Monday, August 30, 2010

I Kept Breathing

 I Kept Breathing
“I had power over ‘nothing’.  And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket.  I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive.  Somehow, I had to keep breathing , even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did.  I stayed alive. I kept breathing.  And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am.  I'm back in Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass......” - quote from the character Chuck Noland in the movie Castaway from 2000.  The part was played to perfection by Tom Hanks.

My husband was watching Castaway on TV the other night and I heard Tom Hank’s character say those lines and I thought to myself ‘how true’.  We just have to keep breathing.  Granted, most of us have not been stranded on an uninhabited island, and getting ice for a drink has never been a serious concern.   Maybe we’ve had a few close calls or survived a dangerous situation, but we cannot relate to the total desperation this character felt.  Or can we?

There’s that thing about breathing that kept coming back to me. “I stayed alive.  I kept breathing.”  There have been times in my life when stress has taken hold and my breathing has become shallow, seemingly defying its natural tendency to work automatically.  Have you ever had that experience?  Or have you ever been depressed?  There are times when desperation can happen even in our seemingly safe world where ice is handy and transportation is easily accessible.  In fact, desperation can occur anywhere to anyone.  Maybe that is why Castaway has such broad appeal.  We can each see a little bit of ourselves in this ordinary man trapped in extraordinary circumstances who has to grapple with loneliness, depression and despair, and we get to root for him when the tide brings him a sail. 

And someday, we may need the tide to bring us a sail as we grapple with our own loneliness, depression and despair and when that time comes we must make the choice to keep breathing against all logic and loss of hope and let the tide carry us to safer shores.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Living Courageously

Blue Spruce with Courage Angel - Rita Bourland © 2010
 Living Courageously
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

    These words have comforted so many individuals. I have repeated them to myself on many occasions during times of stress.  They sum up quite perfectly and concisely the ultimate challenges we all share as human beings.

    The picture above is of a blue spruce tree that was planted in our backyard in memory of my brother, Kennan, who died at age 56 in 2008.  He was an intelligent, active, generous, wise man who died suddenly.  The tree was planted at Thanksgiving in memory of his life and beautiful spirit. Thirty family members were present for the occasion.  It took awhile before God granted any of us the serenity to accept this loss.  I'm still not sure I have, but he is gone and that fact can't be changed. 
    I placed my courage angel on the branches of Kennan’s tree today as a reminder that he would want his family to live courageously.  He would want us to face obstacles head on and not give up on our dreams; living with a courageous spirit and changing the things in life that allow us to move forward in positive life-affirming ways. 

    Serenity is hard to achieve, courage presents its own challenges and wisdom comes with time.  This brief prayer asks us to work toward things that are slightly out of reach and more difficult than we might like.  There is much in life that can’t be changed and we have limited control over the rest.  Serenity, courage and wisdom are perhaps the greatest gifts we can ever ask to receive. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Poem: Each Child is Unique

I was thinking this week about the end of summer and about all the young people who have headed back to school. They have their new backpacks, pens, markers, rulers, calculators, clothes and all the other requisite stuff needed for a new school year.  It’s an exciting time, an apprehensive time, a time of change and a time of growth.  Each child is a precious gift who deserves the very best learning environment possible.

Each child is unique,
each tender
little mind,
so eager for acceptance,
so eager
all the time.

A child’s needs are simple,
and I will tell you why,
it starts with love
great respect
for who they are inside.

To grow and learn
they need the best,
they need to know we care,
they need a firm and loving hand,
they need to know we’re there.

Someday they’ll strike out on their own,
to find their place in life,
they’ll travel, study, see the world,
encounter joy and strife.

But while they’re young and in the fold
they need us by their side,
to navigate life’s ups and downs,
to be a loving guide.


I wish the very best to all the children starting a new school year. 
Learn a lot and have some fun along the way.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Poem: Will You Catch Me If I Fall?

Will You Catch Me If I Fall?

