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IF

A few weeks ago a kindred spirited friend, Shari—who loves many of the English poets whom I love—mentioned Milton’s sonnet On His Blindness.  I responded with a whopping “YES!”  I hadn’t read that sonnet for years, but I still recalled the poignant last line:  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  I thanked Shari for the déjà vue, and that evening I located my beautiful antique volume of John Milton’s poems.  Here is the sonnet, followed by an explanation of why it has meant so much to me in recent weeks:

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton
 
As many of you know, our daughter-in-law, Rosemary, is facing a stand off with breast cancer.  The first post-op reports were encouraging, but complications have been discovered and both chemo and radiation will be needed.  For certain, 15 years ago (and perhaps as recently as 6!) I would have been on a Denver-bound plane—probably more than one time, to help Rosemary, our son, Karl, and their family during the difficult days ahead.  Sometimes physical issues ramp up so gradually, I had to mentally pinch myself to realize that NO—I probably should no longer travel “to help out”.  
 
I cannot “Hoover” (as they say in England) my own carpets, let alone someone else’s.  Fatigue often renders me useless for purposes other than reading, blogging, knitting, writing letters, or painting after 6:00 p. m.  My 82 year old husband and I are so attached to each other that leaving him alone (even in the company of a sweet Pembroke Welsh corgi) might break my heart (or his, or both)! 
 
We have an amazingly energetic daughter, Debbie, who loves to travel, loves her brother and his family (just as I do), and is incredibly deft at helping most anyone, anywhere!  Debbie has already been to Denver once since Rosemary’s surgery 2 weeks ago, and may quite possibly return!  Thus the re-reading (again and again) of On His Blindness ministered powerfully to my soul which had been considerably troubled by the realization that I’d no longer be flying to Denver, to help out. 
 
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”  And while I stand (sit or lie down) and wait, I pray!  I’m quite certain that Milton did that as well! 
 
Margaret L. Been, ©2013
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He (the infamous “weather man”) was wrong again.  According to yesterday’s TV map, a rainy belt ran through our Southern Wisconsin counties, with snow piling up in the north. 

Joe and I have an entire day at home, with no clinic appointments.  This is a treat.  I’d planned to grab an umbrella, and walk in the rain.  Then I got up and looked out the window.  Well, I’ll just change the plan a bit and walk in the snow and ice yet one more time!  

Later today I’ll pull my little “rebellion and denial” act which consists of brewing super strong Earl Grey tea, cooling the tea, and pouring it over—you’ve got it—a tall glass full of ICE!  Iced tea is my very favorite beverage on the face of this earth.  Drinking iced tea on a cold, snowy day is a means for my rebel soul to say “Okay, life goes on—and I’m going to enjoy it!”

I’m recalling a Saturday back in 1999.  I ‘d arrived at Mitchell Field, supposedly to board a 7:00 a.m. flight to Denver for a week’s visit with our Colorado son and his family.  The weather was much like today, and conditions were odd.  Planes were taking off from Mitchell, but they were not able to land.  My plane to Denver was stalled just a few air minutes away, in Madison, Wisconsin—waiting for the “all clear” to land in Milwaukee.

It was a congenial bunch of people who sat in that concourse for—I kid you not—8 hours!  What else can you do, but make the most of a delay!  We read, snoozed, ate, and visited the day away.  It was like one of those novels where a bunch of diverse people are thrown together and become “friends” for a short, once-in-a-life period of time.  Stories are shared along with destinations and reasons for travel.  One is definitely “part of the human race” on a day like that!

But one woman could not relax and make the most the occasion.  She was dressed for the slopes, and had planned to meet friends in Breckenridge around noon.  The woman kept fidgeting, frowning, grousing, and running up to the check-in clerk—spilling out the reason why she had to get on a plane to Denver that very moment.  The clerk’s patience was legendary.  He kept apologizing (as if the weather conditions were his fault!) and trying to smooth the feathers of this woman who wouldn’t stop quacking.

Finally, I strolled up to the counter where the unhappy traveler was pestering the clerk and said to the woman, “You know, you are talking to the wrong person about the weather.”  I pointed heavenward and added, “You should talk to SOMEONE UP THERE!”

I don’t know whether or not my two cents worth made any difference in the unreasonable woman’s thinking, but I’m sure it helped the beleagered clerk know that he was not alone!  🙂

The weather is a microcosm of life!  Tomorrow Joe goes for his (we hope!) final surgery—a rotator cuff repair on the shoulder which literally stopped the front left wheel of our large, rolling HONDA® van last October.  Although the 4th degree burn on his leg has been the most life-threatening of Joe’s injuries, the 2 torn shoulder tendons have caused the most pain—excruciating pain! 

