Post-It Note

I’m in my 7th month working at a job I really enjoy: selling jewelry and stringing pearls for Olufson Designs, a jewelry store in downtown Corvallis. This gig began as a part time job working at their silver shop on Madison Avenue in the front retail shop of the TOBY POMEROY company (where the BEST jewelry is created by Brandon, Brandon, Hank, Toby and Les). Just before I started work, I was told that Les’ dog Tawny had recently died. “Oh,” said, “I’ll paint her portrait for you.”

In my efforts to tidy up at the shop, I found an old wooden platform that would make a perfect canvas for an Australian Shepherd named Tawny! For Les’ birthday I finished the painting. Overall I was happy with the results: I included a bird (Les, his wife and his 3 year old are avid bird watchers) and Les’ favorite strand of pearls from the Olufson’s Jewelry store). Most importantly, I was able to include the “snaggle tooth” that Les’ sister Elisa insisted be in there! It sounded like Tawny’s most recognizable feature. Les kept the painting in his work office where he at first said it made him feel sad, but now makes him smile.

Just yesterday, Les passed on one of the best stories I’ve heard in a long time; one that makes my heart melt to a warm liquid consistency.

As I was putting my son to bed, he had some Post-It notes and he asked, “Papa, what are these yellow papers for?” I told him they were made for people to write things on that they wanted to remember. His son replied, “I want to remember Tawny Pup.” So he drew a picture of a dog with a big tooth and we posted it to his bedroom wall.

Then Les told me the best news! He and his son were in the work office together when his son noticed the painting of Tawny.

“I miss my Tawny Pup,” he said as he reached over to touch the snaggle tooth.

He recognized his dog in my painting! It makes me ridiculously happy to know that what I painted can convince a three year old that it is his former dog, and maybe bring back some sweet memories of his beloved canine family member. Knowing that Tawny (as a visual image) won’t fade away in the early memory of this boy is what really matters to me. It’s what my work as an artist is about.

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Baritone Ukulele

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It’s time for me to tell this story–about the broken baritone ukelele, Buddy the Australian Shepherd and the artisan acoustic instrument shop on 2nd Street in Corvallis.

Just about one year ago, when I was wandering the streets of Corvallis looking for dogs to befriend, short of funds and a job, I found myself on 2nd Street. Since I had never before entered Troubador Music I decided to go in that day. The small container garden out front, mixed with the mysterious and thrilling wood and rosin smells coming from inside as I opened the door, immediately welcomed me.

Imagine a working violin shop: beautiful, well-loved instruments hung above the front counter at about head-height, a large open space which doubled as a showroom and intimate venue for evening concerts, musical sounds in the form of ‘plucks’ and ‘thumps’ coming from a back work room. That is Troubadour Music.

Since I was considering selling my hard-earned Blue Lion Mountain Dulcimer (I’d been playing Mountain Dulcimer for more than 20 years) I decided to ask about their consignment policy. Selling it would pay my living expenses for one month.

I had a lovely talk with Kent (the owner) and the kind sales associate; both gracious and helpful.

Then I had a sweet interaction with Buddy, the elderly Australian Shepherd lying on the floor at our feet. When I stood though, a catastrophe occurred. The baritone ukulele hanging above the counter met my up-coming head and bounced to the cement floor. Many emotions bounced across Kent’s face. He told me it was beyond repair due to the broken inner body. I couldn’t stop from calculating how long it was going to take me to pay for this instrument, especially since I was already having trouble paying for just my rent. Of course I was crying.

“Wait,” Kent said thoughtfully, “you were giving love to my dog when this happened. I don’t want you worry about this. In the bigger scheme of things, love is more important than money or this instrument.”We went on to talk for nearly an hour about potential jobs, including teaching English at the nearest Community College (where Kent sometimes teaches poetry).

I left that day exhausted by the event. I spent much of the following year thinking about this baritone ukulele but my energy was spent looking and trying work that suited me. I didn’t come any closer to paying for that instrument and it weighed heavily on me. My dulcimer hadn’t ended up selling, so I kept it at home with me and played it occasionally but found little joy in it since my chronic pain interfered with the playing.

My walks still took me past Troubadour Music and I frequently saw Kent and Buddy enjoying breaks outside together. Each time I’d cringe inside and remember the feeling of that ukelele hitting the concrete floor. Two weeks ago I formulated a plan: I’d leave my dulcimer as a gift for Kent. He’d be able to sell it eventually or use it himself. I set aside the perfect time and dropped it off. Tears came a little as I reminded the sales associate about that earlier baritone ukelele falling day. She told me that Kent wasn’t there, but that maybe I should reconsider. I didn’t need to pay for the broken instrument. But I was insistent and I left my name and phone number and a note explaining the gift.

