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Reflections in the Silver Cup


I should've only spent a half a day in the Ozarks, but as it turned out, I was there for a day and a half, all of it on the same 239-mile stretch of road between Clarksville, AR and Oklahoma City (OKC). Three times on that stretch for a total of 717 miles that should've been just 239. The additional 478 miles brutalized me. I felt like I'd been under a meat tenderizing hammer.


Here's what happened. On the 4th morning of my trip back home from Michigan, I left my laptop on the floor in front of the hotel desk in Clarksville, AR. I walked out and drove away. I got all the way to OKC (239 miles later), stopped for lunch, and checked my voicemail in which the desk clerk told me they had my laptop. The work I had to do on the 11th and all this week required the use of my computer, so asking them to mail it wasn't an option. Lunch over, back in the RAV and back to Clarksville. Remember that old Monkees song? Well there wasn't a last train; it was all on me. I'd been having a tough day anyway, so some of the way I cried.


And between tears I enjoyed the autumn colors--a predominance of oak trees in shades ranging from bronze to chocolate, fields of strawberry blonde grasses, golden cottonwoods turning to ochre--the last of the colors before falling. And the birds--eagles, hawks, murmurations of grackels, geese in high southerly wedges. The birds lifted my heart time and again. I was grateful for them and the colors and my friend Catherine who talked to me on the Bluetooth. And of course I was grateful that the laptop was still there. I owe the desk clerk named Karen. These got me through without too many tears. But I was exhausted.


In The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult, Alice Walker asks the question whether you can step into the same river twice. Of course literally you can't. Because the water is ever moving, each time you step in, even in the same spot, it's a different river. Metaphorically she's writing about the aftermath of writing The Color Purple, winning the Pulitzer, and going through the making of the movie--the same river, but not.


Neither is it the same road thrice, becuase the cows have moved from this place to that; the wedge of geese is a different wedge; the leaves have turned yet a little darker. The sun was at my back and dusk was falling, and then it was again at my back, and dawn was coming, as it had the first time.


I was reminded of a trip to Michigan when I was nine years old, and my grandmother was sick, maybe dying. It was November then, too, and we were driving through Missouri, stopped for gas and realized the footlocker with all our Sunday clothes was no longer on the roof rack. So we drove back, and back. Snow fell in curtains , and we children looked out the windows, hoping to spot a rectangular mass out in a field somewhere. Finally we gave up and turned back toward Michigan. We stopped at Sears Roebuck in Joplin, Missouri, probably the biggest store I'd ever been in, and I got my first brand new coat that didn't come out of a mission box. It was rust red and kind of hairy looking and had red buttons with rhinestones in the center. They bought it too big, so I could grow into it.


A day late, I got home and started packing all over again and buying food for the working  retreat that began the next day. I decided I don't want to drive long, long distances anymore. Only short explores. The explores can take time, but not so much driving time. I could change my mind. I've been known.

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"Planters of Seeds" first appeared in Gallup Independent "Spiritual Perspectives" on September 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.


I was heading back to my car with a basket of groceries when a pickup truck moved slowly, purposefully toward me in the parking lot.


"Oh no," I thought. "Am I about to get mugged?"


A young man leaned out the truck window and asked, "Are you Ms. Redsand?"


"Ye-es," I said, still hesitant.


"I'm Donald Benally [not his real name]. You were my counselor in 5th grade. I was a transfer student that year, and I kept getting into trouble in the classroom and on the playground. I was failing pretty much everything."


As he continued to talk, I walked over and stood beside Donald's window. Gradually I recognized the round cheeks and dark, sparkling eyes of that mischievous fifth-grader. He went on, "You held a parent conference for me. You talked about the stuff that wasn't going too good. Then you told me how smart I was. You showed me the specific ways I was smart—like how good I was in math when I tried. You said I could do anything I wanted to. I believed you. I finished high school early, and then I went to community college. I became an airplane mechanic. I work over at the airport." He grinned and opened his wallet to show me a picture. "This is my baby daughter."


I got goose bumps and a lump in my throat listening to Donald. We chatted for a bit, and as he got ready to drive home, he said, "Thank you, Ms. Redsand."


With my heart in my throat, I said, "No. Thank you, Donald. Thank you so much. Thank you for stopping to tell me that I made a difference in your life. More than that, thank you for believing in yourself."


I can't count the many times I told a student how capable they were, that they could do anything they chose to do. After thirty-nine years as an educator, I can count on two hands the number of times that I found out, years later, that a student had believed what I told them, that they had caught the ball I tossed them (so to speak) and run with it. Donald stopping to tell me the positive effect I'd had on his life is something I've treasured ever since.


Over the years, I survived and thrived as a counselor and teacher by reminding myself that I was a planter of seeds, especially when I worked in the field of substance abuse. I knew that if I expected to see results with every client or every student, I would make myself crazy. Results weren't in my hands or in my words. Sometimes I planted a seed, and I got to see a tiny sprout. I had to find meaning in that, if I was going to carry on. And then sometimes, someone like Donald would come along, and I would get to see how the seed had blossomed.


The opportunity to be a planter of seeds is a great privilege and a life lesson. When we plant seeds in our gardens, we do tend them; especially here in the Southwest, it's essential that we give them water. We also need to weed. But aside from that, the harvest is mostly out of our hands. It lies in the DNA and health of the seeds themselves, in the sun, and in the miracle that is photosynthesis.


So, too, with the human lives we are privileged to touch for the better. We say or do what we can, and then we let go and let the growth happen. It may be that another gardener comes along to water and weed. That letting go isn't always easy. We so often want to see our work come to fruition for the sake of the person who may be hurting. And it's natural to want to be valued, to have our work acknowledged. The fact is that most of what happens after we plant the seed is not up to us. There are other influential people and circumstances in the lives of those we encounter. It is good to be thankful for the seed and the soil in which we could do the planting. It is an immeasurable gift when we are allowed to know that we made a difference in the life of someone who needed what we had to offer.


Because it is the beginning of the school year, and even though there are many other planters of seeds, I want to give a special shout-out to teachers and school counselors as they plant seeds throughout the coming year. May the soil be rich and receptive. May you be gifted with the knowledge that you make a difference.

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