Butterflies and Battlefields, Reflections of Civil War Trip – The Us-ness of it All

What is your passion? Roger, my husband, is a devoted student of the Civil War.  His eyes light up when he shares stories about his readings and discovers friends to engage in animated conversation (as opposed to the “the glaze,” what we jokingly have named the look after about .25 seconds when someone is uninterested in Civil War happenings). So, we choose to bookend a business trip with Civil War adventures, and we are off, off on a trip to the battlefields to learn and explore more.

Some of my friends were quite astonished that I would be interested in joining Roger on this excursion, as they are aware of my indifference to the subject matter. I actually ordered, as a primer for the trip, a historical fiction book, Across Five Aprils, that I remembered loving in the 7 th grade. I hoped to re-kindle a connection to the period, so I could feel more genuine enthusiasm for Roger’s passion.

Roger and I are firm believers in certain activities being “us-ness” events. Terry Hargrave, a marital counselor and amazing author of multiple books, who has counseled us through several different hurdles of life, taught us years ago about “us-ness” times. There will be times that one of us might not be totally interested or invested in a particular topic or event, but participating in the event together can be great for the “us-ness” of our marriage. We have expanded our understanding of one another and our interests by adopting this “us-ness” mindset. For instance, us-ness times might be Roger attending with me an Enneagram workshop, a ballet, a mindfulness class.... Or it might be me going to the Drake relays, reading segments of the Wall Street Journal, following the Olympics closely with Roger. We have learned we not only grow and expand our learning of various facets of life as we explore some of our varying interests together; in addition, the adventure enhances our understanding of one another in a deeper way.

So, this past week I was thrilled to watch Roger become absorbed in one of his passions – the Civil War. He did a fantastic job of planning our trip by incorporating various ways that would peak my interest – a hike up Maryland Heights at Harper’s Ferry where once atop the peak you can look out and see the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers,

tours of re-enactments of artillery and cannons firing versus simply reading about the events on a plaque, and a horseback ride on the actual trails that General Lee led his Confederate troops at Gettysburg.

As I was observing Roger’s zeal, the whole concept of “passion” struck me. Passion is defined as a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept. Several other passions became very obvious this week – I love it when you begin to look around more diligently through the lens of a phrase or thought, and you find the idea everywhere.

In Washington, DC, I began to reflect on how passions surface in others. Here are some of the glimpses of passion that I saw:

…the National Park Ranger who took time to show us how to best tour a specific part of Harper’s Ferry – even after her shift was apparently over – all because she cared that we know and see and understand history in a deep way.

…the hotel cleaning staff and one particular woman’s passion for cleaning and making the bed “just right.” I watched her take immense pride in her work while I was in the room studying and Roger was off working.

…the work-out instructor at Orange Theory (where we work out, both in Clive and as we travel) who showed us just the right way to do a particular exercise. He gave us nutrition advice every second he could – it was obvious he cared about the health of others in a deep way!

…the enthusiasm and care of a particular waiter at a restaurant whose diligence was exemplary. His interest in our dining decisions and experience seemed to be authentic.

…the detail in which Thomas Jefferson planned his gardens and his flowerbeds at Monticello with such precision. His love of nature and his recording of growth seasons, his analysis of plant progress and demise – all were truly remarkable.

…the love of the seemingly homeless woman who joined me for conversation one day after lunch. As we shared our stories with one another, I learned of her immense love for her father, age 93. After her mother passed away nine months ago, she chose to move back to DC from several states away – giving up her job security, etc. to care for her father.

…the Civil War tour guides who were incredibly thorough. Many hours of study, reading, preparation and love of the topic led to their exemplary level of presentation.

What does the word “passion” stir up within you? What are you passionate about? How can you deepen or strengthen a passion that may be lying dormant in your heart and may have been for some time?

One of my passions is photography. It seems that I am always looking for a “shot” – getting just the right angle of light on a subject, capturing a picture that stirs an emotion within me, allowing me to slow down and contemplate the deeper story under the narrative of an event – whether for deeper understanding of the other person or as a way to open up and explore my own heart separate from the business or “busyness” of the day.

So, it might not surprise you that, as we were on the battlefield tours, the artistry of the butterflies sometimes caught my attention. Enjoy a few “takes” of one of my passions – actually two passions combined – a love of nature and a love of photography!

While at Monticello, we discovered one of the sitting places that Thomas Jefferson contemplated.

I invite you to find your own quiet place and pause with me and reflect on where you see and experience glimpses of passion….

A Bouquet of Dandelions

What does Mother’s Day look like for you?  For some of us, this is the first Mother’s Day to be a Mother and that is exhilarating, and maybe even a little exhausting after a short night with the baby’s feedings.  For some, the days leading up to this weekend are painful—maybe we are unable to have children, so we only hold in our hearts the child we so yearn to hold in our arms.  For some of us the weekend is exciting and full of celebration—children coming home or taking Mom out to dinner.  For some of us, the weekend is a time of fear that hits hard because of our Mother’s recent diagnosis.  For some, we just realized it’s Mother’s Day and are wondering if the store has any cards left. Some of us have made a special card or gift for our moms and can’t wait to present our token of love to her.  For some of us, it is a day of great laughter and fun and for some of us, this is the first Mother’s Day since our Mother’s death.

For others, this time of year is about just being together and celebrating family.  For some of us the only way we are “together” is through the internet and we yearn for more “real life” times of togetherness. For some of us, Mother’s Day is another work day.  For some of us, it is a reminder of the ache in our heart we feel as a Mother because of the death of our precious, beautiful child. For some of us, Mother’s Day as a single Mom doesn’t look much different than any other day.  For some, the emphasis on mothering is a reminder that our Mom was not there for us—maybe we are still waiting for our Mother’s approval, or maybe our Mother watched us being abused, never able to stand up for us, and we are deeply hurt by her silence. Maybe we are in a current struggle of communication with our Mom. Maybe we are celebrating the beauty of the value of the relationship and what we have learned from our Mothers—often our first teachers about life and laundry and love and Legos and laughter and lots of other lessons. Maybe we are in tears because our son just presented us with our first dandelion bouquet.

Oh, what a beautiful thing, that first dandelion bouquet.  The simple, heart-felt gesture of an innocent child with the idea of an extravagant gift for Mom.  The child brings all that he has to give in that moment. An allergy-inducing invasive weed to most, but a gorgeous offering of love and relationship in the eyes of the mother.

One of the reasons Mother’s Day is so wide in the array of experiences is because whether it’s mother/daughter, mother/son, or mother/father, these are all relationships, and relationships can be messy.  Because of the reality of the imperfections in our relating, we are often hurt or we hurt others.  Even in a relationship that is often idealized there can be very difficult and very trying times.

Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics specializing in sociolinguistics in her book, You’re Wearing That?, Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, says “Words exchanged between [young] daughters and mothers – in the moment or in memory – can carry enormous weight.  The same is true for conversations between mothers and grown daughters, even though both are women and in many ways speak the same language – indeed, partly because both are women and in many ways speak the same language:  a language in which intimacy and closeness as well as power and distance are constantly negotiated. Improving communication between mothers and daughters, much like breaking down barriers to communication between women and men, requires, above all, understanding:  seeing the situation from the other’s point of view.”  I recommend the book as a catalyst for discovering the value of the words in the mother/daughter relationship.  Even if you do not have a daughter, you have a mother and this book promotes deeper reflection and understanding of a significant relationship.  

May our celebration this Mother’s Day be in the small steps that we take towards our mothers and children, our fellow human beings. May it be in the working to improve our communication, the extending and accepting of dandelion bouquets.