Beautiful and Terrible

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

Frederick Buechner

Looking down at the beach from Pointe du Hoc in Normandy. Of the 225+ Rangers that attacked, only 90 survived.

On my little journey of beautiful places drawing ever nearer to my home, today’s stop is Normandy.

Normandy itself was beautiful. I didn’t know I could so readily fall in love with a place that wasn’t my home. Even Wyoming took its time to grow on me.

But with Normandy, it was love at first sight.

Lush green farmland. Cows. Old stone buildings. History. Friendly people. Patisseries. Beaches.

The beaches are beautiful.

And terrible.

I couldn’t look at them without feeling a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat.

Beach view from the walkway at the American Cemetery in Normandy

This is a place where brave men sacrificed themselves for others. It doesn’t get more beautiful and terrible than that.

We’ve talked about taking a family trip to Normandy. I want my children to see and know what happened there.

“Do they have regular beaches there?” one of my children asked.

“Yes,” I said, because I had seen them — stretches of sand and ocean.

But I’m not sure I could play there, on these beaches where men died.

Imagine, if you will, that our soldiers hadn’t done what they did there. What a different world we would live in. It almost compels me to play there — and enjoy the freedom purchased with their sacrifice.


A friend tagged me in a photography challenge that involves posting nature photos (taken by me) for seven days. She did it on Facebook, but I’m going to do mine here, starting with far away places and moving closer to home every day.

Today, Day #3, is from Normandy, over 3400 miles from Cooperstown!

I’m going to tag some of my favorite bloggers to take up the challenge too. If you’re tagged and don’t want to do it, that 110% fine with me. I totally understand.

Vanessa — I’m tagging you because I love your garden pictures. Flowers always make me smile.

Hospitality

Hospitality is certainly part of Muslim culture… It is a reminder of the importance of hospitality in understanding people and allowing them to know you. In our American culture we don’t place as high of a premium on it, and we kind of expect that we can just tell people what we think, and they’ll just accept it because we told them. We don’t have that element of hospitality anymore that allows us to really get to know people on a heart level. 

Jonathan Trousdale, The Bosnia Project

Amy had warned us about Bosnian hospitality before we traveled — but mostly it was in terms of coffee drinking. I thought, That’s not such a problem. I like coffee.

And it was true — we were offered lots of coffee. Served in tiny cups and often with sugar cubes. Made the Turkish way.

It turns out I prefer my large American mug of coffee with half-and-half in it.

But Bosnian hospitality – oh my goodness!

Ajla, our junior hostess, playing the harmonica (aka accordion) for us

The coffee was such a tiny part of their hospitality. On two nights we were welcomed into homes for veritable feasts. The first of those meals I would place in the top ten meals of my life. The food was absolutely amazing, especially the baklava.

Bosnian hospitality also includes music. At that first feast, Ajla started the musical segment off playing the “harmonika” (aka accordion), but then there was singing and dancing that went on late into the night. Such a celebration!

Two nights later we dined at a fudbal (soccer) club and watched a game that included the two men from our group.

Bill-2 and Bill-1 dressed for soccer

Watching the game before dinner

After the game and dinner, someone got out an accordion again and the men sang. The best men’s choirs in the world had nothing on this group. It was wonderful.

The second dinner in a home was on our last night in Gradačac. We drove and drove on winding country roads until we came to the house. We dined on a large porch that overlooked a valley. Once again, an accordion came out after dinner. The food was great, the singing fun, and the view spectacular.

More accordion!

What a view!

If I could do one thing in the Bosnian way, it wouldn’t be making coffee or bread or pie or even baklava — although all those things were amazing — if I could do one thing the Bosnian way, it would be to practice hospitality.


The panorama of the valley is my day two entry for the photography challenge I’m doing. It involves posting nature photos (taken by me) for seven days.

I’m going to tag some of my favorite bloggers to take up the challenge too. If you’re tagged and don’t want to do it, that 110% fine with me. I totally understand.

Maneé Trautz — I’m tagging you for three reasons.

One — because when I was looking for hospitality quotes I found one that said “Be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons.” I’m not entirely sure why that’s a hospitality quote, but it made me think of you and your flamingo series back in February (which I loved).

Two — your last post included a picture of a turtle. My last post included a picture of a turtle! Total kismet. (Plus, turtles amble, and that’s the word of the day.)

Three — You haven’t written much lately, my friend. (nudge, nudge)

 

Little Things in Dubrovnik

“I suspect many of us walk past true gems every day without considering where they came from and what journeys they have endured.”