There is a trust game I played at a camp when I was a kid where you stand in front of another person and let yourself fall backwards, trusting that the person behind you will catch you.  You are supposed to fall in such a way that you are unable to catch yourself; you are putting full trust in the person behind you to keep you out of harm’s way.  I can still remember that feeling of letting go and the relief of being caught.  It was recently proposed to me that it is still a good exercise to imagine falling backwards into the arms of someone I trust.  This might vary from person to person.  It could be God, another religious deity, a spouse, a relative or a dear friend.  The whole point seems to be ceding some of the control we all cling to so tightly.

Will you catch me if I fall?

I need to know you’re there,
I can’t seem to keep my balance
these days,
I thought I had it
all together,
I thought I had
then I started falling.

Are you there?

Will you keep me from the worst;
from hitting the ground
so hard that I can’t bounce back,
can’t regain my balance?

Things get tough sometimes -
life’s funny that way,
but if I know you’re there
then I can let go,
fall back into the safety of your arms
and all will be well.

Will you catch me if I fall?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poem: Strange Surprise

© Philip Bourland

Strange Surprise

The package arrived at half past ten,
carried in by ten strong men;
the crate was made of solid oak,
 the lock of iron and tin.

It was surprising in its shape and size,
but the oddest part was the hint of eyes;
they peeked at me through tiny slits,
and winked until I lost my wits.

I sat across the room and stared,
my folks would soon arrive,
and then we’d take the crate apart,
and greet this strange surprise.

© Rita Bourland

(this is the current posting in our outside display case in the park)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Poem: Everybody Has a Disability

 “Everybody has a disability, 
but you can’t always see it.” 
Matt Sullivan

There is the obvious,
the noticed,
the defined

an injury,
a deformity,
a missing limb,
a limp,
a prosthetic leg,
or hand;

a wheelchair
tells a story too.

then there is the disability you can't see:

a heart condition,
crohn’s disease,
a broken heart,
an aching sadness,
profound loneliness,
when we meet a man,
we see his body
but not his soul,
not his heart,
not his inner turmoil.
remember that everyone
has something,
some burden,
some trial,
that hides beneath their skin,
that drains strength from their soul.
be kind, be considerate,
be aware that disabilities
can’t always be seen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teach a Child to Love

“It costs so little to teach a child to love, 
and so much to teach him to hate.”  
Father Flanagan (1886-1948)

Father Edward Flanagan was most famously known as being the founder of Boys Town.  The film in 1938 starring Spencer Tracy, called Boys Town, highlighted the life of Father Flanagan and the work he did with orphaned children.  The quote above came from this man who spent his life teaching children to believe in themselves; his teachings were guided by love.
I was thinking about how teaching a child to love is rather simple.  They come into the world with open arms, ready to accept the love presented to them by their parents.  They grow, watch and learn with an avid eagerness, and absorb the way people talk to each other, the tone of their voices, the way they touch and the words they choose.  There is nothing complicated about this process – it is organic in nature.  If what they are exposed to is done in a loving way then they will absorb the love.
If, however, that same child is a witness to hatred, violence, anger, abuse, negative words, prejudice and constant fear, they will learn to hate.  All of the actions I just mentioned take a great deal of energy and are fraught with high emotion.  It’s exhausting to maintain hatred and debilitating to those surrounded by it. 
It costs much to teach a child to hate, but love is ever so easy to pass on.  A child is wired for love from birth and only needs a continuation of the peace they have in their soul to grow into a loving and peaceful adult. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010


"When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become."
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

This picture was taken in 1986 on the day our third son was born.  Every time I view this photo the word tenderness comes to mind.  It is one of my favorite photos.  Every face tells a story, the eyes are full of peace and awe; the family is intact, a unit, untouched by any outside forces.  I took the photo, after having given birth, and am pleased I am not in this particular photo.  These are my men, my guys, my family.  We started there, on that day, as a family of five and have been five ever since.  Our uneven number has kept things interesting; nothing can ever be cut in half; negotiating and sharing have risen to an art form.  We have continued to hold onto the tenderness and also the respect for what we each might become.  We are all a work in progress, we five, but we are in this together; this crazy life where we can send spaceships to Mars but can’t keep oil from spilling into the oceans.  So, we do what we can, we live our lives with hope, some optimism and the firm belief that tenderness is valued and what we may become is already part of who we are. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

They Were Right Where We Left Them

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

I’m sure these words by T.S. Eliot have been examined for meaning by scholars more learned than I, but I find such a simple truth in these luminous lines.

