Meeting Distant Relatives


Over the past week my travels through history have deposited me on my own doorstep, so to speak, but isn’t that always the way? I’ve traveled through ancient Crete, Greece, Troy, Egypt, and Rome and have somehow found myself in Beaconsfield, a small city just west of London. What a week of travel it’s been. The sites I’ve seen and the people I’ve met! Some of these personages include King Agamemnon, a Minoan potter, Cleopatra, and nearly all of the Augustinian Cæsars. My private worm hole has raced me from the 14th century (B.C.E.) through the 1st century (C.E.); how I landed on the door step of Sir Edmund Waller in the mid-17th century I cannot say, but it was a good place to stop to share a rejuvenating cup of tea with my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle (give or take a great or two), who happily shed some light on his life and times.

“Tea does our fancy aid,
Repress those vapours which the head invade,
And keeps that palace of the soul serene.”
Edmund Waller

And Uncle Edmund (his close friends call him Ned, but I dared not) serves up a cracking cuppa. Although he has the reputation of being frugal with himself and his family, I detected none of that in him. In fact, when I was brought into his library he was signing a sizable bank draft to an undisclosed friend. He was deliberate in his movement as well as his words, but never at a loss for a meaningful insight or a witty rejoinder. On a narrow wall between bookcases there hung a portrait of himself when he was only 25, a young man with a quick mind and a pleasant but serious face with beautiful clear blue eyes. Of course, at our meeting he was probably close to 80 and had only a couple more years to live, but I saw no evidence of dulling in any of these features.  Perhaps he was less mercurial, but until I visit him at a younger age I can’t really judge.

If Uncle Edmund spoke truthfully (I later checked with Dr. Samuel Johnson, who corroborated every point so I have no need to doubt him),1687_-_edmond_waller_gkneller__large he was first elected as MP (Member of Parliament) when he was just 18, for Ilchester. Throughout his life he sat as MP for Chipping Wycombe, Amersham, St. Ives, and Hastings. But lest I might think his life was nothing but a series of parliamentary sessions full of men in wigs taking the piss out of each other, he also told me of his exploits during the tenuous and volatile reign of Charles I and  the English Civil War. It was with no small pensiveness on his part that he recounted the day he and two of his fellows were arrested by Parliament for a scheme they conceived in favor of the king. This became known as Waller’s Plot, for which he escaped the execution his co-conspirators suffered because, he said, I was very well-liked by Parliament.” Dr. Johnson told me a slightly different view of this, saying that my uncle was a wealthy man and confessed whatever he had said, heard, thought, or seen, and all that he knew or suspected of others.” When called before the bar he was sentenced to the Tower of London, but, on paying a fine of £10,000, he was released and then banished from the realm. My uncle chose to live in France, where he hosted lavish dinner parties for his fellow royalists. Two years later, at the end of the Civil War, Uncle Edmund’s banishment was revoked and he returned home. Ten years later he was once again elected to Parliament and was quick to boast the words of Burnet, “He was the delight of the House, and though old said the liveliest things of any among them.”

Of course, through all of this political turmoil, Uncle Edmund continued to pursue his real love, poetry, and in his lifetime he published many editions of his work that are still on the shelves today. When I told him of this, and that he is more famous for his poetry than for his politics, he was quite pleased but didn’t seem to be surprised. He always was known for being more than a little vain where his work was concerned.

Throughout his life Edmund Waller fathered 15 children (and built Hall Barn in Beaconsfield in which to house them all), entertained both Charles I and Charles II (both of whom it is said enjoyed laughing at his witty quips), and died in the bosom of his large, happy family when he was 82.

A good, long, healthy, and colorful life, indeed!

Hall Barn, Beaconsfield

“Could we forbear dispute, and practice love,
We should agree as angels do above.”
Edmund Waller

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Stepping Up To Kindness

Bird In The Hand by Jamie Cahlil

We live in a time when kindness is viewed as a rather quaint, old-fashioned act like standing up when a lady enters the room or taking a plate of cookies to the people who just moved in next door. Most people seem to think that kindness is an admirable trait, but completely irrelevant and impractical in today’s cut-throat society. And when we are unexpectedly confronted by a “random act of kindness”, we tend to step back from it and wonder what it is the perpetrator wants. Let’s face it, we’ve become a paranoid, cynical society, and not without good reason. Everywhere one turns there are people who are all too quick to judge without giving a thought to what has led up to a given situation.

I remember at the time of my mother’s sudden, unexpected death in December of 2004, I was out for some reason and in my state of shock and grief, and distressed over the financial burden and all of the details that surround a family death, I inadvertently drifted toward the lane next to me on Perkins Road. I caught and corrected myself, but when the fellow in that lane (some yards back, I might add) drew up next to me, he flipped me off with an expression on his face that I can only liken to the face of a Tolkien Orc.

Then there was one of my turncoat fans who, after having read my blog entry about Mom’s death, left a hateful comment about how I abused and neglected her, and was glad that she was dead. While our relationship had its troubled times, my mother and I also loved each other very much and I’d taken very tender care of her those years she lived with us preceding her death. Reading this person’s comment was so hurtful, and it came at a time when I was completely vulnerable to attack, that I responded only with, “Your ugliness has hit its mark. I hope you’ve gained some happiness for it.” What makes a person act so unkindly? It has been my experience that, usually, even the nastiest people follow an unspoken code of calling a truce in certain extreme situations, like honoring an emotional DMZ.

