Friday, December 03, 2010

Missed Moments in Time

Tuesday I joined the church ladies group at the local restaurant for lunch. I arrived a little early and stopped to chat with a man sitting by himself at a table that could have accommodated the entire ladies group. It was the first time I had seen him since he had taken a public tumble and become a topic of our small town news. His arm was in a sling. I stopped briefly to chat. He has medical tests scheduled for next week. I would have enjoyed learning more and catching up in general but wasn't sure he would appreciate being joined by a bunch of women so I moved on to claim an empty table. I was then sitting by myself for several minutes and he was still sitting by himself. As I gazed across the room, I pondered the options that would have allowed me to chat with him a little longer. He was a member of my church years ago before moving out of the area and then to a nearby town. It's always nice to catch up with him.

That was Tuesday. His 38-year-old daughter was pronounced dead of a heart attack on Wednesday morning. My husband and I are going to the funeral home for visitation tonight. It will be a tragic scene. No parent should ever have to bury their child. And for reasons I won't go into, this is, if possible, even worse than most cases of daughters dying too early. (Perhaps all cases are worse than most cases in one way or another.)

Ever since I heard, I have gone back over that scene from Tuesday. There he was, sitting alone, dealing with his own health issues, unaware of what lay in his immediate future. There I was in the same room, sitting alone, waiting for other companions. It could have been one of them who met with tragedy in the hours to follow. It's not that I made the wrong choice, the curtain was simply drawn on the future and I didn't know it was the last chat I would have with him before unfathomable grief moved in to become a permanent fixture in his life.

Still, it's a terrible reminder of how precious our moments with people are.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life -- The Database

I like databases. They're wonderful ways to organize things. My favorite example of something begging for a database is a baseball card collection. You can organize your actual cards by only one method. You might sort them by team, by date of acquisition, by value, by field position, or any number of ways, but they can have only one order. If you choose a different criteria for sorting them, you lose the order you already had.

A database, on the other hand, allows unlimited sorting options. And filtering options! You can make a list that includes only pitchers and sort them by their statistics. Or you can list only the cards above a certain value. Or only the rookie cards sorted by year. Oh, the fun you can have organizing your baseball cards once you have entered them into a database!

What I want is a database for life. I just got back from a library conference and am pumped up with new ideas for things to do in the library. Right now they're banging around in my head or on a couple of pages of notes and some handouts. I added a few of them to my standing to-do list for the library -- at the end.

What if a had a database for all these ideas? I could assign each task a value, estimate the time investment needed, put them in categories, give them a start and finish time. I could do the same for my home to-do list. When I got up in the morning, I could run a report ranking my priorities for the day. I would have a field for date of completion and run a report of completed tasks at the end of the week. New ideas would be entered in and given a place among existing obligations. Tasks that went beyond the time available could be reviewed to see if they could wait or needed to bump another task off the list. I could customize each day's list to reflect my schedule for the day -- work tasks for work hours, home tasks for evenings and weekends.

I could also use my database for memory assistance. I could record the news from someone today that he just had cataract surgery. Next time I see him, I could pull up the record of the surgery and ask if the operation on the second eye went well.

I could use my database for a diary and calendar, recording tidbits from all aspects of my life -- diet, exercise, menus, recipes to try, service contracts purchased, schedule for auto service, for health check-ups. Sure, I have ways to do these things now -- calendars, journals, reminders here and there -- but wouldn't it be wonderful to have them all in one place?

Of course, if I'm going to use my database for memories, I would need to add a "fade" factor similar to the one my brain uses. After all, I don't want the memory of the stupid thing I did today to be just as sharp and painful two years from now. It needs to be softened around the edges. Good memories need to sweeten with time. Bad memories need to blur. I would simply build this into the database.

