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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