Conversely, I remember back in the early ’80s after I’d come home from the hospital following major surgery. I could hardly walk without help. I lived alone in those days and while recovering, I occupied the couch in the den where the telly was situated. It was a long hall that led to the living room, a trek I made only if absolutely necessary. The day after I came home, the doorbell rang, so I shuffled down that endlessly long hall and through the living room to the front door. The caller was a woman whose car had died and she wanted to know if she could use my phone. I let her in, explained my situation and excused myself to return to the den. After she made her call, she called out a thank you to me and quietly let herself out. The next morning the doorbell rang again and when I got to the door, I found sitting on my front step a potted plant and an anonymous thank you/get well card from the woman, who was nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have to do that, but her act of kindness is something I’ve never forgotten.

The thing is, kindness takes a lot less exertion than meanness. It requires less work and less energy, but it pays itself back extravagantly. What goes around comes around, as they say. I’m a firm believer in the threefold law that states that whatever we send out comes back to us three times over. I’ve seen this law at work throughout my life and I generally try to live by it. No one’s perfect, though, and I sometimes have to check myself and consider that the egg-brain who just cut me off might be going through something that has made them temporarily absentminded. And even if that’s not the case and they’re just driving badly, the knowing smile I give them almost always elicits a sheepish smile in return, and they begin driving better. How easy is that?

Of course, there are people out there who, reacting from their fears, just don’t seem to give a crap about anyone, but I think it’s important to keep our focus on ourselves and be self-accountable for our own actions and reactions. Their acts of unkindness don’t make us respond in like manner, we choose to do so, and I’ve learned that people who are unkind are people who have been hurt. Unkindness is a defense mechanism, one that I enjoy disarming although it’s not always easy. And, sometimes, the hardest thing I attempt is being kind with myself when I react rather than respond to someone’s unkindness. But it’s always in my mind, even when the emotions run high. And I understand that being kind to myself is the first step.

Art Credit: Bird In The Hand by Jamie Cahlil.

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Of Lakes, Lawns & Naps

Keystone Lake
Keystone Lake

Unless we could have stayed at the house at Tenkiller Ferry Lake, this has been a fairly perfect weekend. Our only real plan was to drive to Tulsa to celebrate the birthday of Lynette’s father, which we did. After an early dinner at Fish Daddy’s Grill House, we drove back via 51 rather than the turnpike so that we could enjoy the scenery of Keystone Lake and the small ranches that line the highway. We then napped through the evening while Agatha Christie’s Poirot droned on in the background. Because we’ve watched the entire series a couple of times, we find it a nice show to nap to because it’s low-key.

This morning when I came out to get my coffee, I found Lynette making Easter dinner, something I didn’t expect because we’d previously decided to forego it this year. What a great surprise! After enjoying our meal we put on a four-part documentary about Elizabeth I hosted by David Starkey, whom we like very much. His series, Monarchy, is also very good. Of course, naps ensued and we will have to watch it again with our eyes open.

Other than these things the weekend has been uneventful, just the way I like it. The weather has been nice, the lawns have gotten their first mowing of the season, and neither of the cats brought home a dead critter. What more can a person ask for? Sure, a weekend at the lake house would have been nice, but we’ll probably not get that opportunity again. But I’m grateful for Bookends Cottage. I’m also grateful that I’m starting to get my energy back. Hopefully, I feel like doing some recording this week. That’s my plan, anyway.

I hope your week ahead is a good one!

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Without A Net


Sometimes I’m afraid that I put off an air of always being up, always being positive, always ‘on top of the world.’ While it’s true that at my core I’m of a sunny disposition, it’s shared with an equal amount of unhappiness. There’s nothing singular about me; being a Libra, the sign of the scales, I’m riddled with duality. In the midst of the most overwhelming sadness I can always find a reason to smile, and in the happiest of moments I’m always aware that sadness lays just under the surface. People often say to me, “You’ve been through so much grief in your life and yet you’re such a happy person,” and I always respond with, “It’s really not that profound; I just don’t want the fun to be over.” The older I get, the better I get at this, too, because I know nothing lasts forever and everything can change in the blink of an eye. I think this duality keeps me ready for anything.

The past month hasn’t been easy, emotionally. There have been some earthshaking crises that could have thrown me off-balance if I hadn’t retreated from them. I don’t mean I quit dealing with them, I just needed distance from unnecessary involvement, and I claimed my right to protect myself from the fallout. Some might see this as selfish, but is that so terrible? If I were walking through a mine field and somebody yelled, “Don’t step there!” I certainly wouldn’t keep walking. But setting emotional boundaries is hard for me because I run the risk of being misunderstood.

“Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming or accepting blame.
Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries–knowing
your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others.”
Darlene Lancer

In many ways March has been one of the hardest months I’ve experienced in a long time, and in other ways it actually is the hardest. If my decision has caused anyone pain I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intent. But then, I have faith that my family and friends understand this. Instead of judging or taking sides, I have drawn inward to measure my emotional responses so that I can maintain balance. Consequently, I’m feeling stronger now and that tenuous balance is intact. Even if it often feels like a dance upon a high wire without a net.

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