Later the same day, Kent called to thank me. He invited my dog Pearl and I to visit he and Buddy at the shop any time. We have since met on the sidewalk near Toubadour Music and Pearl and Buddy instantly appreciated each other. Kent reached in his pocket, found two small treats, one for Buddy and one for Pearl. Before giving them to each dog, he kissed the treats (a trick known to increase the value of the food).

Now my walks down 2nd Street are more pleasant again. When I think of that baritone ukulele hitting the cement, I don’t feel like crying anymore.

Home

 img_9269 “Corvallis is too perfect. I’m here to make sure it’s not perfect,” the man says, with a direct stare. He’s eating fried chicken, sucking on the bones and licking his fingers. My dog scratches the ground and whines as we watch the man. I can smell the savory smell and my own mouth waters. My dog and I are inside the downtown dog park; the man enjoying the chicken is just outside the fence looking in. I just asked if he could please move away from the fence because it’s so challenging for my dog and the others in the park. “No,” he says, “that has nothing to do with me and it’s a good time for you to train your dog.” His main goal seems to be to make life hard for others.

This was yesterday. An Oregon native, I have made a purposeful choice to live and work downtown Corvallis. Over the past year, I have witnessed an increasing wave of people creating the kind of challenges this man presented me with.

This letter is a call to action: Please, Corvallis! Of all the times and eras, this is the time to make life easier for those around us (our neighbors). This mounting wave sweeping through town can weaken us or strengthen us, depending on how we respond. Corvallis is not perfect, but I’m trying to make it better by helping my neighbors, even when it requires hard work. How will you respond?

Continuing The Walk, 3

The world continues to weigh heavily on me. AlthIMG_0260ough I don’t find it easy to do, my goal is to focus on those I meet face-to-face in my neighborhood more than I focus on our national political scene and what I can’t change. The thing is, since I’ve been locally focused, I have been impressed by the beauty around me; in the people I know (and those I don’t know) that pass through my days here in Corvallis, Oregon.

Last I wrote, Pearl and I had just passed Bob’s Mirror and Glass and Robnett’s Hardware. Now, she’s ready for the city dog park and it’s the perfect time of day–2:30 in the afternoon. There are fewer dogs at this time and most often a higher rate of low-to-the-ground dogs like Pearl. So that’s where we’re headed.

We pass the coffee shop on the right, then the last block of apartments and businesses and Pearl is at a restrained gallop. Lately, I’ve had to take her in through the small dog entrance because she gets anxious while I remove her harness and the bigger dogs crowd the gate, waiting for her to enter so they can sniff her. She puffs herself up and growls ferociously, making everyone think she’s awful and mean (which she’s not) and say, “Oh, she’s a terrier” (which she is) . She runs around wildly in the small area until she seems ready to run with the bigger dogs. Timber is here! A Husky that Pearl recently played with and now loves to follow around (mostly to see whether she can get him to chase her).

Pearl didn’t love Timber at first; she was scared. Timber didn’t act rattled by Pearl’s bark or bared teeth initially, which seems to be important to Pearl. Now they run off across the park to see who can make it around the big Fir tree first. It’s Pearl, after a speedy barrel roll through the wood chips. Timber’s human is a quiet woman who always chuckles at Pearl’s antics and who always tries to get Pearl to allow a quick scratch behind her ears. So far, no luck but Pearl is getting closer and closer to allowing it. Right now, as Timber takes a water bucket break, Pearl makes a quick drive-by sniff of her shoes, which makes us both chuckle.

Dog park behavior, both the dogs and the humans, always leaves me with a lot of thinking to do. I’m always relieved when people can see past Pearl’s scruffy feisty greetings because I want them to know how wonderful she is. She puts on a big show with people who seem threatening to her because she doesn’t want to get stepped on or called, “So cute” (so demeaning) one more time.

I can relate in some ways because I feel threatened by certain human behavior and am still learning how to stand my ground in order to avoid being stepped on. I’m not very good at it sometimes. I end up giving people the unintentional mixed message that I don’t care for them when really, I’m just scared of getting hurt. So I teach Pearl to be less grumbly when she meets new people and she teaches me to stand my ground when I have strong feelings about something.

The walk back up Second Street to our apartment is usually not a direct route. We stop back by River Jewelry so that Pearl can collect some more love from her good friends there. Once home again, Pearl  breathes a sigh of contentment and flops over for one of her many naps.

Silent Boy

IMG_8568_2After leaving my two-week teaching assignment in Cambodia (which is after I left my 17 year teaching assignment in Oregon), I neglected to write about The Silent Boy,  though his story continues to weave itself through my own being ever since meeting him. Just yesterday, at the fragile point of tears, I thought of him again and his immense strength; I wished then that I could have borrowed some of it.