Richard LaMotte, Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems

After our morning swim in the Adriatic Sea, Leah set about collecting sea glass. She gathered quite a few pieces in her hand and then left them in a little pile on the beach. The fun for her was in the finding.

Sea glass from the Adriatic

I imagined some child coming to the beach after we left and being delighted by the little collection of green, white, and amber bits. The pieces had lost the smooth shimmer of new glass,  but they had a better beauty given to them by the Adriatic Sea.

For me the lesson was in leaving it behind. I am a saver from a long line of savers. We save everything. In fact, I took a few pebbles from the beach home that day. They were so pretty and I wanted to remember that morning.

They’re still in my bag, though.

And the snapshot of the sea glass is enough to help me remember.

I need to learn to let go — of stuff.

On the sea glass morning, when we got back to our apartment, a small turtle poked his head out in the garden.

A little turtle in the garden at our Airbnb

One of the biggest lessons from my European travels is that Americans need to slow down. We’re always in a hurry, always watching the clock. So much of the world takes life at a more leisurely pace — and it’s wonderful.

It’s good for the body.

It’s good for the soul.

Take a walk with a turtle and behold the world in pause.

Bruce Feiler


My friend, Renee, tagged me in a photography challenge that involves posting nature photos (taken by me) for seven days. She did it on Facebook, but I’m going to do mine here, starting with far away places and moving closer to home every day.

Today, Day #1, is from Dubrovnik, where I was 4500 miles from home!

I’m going to tag some of my favorite bloggers to take up the challenge too. If you’re tagged and don’t want to do it, that 110% fine with me. I totally understand.

Anna Brown — I’m tagging you first for three reasons.

One — because when I first discovered you, you were in MONGOLIA. Talk about the farthest reaches of the world. Plus, I think you’re still pretty far away — somewhere in the wilds of Canada.

Two — you’re somewhere in the wilds of Canada (did I already say that?) and I think Canada is absolutely beautiful.

Three — I love when you write, and you haven’t written much lately, my friend. (nudge, nudge)

 

Lost in the Hospital

Today I lost my father.

No — it’s not what you think. I misplaced him, or he misplaced himself.

It felt a little odd to tell people, “Umm… I can’t find my father.”

He had a doctor’s appointment this morning, so I dropped him at the hospital door and went to park the car.

Every single other time that I have done this it has worked. He slowly makes his way to the registration, answers the questions about black lung benefits and whether he has traveled outside the country in the past three weeks — and somewhere in the midst of this I catch up with him and shepherd him to the appropriate clinic.

This morning, however, I had trouble finding a parking spot. By the time I got inside, he was nowhere to be seen.

I ran up the stairs to the second floor where the Prime Care clinic was. He wasn’t in the waiting room.

I ran back down the stairs to registration. “I lost my father,” I told the woman at an open registration desk. “Can you verify for me whether he checked in or not?”

After answering a few questions, she confirmed that he had registered for an appointment in Prime Care.

Up the stairs again — but he still wasn’t in the waiting room. I went to the reception desk there. “I lost my father,” I told the woman who helped me. “Can you call back and see if he has already gone back into an exam room?”

“Oh,” she said, “did you want to go back with him?”

“I need to be back with him,” I told her. “He’s 87 and has some dementia.”

She called the nurses’ desk immediately and then said to me, “No, he’s not back there.”

I ran to the third floor. He goes there for cardiology appointments. Maybe he was confused about what clinic to go to. But nope.

I ran to the first floor. Maybe he went to surgical clinic. We’ve gone there a few times recently. No sign of him, though.

I ran back up to the second floor. I was getting my stair workout in early. There was still no sign of my father.

My last idea was for them to page him over the loudspeaker in the hospital, but, to be totally honest, I wondered if he would even hear it. And where would I ask him to be directed to? I was running out of ideas. But I approached the reception desk anyway.

“I still can’t find my father,” I said.

She looked at me sympathetically. “Do you want me to try to put an announcement on the PA?”

I sighed, and looked around hopelessly.

Just then, who should come shuffling along with his walker? My father.

“I went up and down on that elevator,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to not know where you are.”

Yes, I thought, it was a terrible to not know where you were.

The Texture of War

Imagine to yourself a gloomy city, all burning with brimstone and noisome pitch, full of citizens who are unable to leave it.

St. Francis de Sales, in Meditation VII: Of Hell

Leah and I watch a short movie about the 1991 siege on Dubrovnik. In it, we saw people clustered in doorways and pressed against walls as they watched the attack on their city. Buildings burned in the background. When I read St. Francis’ description of hell, I thought of Dubrovnik.

When I traveled to the former Yugoslavia, reminders of war were all around me.

