Mary Beth Writes

Last Saturday, while Racine endured one of The Blizzards of the Century, my family managed to miss nearly the whole thing. (We did get to experience that enterprise called shoveling the driveway.)

We were lollygagging our time away with friends Dave, Mary, Colin and Michael at their cabin near Chippewa Falls. I see humor in how we "escaped" bad weather by going 300 miles further north than here. As a Chicago friend once commented to me, "You're kidding! There is something further north than Racine, Wisconsin?"

Thirteen of us jammed their compact, one family cabin. Six were kids under age 14 and the rest weren't all that mature either. By Saturday it was time to find something to do that didn't require a lawyer or a referee. (Have you ever witnessed three boys try to arrange their own ping-pong tournament?) Dave and his folks remembered Perkinstown, a place in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest, where there is a tubing hill.

The day was snowy, winds were blowing, the radio mentioned slippery driving conditions. Then one kid bopped another on the head with breakfast toast. We clambered into cars and chugged out.

An hour later we pulled into the parking lot of the Perkinstown Winter Sports Area. My son, who'd been riding with his buddies, ran over to me. His eyes were shining. "Whoa, Mom! Did you see the size of that hill? This is awesome. Thanks so much for bringing us here, this is gonna be so cool."

Outbursts of unsolicited manners always make me nervous. I glanced up at the hill. Big. Real big. Too big for a middle-aged person who really, really hates twisted ankles and sprained wrists. I have faint and distant memories of skiing when I was a youth. It was always fun until I fell.

Tubing is an oddly homey and Midwestern pastime. It's basically skiing while laying down. All you need is a high hill; inner tubes for sliding down the hill; some old car stuff - a motor, a tire, some spokes and a strong rope for making the tow rope to haul you back up, and a bunch of restless kids with parents who don't want to play any more rummy, thank you very much.

Before you can say "weather related heart attack" I was climbing the hundred or so steps to the top of the hill. There was that tow rope, of course, but I've never been a big fan of jumping onto moving things. A teenage employee, stationed half way up the hill to make sure folks on the rope didn't act stupid or get tangled, smiled at me.

I huffed cheerily at him, "Do all the mothers walk up?"

He laughed politely, "Usually just once."

The view from the top of the hill was, well, high. I contemplated all those tiny people way down at the bottom. I listened to the wind blowing through pine trees around me. I contemplated how my body felt good, whole, strong. I wondered if I could hold on to this feeling in the months of recuperation that could lie ahead. I pondered, as I often do, why childbirth isn't enough. Why, if you are a fairly good parent, you so frequently have to dive into other weird and treacherous stuff you don't want to do.

I had no answers so I sighed and slowly, deliberately pushed myself over the brink of my own mortality. There was a mighty whoosh. Clouds of snow flew up. I heard maniacal shrieks. I recognized them as my own.

An eternity later I was very far out in the field at the bottom of the hill. There was snow down my pants and up my nose. There was snow packed between my glasses and my eyes. My heart was racing, I was laughing so hard that my hat, also jammed with snow, fell off.

My husband came over to pull me up. "Are you all right?"

I slapped the snow off my eyebrows. "Perfect. Want to go again?"

I took the tow rope the second time. By the end of the afternoon the rope guy and I were best friends.

My kids got cold and went in to the warming lodge. I did, too, but I was back out on the hill before they were. The second time they got cold, I didn't. I just kept flopping on the tow, scooting to the top, joy riding back down. Sometimes I'd hang on to others in our party, we'd spin and swirl down the hill.

The kids loved to go down the hill with adults. "You guys are nice and heavy so we bounce higher and go further."

It was a good day to be ballast.

******************

A friend asked me if I had a relaxing time with my family over the holidays. I laughed a little too hard.

"Relaxing? Not really. Fun? Let me tell you about tubing!"

******************

One of the nice things about being an adult is that after awhile, we know who we are. We know what we care about and what bores us. We know what we like to wear, eat, and drive. We know what's easy for us, what's scary. It's a relief to have these kinds of decisions about our individual styles and personalities settled. It frees us up to live our lives.

But there is that odd little phrase we all use from time to time. "I surprised myself."

It's a delight to discover there are still new surprises, odd joys, funny adventures into which we may fall. I guess it's worth risking our dignity and our ankles to fall off a hill into wonder.

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Peace Makers' Freedom Train / 1984

This is my first published writing. It appeared in 1984 in The Other Side, a social-activist evangelical publication based in Philadelphia, PA.

The Other Side was similar to and friends with Sojourners, a community of evangelical social activists based in Washington DC.  If you have ever heard Jim Wallis on NPR, or read any of his books, he is one of the founders of this small but influential slant of modern Christianity. Sojourners started in the Chicago area; I knew some of those good people decades ago.

Rites of Passage; They Pop Up Everywhere

First published: August 23, 2003

I have a lot going on lately; some professional stuff about my career, some financial things I should sit down and figure out.  My oldest child is moving away to begin college next week.  My youngest starts middle school the week after.  There are several things I should be doing towards world peace and justice, plus, I can't remember if we gave the cats their flea medicine this month.  That last thing won't be trivial if we forgot.

I decided I needed to get organized.  I made a list of things to do and people to call. 

Paul Hessert - "He taught us"

Paul Hessert died in the summer of 2001 as a result of injuries from a terrible car accident. His wonderful wife was also seriously hurt, so the memorial service for Paul was not held until September, just a few weeks after 9/11. Traveling was difficult for many of his former students; only a few of us made it to the United Methodist church in Montrose, PA. It was one of the honors of my life to be asked by his family to speak to the congregation as a representative of his many, many students over the years. 

His daughter sent the wonderful photo of Paul. Thank you!

A Memorial to Penny Penrose

Explanation: I went to Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, in Evanston, IL, 1978-1980. I loved seminary and learned there what I would need to know to live my life. Paul Hessert taught dogmatics. I still use every day in my thinking, writing, and living – wisdom, perspective, and courage I learned from Hessert that year.  Several other students were as moved to be in Paul Hessert’s classes as I was. One of those students was Penny Penrose who went on to become a United Methodist minister. Years later we would actually become emailing friends until she died way too young.

17 Minutes of Joy

Written 03/15/2002  

It was late a late afternoon in March and I was sitting at my computer, quietly tapping away. My son was on the other side of the table doing his homework. For several minutes we were both silently focused on our work.

Then my son looked up. I felt his eyes on me. I tried to ignore him.

"Mom?"

I sighed. "What?"

"When I'm done here, will you drive me to the lake so I can kayak?"

Adventures

Is an adventure an accident that didn't happen?

Have you even been so close to a fiasco that three days later, you can still feel it in your knees?


Two of the corners of the Quadrilateral are Reason (the science and logic of the world around us) and Experience (our own paths through life).


This week reason and me had a "come to Jesus" moment.

DP Wigley
Happy Birthday Bruce
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