Saturday, November 14, 2015


The year was 1996, and we were just about to move from middle Tennessee to Maine.  Packing was done, goodbyes had been tearfully exchanged, all necessary arrangements had been made, and the time had finally come.  The plan was that I would drive son Matthew to Maine and about a week later, husband Ed and daughter Rachel would follow.  There was just one thing left to do.  A couple of days before Matt and I were to leave, I had to play for a wedding.
Ed had just finished 4 years of ministry assigned to a charge near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and in the course of that appointment, he had become acquainted with another minister, whose name was Carol (easy for us to remember!) and whose last name was also similar to ours with one letter difference, Janes, so people were forever getting confused and sometimes we would even get each other’s mail.  Carol’s daughter was getting married, and Carol herself was going to officiate in the ceremony, but would I consent to play the organ?  Even though it was a hectic time for us and our to-do list was a mile long, I readily agreed.
I have played the organ for a lot of weddings in my time, and I frankly don’t remember much of the ceremony, although I’m sure it was lovely and poignant.  I do remember this, however:  Ed and I made a short visit to the reception, and when it was time to go I wanted to say goodbye to the happy couple.  I didn’t know them well, had just met them in my role as wedding organist, and I knew the probability was that we would never see each other again.  Every version of “goodbye” in my mind seemed inadequate, and I vividly remember what I blurted out as we exited the hall:  “Have a good life!”  That would cover the next few decades, I guess.  
I recall thinking how odd the situation was - here I was, an integral part of a major life-changing event in this couple’s lives - an organist at their wedding. I, a virtual stranger, had witnessed one of the most personal and private moments a human being can have.  I had not seen them before, and would no doubt never see them again.  Yet, there we were - our lives entwined for a brief hour or so, and then we would go our separate paths.  So far, almost 20 years later, my prediction has come true, at least for now.  Rev. Janes and Ed were not good friends - she was more of a colleague - and thus we have not kept in touch through the years.  I often think about that couple and my wish to have a good life.  I hope they have, and I hope they continue to live in happiness and peace.  But I will probably never know.
The reason I think about them so many years later is that our encounter made me consider the journey of our lives and the many people we come across.  Some of these people become lifelong friends.  Some are on paths that intersects with ours just for a brief moment, then move away forever.  Some weave in and out of our lives like a drunk trying to walk a straight line for a policeman.  Some are close friends with whom we lose touch because of various life circumstances and with whom we delightfully reconnect many years later.  Some are just strangers and will remain strangers, but we share individual moments in time - some momentous, others mundane.  A smile and greeting exchange at a cash register.  Someone in the audience complimenting me when I performed at a dinner theater.  A former classmate with whom I shared a few years of adolescence.  One of my kids’ teachers I met at open house (although - one of those teachers turned out to become my son-in-law - you never know about those chance encounters....).  The friendly policeman who stopped me at a routine roadblock when I was driving home from work at midnight.  The librarian who used to check out my books when I was a little girl.  The flight attendant who knew I was scared to fly and who tried to reassure me.  The hairdresser who made me look good for my daughter’s wedding.  The nurse who made sure I had a chance to see my brand-new grandbaby, as I was alone in the hospital room watching over everyone’s belongings. 
Then there are the churches we served.  Just like military families, United Methodist ministers move around, appointed to one place, moving to another place, constantly saying hello and goodbye.  Each congregation, each member, affected us in some way.  Some showed us how to be a Christian, and others showed us how not to be.  Every single one a teacher.  
Ed had a seminary professor once who told him that two human beings cannot cross, even for the briefest of moments, without having an effect on the other.  Each one of us is permanently changed by every encounter.  We may not realize it, but we are.
I have even been changed and continue to be changed by total strangers.  Facebook now puts things in my “newsfeed” when one of my friends “likes” a post.  These posts originate from strangers, but I see them as they are shared and many of them make me think, which is always a good thing.  Some of these posts remind me to appreciate life, or how it costs nothing to be kind.  I inadvertently see pictures of complete strangers who have just gotten engaged, married, or had a baby.  I see hopes and dreams and happiness in their eyes, and for a short moment, we connect, as one human being to another, and I join in their happiness.  Then I see a post from a stranger who is grieving - a suicide, and auto accident, a pet who died.  Again, I share a moment and grieve with them.  These are people I have never met and will probably never meet.  But we connect on a very human level, even for a few seconds.
That is what it boils down to - shared humanity.  Every time I encounter another human being, I want to try to remember that this encounter will change us.  And if I can remember that, maybe I can do all in my power to make the change a blessing for both of us.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends

When I was diagnosed with depression last winter, I found a 7-step program to overcome it.  One of the steps was to get out and commune with nature every day.  So I’ve been parading around our yard, enjoying all the wildflowers and everything else popping up all around.  We have everything from irises to lupines to a giant hosta, plus woods with maples, pines, oaks, and all manner of trees.  Lots of stuff growing out there, varied and beautiful.
It occurred to me that my Facebook friends are another kind of garden, just as varied as the life brought forth from the earth on the property around our house.  Variety?  Heck, yes!  Just perusing over my list of friends, I see all kinds of religions - Episcopal, Unitarian, United Methodist, Congregational, Church of Christ, Baptist, Catholic, and assorted other nondenominational Christians.  Some of you are agnostics and atheists.  My friends run the gamut of Republican, Democrat, Independents, and those who couldn’t care less about politics.  Some of you hate Obama and some of you adore Obama.  You may be vegans, vegetarians, or carnivores.  I have fitness-oriented friends and couch potatoes.  I have optimists and pessimists.  I have friends in their 90s and friends that are still teenagers.  I have gay friends, married and single.  I have straight friends who are married and single, some widowed, some divorced. I have Southerners and Yankees and transplants. Some of you are teachers, medical field workers, musicians, animal activists, gay activists, a children’s chorus director, airplane pilots, landlords, a riverboat captain, a librarian, a hairdresser, farmers, some small business owners, and many more who represent assorted other careers.  How do I know all these people?  Some of you friends I met through quilting, through medical transcription, or through music.  Some of you are or have been my co-workers. Some of you were classmates from high school, or friends from churches, both ones we attended and ones we pastored. Two of you are my former teachers.  Some of you are neighbors from decades ago in Tennessee, others are neighbors from just a few years ago in Ellsworth, Maine, and some of you are neighbors living in our current neighborhood.  Some of you I got to know because our kids grew up together, and some of you are friends of our kids who grew up to become our own friends!  Some of you are people I have known all my life, and some of you I have actually never met in person.  Of course, some of you are just members of my crazy, beloved family.  
Now look again at that extensive list.  What are the chances we all agree on everything?  Nil.  What are the chances I care deeply about each and every Facebook friend? 100%.  I am so honored to share in your birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.  I am so honored to grieve with you in your losses of loved ones, pets as well as humans.  I am so honored to watch your kids and grandkids come into this world, grow up, and I cheer with you their successes in a variety of fields.  I travel vicariously on your vacations. I sympathize with (or envy) your weather.  I love your pet pictures and stories.  I am awash in memories of how you people have contributed to my life.  Some of you have taught me, some have challenged me.  Some have inspired me, some have made me - yes - laugh out loud!  Some have passions for ideas I do not share.  Some of you are rejoicing over things happening in our country, and others of you are fearful and despondent about what is happening.  Like my yard, my Facebook friend garden is full and varied.  It is a garden of HUMAN BEINGS in all of their humanness, failures, triumphs, love, and fear.  Certainly we don’t think alike.  Certainly our experiences have led some of us to different conclusions and beliefs from others.  Certainly we grew up in different environments and were taught different things.  I have, I’m sure, something (if I wish to concentrate on the negative) to separate me from each of you. I also, however, have something in common with each of you - and that is what I choose to concentrate on.  I care about you all.  I care about what is going on in your lives, your struggles, your challenges.  I want you to find the happiness you all deserve.  The major thing we have in common?  We want the best for each other, even if we disagree with how best to effect that.
I am not advocating we abandon our passions.  I am not suggesting it would be better if we each gave up our beliefs and integrity to just blend in.  I am suggesting we all treat each other with respect and dignity, not pass around unsubstantiated rumors, not demonize those “on the other side,” and to remember the complexity of that which we call life.  We are required to live our own lives in accordance with our own personal beliefs, yet simultaneously respect those with whom we disagree.
I will end with my dad’s favorite poem by Edwin Markham:
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!"