Ah for such a database. How long would it take to develop it? How much maintenance time would it require? Would I have time for living with all the time investment needed for data entry and manipulation? Let's see -- get up (record rising time); check breakfast menu; eat breakfast (record food consumed, update household food inventory and shopping list to reflect food used); watch the news (record the days' news items and my reaction); etc., etc. Something tells me this isn't really going to work out too well. I need some sort of automatic data entry system.

I guess this is what my brain is for. If only it were better organized and let fewer things slip through the cracks.

Oh well, one can always dream.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


So ... a friend has a laptop that had slowed down to a crawl, to the point of being almost worthless, particularly if the wireless card were turned on. My husband had looked briefly at it and didn't want to mess with it any more. He figured it was a virus and recommended finding a good computer repair shop.

I was only vaguely aware of the problem until the discussion of repair shops came up. I volunteered that if our friend couldn't find anywhere to take it, I could take a look at it. He was leaving town without the laptop for a couple of days and took me up on the offer.

Several hours later, I had eliminated a bunch of background processes, cleaned up the registry, uninstalled some extraneous programs and had it running like a top. (No sign of a virus, just junk processes eating up the CPU resources.) Although it required a significant time investment and I had to reinstall the printer with driver software that wasn't quite a match for his printer, I was generally pleased with the outcome and returned it with the satisfaction of having done better than I expected with it. I figured I could tweak the printer driver later if he came up with software for it.

Next time I saw the laptop owner, I asked him if it was running all right. He didn't know yet, having not returned to it, but made a comment about me knowing all his secrets. Huh? I told him I knew he used to have a weather desktop utility, that I had simply been interested in the running processes on his computer, not his files.

A few days later, I happened to see him with the laptop and asked how it was doing.


Just fine?

Yeah, it's doing all right, even starts up quickly.

Fine? That's it? If his car had been coughing and sputtering and would barely start and someone took it and tuned it up and returned it starting and running flawlessly would he say in an offhand tone it was running fine? Would he ask if the generous mechanic had rummaged through all the stuff he kept in his trunk?

I think I'm going to add up my time and send him a bill.

Nah, not really. I'll just make a note that the gratitude one receives for a gift is not necessarily going to reflect its worth in the general marketplace. And continue to give gifts as I am able.

Sometimes it goes the other way. A simple act of service requiring little time or effort will be received as a precious jewel. This wasn't one of those times.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Lessons from the garden

Saturday evening I was out in my garden. As often happens, Charlie the cat inserted himself between me and my plants with a need for attention. I gave in to his demands for petting and ran my hand down his left side. With a snarl, he turned and bit me, just barely breaking the skin. He bit me! It was totally unexpected. Charlie is an old cat and not given to playful wrestling. Something was seriously up. After attacking me, he lay where he had fallen in my garden bed, claws extended, mouth open in a snarl. I walked away to bind up my wounds.

Sunday evening, I ran across someone at church wearing full body armor. I could find no cracks. When I tried to discuss some scheduling she informed me that anyone could work with the current calendar if they had sufficient desire, that participating was a choice that might take some sacrifice but could be done. No surrender, no quarter. Take it or leave it. Leaving it seemed like a pretty good choice in light of the hostility being displayed, but I saw no need to stir up any more defensiveness by saying so. I let it go, thinking it would be easier to work with the other parties involved.

Monday morning, back in the garden, along came Charlie the cat. I said, "I'm not petting you. You bite!" and continued with what I was doing. Not offended at all, Charlie rubbed his head against my elbow. When I ignored him, he moved a little closer and kept rubbing against me. I put my hand toward him and he rubbed against my fingers. I went ahead and petted the part of him that he offered to me. Rather than biting, he purred.

I think there's a lesson here. Apparently, Charlie has a sore spot on his side. If I touch it, he communicates his pain to me by causing me pain. If I play a more passive role, he will let me know what parts are all right to touch. I wonder . . . how can I apply that lesson as I interact with the wounded people around me?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Under lock and key

I have been locked out. Somebody messed with the settings on the church sound board. Maybe it was children. Or maybe it was the musicians.