When we are young, we set off for distant shores to discover what exists in this vast world.  We search the hills and valleys, we study other cultures and examine the great unknowns.  As we travel, we leave our home and the well-trodden floors of our youth; sure there are better things beyond our door.  We ignore the beloved glider on the porch, the weathered tire swing hanging from the ancient oak tree and the unruly patch of Black-eyed Susans blooming out back.  We say our farewells to the people who have been with us since the day we were born, knowing they will always be right where we left them.

Without the going there would be no returning.  Without the departure, there would be no homecoming.  Without seeing other lands, our eyes would be incapable of seeing our home for the first time and having our hearts fill with joy upon seeing the beloved porch glider, ancient tire swing and blossoming wild flowers.  Without meeting the peoples of the world we would be unable to feel the rush of warmth and deep love for the people who have been with us since the day we were born. 

They were right where we left them - but now we see them for the very first time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One of These Days

There is a famous song by Neil Young called "One of These Days."  The song begins like this: 
One of these days,
I’m gonna sit down
and write a long letter
to all the good friends I’ve known.
and I’m gonna try
and thank them all
for the good times together,
though so apart we’ve grown.

This song touches me every time I hear it because of its poignant reminder to stay in touch with the people who have been important in our lives.  It’s so easy to lose touch, to lose track, to grow distant. 

I met a woman recently who writes letters every night.  She writes her son who only lives an hour away.  He is going through some difficult times, so she writes him letters of encouragement.  She writes to her sister even though they talk on the phone frequently.  She writes to old girlfriends, one of them dying of cancer.  She writes letters longhand with beautiful script handwriting adding a little circle dot above her i’s.  

Every night she sits down and writes a long letter to all the good friends she’s known and she thanks them for the good times they’ve had together.  She also writes them words of comfort, encouragement, sympathy and praise.  She writes about simple things like what she did yesterday; the kinds of things someone might post on facebook, but hers would arrive in your mailbox instead, with a nice stamp and maybe a sticker or two on the envelope.  You might call her old-fashioned, but every day when she brings in her mail, she also receives one or two letters in return.  She is living Neil Young’s song and it is a beautiful thing. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Poem: Great Blue Heron

 I took this photo on May 15, 2010

 The park behind our house has recently been redone and now has a beautiful pond that is stocked with fish.  Neighbors are invited to do catch and release fishing and a Great Blue Heron has discovered the supply as well.  He, however, does not release!

Great Blue Heron

A wing span of six feet,
a graceful neck
curved at rest,
ready to reach and strike when hungry,
strolling around the pond,
waiting to snatch a fish
and sup on the fine
supply provided by the park department.

Oh, what riches,  thinks the heron.
A perfect little pond
all to myself
stocked with delectable fish,
a flowing fountain,
and tall grasses -
I think I’ll stop often to dine.

Morning, afternoon, evening -
watch for me;
I may swoop down at any moment,
but don’t get too close or I’ll soar away
just as quick as can be
with my giant wings carrying me
to another pond,
another verdant setting,
another cache of fish,
to fill me up ‘til the morrow.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Poem: Don't Neglect Your Birthday Ever

Don’t Neglect Your Birthday Ever

Since birthdays come just once each year,
We must take note it seems quite clear,
The passage of the hours and days,
Pays off in, oh, so many ways,
It’s hard to notice change it’s true,
It happens though to me and you,
We live our lives and take some punches,
We meet with friends; we eat some lunches,
We go on trips, we watch TV,
We go to work, we climb a tree,
But in the midst of this and that,
Our wisdom grows and that’s a fact,
Each thing we do, each day each hour,
We find some truth, some strength, some power,
So don’t neglect your birthday ever,
The joy you gain will last forever,

Just gather those you love quite near,
A birthday comes just once a year.
Take the time; hold it dear.