Saturday, May 09, 2015

An Open Letter to My Dad

Daddy, I can’t believe it’s been 35 years we have lived without you.  It seems just like yesterday I got the phone call from Mama on Mother’s Day, and I remember my shock when she said, “We’re taking your Daddy to the hospital.  I’ve called an ambulance,” and then in the background, the last words I ever heard from you, “I don’t need an ambulance!”  Ed stayed with little Rachel as I drove to Methodist Hospital’s emergency room. I remember standing there, still in shock, watching the crew wheel you in on a gurney as fast as they could run.  That glimpse was the last time I saw you alive.  I remember waiting the awful time in the private waiting room with Mom, then Zuleika came to sit with us.  I remember calling Joy, who was living in Washington, DC, to tell her and she said she would catch the next plane out.  I don’t know how much time passed before Dr. Murdock walked in and said they had done everything they could, but you were gone.  I remember calling Joy back and telling her it was too late to say goodbye.  Shock was just not a strong enough word for what we were feeling.  Our world had turned upside down in one afternoon and we have never been the same.  After Mama agreed to donate your corneas, saying quietly, “I think he would want that,” we left to go to Paw-Paw’s to deliver the sad news.  I remember how he cried uncontrollably, and as you were only 64 years old and he was, of course, your father-in-law, he kept saying over and over, “It should have been me, it should have been me.”  I don’t remember much about the days that followed.  I do remember walking around in your den, the room filled with your reel-to-reel tapes, your stamps, your movies, your choir music - everything that brought you pleasure.  I saw a lifetime unfinished, less than 4 months from the retirement you so ardently anticipated.
In the midst of our grief, you did make me chuckle when Joy and I looked in the files for any information or planning you might have done.  There was a folder marked “Ensley Death” which had what we needed.  Of course, you, the great organizer and recorder, would have done so!  Your funeral was standing room only.  We sang “Lead On, O King Eternal,” and “God Be With You ‘Til we Meet Again.”  I sang “Be Thou My Vision” and Zuleika sang “Eternal Life.”  I remember an abundance of food being brought to us, but I also remember Mama didn’t eat for days.
When you died, you had one grandchild, Rachel, who would turn 2 years old in a few weeks.  Thirty-five years later, you have 4 grandchildren, one who would take Ensley as a middle name, and 4 great-grandchildren! Since you died, Joy has gotten married and has two wonderful, talented daughters.  I’m so sorry you didn’t get to see Ed attain sobriety in 1984, but, as Ed always says to me, “He knows.”  Ed went into ministry and then in 1996 we moved to Maine, where our kids met the wonderful people they married.  Mama is turning 92 this year, and Joy is taking care of her needs enough to enable her to live in an apartment on her own.  I know Mama was always your “little girl” because you married her when she was 19 and you were 8 years older.  You always took care of her and I know it would make you happy to realize she is still being lovingly cared for, as we are doing what you cannot do anymore.  I know you would be so proud of Rachel, Matthew, Kate, and Amelia, as well as the great-grandchildren.  We keep your name alive.  I remember when Rachel was watching your family home movies in the last few years, it brought her to tears, and she said, “I realized how much love is in this family into which I was born!”
Since you left, the world has changed a lot too!  I remember when videos were just coming on the scene, I asked you if you were interested in updating from the old silent home movies, and you laughed and said, “I’ll leave that for y’all.”  Who would have imagined we’d all be carrying smart phones in our pockets - or ditched encyclopedias for Google?  You left this world before the personal computer, before e-mail, before the Internet.  I wish you could have hung around to be able to peruse, sample, and order choir music online, to research your stamp collection, and to share your interests with people all over the world.  You were made for the Internet, Daddy!  And guess what? We elected our first African-American President, and gay marriage is now allowed in many states!  Times are moving fast.
Unfortunately, the world itself is still in turmoil.  Wars are everywhere, even wars using the Internet.  Injustice and inequality are still rampant.  People are still using God’s name to kill everyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do.  People still are straining in vain to hear the ideas of your favorite Bible verse:  “What does the Lord require of thee?  But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”  
But guess what, Daddy?  Your home movies are alive and on the Internet!  You recordings are being painstakingly transferred by Joy to digital format where they can be shared with those who want to hear them.  And I sat down tonight with your oldest great-granddaughter, Caroline, and together we listened to a recording you made of Joy and me when we were 4 and 2 years old.  What a priceless gift - decades after their origination!
Yes, a lot of remarkable changes in 35 years, in your family and on Earth.  But the true values you instilled in us - integrity, truth, justice, equality, service, faith - and your love of music, your curiosity, your passion for learning, your sense of humor - these are the values that never change.  These are the things I give thanks for today, as I sit here, myself now 60 years old.  Joy and I and our families are here because of you.  Countless people have been affected by your love.  The actions and stands you took in your lifetime have furthered the cause of justice and inspired many.