Facing surgery is like waiting at the airport for a plane to land or take off.  We select our surgeon, just as we select our airline—with research and that necessary degree of trust in human invention, as well as intervention!  But we relay all of our concerns, and our thoughts on the matter, to the ONE who is in control:  SOMEONE UP THERE!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Note:  Due to ubiquitous unwanted input on my 5 blogs, I am dis-allowing comments at present.  I can’t go back over 2 and 1/2 years of entries and dis-allow comments on each one, but I can start with the most current. 

It amazes me that so many people have nothing better to do than: 1) advertize where advertizing is banned; 2) promulgate trash; 3) indulge in arrogant pontification out of pure cussedness and a contentious spirit! 

So it’s “spam aloft”!  However, I am not sending the edible variety aloft.  I give my readers credit for being cerebral enough to eat all things circumspectly, delicately, sparingly, politely, graciously, fastidiously, thoughtfully, intelligently, and in moderation. 

If you enjoy your occasional canned product (or deli sandwich which often is equally packed with sodium) you will receive no supercillious judgments from me or anyone else on this page!

Regarding Hormel’s world famous product recently reviewed on this site, there’s an Israeli rendition of SPAM®—beef rather than pork shoulder, which inspires me to mention another once-in-awhile comfort food treat:  HEBREW NATIONAL HOT DOGS, blessed by a rabbi.  Mmmmmmm, good!  🙂   

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We have just returned from a mini-vacation at our Northern home, and I am a bit euphoric over warm spring and the beauty of Wisconsin! 

Up North we thrilled to the loons, the clacking of frogs all night in our bay, the full moon rising over the river as viewed through our large bedroom window, a thunder storm, and other natural wonders. 

On Memorial Day weekend, we did the annual rummage tour around our lake and into the town of Phillips.  Yes we are still rummaging, and probably will be as long as we can navigate from garage to yard.   I found scenic paintings to cover some of the walls in our home up there, walls which were denuded by our move to Southern Wisconsin.   Bare walls are a huge No-No in my decorating agenda!

I also found a book of letters and journal entries by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—a beautiful writer with a beautiful soul! 

But the best part of the rummage circuit in our Northern neighborhood is VISITING.  Everywhere we stop to browse through second-hand treasures, there are friends to enjoy.  Small town and rural shopping is a high social event, one which abounds in joie de vie! 

Just like “old times”, Joe and I had our Friday fish fry at the Phillips Cafe, and Sunday dinner there as well—with extra gravy on the great mashed potatoes.  (We rarely do gravy at home, but when we are out what a treat!)

We went to church, visited with friends, and it was like we’d never left.  Dylan got to run free as he always did—never leaving the area around the house, while experiencing all the exciting scents and sounds of the northwoods and guarding us from potential wolves and bears. 

To crown the vacation, we came home a different way—angling down Highway 16 from Portage to our home in Nashotah which is right off 16, rather than taking the usual I-90/94 which is always loaded with traffic to Madison, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

We took “the road less traveled”, and it was wonderful—dipping and winding through farms and that still vibrant Wisconsin institution, The Small Town.  We arrived at our door in Southern Wisconsin, minus the stress that normally characterizes the last 2 hours of the trip.

Now we are at home in Southern Wisconsin.  Our neighbor upstairs is no longer gardening his ample space along the garage wall and he has turned it over to us!  This is a sunny garden, perfect for tomatoes and sun loving flowers and herbs.  Yesterday I weeded out the plot and planted tomatoes—plus clematis against the wall, coneflowers, bugbane, sweet basil, and a couple of unknown-to-me beauties.  Today I will fill in with my all time favorite annual—snapdragons.

Again and again I’m aware of the fact that we are contentedly “at home” wherever we go, wherever we are!  As long as there are people to love, a book in hand, and something to nurture (pets and/or plants) or make (a knitted garment, picture, or poem) I am delightedly at home!

Overflowing cups!  🙂

©2010, Margaret L. Been

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Exactly a year ago, Joe and I were totally contented in our up north home—believing we might be there forever, and thinking no place on earth could ever be so special.  On a below zero March day in 2009, I went outdoors and heard the distant shrieking of a train—a rare sound, as we were 9 miles from the railroad track which ran north and south through that part of Wisconsin.  In the eight years we’d lived there, we’d only heard a train 3 or 4 times from our home—on days where there was virtually no wind or when the wind came from the exact direction of the moving train.

On that day in 2009, as I savored the faint, far-away music of the rails, I said:  “If we ever have to leave this beautiful home I want to live near a railroad track—one that is in active use!

Well a year later, here we are—living 280 miles from our northern home, and 280 yards from the busiest railroad in the area.  Many freight trains lumber through each day, and the Amtrak runs from Milwaukee to points west and back again to Milwaukee. 

