Oh, Hail.

“Look at this picture,” Dave said. He held the front page of The Tennessean in front of me. (He reads the newspaper while I read the computer.)

It was a bowl of white round balls, taken during yesterday’s fierce storms. Hail. I read the caption.

“Half the size of golf balls,” I said. “Hm. Now why wouldn’t they just choose some other measure if it’s half the size of a golf ball?”

“I don’t know…” he muttered, taking the paper back in front of his face.

“Half the size of a golf ball…that could be, well, one of those little rubber balls that you get on one of those wooden paddles. Or, a big marble…like a shooter. No, nobody knows marbles any more.”

“It doesn’t say ‘half’‘,” Dave said. “It says ‘hail the size of golf balls’.”

He pushed the picture in front of me again. I laughed my morning laugh so big I had to wipe my eyes.

I do that a lot. I see words that are not there. (I laugh a lot, too.) Actually, the word might be there–I just see something entirely different. I’m pretty sure this malady is related to aging. The first time I noticed this complication of comprehension I was reading the newspaper. Same newspaper. Living section.

The headline I read said, “Teens Show Renewed Interest in Screwing”. I blinked. I’m sure my mouth dropped open.

“Renewed?” I asked aloud and hurried to the body of the story.

Sewing. Young people are making more of their own clothes (“sewing”), like they used to (“renewed interest”). “Teens Show Renewed Interest in SEWING.”

I would worry about myself if these perception predicaments were less entertaining.

“Did you hear your mom and dad yesterday, when we were holed up downstairs, talking about ping pong balls versus golf balls?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “They were wondering why the weather people use golf balls to tell the size of hail instead of ping pong balls.”

We took to The Cellar yesterday after the storm sirens had blared for about fifteen minutes. We had Murphy, wine, and crackers and the TV and computers were still working, so it wasn’t too bad. The hail pelted Downtown Nashville, Channel 4’s Lisa Spencer told us, ice the size of golf balls.

“Your brother’s ex-wife was a ping-pong champion,” Dad said.

“Really?” I said. “I never knew that.”

“Oh yeah, I never saw anybody that could beat her.”

“Huh.” There wasn’t much to say to that.

Dad went on. “A ping pong ball is a lot lighter than a golf ball.”

“Aren’t they about the same size, a ping pong ball and a golf ball?” I asked.

Dave got in the game. “I think a golf ball is bigger.”

“A ping pong ball doesn’t have anything inside. Just air,” Dad said.

“We know that,” Mom answered.

“That’s why you can hit a golf ball further. It’s the weight.”

“We know that,” she said again.

I updated my Facebook status three or four times while we were hunkered down. First I said it was time for Merle’s song, “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” Lisa Spencer gave us minute-by-minute accounts of where the center of the storm system was located so my FBF’s (Facebook Friends) were up to date. I said there was golf ball hail downtown and that it was so dark, the weather reporters warned us that we might not be able to see a tornado. Lisa told us the storm was moving at sixty miles per hour–so I told, too.

I reported, and my FBF’s responded–as they had earlier. We’re thinking of you. Be safe. The Lord protect you. Stay covered. Praying. I was moved by the expressions. I reminded myself to more often offer words of encouragement, and hope, and consolation. Everyone needs to know that someone cares.

The winds and rain moved over us in a very few minutes. Really, over us. Mom finished her snack mix. Actually, she finished everything but the pretzels. She asked Dave if he wanted them. He did.

Okay, I posted, it’s done, but there’s another severe thunderstorm coming. I knew that because Lisa Spencer couldn’t wait to tell us.

Dad said, “Well, I think it’s time to go on home. And I’m going up the stairs.” He was referring to the stairs that lead from their apartment down to the courtyard. I suppose that’s their front door.

Mom said, “No, I’m going back up the inside stairs. I don’t have shoes on.”

“Dad,” I said, “You don’t need to climb those stairs, either. They’ll be slick. Get on the lift.” After several exchanges, he agreed to accommodate my wishes.

The power never went out until everything calmed down. I guessed the Nashville Electric Service guys were working on a pole somewhere in our neighborhood. I took my flashlight and went to bed. It was early.

This morning, after Dave and I guffawed over my mistaken reading of the photo caption, I checked out the difference between a ping pong ball and a golf ball. Hear ye, hear ye! A ping pong ball is 40 mm in diameter, was 38 mm until October 2000 when they changed the rule. The 38 mm ball traveled faster and had more spin; I wondered why they wanted to change it. A golf ball is no less than 42.67 mm wide. Leave it to the people who knock around a little thing with a skinny stick to get nit-pickily detailed about the diameter of their ball.

But I like that “no less than” part. That means that somebody like me–someone who needs a club as wide as a ping pong paddle to hit that dimpled little ball–could play with a larger target of the swing! I might do that.

I’m not sure there’s a lot of difference between 40 mm hail and 42.67 mm hail. Either one produces big dents in vehicle bodies and hurts when it hits your head. Even hail of much smaller proportions creates great damage: strips crops, pelts holes in a shingled roof, destroys property. So it probably was of little consequence if what I saw in The Tennessean was “half the size of golf balls” or “hail the size of golf balls”. I’ll probably make more mistakes like that, you know, just reading it wrong.

