Friday, May 27, 2011

Back in the 1960s, We Were Green, Baby

When I was a kid on Long Island, I sometimes spent Saturdays picking up soda and beer bottles along the side of the street.

Back then, there were no taxpayer-funded signs advertising who kept the street clean. Children looking for something to do and looking to make a few bucks were more than happy to pick up the refundable bottles.

That’s because, way long before “green” was hip, companies sold their soda, beer and milk in deposit bottles. I remember my parents taking the thick-glass gallon milk bottle to the drive-up Dairy Barn. Before that, the milkman from the local dairy picked them up for refill.

As a matter of fact, around the time I moved to Virginia, New York State made it mandatory for companies to offer a refund for all bottles and cans, whether glass, plastic or aluminum. The year after I moved here, Virginia made it illegal for companies to sell refundable bottles.

What is the reasoning behind that?

It has done nothing but multiply the litter. What a waste. And disposable plastic water bottles? Are you kidding?

So us kids were outdoors getting exercise and keeping our neighborhoods clean with the incentive of gathering a few dollars’ worth of bottles. Our parents did not hire personal trainers to get us to lose weight.

An e-mail from a friend entitled, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day,” reminded me of these things.

Things like washing cloth diapers and hanging them on the line. Rather than using an energy-consuming dryer, our mothers dried their laundry with the wind and the sun.

As a child, I did not have dressers and closets bursting with clothing. As a matter of fact, my mother and Great Grandma Bess made most of my dresses. Mom even made my mini-skirts. Each article of clothing handmade, just for me.

When we remodeled our bathroom last year, the husband removed the old medicine cabinet. In back of the bottom shelf was a thin opening for disposing of razor blades. Rather than throw away the whole razor, people used to slip the used blades into that slot.

Where did the old blades go? We found a slew of them inside the wall.

Another thing we refilled was our pens with ink. I must have more than 100 pens in my house right now. When a pen runs out of ink, I throw it away. When I was younger, I had to go to the stationery store to buy refill cartridges. I still do have a pen or two like that. Hmm. Should I chuck all the disposable pens?

When I was a kid, if we wanted to watch TV, the whole family had to agree on what to watch, because we only had one set. Of course, there were fewer options back then because you had just a few channels. Our small set used a lot less power than families do now, with a flat-screen TV in every room.

In school, when it was hot, the teacher opened the windows. We didn’t die. To cool off, people sat on their front porches in the evening, visiting with their neighbors. (Neighbors are the people who live around you.)

Intersections used to have one traffic light fixture with lights in all four directions. Now an intersection has a minimum of four fixtures and usually many more. We pay the power bill.

Now that I think about it, we were pretty “green” back then. Unpretentiously so.

As a matter of fact, do you know that some people install solar panels on their homes just to impress you? Yup, the panels are not attached to anything. They generate no power. They’re just for show. They are there to impress us with the owner’s environmental consciousness.

That’s why I have contempt for the current “green” movement. It’s a consumer thing, to get consumers to buy things that pretend to be or are better for the environment. Or, better yet, to buy things that are colored green. Still buying and consuming. So stupid.

As soon as I was old enough, my dad began paying me to mow the lawn. Back in the 1960s, that meant a manual push mower. It used no gasoline, just muscle power and endurance. No treadmill or gym membership, no money spent on a cute outfit to look cute while exercising. Now that was a workout.

They still sell manual mowers, for less than $100. So smart for someone with a small lawn.

I dare you.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

When the Sound of Worship Fades Away

As he opened the door, Bruno quickly stepped inside the room, set the empty box on the floor. He shut the door noiselessly before turning on the overhead light. He didn’t want anyone to know he was here at his church office on this Friday night.

Lord knows we’ve talked about this enough, he thought.

Bruno turned first to his bookcase. The shelves were full of slender volumes of sheet music, hymn books and CDs. He reached first for a tattered old book whose bright green cover was taped together. It was full of the old hymns he loved: “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”

When he was a boy, the pastor of his parents’ church had given him the book, seeing how the young lad loved to sing the old songs and seemed to have some talent on the piano. Bruno had played every song in that book at some point or other.

All Bruno wanted to do was sing praises to the Lord. And as the worship leader at his church, that’s what he thought he was supposed to do.

Bruno loved any music that praised the Lord. The old hymns, the psalms set to music, the worship choruses. He loved all styles of music. Classical, rock and roll, bluegrass, jazz …

He’d been so excited when he was asked to lead worship at this growing church. At first he had volunteered. Then, as more and more people began attending services, it became a paid, part-time position.

That’s when things began to sour. Oh, not for Bruno. He was happy planning and playing music. But not everyone was happy with what he was doing. Namely, the older longtime members of the church.

When Bruno came to the church, he, the pastor and the other leaders of the church agreed that “blended worship” offered just the right balance of old and new music for their diverse congregation. And that was fine … for a while. Then, as more and more young people began attending, the leaders decided to add another service, a Sunday night service especially for older teens and 20-somethings.

