jonathan

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child …

Need to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe.*

Did you catch Charlotte and Jonathan’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent? If you haven’t watched yet, you must.These are seven minutes you won’t regret.

Neither the audience nor the judges were expecting much from this duo, especially from Jonathan. The large young man stepped on stage in a faded Hendrix t-shirt, baggy jeans, and long, curly hair that nearly shouted nerd. Nobody. As the camera panned the audience, there was no mistaking where disdain was high and expectations low. One judge challenged them immediately, demanding. “Who’s idea was this?” Clearly, they were about to waste his valuable time. His hollow good luck wishes and sarcasm cast a shadow on the audience like a dark cloud passing.

And then Jonathan opened his mouth and began to sing “The Prayer” in tremendous operatic fashion. Charlotte’s clear accompaniment created a strong and sweet meld. And a few moments later, the audience leapt to their feet in spontaneous ovation as that same judge gathered his flapping jaw off the floor. Many, like me, were wiping tears from their eyes at the immense beauty and sheer poetic justice of it all. It was powerful.

But even more than their talent, I was impressed by their friendship. Charlotte gave to Jonathan the courage and self-confidence to get up on stage. He knew that he would face hecklers but he wouldn’t have to face them alone. Jonathan gave to Charlotte an opportunity to enter the big leagues. She can clearly go farther with him than on her own. And Jonathan didn’t hesitate for an instant when encouraged to dump Charlotte and go solo for the gold. “We’ve come on here as a duo and we’re gonna’ stay as a duo.” To this, the audience erupted again in extraordinary affirmation. These are young people of admirable character.

His response immediately called to mind another Jonathan. I Samuel 19-20 tells the story. King Saul sought to kill David. His own son and heir, Jonathan, was determined to save his friend’s life. Jonathan made a vow to David and kept his promise at great personal risk. Scripture reveals that Jonathan loved David as much as he loved himself. This is a powerful claim few can make in good faith.

May we each be such a friend, may we each have such a friend, even once.

~René Morley

*Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster

belonging

I returned home late last night from Chicago. It was a good trip. Not as good as I hoped because my time out and about in the city was limited to, well, just about none at all. But I did the work, connected with a few colleagues, made new business connections, experienced smooth flights and safe travel. Really, no complaints.

Except that this morning I feel so weary. It’s that ache-all-over feeling. It might be created, in part, by sleeping in anything but my own Tempur-Pedic bed for too many nights. Or multiple hours in those crazy uncomfortable plane seats. Or hauling a bag full of geek gear along for the ride. But mostly, I think, it is the result of remaining in a high-alert defensive mode as I traverse some part of this big ol’ world alone.

So I was really thankful for this guy at the airport restaurant looking for business. He crashed through the line at Chili’s asking for, “Singles? Follow me! Plenty of room here for you and your laptop!” I happily jumped the line to follow the pied piper. It was a bit of a disappointment to be led to the bar but he was right, there was plenty of room. He said the hostesses didn’t appreciate his interventions but there was nothing they could do about it and, “I gotta’ make a living, too!”

From my little perch I watched him work. Every few minutes, when the line got long, he’d go back looking for more business. Most of the time, he brought someone back with him. He’d warm up to every customer in a way that made him or her feel they belonged and, as a result, kept the place humming. I felt myself relaxing a bit, letting down my guard, enjoying the chit-chat and banter as he engaged his clients with even-handed expertise. When I departed, I left a nice tip. He’d earned it.

As I thought about this brief interlude in my day, I was reminded why it always feels so good to come home. No matter where I travel, I look forward to returning to where I feel safe. Where I am loved. Where I belong.

Everyone should be so lucky.

~René Morley

chicago

This morning I’m off to Chicago. If the Hubs were with me it would be a perfect trip but even so, I’m expecting it to be great. I’m relatively late to join the Second City fan club but trying to make up for lost time. This is my third trip inside of eighteen months. Once I sunk my teeth into deep dish, it was all over. Chicago is a great foodie and amazing arts scene surrounded by interesting architecture, upscale shopping and miles of shoreline — what more could a girl ask for? It may be windy but it will be worth it.