As a country, we just honored the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death.  I am taking the time here to honor just as great a man on the 35th anniversary of his death.  Daddy, we miss you, we love you, and look forward to seeing you again.  Thanks for everything!

Monday, April 13, 2015


We recently had the chance to watch our granddaughter, Caroline, tie for sixth in the Maine State Spelling Bee.  It was an exciting experience in its own right, but I couldn't help think of our frustrating experience with a spelling bee years ago.  When Rachel was in 5th grade, my husband Ed was a pastor in an impoverished area of Tennessee.  We had chosen to send both kids to the public school, and it wasn’t long before we realized that the teachers unfortunately were rather uneducated themselves.  This fact was highlighted in the school spelling bee.  It may help to understand that we have a family tradition of spelling excellence - after all, I managed to place in the Shelby County (Memphis) bee in junior high, and my sister and our children have always been great spellers.  So it was with great anticipation Ed and I attended Rachel’s bee.  It wasn’t long before I realized that the teachers who were leading the bee did not know how to correctly pronounce the words.  It seemed impossible that a bee could be attempted when student were given mispronounced words, but that is what happened.  With every word, I was reaching the limits of my patience.  The breaking point for me nearly came when a teacher gave the word “cherub.”  She pronounced it chrub, like shrub.  Now what child could spell that word correctly, given that pronunciation?  The teacher put the accent on the wrong syllable!  Come to think of it, I should have been forewarned, as a week before, Rachel told us her teacher was teaching the class about a country called “Gu’em” (accent on the first syllable) which turned out to be Guam.

Fast forward decades, and now I am a medical transcriptionist who after years of transcribing for American providers is now trying to decipher dictators from India, Brazil, the Philippines, and eastern European countries.  For months I was totally confused.  They were speaking English, but not any English that was familiar to me.  I recently realized that one of the problems was that most of these dictators were putting the accent on the wrong syllables.  Esophagus became e-zo-FA-gus.  Ever since that realization, when I’m stumped about what I hear, I try to imagine if the word were said with the accent on a different syllable, and I will usually figure out the correct syllable, and understand clearly what the word is supposed to be.  But when the accent is on the wrong syllable, the whole situation can be confusing and frustrating, limiting communication, and putting up what seem like insurmountable barriers.

It occurred to me that life itself, in a broader sense, is made up of syllables.  Love, tolerance, hope, compassion, encouragement, gratitude, as well as hate, distrust, intolerance, anger, and especially, fear.  I believe the syllable of fear underlines so much of our daily interactions, and it is the syllable we accent by default.  Fear of not having enough money, fear of death, fear of losing our jobs, fear of failure, fear of not being accepted, fear of never finding a mate, fear of growing old, fear of losing independence, fear of crime, fear of flying - you name it - fear seems to be our accent of choice.  How much of a difference would it make if we chose to accent love and all that entails?  Where the accent goes makes a world of difference, and...I believe... can make a difference in the world.  

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Where is Carson?