In January of 2016, our small team of 5 adults taught English at a Cambodian public school for almost a week before we travelled to an orphanage in the Southwestern part of Cambodia. We were thrust into this day and tasked with “making the students speak English as much as possible.” I jumped into this task with as much enthusiasm as any introvert could and found myself at the outskirts of conversation as my team members, who knew more about the orphanage than I did, tried their hardest to dive into conversation with everyone.

The January climate in Cambodia is mild, if you are from Cambodia. If you’re from the Willamette Valley of Oregon however, it’s quite  hot–90 degrees F with killer humidity. As initial  bursts of conversations died down, we gathered under the gazebo in the center of the lawn. I found myself watching a very young boy (5 or 6 years old) who was walking by himself out in the lawn. “Who is that little one,” I asked. An older boy answered, “We call him Silent Boy. He doesn’t talk.”

Maybe because it appealed to the teacher in me, maybe just because I love challenges, I went to him with the intent to strike up a conversation with this ‘Silent Boy’ immediately. When we first met, he was near a little flower garden, observing something. It turned out to be a giant seed of some kind. “What is that?” I asked, not sure how much English he understood. This Silent Boy looked up at me and smiled. I continued, encouraged, “Is this a seed?” He pointed across the lawn to a tree growing along the edge. “Is this from that tree?” This was enough encouragement for him to begin walking toward the tree, pausing to look back at me; inviting me to join him.

We stood near the large tree and the Silent Boy looked up, pointing to the large fruit growing high above our heads. “Is that where this seed came from?” I asked. My new friend was busy looking for a stick, which he found and was already using to try to knock the fruit down. Clearly, the lower hanging fruit had already been knocked down and he would not reach the remaining fruit without help. I asked to borrow the stick and easily knocked the fruit to the ground, which the Silent Boy immediately collected, biting into it with the clear purpose of showing me the seed inside. The same seed I observed earlier.

We walked back across the hot lawn to the cooler gazebo, and the crowd gathered there. I showed everyone the seed and the fruit, which I learned is called Jack Fruit and is delicious when ripe. My friend and I had just happened to knock down an unripe fruit, but he continued to nibble on it. The American adults in the crowd informed me of Silent Boy’s traumatic past and I marveled that he had any smile left to offer anyone. He continued to stand near me and to offer up his toys for the crying babies, held by adults who didn’t know them.

The tenderness in my heart recognized the tenderness in his and I continue to be moved to tears by his kindness and compassion. He was a child and had already learned that the world is not a kind or easy place to be, and yet he offered kindness and tenderness back. I wondered at which point in his young life he had become silent, or if he had ever been able to express his voice at all.

As our van load of adults prepared to leave, I found an excuse to go back group of children now in the cafeteria for their lunch. I wanted to say goodbye to my new friend, Silent Boy. I tried to communicate this to the servers, but I didn’t know his name. “I want to say goodbye to the one they call Silent Boy,” I said. Finally, someone realized who I was looking for and went over to the line to get him. He looked startled as he walked over, but smiled as soon as he drew closer. I said goodbye the best way I could and offered a brief and gentle hug.

I walked back to the van, full of love and I wasn’t sure why. This tender sprout of a boy had spent time communicating with me and I enjoyed every listening moment. Our tender hearts had spoken.

Often, my tender heart only wants to communicate like this, silently; words get in my way at times, but silence can be hard to understand for some.

There’s so much more to say on this subject of silence–this is all for now.

Hunger For Beauty

 

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How do we balance extravagance with stewardship in life?

 

Jaqui Eicher March 2016

The question really is: what is it worth to you? Anytime you give of your time, energy or money. Is the cost worth it to you in some way that makes the balance tip toward the extravagance, the expense?

Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary stood at Jesus’ feet and wept, her tears washing his feet. She wiped them with her own hair and then poured a most expensive, red colored perfume on them. Judas and Lazarus were also present at this event. Lazarus had recently been raised from the dead by Jesus. Judas loudly complained about Mary’s waste. “Wouldn’t it be better to sell the fragrant oil and give the money to the poor?” But Jesus told Judas to leave Mary alone; that she did a good thing. In my mind, this story points out the difference between the “proper thing to do” and the “necessary for the heart” thing to do (the unexpected, beautiful thing to do).

During my past years as a human I have collected a few stories that help me as I struggle with balancing extravagance with stewardship in my daily life. Every one of these stories is kept safely in my “pocket of important life lessons” and has helped shape me into a stronger person today than I was twenty years ago.