This morning, I saw that some of my old friends from high school posted that I ought to get myself back to California. Come home. I checked my FB posts to see if I had made them sound like I was scared. No, at least not to me. We weren’t scared, but we were exercising appropriate caution. I was entertained, and I was entertaining myself by posting updates.

Come home, it said; another, move back here.

And then I thought, Wait a minute. These people are the same age as I am. No doubt they have the same reading problem as I do. They just read it wrong. 

I had to respond, “I am home”.


Christmas Eve 2011

Morning always comes early on Christmas Eve. I don’t plan it, I just wake up. This quiet, this peace, this day…I don’t want to miss it. The lighted trees, three of them, are on timers set to go dark at 11 P.M. so I scurry around to flip the timer switches to “Manual.” The little cashmere tree lights the den and the white tree on the table in the living room shines through the picture window for all the passers-by. But, ahhhh…only I can see the tree on the porch, through the double glass doors. It’s the happy-accident tree, on the porch because I could not bring myself to move furniture to put it up in the den. I am looking at a Christmas card, one of those with only a touch of gold glitter, maybe sitting in a snowy meadow with bunnies and squirrels and deer, angels hovering, the kind of view that sort of warms you inside.

The porch tree has no animals and no snow. We won’t have a white Nashville Christmas and the foxes, squirrels, and raccoons are still nestled snug in their beds—the Shih-Tzu, too. I’m sure the angels are there but I don’t see or hear them. The similarity to the Christmas card scene is only in my imagination but I’m happy to be up early to have this calm to my selfish self, to watch the twinkle of the lights against the dark.

I was late with the Advent wreaths this year. I have tall tapers for the metal twig candelabra in the piano room but I couldn’t remember where I put them. There was no sign of the pink and purple votives for my wineglass wreath, either. I missed the glow of those lights against the dark outside my window for the first sixteen days of Advent.

I surprised myself by not running out to find new ones so that I could “start Advent on time.” I knew I’d find them, probably next Easter, in the “safe place” where I put them last Christmas. I found all the candles on the morning of the seventeenth day of Advent. I was in the pantry area of The Cellar looking for chili beans and I felt their presence. You’re getting warm…Yes, they’re very close. Yes, here they are, neatly packed and labeled and on a shelf with the labels facing outward. Nothing was in front of them. I just didn’t see them the twenty other times I gazed at the same shelves.

Advent is a season of waiting—waiting and watching. In the Christian Church, Advent is a time to practice patience in waiting for something that happened two thousand years ago, the advent of our God to walk among us as a child. Advent is also four weeks of making preparations for the resurrected Christ to return to earth, a future event. But while we time travel simultaneously backward and forward with Advent, and make peace with this paradox of stillness and busy-ness, we must also meet somewhere in the middle of the ages for patience in the present.

It seems easy to wait for Christmas. Who has doubt that it will arrive on December 25? The store clerks used to ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?” as they checked us out. And if we answered that we were not ready, we might get the answer “Well, it’ll come whether you’re ready or not.”

Waiting for Christ’s return—someday—only requires an imagination, a hope that there is more something waiting after the last breath, and a willingness to suspend disbelief: I know, some call that “faith.”

But now, the patience in the present, the waiting in the here and now—that’s more difficult for me. I’ve come to think it means living into all those conflicting feelings that fill our moments and our days, mine and yours. Faith and disbelief, struggle and acceptance, sadness and laughter, grief and joy, anxiety and contentment, burden and relief, clarity and puzzlement, “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”, they come upon us in syndromes, never one at a time, and very often all romping—or lazing—around in a mind-party.

I struggle to find the Advent candles—and accept that I can do the waiting and watching without them. A son leaves for college—and another comes home from battle. A woman is left alone—and finds herself. A good friend dies—and a baby is born. This is no exchange, one for the other, but a mix, and a mix of continuums. Struggles in one piece of the brain might overpower the acceptance in the heart. The abundance of your joy might possibly overcome the tinge of despair in my soul.

This quiet morning, in love with the glow of the lights, I grieve those we’ve lost, but feel such hope and joy for infants born and for the faces of the little ones so delighted by Christmas. I give thanks that the soldiers have returned from Iraq, while knowing that there are still thousands still there to “finish up,” thousands more in Afghanistan and other far places, many thousands of families grieving those who will never come home, other thousands wounded. I am anxious over the children with not enough to eat, and delighted that my jobless friends are going to work in January. The list goes on…good and bad, at the same time.

I am burdened by the condition of our country, but the load is made lighter when I see the goodness showered during this season. The real humanness, that of doing for each other, loving some that we may never know, checking our abundance in favor of sharing–it’s there, like those Advent candles. I forget it and lose it under the weight of worry and blame. I find it in a moment of just “being.”

Maybe there are angels watching over us. Their music reminds us that we are all continuing on, in the paradox, all waiting…together.

December                                                                                                                                                           By Gary Johnson, from The Writer’s Almanac

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Dear Friends.


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