I am a musician.

The musicians come and practice during the week and insist on using the sound system during practice. Come Sunday the sound board is messed up. Knobs have been turned that should not be turned. Or maybe sliders have been slid. I'm not sure. No one has ever clearly pointed out to me which parts of the sound system are off limits.

In frustration, the sound man built a wood box, installed a lock, took one key for himself, and entrusted another to the pastor in case of emergency. Everything is set. All the musicians need to do is flip the switch on the outlet strip. No adjustments are needed. Thus, there is no need for the musicians to have access to a key. Problem solved.

Enter an additional musician needing an additional microphone. The sound system is locked. One microphone is available for one singer. If another singer is needed, the musicians are welcome to contact the sound man and he will come and turn on an additional microphone. After all, the musicians are prime suspects as the ones twisting the forbidden knobs. They are not to have access to a key.

Oh, brother.

With great effort against strong resistance, the musicians now know where one of the keys is stored. With greater knowledge comes greater responsibility. They will be held directly accountable for any knob-twisting that happens. The very fact that they insist on knowing where to find a key to the sound system implicates them as knob-twisters. People with respect for knobs that should not be twisted would not insist on having access to those knobs.

There are two people behind the lock-and-key decision. There are no more than a dozen people ever involved in music or sound for the services. Did the two people ever consider gathering together everyone who is ever in a position to need to adjust the sound and sharing the secrets of the sound board? How weak does a person have to be to deny access to responsible adults rather than communicate important issues to them? Are the musicians incapable of understanding even the most basic elements of the sound equipment?

I have a secret. The musicians also adjust the thermostat during their practice sessions. Sometimes the church is too cold for the musicians' delicate fingers. Sometimes it is too hot for their frenzied preparatory musical celebrations. The musicians have been known once or twice to forget to return the thermostat to the "unoccupied" setting. Thus far, these occasional lapses have been tolerated with a simple reminder that we need to be more responsible. But now that it has come out that the musicians are compulsive knob-twisters controllable only by blocking access to the knobs, I suspect the thermostat is in line for locking. A programmable thermostat can be installed and programmed to temporarily adjust the temperature for the regular practice schedule. Rescheduled or extra practices will need to be cleared with those holding the keys.

Long ago I figured out there are two rich sources for learning that can never be fully tapped. One source is those who provide positive examples to be incorporated into one's life. The even more prolific source is those who provide negative examples to be avoided. As I have been locked out of a system for which I have had almost no training and which I seldom touch, I am struck by the message behind the lock. It says I am a person who is unteachable and untrustworthy. Rather than insisting that I (and the other musicians) either learn to use the sound system properly or quit messing with it, those making the decision to lock us out swept us aside as hopeless knob-twisters. Not exactly the most edifying message I have ever encountered.

I wonder ... how many responsible adults (or children) am I locking out in mistrust rather than giving them the tools and opportunity to act in a trustworthy manner?

Thought to remember #7: "Life is reflective ... choose your source."

Only my commitment to Christian living prevents me from making a strong negative response to this message of mistrust. My baser self makes such helpful suggestions as locking up the musical instruments and walking away with the keys. Or maybe locking the door to the room where the music is stored so that only the "official" musicians have access to it. Or bringing in our own amps and bypassing the locked sound system.

In my experience, the pull to treat others the way they treat you never quite fades away. The thing to remember is how much better it is to treat others as you are treated by the most loving people in your life (and by a loving God) rather than as you are treated by those who are weak and have few resources for communicating and building relationships.

It's worth repeating and remembering. "Life is reflective ... choose your source." I refuse to reflect this attitude of mistrust and disrespect for the learning ability of others which could so easily spread through the entire church. I will acknowledge the weakness which the lock and key demonstrates and respond with compassion and grace.

How fortunate I am to have encountered grace in my life that operates at a level worth reflecting. O to be able to consistently reflect that grace to those who lock me out.