~René Morley

they call me dad

Tony fit into our plans perfectly that Thursday morning, as Phillipsburg was still shuttered and we were eager to make tracks for Marigot, Saint Martin. We were looking for straw market bargains, and something tasty at la Sucriere, perhaps also some café au lait. And we were determined to return to l’Escale des îles for more of Dona Bryhiel’s Simple Life. Tony loaded us into his sparkling clean van and off we went.

Drivers are a dime a dozen but Tony was a storyteller. He recounted tales of growing up on the island, playing ball in narrowly cobbled streets devoid of traffic and fishing — whenever he wasn’t in school. He pointed out his birthplace as we sailed around one corner, allowing a brief glimpse of a modest two story structure painted aqua-green.

Tony didn’t seem overly discouraged that what his uncle sold for a few thousand dollars is now valued in the millions. As we drove on he pointed out several other examples of property value gone wild in paradise. His good humor about the local economic impact was impressive. I can only dream of owning property here; to lose it at such a loss seems worse, by far.

Tony pulled over briefly along the way to engage a sharply dressed young man walking to work. As we resumed our journey, he told us the story. A few years ago, this fellow was among many who regularly congregated at his home, hanging out with his own kids. “They all call me Dad,” he said. He was justifiably proud of his mentoring within the community and noted that he spends a lot of time teaching tennis, even raising up a championship team. But this particular fellow was headed down the wrong path, using drugs and abusing alcohol, and Tony had banned him from the premises. This was tough love and a necessary measure of protection, for his own.

Visiting the local prison, he was surprised to find so many familiar faces, children of promise now incarcerated. Although dismayed by the impact of drugs and alcohol on this generation and his community, Tony seemed indefatigable. He’d retired early from a successful career only to take up driving cab to put his children through college. He hadn’t anticipated such a large family but education was the priority. He held his kids and their friends closely accountable. “If you can’t tell Dad, then it’s wrong.” Simple and effective, it was his only rule.

The fellow on the street in Phillipsburg needed an extra year to complete school but was back on track, entering a telecommunications career. What joy Tony expressed in the redemption of one of those who call him Dad! He was every bit as proud as he was of his own six children, all successful students and young professionals in careers ranging from surgeon to engineer. What a gift, this man Tony, an anchor on spit of land 32 miles square in the middle of nowhere.

Tony’s story has lingered in my mind since we departed Sint Maarten. Sometimes one person makes a lot of difference, and often quietly. Tony had embraced the opportunities that unfolded in front of him to become a loving father figure to God-only-knows how many, impacted for good. This set me to wondering about my own opportunities, perhaps yet unrecognized. What will be my legacy, locally? What will be my lasting impact on the community? What will I do now, knowing Tony?

~René Morley

scene change

20120318-084231.jpgA change of scenery in the presence of good company is a sure pick-me-up. My personal favorite is seaside: sun, surf, sand with someone I love. As winter in the North Country winds down, we are overdue. Last week my sister and her husband further improved upon a sweet sail.

Sometimes our scenery was expansive. A long stretch of turquoise deepened to azure and cyan and finally cobalt, extending into forever. Then we were reminded of our place on this planet; mere specks, dangling precariously from a moment in time.

Often, the scene was set more closely, on a lovely face recounting a dramatic sea-life encounter, savoring juicy fruit not long from the tree, or relaxing fully into the sun’s embrace. Her eyes and her laugh were warm and familiar, her presence comforting. Sisters are solid footing as the world spins madly on.

We explored some scenes step by step, feeling our way along. We need not submerge to learn of the seabed, laid bare like an offering at our feet. Pebbles and coral, worn round by the surf were tossed upon shore for a sun-baked finish. Sharpish fragments of reef, shells and sea debris were pounded into submission; quick-dried in the midday heat, they stuck stubbornly to our feet. Beautiful in black, pink, gold, or white, the most exquisite beach was flecked with grains of each.

But the best was a beach broad and deep, a swath of silky smooth sand sparkling bright in warm sunlight. We walked ankle-deep, gentle waves caressing each easy step around the perimeter of paradise. Generously ringed by mangroves and palms, it was a respite, a place to lay quiet and listen. Waves washed in and out, timed to our deep breathing of sea-salty air and fragrant fronds blessed by sunbeams.

Elemental; really, nothing much. And yet, it was enough.

~René Morley

P.S. My sister and I could play double for the other,
if it were only about matching laughs … or feet.

sister time

20120310-180017.jpgEarly this morning we set out. It was a sloppy and slow drive to the airport but the inconveniences of life are of no great consequence when you are in the right frame of mind. We were happy to be on the road, heading south into the sunshine and leaving the snow behind.

