Letting Nature Take Its Course: 3

This is the last of three posts which chronicle Marlene’s
final journey home. Part One, which introduces this series, is here.

Marlene drying veggies at Light Morning circa 1974

May 30th, 2018

May is a manic month in a homesteading lifestyle. Several of the past few evenings have seen me either hoeing or mowing by moonlight. Mama black bear passed through the orchard recently to taste a few small apples. Standing up on her hind legs to pull down one of the branches, she looked like a large man, with very good posture, in a bear costume.

Marlene is once more back in her bed and Ron is wrestling with myalgia. For the past month, Marlene has preferred to be on the floor. Ron didn’t want to keep the side rails of the hospital bed raised because it caused her to feel imprisoned, so Marlene became adept at lowering herself off the bed and onto the floor. Once down, she could scoot around from place to place using her hands and knees.

It was hard for Ron to minister to her needs, of course, while she was on the floor. But he was willing to do whatever it took to help Marlene regain some semblance of mobility. Her use of morphine also decreased significantly while she was out and about. For one stretch of ten days she didn’t need any at all.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 3

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 2

This is the second of three posts which chronicle Marlene’s
final journey home. Part One, which introduces this series, is here.

April 9th, 2018

I checked in with Ron and Marlene yesterday evening. Much to my amazement, Marlene was her feisty, smiley old self. She was lying on her stomach instead of her back. As soon as I walked in, she asked me about Ron’s taxes. She’s done his taxes for years and, knowing that tax time is close, she was concerned. I told her that all the financial info she had stashed in Ron’s red folder had been delivered to a tax person in Roanoke.

She grabbed my hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Then she talked about the cards and letters she’d been receiving. She couldn’t understand why so many people were suddenly writing to her. I saw an unopened envelope lying on the bed.“Do you want to see who sent this one?” I asked. “Sure.”

It was a long letter from Jess, whose family lived at Light Morning many years ago. Marlene has remained close to them, so I read the letter aloud. Marlene listened attentively to the news about each of the family members and each of the family’s cats.

Later, Marlene said she wanted to have a chiropractor in Blacksburg fix her back. Ron paused for a moment before answering. Then he gently reminded her about the childhood injury to her back, the progressive osteoarthritis in her spine, and the cancer.

“No one can fix those things for you,” he continued. “You’re just going to have to learn to live with it.”

There was a brief silence as Marlene tried to take this in.

“Well, I’ve had seventy-seven years,” she said.

“Seventy-seven beautiful years,” Ron replied.

Marlene gave him a delighted smile. Then she reached up to where Ron was standing beside the bed, grabbed the sides of his face with her hands, and pulled him down to give him a kiss. A second and third kiss quickly followed.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 2

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Marlene cutting tomatoes for canning

This photo shows Marlene, one of Light Morning’s four co-founders, prepping tomatoes for canning on the porch of the old community shelter. She taught me how to work; I learned by watching her. Marlene’s hands moved at the same consistently fast yet careful pace, whether she was typing, cutting tomatoes, or bow-sawing firewood.

Marlene also deepened my understanding of what Light Morning half-humorously refers to as U.P.S. — Unresolved Parental Stuff. In a previous series of posts (here), she shares a harrowing tale of how primal childhood woundings leave scar tissue, which in turn causes us to re-create our unresolved trauma with other people and in other settings. How much of our trauma can be healed and how much will remain unresolved is an open question.

Finally, Marlene taught me about death and dying. The teaching was up close and personal, as Marlene chose to die at home, here at Light Morning. The following story (in three parts) charts her journey from receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness to taking her last breath. It’s based on a series of email updates I sent to Marlene’s far away family and her many friends. It’s also a story about the shadow dance between the acceptance and denial of death.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Two Roads: 2

This is the second and concluding portion of Two Roads, which began here.

Two Insights

Time slides by. It’s December, 1995. Twenty years have passed since Season of Changes was published and Wax Statues was germinating. I have just returned from my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course. And I’m coming apart at the seams.

