Sunday, April 22, 2012

Community ~ The Value of Social Networks

Social butterfly, was a term my family always used to describe me from my earliest days.  My earliest memories are ones of getting on my tricycle, riding around the city block on which we lived, and stopping by to visit with the neighbors.  I would visit from one house to other, collecting cookies and stories along the way.  Stories were shared with other neighbors as I worked my way around the block.  I did not know it then, but I was, at a very early age, learning about the value of social capital.  In a sense, I was using that social capital to allow information to flow, bonding to an age group that was much older than I, and establishing my identity as an individual and as a part of my community.

I remember a college textbook used while I was in college in the early '60's that spoke of the tricycle path that led to social connections between the adults in newly forming suburbs.  The paths that lead to social connections have always been interesting to me.  As one who needs community, I have certainly seen many changes in how we form and participate in social groups or community.  Even ten years ago, I never could have imagined that in my retirement years, I would become a part of a viable community that is created through the use of the internet.

I have not read the book, Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam, but I am very interested in what he has to say about the value of social networks.  His basic premise is: "social capital refers to the collective value of all social networks."  He also speaks of "the inclinations that arise from the networks to do things for each other," He refers to this as "Norms of reciprocity."

Blogging and Social Capital

Blogging has created a whole new world for me.  When I first began blogging, I never could have imagined the world that such an activity would open up for me.  First of all, I just want to thank my blogging friends for being a part of my life.  Your comments have meant so much to me.  They have given me hope, courage, and comfort.  You have made me feel less alone.  You have encouraged me.  You have made me laugh.  You have given me new things to think about, and you have made me see things in new ways.  

Since January, my physical world has at times become very small.  The concussion that followed the fall I suffered on January 2nd, has resulted in lingering headaches, dizzy spells, and avoidance of many things that were very much a part of who I am and what I do.  I have not been able to drive.  I am dependent on my husband to take me where I need to go.  I am unable to participate in large social gatherings.  I have trouble in crowded or noisy places.  

Added to the challenge of recovery from a head injury, I have also been dealing with arrhythmia where at times my heart is either beating very fast, or I am suffering from palpitations, some of which are due to AFib.  It has not been a fun time lately.  I am on a new medication and wearing a heart monitor.  We shall see where this journey takes us.  

In other words, the social butterfly's wings have been clipped.  I don't know what I would do without my community of bloggers.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there, for reaching out, for caring.

A Few Highlights Since Easter

Easter Sunday, now already several weeks away and very old news, was worth noting.  Easter Day was a glorious one for me.  Early Easter morning, my husband I drove to Colorado Springs to attend church at my former home church with a dear friend of mine.  She and I have known each other since college days. We reconnected about eight years ago, and the friendship has blossomed.  I count her as one of my dearest friends, and one upon whom I can always count for a listening ear.  She is so wise, caring, and intelligent.  I always come away from our conversations and times together a much enriched person.

Linda & Sally
Village Seven Presbyterian Church
Easter 2012
Linda's husband is also someone I first met in college.  We had speech class together.  Linda and I went through rush together back in the day when we were 'rushed' to join a college sorority.  While we pledged to different sororities, our friendship has become one that seems like we are sisters of the heart.
Greg, Linda, Sally

After church, Linda and Greg left to have dinner with family, and Jim and I went to the Cheyenne Mountain Resort to meet my daughter Amy for brunch.  The food was plentiful and delicious.  While the day was certainly not like Easters from the past, we made the most of it and enjoyed our time together.  
Mom & Daughter
After brunch, Amy, Jim, and I made our way to the cemetery to remember our dear Julie who was born on April 8, 1976.  Amy chose tulips for Julie, and I chose some daffodils for my father's grave that is next to Julie's.  He was also an April baby.  We hugged each other and cried as we remembered the sister and daughter who always figured so largely in any of our previous Easter celebrations. Crying always is cleansing for the soul and helps in moving on in our journey of grief.  

A Special Gift from My Husband

Later in the week after Easter, my husband totally surprised me with a special gift.  He took me to dinner at a very nice new restaurant in town.  After dinner, he stood up, took something out of his pocket, and handed me this:

Yes, can you believe it?  That is a box from Tiffany's.  We had wondered into the store while we were in Salt Lake City last month.  Of course, I had to try a few things on just for fun.  He then called the store, ordered one of the rings I had admired, and had it shipped to our home without me ever even suspecting a thing.  

Our 20th anniversary is coming up in June.  He said he couldn't wait until then.  He wanted me to have a new wedding band.  It is a simple band of diamonds set in platinum.  That is exactly what I wanted; he just didn't have to go to Tiffany's to get it.  Of course,  I was thrilled that he did.  

That is a wrap-up of what has been happening around here.  I hope to get back to blogging a bit more regularly soon.  In the meantime, you all are in my thoughts, and I greatly value this community of bloggers.  My best wishes are sent out to all of you.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Another Book Review

HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, a companion piece to Gilead, written in the equally eloquent and poetic style of Robinson's previous book, captured my heart with the complexity of the themes developed in the telling of a story of a prodigal who comes home filled with much trepidation and perhaps a bit of hope.

While I loved this book, I loved Gilead more.  If one has read Gilead, and they should before they read this book, they will find that this book tells of Jack Boughton's experience while he was at home in Gilead after a long absence.

Many times, I found myself weeping as I read this book.  I wept because Jack felt he never had really been a part of the family.  I wept because Jack hurt so much inside that he could not accept himself or the way he had lived his life.  I wept because his family's love, a love that was deep and long lasting,  was not enough to hold keep him anchored in life.

