The Gordon Bunch, Part III

On a wintry Friday night, I drove along our town’s short Main Street toward the big corner church. There’s not a lot of traffic in town after dark, and I didn’t encounter much, which made me a little sad to think the cold would keep people away from the benefit dinner taking place. But when I turned the corner into the church’s back lot, I suddenly saw row after row of vehicles. “They came!” I said out loud and laughed at the tears in my eyes. “Look at all these people!” Indeed, it looked as if the entire town had turned out.

From far and wide people arrived in order to visit our old Youth Group leader, Jim Gordon, and to donate toward his treatment for Lewy Body Dementia. The place was just stuffed with familiar faces I’d known 20 years ago, now graying at the temples, and it brought back a surge of memories of our Youth Group days.

Years ago, every Thursday night, the senior high students took over Jim and Bonnie’s house for camaraderie, dinner, sing-alongs, skits, and life lessons. After an hour of running around, playing games, starting conversations, and generating fun, I remember we’d pile around the dining room’s picnic tables for potluck dinner. (Yes, wooden picnic tables in the dining room. This was not your ordinary parish house. And 60-some kids wouldn’t fit together in just any dining room.) We’d start out sitting by class, with the seniors on one end of the room and we 9th graders on the other. But there were no rules, so usually by the end of dinner, everybody’d switched seats.

Gordon Bunch IIIAfter dinner, the whole lot of us would grab a spot on the living room floor surrounded by postered walls and memorabilia. The souvenirs that most people lined up on shelves or tossed in a drawer the Gordons put directly onto the walls. You looked for a spot where you’d be comfy, because you’d spend the entire last hour in your spot. Jim, and anyone else who wanted, would start tuning guitars and shaking tambourines. The rest of us would pass around song books–paper binders filled with lyrics in numbered order–and we’d shout out our favorites like, “Let’s sing 88!” and the guitars would start Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane,” or Jimmy Buffet’s “Volcano,” or Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” The songs were interrupted by classmates, leaders, and Jim’s wife Bonnie doing skits. Bonnie was always a ton of fun. She was tiny, with beautiful blonde curls that went all over, and she wore pink lipstick and smelled like a powdery fragrance that I’ve never found in any store. She’s got a quiet leadership about her, but had no trouble acting in the skits and getting everyone to laugh.

There were religious songs in the books, too, and we’d save those for last–especially if they were quiet because they’d set the mood for Jim to talk. He’d give us a 15-minute sermon, sometimes more, sometimes less, which always began with random-seeming talk–about music, a band, a recent conversation with a man on the street, a memory from long ago–then related what he was saying to a Bible verse that he or a volunteer would read. We were allowed to shout out questions or comments at any time, and he’d address those. Then it would get quiet and he’d make his point, which was always something you could ruminate on for the next few days as you went back to school and headed into the weekend and into the next week. We’d close in prayer, and then listen to the brass of “All You Need is Love” as we got ready to head on home.

In those days, we lived from Thursday to Thursday. [That line isn’t new. I wrote, “We live from Thursday to Thursday” on a scrap of paper back in ninth grade because it was obvious, even then, that we were living out something to remember.] Back then we truly lived for those three hours where anything could happen and everything was possible.

On Friday after my first Youth Group, I remember walking down the hall in school and I passed a group of football players. Two of them, who had sat at the next table over the night before, made eye contact with me and said, “Hey.” I said hey back. (Hello was way too formal.) I also remember a senior, later on that day–probably the most beautiful girl in school–was standing at her locker with her friends and she also greeted me as I passed by because she’d seen me the night before at Youth Group. Class, age, athletic ability, talent, brains, beauty, clubs… none of it mattered. The barriers were gone.

We weren’t told to be nice to each other. We weren’t told to be accepting and kind and to offer help where we could. We learned it. We saw it in action and we absorbed it for ourselves. Youth Group was not a day of the week but a way of life. As Jim’s sister described us on Facebook on Saturday after the benefit, “You are a force. You learned from the best. Make good things happen.” That’s exactly what it all felt like: A force.

There were years of retreats, and breakfasts, and trips to amusement parks—once when our bus broke down a state away from home–and baseball games in corn fields (whispering, “If you build it, he will come…”), and volunteering—like the times we cleaned the carnival grounds and had a contest to find the weirdest items (you didn’t want to win that one)—and the coming years of change ahead of us. There’s so much that I could fill a book (and maybe I will). Yet hundreds of us, many with spouses and kids in tow, returned to the big church on the corner on a cold winter’s night to see Jim again and to donate and reconnect with each other across the miles and years because we share something in common. Deep within, a force has reawakened.

We were, we are, and always will be the Gordon Bunch.
~

On Lewy Body Dementia
The scientist Frederich H. Lewy discovered the abnormal proteins in the brain (the Lewy Body proteins) back in the early 1900’s during his Parkinson’s research. These Lewy Body proteins can interrupt dopamine flow, resulting in Parkinson’s, or can spread throughout the brain, wreaking havoc in the form of Dementia with Lewy Bodies which causes impaired attention and visuospatial function and can manifest visual hallucinations. Unlike Alzheimer’s, in Dementia with Lewy Bodies, short-term memory is affected later. Treatment involves drawing together a team of doctors, each treating different symptoms according to their specialty and in conjunction with one another so as not to allay the team’s efforts. Research goes on, but as of now, there is no cure.