I’ll begin with the oldest of the stories, though it’s still as ponderous today as it was in 1993. While attending Western Oregon University as a junior in college, I sat in a class with my most admired professor in the front leading a student discussion about this very question, though it was framed very specifically: why do people in poverty, sometimes without a home and panhandling, smoke? The habit is expensive and if people can’t afford basic human needs, what right do they have to panhandle for cigarettes? There wasn’t even a question in my mind about this. My professor, however, had a different view and he shared it. If one small comfort could be afforded someone with little else to look forward to in life, it is the person mentioned above. What harm is it doing? This view baffled my naive outlook, but it shook my understanding of the world enough to leave a lasting impression on me. I think of a person with very little beauty around them finding the beauty in a single cigarette, warmly comforting them in body and mind for a short time.

Next, a story from last week. A man who goes in and out of housing security boards his pet at the veterinary hospital where I work. He gets a fair discount. He can’t afford his own housing and yet he comes to visit his pet and brings her canned food while he visits. He lives for the beauty of his animal companion and dreams of having a place to live that allows her to come home to him as his dear companion. Is it financially wise for him to willingly ask for another mouth to feed? Is it beautiful to have an unconditionally loving companion to share your days with?

One year ago I lived in a wonderful and small apartment and had the very BEST landlords in the entire world! Also, the rent was the best anyone could hope for, and was financially in my best interest. But I had lived there for about a year and was beginning to feel the walls closing in around me. In a tour of other places my landlords had for rent, I opened my heart and said that I worried what others might think of me: out of stable work, but seeking a larger apartment which would cost more money. Wouldn’t they think I was being greedy and unwise? My very wise landlord said calmly, “I’ve heard voices like this in my life and I tend not to listen to them.” The idea that I could choose to listen or not listen to voices around me was a new one and it struck me as some of the sagest advice I had ever received up to that point in my life. In this moment, I knew what I needed in order to survive and it was an extravagance of more space. And this choice to move to a larger apartment has ended up being worth it so far. It has afforded me a comfort and ease that the other place could not.

During the past two years I have slowly been changing careers and entire lives, it seems. I am in unfamiliar territory without a map or compass, which leaves me feeling lost on most days. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with this feeling, but some days it still feels mighty scary. At the age of 46 I am beginning again in every way, but the most profound of ways is in wage. Now I feel lucky to have a minimum wage job because it’s full time, with benefits. There were months when I didn’t think I had enough to pay the rent (another benefit of having an caring landlord). Another sage piece of advice I received during this time came from a friend. I had been talking with him about how worried I felt about this new territory. His response was, “Enjoy this. Freedom and security never come at the same time.” Because of his advice, I roused myself to invest my free time into developing my love of art. It is thanks to this friend’s advice that I am now a better artist than I was two years ago. I hungered for beauty in the dark time of my life. When it was hard for me to get out of bed in the morning, I gave myself jobs to do that brought me joy—painting. The past two years has been my most prolific period for art and I have enjoyed it.

Thinking of Mary at Jesus’ feet, pouring fragrant oil as if it had no cost makes me think that maybe she hungered for beauty too. Here was a man who had given her so much. To show him how priceless he was to her family, she felt free to lavish him with her heart just like the man who lavishes his cat with food he can’t even afford for himself, and like me who lavishly lives in an apartment with extra space.

Looking Out

“Let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love.”

Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, page 171.

For the good share of my former life (the past 10 years) I had been looking too much our: toward the things that I thought would bring me happiness, like the accumulation of goods, a house, security in general. Looking back now, I can see I was building a safety net that I thought could protect me. I felt safe. . . but I wasn’t. It turns out I was only buying insulation to protect myself from a reality that I didn’t have the heart to face–I was a partner in a marriage that was failing miserably and I was unhappy, though I tried every day to convince myself otherwise.

So after finally facing these two very powerful realities of my life, I shed (or lost) nearly everything: house, job, partner. . . anything that had brought me a feeling of security. Since then, for more than two years, I’ve been looking more inward than outward; developing a confidence in who I am or who I want to become more of; struggling to survive without all the “things” I thought I needed. I think I’m beginning to feel successful in this area. My life now has given me a kind balance between working a job I honestly love part time and developing my interest and skills in the areas of visual art and writing in my expansive free time. This has helped me find a confidence that had slowly been whittled away. I’ve initiated the practice of seeking what I need inside myself and finding security in who I am.

And since I’ve experienced reaching the end of who I am and what I can sustain, I’ve learned to seek out the help of One Who Is More Than Me for help beyond myself. I’ve learned that this is the only security I can ever truly hope for.

Now I’m looking forward to sharing some gifts with the world–looking out more often while still developing the who that I am. It turns out, I like me and I just never really knew that at the level that I needed to. I never had to trust myself like I have needed to during the last two years of my life. I am happy to have found this reliable friend in myself.