Creating a Life

By Betty Claire (8/21/11)

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I have a history of being a strong person.

I have a history of being a “sensitive” person.

I have received praise and disapproval for both.

Whenever we traveled as a family and stopped at a roadside attraction, my two sisters would run into the sunset and I would sit and observe the beauty and depth before my eyes. My younger sister, Katy said 40 years later that I was the original hippie.

I can’t imagine what she meant by that. Spaced-out, maybe.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a doer as well as a be-er.

When I was 28, divorced, and in poverty. I joined a “wrecking collective” and recycled materials from houses slated for destruction. Eventually I collected enough materials to build my own cabin in the woods. The know-how was gained from taking buildings apart piece by piece. I used a hammer, saw nails, measuring tape and a level to create a place to live. No power tools, no electricity. I drew a rough sketch and worked from that. I lived there with my daughter for 14 years. One of the two times my parents came to visit, my dad had fashioned an out house for me to use and brought it to me as a kit to put over a hole in the ground that others had helped me dig before he came. He was pretty practical.

To make a long story shorter, I eventually learned how to be a potter by hitchhiking 30 miles to the Museum Art Studio in Bellingham for three years, where I became a studio assistant sweeping floors and loading kilns. I built myself a small 8 x 11 studio and a covered kiln shed for which I mixed and poured cement for the floor. I traded a teapot and cups for someone to set a pole to bring electricity in to the studio.

This set in motion a 35-year career.

When we lived in the woods, we spent a lot of time carrying water and chopping wood. I found time and presence of mind to develop my own sense of spirituality which had a lot to do with nature and its’ beauty. There was an evolving recognition on my part of empathy for others and a sense of what I could offer to them. There was always an admonition to do for others before you do for yourself; think of others first; from my mother. Maybe she didn’t realize it, but I was born that way. No one needed to tell me.

Now I am in a position of doing for her. I often see her three times a week since she now lives nearer to me at Liberty Shores since November when she broke her hip.

At 97 she is still a force. She is losing short-term memory and is as critical of me as ever. My sister Ann and I share her care, but she has been gone much of the last three months and I have taken on more responsibility for Mom.

I go to see her and she says, “When is Ann getting back? Ann is so wonderful. She does so much for me. She does my laundry, brings me flowers and takes me to the casino.”

I do all of those things except the casino, and I take care of her financial business. So I say to her, “I’m not Ann, but I am here today.”

She criticizes my hair and my clothing often. I have to speak forcefully to be heard since she is quite deaf and will not wear a hearing aid.

It is a difficult path for me, but I am committed to caring for her just because it is what I feel a need to do. Occasionally she opens like the flowers I bring her and for a moment, I am bathed in a window of mutual appreciation.

Today I am watering the garden, hauling hoses around, timing each position so that all be watered. My knee hurts. I can’t walk very far or stand for very long. It scares me.

This problem stems from a back injury that happened almost five years ago. I sustained some nerve and muscle damage in my right leg which has never recovered. I just returned from a camping trip where it was a challenge to walk from the tent to the bathroom about a block away. I used my walking stick to keep balance and alleviate pain for three days.

I have been a person who figures out things by physically doing them. I am a potter.

Or I was a potter. I have recently quit the cooperative gallery I was a part of for seven years. I was selling the work I had created, but I didn’t have time to work to make more pots.

A dilemma which has now been solved by leaving the co-op gallery that I helped create seven years ago. It was getting hard to sit or stand for a half day of gallery tending and with my other obligations, I felt I was putting my self in a place where I couldn’t do my own work.

My heart and self are also involved with my daughter and her family. She and Mark have two boys who are 14 and have been visually impaired since birth and have both developed other serious conditions. Kathryn has been a fantastic mother to my grandsons. She advocates for them in the schools and doctor’s offices. She warns them when they are about to step off an edge of something they haven’t seen properly. She enrolls them in camps and activities when they show interest. I admire her so very much.

I plant and tend a garden in the Spring and Summer. Alan does the digging and I do the harvesting. I cook and he does the dishes. He pinches pennies and I tend to spend them or give them away. We have love and respect and caring for each other. Together we shape a life that works well for us.

I was a part of one of the first Inquiry groups, and that group has met and continued every month for several years. You might say it is an odd assortment of people. We each have a turn to speak and many turns to listen. We have a common thread of caring, celebration and concern for each other in our divergent life stories. We use some of the methods of inquiry learned in the class. We have gotten to know each other very well.

I love coming to church. I enjoy hearing and participating in the music. I learn what I need to know. I am in a state of being with the spiritual essence of others. I feel it.

I have a few close friends. My friend Ruth and I talk once or twice a week. We work out each of our spiritual emotional issues. I have known her for over 30 years.

She has a better memory than I do. I say that she is my personal historian. In her latest message to me, she says, “You are evolving and changing. You are a grandmother, a caretaker of your mother, a wife and an artist. You are in a place where you can choose how much time and self your give; how much you want to be involved with others and how much to devote to self. The more you care for yourself, the better your body feels. Be as kind to you as you are to others."

I’ve come to a point in my life where I’ve received a lot of input in the form of information and experience. I am feeling the effects of aging. I have diminished physical ability. I have a lot of desire to do more. I am still sensitive which can be a blessing and a curse. I feel a lot and I am always working it out. My spirit is awake and alive. I am in a dilemma. I feel like I am going through a spiritual emergency. That is, there are a number of stressful elements, I have a lot of information, and I am waiting for new understanding on this rung of the ladder. The new understanding could come from anywhere. It would be something spoken or observed and then recognized by me from within. So, if you have something to tell me, a message, please don’t hesitate,

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