Since the younger folks preferred rock and roll, Bruno weighted the music at this service more in that genre, while still doing one old hymn every week. Some of the people who came had never gone to church before. Nothing delighted Bruno more than to see them let down their guard and give themselves to worshipping God.

Occasionally some of the older folks would slip in to a Sunday night service to check up on what was going on. They did not like what they saw and heard. Several began to complain to the pastor. One man called the service “slap-happy” and a woman called it “a circus.”

We can’t have that, can we? Bruno was pressured to “tone it down,” even at the Sunday morning service. No more “blended.” Even his contemporary arrangements of the old hymns was condemned.

Since his musical creativity was no longer being called upon, Bruno got bored with his job. The young people got bored, too. They became confused about God and church. Church was supposed to be a refuge from the squabbles of the world, they thought. Disillusioned, many of them left. So did the young families. Bruno could only hope and pray that they did not abandon their newfound faith in God.

He finished packing his books and CDs, the papers in his desk. He secured the plastic cover over his keyboard and set his guitar in its hard case.

There was a knock at the door. He opened it to the pastor’s wife, Joanie.

“Bruno,” she said, “I wish you wouldn’t leave. You need to stay and fight for what’s right.”

“But don’t you see, Joanie?” he said. “This fighting is all wrong. This is not being a light to the world. I feel life just draining out of me.”

“But where will you go?” Joanie asked. “Talent like yours should not go to waste.”

Bruno wasn’t ready to go home, where everything would feel so final, so he drove around for awhile, thinking, grieving. It was Friday night and young people were outside the bars, smoking, talking and drinking. They seemed happy. Bruno even spotted a few who had been to the church.

When he saw a sign for “Open Mic Night” at a small pub, Bruno felt a surge of joy. Pulling into the parking lot, he opened his trunk, grabbed his guitar and went inside.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Becoming A Mother Is Transformative

What happens to a young woman when she becomes a mother? What changes take place in her psyche and her emotions?

In the numerous mother-and-child paintings that grace my office, the women hold their babies close to them, their arms around them. These women, no matter their age, have the quality of being maternal.

Motherly, caring, kind, tender, gentle, affectionate, warm, loving, protective. These are the words my thesaurus lists as synonyms for the word “maternal.”

Also, among the Madonna paintings on the walls and shelves are two photographs, one of my daughter with her eldest son, one of my daughter-in-law with first daughter. I knew both of these women before they had children. Before they became pregnant, I would not use the maternal characteristics to describe them—or myself—but there’s no doubt about it now.

Becoming a mother is transformative.

When does it start? Watch any pregnant woman as she rubs her hands over her swollen belly. Observe how she takes care of herself. She takes vitamins, eats healthier foods, quits smoking, goes to the doctor for check-ups. All for the sake of her child. Yes, she is already a mother.

(Case in point. As I write this, I’ve just gotten a text message from my daughter in Belfast, Northern Ireland, telling me she’s e-mailed something for me to read. I have a deadline to meet. The wireless Internet is turned off so I won’t be distracted by checking e-mails or the like. If this message was from a friend or someone at work or from anyone else but one of my children, I would easily wait until I have finished my present task. But this is one of my children who needs something from me… Okay. I checked. It can wait.)

I cannot speak for my daughter or my daughter-in-law, but I know for myself that I would be quite a different person were it not for having borne children. My goals and everything about my life were all about me, what I wanted.

Recently a young friend confided in me about an abortion she had years ago. The baby was conceived in a one-night stand. She felt she had no choice but to abort it. Yet even as she went through the steps of seeking the abortion, talking with the clinic staff and filling out the paperwork, she felt deeply conflicted.

For several years afterward, when she saw a pregnant woman or heard the sound of a baby’s cry, she felt anguish. Why should she feel this way about fetal tissue? Because when she had the abortion—mere weeks into her pregnancy—she was already a mother.

My friend did eventually find help at a post-abortion ministry, in a small Bible study group with other women who’d had a similar experience. She found forgiveness from God, through Jesus Christ, and was able to forgive herself. She has a child now and has found much joy in being a mother.

Many of you know my own story, of how, when I discovered I was pregnant at age 18, the doctor asked me in the same breath whether I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. I’d had no plans of ever becoming a mother. I did not like or want children. I always knew that if I became pregnant, abortion was the only solution. Yet when the day came, I cried at the thought of aborting my baby, Heidi.

Heidi, my curly-haired blonde girl, brilliant and strong and funny. The mother of my two grandsons. She and I are working on making a quilt together. We go to concerts together. She has always been a joy.

On Mother’s Day, as moms, we get cards that contain the maternal words. We are thanked for being motherly, caring, kind, tender, gentle, affectionate, warm, loving, protective.

As if we have a choice.