I  admired Jack's honest questioning of life, and faith, and of grace.  I also admired his gentle nature.  His sensitive nature had been hardened and broken by life, and yet he remained at his core honest and sensitive despite his behavior that others interpreted as being dishonest and reprobate.  He found his solace in alcohol until it became the thing that also was destroying him and holding him in its grip.  He is a complex character.  One to study.  One to try and understand.  One in need of a grace which he found difficult to accept though he seemed to offer it to others at times.

The story, told through the third person voice of Jack's sister, Glory, lacked the dynamic first person voice used by Pastor Ames to tell the story of Gilead.  At times, I wished Jack were telling his own story, but then I realized the reader probably would have missed the complexity of Jack's character if he had told his own story.  Glory tried to make sense of Jack and his life and his behavior while he helped her make sense of her own life.

The themes of redemption, of grace, of loss, and of familial ties are all found in this amazing book.  Jack's father, Reverend Robert Boughton, is broken by age, arthritis, and a heart that has been heavy for much of his life for his prodigal son.

He has always taught and preached on grace, yet I thought he was really unable to accept Jack for who he really was, and was unable to extend a full measure of grace to Jack.  His treatment of Jack illustrates the complexity of praying for a prodigal while also accepting and understanding the prodigal who comes home.  It seemed it was almost impossible for the father to actually connect to Jack for who he was and for what he wanted most in life because of the father's inability to stop projecting his own interpretation to Jack's behavior and expectations onto Jack.  Reverend Boughton seems to be stuck in legalism at times, and his religion could almost be seen more as one of tradition and culture than as a belief system that is an exercise in faith based on grace.

Jack, of course, did not make it easy for his father to connect either.  There was a lifetime of misunderstanding and judgement that I felt never really was fully resolved by the father and the son.  Honesty had never been their style of relating.

Pastor Ames does not figure much in this story, but I still have the picture of him as Jack's true papa, the one who in the end was able to understand Jack and extend forgiveness and grace towards him.  Glory also extends understanding and grace towards Jack.  She seems to represent the true "glory" of the family who ministers to the prodigal while the others wish to rescue him or cause him to right his life to conform to the vision of what they want for him out of life.

Jack is an honest seeker.  One wonders if his experience at home will transform him when he leaves, or if he will continue to live a shattered life.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Julie ~ Happy Birthday
The word anniversary takes on new meaning after the death of a loved one.  This coming Sunday, Easter Sunday, which falls on April 8th this year, will mark what would have been my Julie's 36th birthday.  

I have always associated her with spring, and with Easter.  Her first birthday cake was a bunny cake.  Her birthday has often fallen on, or near, Easter Day.  I realized quite some time ago that this year, her actual birthdate would fall on Easter.  

I do believe I started seeing Easter bunnies, furry Easter toys, and assorted chocolate eggs and bunnies on the shelves of the discount stores in early February.  Was Valentine's Day even over with?  An innocent walk down an aisle in WalMart caused me to let out a little cry to my husband while I said, "I have to get out of this aisle.  They already have Easter items on display."  I wondered how I would ever face Easter this year.

Two years ago, April of 2010, on that same aisle in WalMart,  my husband and I had giddily loaded up our shopping cart with enough candy to treat an entire kindergarten class or two.  We were getting ready to have Easter at our house, and we had to make sure we had enough candy.  That Easter Celebration held at our home to celebrate both Easter and Julie's birthday would be the last time I saw her alive. 

Keicha, Julie, & Amy
Easter 2010 

Needless to say, this week has been a very rough one for me and for my family.  I wasn't sure I would even decorate for Easter this year. Finally, just before we left on our Spring Break, I realized that I would feel better if I got out all those small little things that always were on display for Easter.  I needed to see those cute little bunnies after all.  

I needed to put out my collection of daffodils, my favorite flower, that has traditionally been a part of my home decor every Easter.  I needed to remember that to me the daffodil represents the resurrection.   I had daffodils carved into Julie's headstone.  I needed to celebrate the true meaning of Easter and keep hope alive in my heart.

Grief cannot be denied.  At times, it just must be expressed.  I have cried a great deal this week.  Crying is good.  It releases the sorrow that begins to weigh down the heart.  It is cleansing to cry. 

I am learning the great wisdom of these words:  Lean into the grief. You can't go around it, over it, or under it. You have to go through it to survive. It is important to face the full force of the pain. Be careful   not to get stuck at some phase. Keep working on your grief.  

These words come from a list of "Suggestions for helping yourself survive" found on the website entitled, The Fierce Goodbye, Living in the Shadow of Suicide. (click to read the entire list and find other resources.)

I have chosen to lean into my grief because I do not wish to become stuck in one phase of grief.  I am working on my grief by trying to express it in healthy ways.  I know the toll Julie's death has taken on me and on my family, but I also know that I am a survivor.  Julie would want me to remember her by living my life in the most healthy way I can.  

My plan is to celebrate Easter by going to church and remember the hope that I have because of my faith.  

I will remember my sweet baby girl's smile, the one she gave me the first time our eyes ever locked just after she was born 36 years ago.  I will remember the love she gave me and joy she brought me.  

After church, my husband and I plan on having Amy join us for brunch at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs.  

For me,  I hope anniversaries associated with Julie don't just remind me that we lost our sweet Jules, but instead, I hope to focus on remembering the beautiful life we as a family had with us for a treasured time.   Anniversaries mean that I hope we will remember to keep on living, and loving, and laughing,  and celebrating the lives of those who remain as we create new memories to treasure.