First a tin of mushroom soup, then the wonderful willows at the Harrison Hot Springs resort, where we just spent a couple of days to celebrate my husband’s birthday. The rows of trees loaded with pink blossoms were gorgeous but I was compelled by the willows. Weeping willows. Like the soup, they swept me into a cluster of associations involving my mother, who’d once declared them her favourite tree, and an incident at a picnic site when my family of origin stopped enroute from Alberta to visit our grandparents in B.C.
My parents had their full quiver of eight children by then and we travelled in one car. Squished, we were, in every possible way that ten people can in a Chevrolet with two bench seats and a back window ledge. (No seat belts in those days.) As we kids exited the car, one after the other, a man watched. And counted. “Ma’am,” he said to our mother, “are all those children yours?”
They were. She claimed us proudly. Then we eight stood with her under the hanging fronds of a beautiful willow and Dad took a picture of us and she said it was her favourite tree.
I suppose it’s a kind of nostalgia, what the willows at Harrison reminded me of. Nostalgia has a tinge of the pejorative about it though, like weeds that catch one while swimming along in the moment. I resent the connotation. It’s a privilege to get old enough to be surprised by sightings that wind past into present, not to mire it but to layer it with gratitude and fondness for who we and others were.
While at Harrison, I sketched a willow to “see” it better, and back home, found the 1963 photo.
I’m in the back, in purple; second oldest of eight.
Last Saturday I found a quiet corner at the library and sat down with a pen and pad of paper to work on a personal mission statement.
I last did this 13 or 14 years ago while employed in editorial roles at our national denominational magazine. I taped the three phrases that I eventually distilled as a mission statement along the bottom of my computer. I often fell short of their ideals, of course, but they reminded me what I wanted to do and be in that place.
Although my core values haven’t really changed, my stage of life certainly has. I still write, but part-time, self-directed, and at home. My husband is retired and has health challenges. I have nine grandchildren. I’m 69.
Writing a mission statement is a process. There are helpful tools online — questions to ask about who I admire or might emulate, past successes, priorities and goals, contributions I can make. I recall that when I first did this exercise (probably after reading Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits), even before the one at my job, I was juggling writing projects with attention to the kids and household. Then I looked at women considerably older than me as models. Now I’m looking at women about my age or slightly older for examples of both positive aging and contribution. (For one, this shout-out to someone I know mainly through her blog: Sue Steiner. At 70, she began a blog to mark the year, planning 70, though well beyond that now, and each a gem that ends with questions for reflection.)
My statement isn’t formulated yet, but I did my pages of notes and reflections. A number of words have floated out of them for further rumination.
One day this week I bought and transferred fledgling geraniums and petunias into balcony pots. In the evening I realized I’d probably gone overboard with things, twice as many geraniums this year as last, besides a pretty over-wintered shrub, two trays of petunias, a tub of creamy yellow pansies, not to mention H’s roses and his soon-to-be potted tomatoes and likely (come Mother’s Day) a hanging basket or two. I remembered, too late obviously, that though these plants would grow into a glorious display, they would need to be watered and tended and tidied for months and months. I remembered their daily water would have to be carried from the kitchen sink and through the living room because there’s no tap out there. (Our balcony faces south and west; the sun absolutely devours the moisture.)
I blame spring. In our part of the world blossoms are blossoming, magnolia trees are heavy with flowers, it’s warm. And spring is impulsive, indiscriminate, extravagant. Spring is powerful and I responded as if over-powered. Even though I knew (if I’d stopped to think) that just beyond spring, summer would have to take care of all that bursting-forth and happiness, would have to bring it to maturity. Would have to be responsible. Manage it into the future and its final stages in fall.
I couldn’t help thinking about the commitments one takes on in the flush of youth or in ongoing or periodic bursts of ambition and energy. Partners, children, friendships, careers/vocations, projects, service. We start and there it is: we’re responsible. But no matter how old, we keep starting, because it’s spring and the call of the new and the potential for glorious is irresistible.