my hair for the play," she pleaded. Losing her hair from chemotherapy was traumatic as well as having others have to help her get dressed in the morning. She hated it and never tried to hide it. Her brutal honesty only speaks of the depth of her personal relationship with Jesus.

4. Enjoy the free entertainment. Ellen often told stories about the people in her neighborhood and others she knew. Some of the stories were hilarious. One man, she enjoyed seeing mow the lawn in his bare feet while he was drunk and singing. She'd say, "That's way I stay here. It's the entertainment."

5.Keep busy. Up until her last full day at home in her apartment Ellen was knitting sweaters for kids in the Ukraine. Even though she was not able to make it to church to play the piano, she could knit and so she did. In addition, she kept a stack of puzzle books and devotionals on the nearby end table to read. She had no tolerance or time for self pity.

6. Ask for help. Ellen loved being independent, but she wasn't afraid to ask for help. The Saturday before her death she had difficulty getting out of her blue recliner to get to the bathroom in time. She pressed the button for the Life Alert and paramedics came. Afterwards, she called her physical therapist right away to see if he could work with her at home, showing her how to get up the right way. "If I need help, I get it," she explained.

7.Praise God. Ellen was a pianist. She loved to play, but more importantly she loved to worship God. She informed me that she picked out 10 hymns to be sung at her funeral. It was going to be a sing-a-long. With tears in her eyes and a slightly cracked voice she said," That's the way I want to die-with my hands praising Jesus." Ellen simply loved to praise Him.

8.Don't settle. Although, Ellen never married she was engaged 3 times. Yes, you read that right. One man in particular made dinner arrangements with her and then stood her up. He chose to have dinner with his mom instead. When Ellen asked him if he ever thought to tell his mother he had plans with her, he replied, "No." Ellen had prepared a lovely meal with stuffed peppers. Her friend expected to be able to come the next evening. Ellen told him no. She would be having the rest for left overs. She was not about to settle for a man still joined at the hip.

9.Look and listen. While driving south on route 9, Ellen noticed a crew of men working alongside the road doing landscaping. While pedaling on the bike at the gym, she began to think of what she could do to thank them for brightening up our community with new plants and flowers. She heard the soft whisper of the Holy Spirit say, "Donuts, Ellen. Men like donuts." After finishing her workout, she was off to Dunkin' Donuts for a box of Joe and a dozen donuts. She delivered them and gave them all a standing ovation thanking them for their service. The mens' eyes began to fill with tears. Ellen was open and took the time to say, "Thank you." We'll never know the full effect of her kindness that day, but I know people were changed because of it.

10. Make new friends. Ellen was quite the social butterfly and loved it. She would talk to anybody which is how I met her. One Saturday in the laundry room, I entered to see the lady with the cute little hat, no eyebrows and thin wisps of white hair poking out from the bottom, greet me. She was waiting for her wash to finish while doing a crossword puzzle. She began venting about her annoyance at having to go through chemotherapy. She was a woman on a mission; a mission to seize the day and make the world a whole lot nicer in the process. Our friendship only grew from there.

The apartment complex I had been living in for the past 7 or 8 years suddenly became a lot more homey. I had a new friend with whom I could talk with over lunch or the laundry. There was a new friend in my own complex to pray with. I had a living witness and testimony sharing her life lessons, laughter and heartache. I had great treasure cloaked in the simplicity of an older woman wearing plaid shirts, long cotton trousers, and white sneakers from the A building's laundry room.

I had Ellen Marie Barrett, a woman I deeply admire and now strive to emulate.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Tribute in Spring

Today I planted some yellow tulips beneath the apartment complex sign where I live. They were Ellen's, my dear friend and neighbor I met in the laundry room two years ago. Ellen has passed on to better and bigger things now. I received the news just last night. Although I know where she is and enjoyed my time with her, my heart still breaks. I'm separated by death from the woman who inspired me and brought new meaning to life. I have composed a poem in her honor posted below.

Like sweet magnolia's and Golden's apple blossoms
shed beneath stout branches
So has my friend's spirit departed

Pink, white, dainty and pure
Her soft petals drenched with heavenly fragrance
Embodied majesty
Blossoms of splendor shone like stars and then alighted

Shining forth glory from a beautiful life
Her warmth touched
Her spirit inspired
She decorated with gardens
Her stories delighted

Friday, May 13th now arrived
Apple's blossoms have begun to wilt
Fading from pink to white then brown
Maggie's flowers fallen
Their petals withered and long departed
Memories of wonderful aroma and life
Memories of Ellen
Ellen, my dear friend, for but a short time

How I wish spring's blossoms lasted longer
How I wish it were not so long til another talk
How I wish I knew her sooner
How I wish Spring would start all over
But perhaps then she would not be such a beautiful flower
Perhaps then, Ellen would not have meant what she did
to me and so many others

My dear friend, Ellen, Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Top Three and Then Some

I was given a new challenge tonight.

ASSIGNMENT? Before sleep write down three things that went well today. Do this each night for the next few weeks. What could I say? I've done it before, but here are three for the day:

* A friend returned my phone call and was open to resolving a disagreement
*Two students told me they have a surprise for me tomorrow for Mother's Day
* One student told me she liked me like her mom

These brought warmth to my heart, but one of my favorites? Oh, that's right. It was three things that went well and this one is not on the list. I guess I'll have to add it.

***Seeing and hearing the joy of my students creating masterpices of art via FINGERPAINT.

If only there was more time. They were just getting into it when the clock said it was time. Time to wind down and clean up. They loved that, too, though. All while belting out, "Shaving cream!! Shaving cream!!" to the tune of Jingle Bells. They were as free as wild horses galloping across the prairie and happy as pigs in mud. I felt much like the proverbial "fly on the wall".

I felt privileged to observe such creative juices flowing along with the empowerment of their young minds and the freedom that energizes and flows from within. They were kids being kids. And it was BEAUTIFUL!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Two Pegs

Cube meets cylinder
One is pink
the other is blue
both sleek, smooth and solid
Created and shaped to fit
Fit with a puzzle

One time they pass
A second time nearer still
Then a third and fourth
They are formally introduced

They meet
No dancing.

Cube is too square
Cylinder too curvy
One supports
The other rolls on and on and on

Round peg doesn't fit
No clicking or snapping in place
Cube has empty corners remaining
Round peg is uncomfortable

They came
They saw
Their pieces did not fit

Two pegs stand alone now
One wonders-
Will I?
Can I find the empty mold or cutter?

The one especially made for me

Come Venture

A splish of color
A splash of pink
Winter is gone now
the earth awakened

My garden rejoices
Greeting all passer byes
Life buried beneath soil
Now resurrected
It sings a new song

A well watered garden
Bears fruit
Yields beauty
Kings' treasures?
No comparison
My garden gives life

A symbol of hope
An entity of splendor
Like a young child
Nourished and nurtured
my garden
Carries blessing

A touch of purple now added
My garden is a haven
Feel it's warmth
Experience the splendor

The earth laughs
Heaven guards
My garden is waiting

Won't you come hither?