Why haven’t I blogged in months?  Consider this: Since the last time I blogged - 
1.  I lost my 18-year job at our local hospital in August when they decided to close down transcription and outsource it all.
2.  I had to set up a home office from scratch on short notice, costing over $2000 with no severance pay to help with the expense and get used to a much smaller salary.
3.  I started a new job where half of my dictators are English-second-language folks and it is a huge learning curve trying to understand what they are saying.
4.  Our 3-year-old border collie died of epilepsy.
5.  My 91-year-old mom developed a stress fracture and we are considering moving her to assisted living.
6.  My sister lost her job to outsourcing as well.
7.  Our debit card was hacked again.

Now, I’ve heard of stress, but this seems like a bit much happening within a short amount of time.  What was the hardest thing about losing my job?  Believe it or not, it was the transition and all that entailed.  I had to choose new insurance plans, call Aflac and arrange direct payments instead of payroll deduction, notify providers of the insurance change, decide what to do with my retirement fund with the hospital, figure out which computer et al to buy for a home office, paint the room, choose virus software and make sure all required software for my new job was up and running, call the cable company to install a new connection, decide where to put my exercise equipment as the room was being turned over to an office, cancel and/or reschedule appointments in light of a different work schedule, make decisions about how to handle our medical reimbursement fund, make sure I keep receipts for the IRS for future home office deductions....whew!  The list makes me tired just looking at it.  

Do you know what I kept thinking the whole time (well, in between my crying jags and don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed days)?  I need a Carson!  

I’m a big Downton Abbey fan, and Carson is their butler.  Carson is always saying things like, “This problem is too small to worry his Lordship about.  I will take care of it.”  Or...”This problem is too big to worry his Lordship about.  I will take care of it.”  Carson is the transition man, the go-to man when something happens - and he usually successfully intercedes before Lord Grantham has to deal with it.  It is Carson’s job to handle transitions.  Carson calls the insurance company, Carson deals with Aflac, Carson calls the pension fund people, Carson cancels and reschedules appointments, Carson makes sure the bills are paid on time.   God bless Carson!

We all need a Carson in our lives.  Life’s transitions are just too involved nowadays; why, even a simple phone call can result in an hour of wait time listening to horrible music and even after reaching a live person, can be put on hold and/or transferred to other live people who know just as little.  The whole process is exhausting.  

It reminds me of when years ago my sister Joy started a home business of gift baskets.  She was trying to do it in her spare time and work 40 hours a week at her other job.  At one point, she realized there were meal bugs in some of edible goodies she had ordered.  The bugs had spread.  Poor Joy had to make the decision to close up shop.  She told me, “If I had been working full time and had no bugs, I could have done it.  Or, conversely, if I had the bugs but no full-time job, I could have dealt with it.  But - the stress of working full-time PLUS the meal bugs was just too overwhelming to fight.”

It was hard enough to lose my job and start over.  But the overwhelming part came when the energy to train in my new job was vying with the energy it took for my to-do list.  And, as life always goes on, there were the usual things to keep up with - bills to be paid, Christmas gifts to be purchased, bank statements to be reconciled, house cleaning to be done.  

How wonderful it would have been to have a Carson!  Most of the problems would have been taken care of before the news of them even reached my ears, and the rest I could have said, “Thank you, Carson.  You handle it; I trust your judgment.”  

Alas, I am my own Carson.  Husband Ed, of course, was a big help (especially in the encouragement department) but most of the jobs nevertheless had to be accomplished by me.  

After mulling this over for a time, I have come to realize that Lord Grantham is missing out a lot on life - for the petty problems he doesn’t have to handle are the very ones that constitute the mundane reality of life, and the big transitions that he doesn’t have to maneuver are the life-changing ones that we learn from - how to combat cynicism, depression, anxiety.  Handling these situations gives us more self-confidence when we come out on the other end, scratched up a little but still alive and kicking, with more lessons learned.  For to feel the confidence of meeting challenges, you have to be given challenges.  To feel the joy of overcoming adversity, you have to be given adversity.  To be courageous, you have to have something to fear.  

A Carson of my own would have been so helpful.  But I am a different person today than I was in August, and it’s all because I don’t have a Carson to handle everything for me, and maybe that's a good thing.  Hmm... why am I suddenly in the mood for a cup of nice hot tea?