I saw shells of buildings, or were they shelled buildings, or both?

I’m the kind of person who averts her eyes in war movies, but I couldn’t avert my eyes there.

I drank it up, storing far more images in my mind than I did on my camera.

War leaves a texture all its own. Even 25 years later.

From Dubrovnik:

Dubrovnik

From Mostar:

Mostar

From Sarajevo:

Sarajevo

From Gradačac:

View from an armored train outside Gradačac

We stayed in a castle in Gradačac. Here’s a picture of the castle in 1992.

 

And here’s what it looked when we were there:

Gradačac castle

Rebuilding brings hope.

Helpful Words

A foggy morning (that has nothing to do with the post)

“It happens to all of us, you know,” someone said to me when I was talking about my father’s latest foggy episode.

Yesterday morning, when my father was studying his watch, I asked him what time he had.

“Hmmm,” he said, studying the hands and the numbers, “it looks like it’s two minutes past… past… I think it’s two minutes past Tuesday.”

I texted my sister. “I have the title for the book about Dad and dementia — Two Minutes Past Tuesday.”

Funny — but so not funny. Not even remotely funny the more I think about it.

Later in the day he had essentially forgotten my oldest brother, or, at the very least, key elements of Stewart’s life.

“It happens to all of us,” this person said to me, when I told about the things my father had said. “It’ll happen to you. It’ll happen to me. It happens.”

Such a glib response made me wonder if I talk too much about my father and his struggles. I try not to.

The other day when two of my children had a discussion that devolved into nastiness, I said, “Let’s try this again. First she said this (fill in the blank), and then you responded with this (fill in the blank) — but what could have been a better response?”

We talked through possible responses that could have diffused rather than ignited the situation.

It probably won’t work. The next time, they may get after each other again, but maybe a seed has been planted. A seed with a better fruit.

Last night as I lay in bed thinking about the unhelpful response thrown my way, I wondered what I really was looking for in sharing the story of my Dad’s poor thinking. What would have been a better response?

Nobody can really fix the situation. It is what it is.

But here are a few things that may have sounded better.

My sister’s response — “Oh my.” Two words show that she feels the same dismay that I do.

“I’m sorry.” It can be a pat response, but it can also be very sincere. It shows compassion and sympathy.

“That must be so hard.” Yes, yes, it is. I appreciate when people acknowledge that.

“Is there anything I can do?” Yes, there is. You can visit him. Don’t worry about whether he’ll remember your name or not — because the visit isn’t about you. Don’t worry if there are long periods of silence while he searches for words, or if he loses his train of thought altogether. He loves having people sit with him, talk with him, and listen to the same stories (or story fragments). Don’t feel that it’s a waste of time because he may not remember. For that hour that you’re there, he’s loving it. I’m loving it, too, because he’s being fed mentally by the presence of another person.

“How are you doing?” Some days I’m not doing terribly well with all this. Thanks for asking.

Free Parking — Then and Now

When we lived down the road from the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, we offered free parking.

Free — no strings attached — just free.

2005 

We generally had quite a few takers. We were, after all, less than half a mile from the site.

But we sold that house in 2006 and my brother, 2 miles from the ceremony site, took up the task.

He offers free parking AND a free shuttle.

2017

He even offered free water and hot dogs, although they didn’t make the sign.

This year, he had only three takers. To be fair, it was a smaller crowd than some of the past years.

Two guys pulled up and asked what the deal was.

“You can park here for free,” my son said, “and we give you a ride to and from the ceremony.”

“What’s the catch?” the man asked.

“No catch. My family just likes to do nice things,” my son replied.

They parked.

My brother drove them in and gave them a paper with his phone number on it so they could call when they were ready to be picked up. They called when it was over, he picked them up, and that was it.

Really. No strings.

In the next few years, the crowds may be larger.

Derek Jeter will probably set some records. Yankees support their own.

But then, so do the Red Sox, and David Ortiz will probably go in the year after Jeter.

Free parking may be more appealing when no other parking is available.


On an unrelated note, on Induction Sunday, I decided to walk home from church — about 2 1/2 miles — to take some pictures of the crowds.

Of course, I forgot all about the crowds when I walked down the path and instead took pictures of my favorite bridge.

Some things about Cooperstown (or me) don’t change. I’ve been taking pictures of this bridge for years. It’s always beautiful.

the bridge on Hall of Fame Induction weekend 2017

the bridge on Hall of Fame Induction weekend 2005

the bridge on Hall of Fame Induction weekend 2017

the bridge on Hall of Fame Induction weekend 2005

#pastmeetspresent