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Sheltered Reflections #4

By Maureen Kalbus

Sheltering at home, we are missing face to face, in-person connections, and, outside, being able to see a person’s whole face. It is impossible to capture the delight of a smile, hidden behind a mask! Eye to eye contact and facial connections are vital to our communications and for our well-being. Hard of hearing friends can’t read lips. Oh how we crave the warm touch of a friend or loved ones who don’t live with us. For many, being cut off from family, is painful. I miss the freedom to head to the airport, board a plane, and be back in the warm embrace of family, within a day! Not knowing when reunions will be possible, is distressing.

Zooming has become the new norm, and an adequate and welcome substitute for usual services, meetings, gatherings, and even medical visits. It is better than not meeting, texting, or speaking only by telephone. With dexterity, our church recently held, via Zoom, its Leaders’ Retreat, combining Deacons and Elders in conversations and discussions. It was very productive. Over weeks, Ralph and I have been working our way around our Irish family members, Zooming groups in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England, and that has brought us all great pleasure. Additionally, we have been seeking out family from over the generations, by sifting through photographs, digging up our roots and striving to put names to unmarked faces. We look for resemblances among the features. This month, we should have been in Germany on a much anticipated trip, seeking to connect Ralph with his ancestors, on his father’s side. When it was cancelled, we went there virtually instead, looking forward to re-planning once travel restrictions are lifted. Years ago, when going to Oklahoma for Ralph’s High School Reunion, I found my Dad’s first cousin in Tulsa! Marion’s father, my grandmother’s brother, and four siblings had emigrated from Belfast in the nineteenth century. A colorful story, for another time! Once we linked up, we shared family photos, and it was remarkable how much our fathers resembled each other, and shared many interests and talents, particularly musically and in calligraphy.

In order to know where you are going, I believe you need to know from where you have come. My favorite poet, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, wrote voraciously about his roots, growing up in Northern Ireland. His images are vividly painted. Being brought up on a farm, as the eldest son, it was expected that he would carry on the family tradition, but he came to realize that the farming life wouldn’t be for him.

In “Digging” we share his dilemma:

"Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests, snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds

Bends low, comes up twenty years away

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked

Loving their cool hardness in their hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it."

Do you share family traits, talents, interests? Were there professions within your family you were expected to follow? Did you?

Within families and among friends, relationships are central. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I believe everyone has greater appreciation of family members and friends, and are striving for more significant conversations, listening with our eyes. Relationships have taken on a deeper significance. Through the New Testament, we are guided as to how to treat one another. As Christians, our backbone is our relationship with God. We are assured:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3

“The Lord is my strength and my shield.” Psalm 28:7

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“Abide in me as I abide in you.” John 15:4

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Hebrews 13:8

“I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:20

Seamus Heaney in “Scaffolding” believes that structures need to be in place before a relationship may be built:

“Masons, when they start upon a building,

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be

Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall

Confident that we have built our wall.”

Since the pandemic, have any of your relationships been strengthened?

Shelter safely, tightening and securing your bolts,

Maureen Kalbus

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