The shrieking, rumbling, and clacking of trains send me into paroxyms of euphoria grounded in my childhood.  During World War II gas was rationed, and we traveled by train rather than by car.  Our family lived 80 miles north of Milwaukee in Chilton, Wisconsin.  Since the Milwaukee area had been my parents’ home for decades, we kept going back there.  My mother and I made the 80 mile train trip to downtown Milwaukee frequently—staying at the Schroeder Hotel, shopping at the Boston Store and Gimbels, and taking in a matinee film nearly every day of our city adventure. 

The sidewalks of Milwaukee were a sea of sailors from Great Lakes Naval Base.  I recall the spiffy white uniforms with flowing bell bottom trousers, and the cheerful courtesy of young military men in an era when manners and consideration were the norm.

Trains!  I felt like I was entering Heaven’s gate when I stepped into one.  Back then trains belched out black steam, and deposited soot and grime as they rumbled along.  But never mind!  The ride was worth it all!

Perhaps some folks get a thrill when they hear planes overhead.  I enjoyed air travel for 5 decades, but now I find airports to be exhausting and hectic.  Obviously the security is necessary, but the pleasure of soaring above the clouds has been dampened for me—especially since we no longer get a meal on our flights.  I guess I’m a down-to-earth person in essence!

The Amtrak is expensive unless one rides in a coach, so Joe and I undoubtedly will continue to fly when we travel any distance.  Sitting up all night in a train coach was fun in the early 1950s, when I rumbled west to my college in Colorado.  But at this point of maturity, I need a bed for sleeping.

Meanwhile, every day I experience nostalgia trips with the shrieking, rumbling, and clacking through our walls—just 280 yards from our door!  🙂

Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

NOTE:  The above copyright free illustration is courtesy of http://karenswhimseys.com/

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Dorothy said it, and I second it:  There’s no place like home!  I follow the tradition of my mother and two grandmothers—all home-loving women. 

When our daughter Martina was 3 years old, she was a social gadabout.  She would get up and play for awhile each morning—and then get restless and say, “I want to go somewhere.  I want to go ANYWHERE.” 

In answer to this ongoing plea, I made up a little song for her:  “There’s no place like home, home is the nicest,” ending with “Home is the place I can really be ME!”  The song worked fairly well on some occasions, and I constantly dreamed up creative projects Martina could do with me at home, but hey!  She was the youngest of 6 children, and her siblings were teen agers and young adults.  Martina and I were alone together at home all day.  Frequently, I indulged her in one of my favorite pastimes:  eating lunch out at a reasonably-priced restaurant and browsing in antique stores and resale shops.  (To this day, Martina and I go lunching and antique-browsing whenever we have some time together!  It’s our mother/daughter thing.)

Martina socialized with people in restaurants and shops, and she charmed the daylights out of folks wherever she went.  She enjoyed visiting my friends in their homes, too, and whenever a  friend gave her the go-ahead signal Martina would explore every inch of the house. 

As Martina grew up, it became obvious to my husband and me that she was a person who would travel far afield.*  This has proven to be the case.  Martina has spent time from coast to coast in the USA.  She has traveled in Denmark, Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, and Egypt–and she has friends all over the globe.  Now she’s finishing up a 4 year stint of teaching in Nigeria.

But guess what?  After being away from Wisconsin since 2000, Martina plans to “come home”.  She will be looking for a teaching job in the Milwaukee or Waukesha area, and she hopes to find an apartment somewhere nearby.  At least for awhile.  Martina gets a bit dreamy-eyed during conversations.  She muses, “You know, I have never been to South America!”

For me, home is RIGHT HERE–wherever I currently live and enjoy my billions of hobbies.  (Please forgive the hyperbole; it’s a literary device!)  Home is HERE where my friends and family can visit, and I can easily visit them in their homes.  Home is HERE, with the same window views, outdoor walks, and pleasant activities everyday. 

I love the details of every day at home—hugging my husband, spoiling my dog with treats, setting a table, washing dishes, dusting and re-arranging pretties on a shelf, sloshing watercolors on paper, practising Fur Elise, knitting funky garments, typing on my blogs, checking the 10-day weather forecast online, reading novels and documentaries set in many different countries and cultures around the world, walking in the neighborhood, visiting with friends, etc. 

Much as I love words, and strive to know their meaning, there is one word I cannot comprehend, and that word is “boredom”.  I have never understood the meaning of that word, and I have no patience with people who say they are “bored”—whatever that might be! 

Martina refreshes me with stories of faraway places and people, which I can experience simply by listening and imagining.  Thanks to an adventuresome daughter, and rooms full of books via which to travel, I can “go somewhere—go ANYWHERE” right here where I love most of all to be:  at home.

*Martina has travel in her gene pool.  My father and his sister, my Aunt Gladys, were lovers of travel.  Dad lived to be 102.  He was fascinated by engineering wonders, and when nearing his 100th birthday he was still talking about how he wanted to tour Egypt and see the pyramids. 

It’s a wonderful thing, the way God made each of us to be different.  As my mother used to say, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world!”

Margaret L. Been—All Right Reserved

 

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