Continue reading Two Roads: 2

Two Roads: 1

In the summer of 2018, I began an 18-month program offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.”
My application to this program, which was called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, can be found here. During that year and a half, we were to write three “reflection papers,” on themes that were largely self-chosen. This two-part post is my first paper.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood…”
Robert Frost1

Two strands of what might be called destiny have shaped my life. Both have been with me since birth. One is from my father’s side of the family and concerns the Religious Society of Friends. The other is from my mother’s side. It pertains to a visionary community called Light Morning, which has been my home for the past forty-five years. These two roads have sometimes intertwined. More recently, they’ve been pulling me in opposite directions. But whether conjoined or in opposition, the Quaker and Light Morning force fields generate deep undercurrents of uneasiness whenever I consider just how strongly family, genes, and/or fate have determined the trajectory of my life.

Continue reading Two Roads: 1

Who’s Douglas?: 4

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. Part 1 can be found here.

An Escalating Sense of Urgency

Douglas with large ears, a pipe, and a smile

The ocean waves keep crashing in. They surge up the beach, only to be drawn back down again by gravity. Each set of waves climbs slightly farther or less far up the beach, depending on whether the tide is flowing or ebbing. How high any particular wave will reach is unpredictable. But the trend of the tide is unmistakable.

* * *

In March of 1980, Douglas celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Not long after reaching this milestone, one of his sustaining beliefs — that he was riding an incoming tide and that the story which had led him here was unfolding as it should — took three significant hits. Following these jarring dislocations, Douglas started to wonder whether the tide might have already turned against him and was now beginning to ebb.

Continue reading Who’s Douglas?: 4

Who’s Douglas?: 1

Remembering Douglas Dean Todd
Born March 3rd, 1930
Died on Good Friday, 2000

Douglas at Transdyne, 1981

Prologue

One morning over breakfast, in the autumn of 1999, I mentioned to the other members of the Light Morning community that I would be going to Roanoke to see Douglas that day. Following his stroke, Doug had been staying at Salem Health and Rehabilitation, just across the street from the V.A. hospital. Then someone sitting around the breakfast table said, “Who’s Douglas?”

Cecile had become part of the community only recently, and her question stopped a spoonful of applesauce midway between my bowl and my mouth. It seemed inconceivable that someone living at Light Morning could not know who Douglas was. For me, it was a watershed type of experience.

Douglas had played different roles for different ones of us during the 25 years when he and Stanley lived just down the road: mentor and interrogator; a reliable source of both irritations and insights; an occasional enemy; and a best friend. He could be effortlessly charming one moment and fiercely adversarial the next. But above all else, Douglas was fully committed to exploring the interplay between his own unique and pricey calling and the founding vision of Light Morning.

Continue reading Who’s Douglas?: 1

Early Letters: 3

Dan discing our garden

This is the third of three posts containing brief passages from letters that Joyce wrote to those becoming interested in Light Morning soon after we moved to the land. The first bouquet of vignettes (and a fuller introduction) can be found here.

April 1975

Our neighbor, Dan, was over yesterday to plow. There was a last-minute scurrying around to move sawdust piles, transplant favored weeds, rope off the rhubarb, harvest a little doomed catnip for some addicted cat friends, etc. We will soon be tearing down an old house partway to the mailbox. The owner will get half the lumber, we’ll get the rest — flooring for our new kitchen, and maybe a wall or two. The woodshed is begun. Gone is the peace of winter. In its place is the sense of a lively awakening, a new beginning. The seasons complement one another; a gentle succession of moods.

Continue reading Early Letters: 3

A New Kind of Family

Pear blossoms

[When Light Morning was an active community, those wanting to visit or intern here sometimes asked about our core values. In response, we posted three articles to an earlier version of this website: Living Close to the Earth, A New Kind of Family, and A Transformational Journey.]

In the spring of 1974, two couples arrived at an old Appalachian farm in southwest Virginia and started homesteading. Ron and Marlene and Joyce and I were passionate and vision-driven. We had just come out of a catalytic encounter with inner guidance. But we also came from significantly different backgrounds.

Joyce and I grew up in a small intentional village on the east coast. As young adults, we adopted the early hippie lifestyle of long hair, psychedelics, rock and roll, and Vietnam War protests. Ron and Marlene were raised on Wisconsin dairy farms. They came of age as straight-laced Midwesterners, never doing any drugs, ignoring the war, and becoming members of the John Birch Society.

How did two couples who would hardly have been acquaintances, let alone friends, end up spending their entire adult lives together? We later joked that it had been an arranged marriage, and we were still looking for who had arranged it. But whoever that mysterious matchmaker may have been, we were tightly bonded with a curiously durable glue.

Continue reading A New Kind of Family