The Hubs and I have come to count on a March migration to tropical ports of call to restore the fabric of a relationship worn a bit thin over the course of a year. Work is hard; life is stressful. It has come to feel like a necessity, this one week afloat. However, this trip is sweeter still because my sister and her husband will join us for their first cruise. We are celebrating her fiftieth birthday and their thirtieth anniversary — milestones well worth marking. Did I mention she is my older sister? Sometimes that does come in handy.

The last vacation I remember together was in high school. We stayed a week or two at a small cottage on Cranberry Lake with gritty linoleum floors, lumpy mattresses and a faint smell of mildew. My family thought it was paradise and delighted in learning the secrets of the lake and exploring the surrounding woodlands. Breathing deeply in the balsam and pine, catching sunfish, learning to waterski, life was good. Yet I don’t recall a single event of that vacation specific to my sister.

I admired and respected my sister. She was three years older, much smarter and effortlessly successful, or so it seemed. As the eldest, she shouldered a lot of responsibility and hardly flinched. Still, we didn’t exactly get on. We pursued shared interests separately, if not competitively. We seldom shared clothes, or friends, or secrets. We did share a bedroom but drew a line down the middle of the bright orange carpet to keep the peace. Somehow she knew if I even breathed on her side. I was surprised that I cried when she left home after high school, but I did, I sobbed. I didn’t know when she’d come back, if she’d come back, and suddenly felt so alone.

She never really came back and our lives quickly moved on, consumed with the challenges young marriage and childrearing bring. But eventually our time did come, as it should for all sisters. Newfound freedoms and fresh perspectives of our forties ushered us into our complicated “middle place“, coalescing into precious opportunities to grow closer. Incompatibilities of decades past are now celebrated distinctions, just more reasons to be proud of her.

We’ve made up for a lot of lost time, my sister and I. And now, we’re buying time: a whole week together on vacation! We’ll laugh until our sides hurt, talk until we’re hoarse, and make great memories to last a lifetime, this time. Our cabana boys have promised to keep the frosty drinks flowing and sunscreen slathered on thick. What more could we ask?

So here we sit, the Hubs and I, enjoying a glass of vino and a cold brew, waiting for our people. Yay! There’s my sister!

~René Morley

P.S. Terri Hendrix gets it just right with her sweet Sister’s Song. Listen in…

ode to oatmeal

Odd, the things that will spark a memory. Like oatmeal, for example.

Growing up, our house was not so big that kitchen clatter went unnoticed, especially in my bedroom directly above. On cold mornings, my mother often prepared a warm breakfast. The clang of pots and pans and clash of cutlery was my alarm clock, signaling time to get ready for school. It was a gracious start to the day, devoid of electronic beep or buzz. I still prefer a non-alarming awakening, thank you very much.

Mom’s breakfast of choice was Cream of Wheat. I found it grainy and bland, nearly tasteless. I used the sugar bowl liberally to ease passage, white dissolving into white. Sometimes, Mom prepared oatmeal. Whether quick or whole oats the outcome was the same — a glutinous, mushy mash. A generous helping of brown sugar topped off with milk made it more palatable.

Later, there were individualized servings in packets of instant oatmeal. (Microwaves were slow appearing on the scene but we knew how to boil water!) The outcome was not much improved except that there were tidbits of fruit or spices to trick our taste buds. I liked apple cinnamon the best.

My sisters and I didn’t complain but I don’t know that I ever thanked my mother for her early morning duties. I should have. Anyone who makes an extra effort to fill another belly with warm food is to be commended. It’s not my mother’s fault that I didn’t care for warm cereal. At least, as a kid, I didn’t think I did.

As an adult, I was surprised to discover differently when a dear friend introduced me to steel-cut oats, otherwise known as Irish oats. They looked more like a grain I might have fed my pony than something I should eat myself. (The 1970s effect lingers, even now.) They also took considerably longer to cook. However, served “Alaskan style” the overall impact was spectacular. These oats have a satisfying nutty texture. Topped off with crunchy pecans, berries bursting with flavor, a dollop of maple syrup and a dab of cream, it is a yummy-licous start to the day. And most definitively, not my mother’s oatmeal.

~René Morley