To donate to the research for Dementia with Lewy Bodies, see the Lewy Body Dementia Association website. To donate directly to Jim Gordon’s treatment, please send a check payable to Saxonburg Memorial Church, Attn: Carol Hines, P.O. Box 466, Saxonburg, PA 16056 and memo “Jim Gordon Benefit.”Jody Brown

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

 

The Gordon Bunch, Part I

gordon-bunch-1On Friday night I attended a benefit for the Reverend Jim Gordon, a spaghetti dinner that called to everyone far and wide to trek home for family time. When I was in high school, Jim (no one ever called him the Reverend Jim Gordon) was one of a team of preachers for one of the churches on Main Street (not mine), and the leader of what seemed to be the town youth group (that adopted me, and everyone else around).

Jim is now living with Dementia with Lewy Bodies, a disease with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and related somewhat to Parkinson’s. Details on this will come. But for now, we’ll travel back before all of this, to the early 1990’s and a time when the world was just becoming possible.

I think it was my friend Danielle who invited me to come to her youth group one fall Thursday night. She invited the lot of us, really, and soon, Heather, Carla, Jenny—though it was her Youth Group, too–and both Jackies were all meeting up on the hill at the parish house for three hours of music, dancing, camaraderie, potluck dinner, and a sermon that wove it all together. This was the home of Jim and Bonnie Gordon, and it was not your run-of-the-mill parish house.

The dining room, to me, was always the most striking. It ran the length of the house from the back to the front and was not filled with a stately table but rather a series of wooden picnic tables. The walls were stately, however, covered in old license plates from Pennsylvania and beyond. The living room, which paralleled the dining, was a large, open space with ramshackle couches and pillows strewn about, a stereo system on one side geared toward the playing of records, and posters of the Beatles splashed the walls. The small kitchen, that I remember being yellow/orange but it could have been any cheerful color, really, had a poster of a playground and words that I do remember, “It’ll be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” It was right above the stove.

Upstairs, there was a hallway with various rooms jutting off, each so filled with costumes and props that, on any given night, you could put together a skit with cheerleaders, Moses, the T-Birds from Grease, John and Yoko, or all of them at once.

My memory is that it was so cold my second winter at Youth Group, and there were so many people in attendance every week, that the attic was opened up for additional space. It was vast, at the tippy top of the stairs, and contained at least one pool table and virtually no heat. The walls up there were unfinished, so we were given markers and told to add our autographs. This we did, along with poetry, questions, sketches, and the like. We were figuring out who we were, what really counted, what it all meant, and how to get all of it to fit together.

Part II, coming soon… ~

On Lewy Body Dementia
The scientist Frederich H. Lewy discovered the abnormal proteins in the brain (the Lewy Body proteins) back in the early 1900’s during his Parkinson’s research. These Lewy Body proteins can interrupt dopamine flow, resulting in Parkinson’s, or can spread throughout the brain, wreaking havoc in the form of Dementia with Lewy Bodies which causes impaired attention and visuospatial function and can manifest visual hallucinations. Unlike Alzheimer’s, in Dementia with Lewy Bodies, short-term memory is affected later. Treatment involves drawing together a team of doctors, each treating different symptoms according to their specialty and in conjunction with one another so as not to allay the team’s efforts. Research goes on, but as of now, there is no cure.JB

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

Things Given

Things Given‘Tis the season, and I’m thinking about gifts. Not just about presents wrapped with bows and ribbons, but about things given, and a recent conversation.

A friend and colleague told me that, in the world of therapy, you never take anything away without giving first. I’ll mess up his clinical wording, so I’ll give you my own writerly example of what he said:

Say you have a client with an imaginary friend, a major imaginary friend who holds a lot of power and sway over your client’s world. Now, you can’t just blurt out that imaginary friends don’t exist. That would be devastating, and would cause more harm than good.

At this point, I thought about key moments in my own life where the carpet seemed yanked out from under me. Many, many key moments flashed before my eyes and I was heartily amused to think that my own personal cheerleaders in life are brilliant for blurting things out before I’m ready. I think they delight in my hard landings.

The thing of it all has been though: I got good at landing properly–similar to the way they teach you to fall in martial arts classes. And I got good at licking my wounds and good at bouncing back up. It’s become a way of life for me, and not a bad one. I’ve been taught great lessons, and I’ve even managed to teach myself some doozies as well. Resilience, self-encouragement, finding the ray of sunlight in an otherwise dark mess, these are things I know from repeated trial and error.

Now at this point, my writer brain was awakened and starting to line up the words to describe this conversation, and that’s when this happened:

“Never take before you give,” my friend declared. “If you do, you leave a void.”

The writer brain did a flip, but this wasn’t the end of the story. My friend quickly mentioned different techniques for helping the client, and concluded that, rather than working to remove what was imaginary, a person should instead work on building the client’s ability to see all the reality in his or her life, all the flesh-and-blood family, teachers, mentors, coaches, and friends that populate the life of this particular client. He said you fill the client up before you ever suggest letting go of the imaginary friend.

“You give before you take,” he said, and then, “Never in the reverse order.”

These moments in life happen for a reason. Here I sit, in the midst of the holiday giving season, turning this over in my mind. Imagine it: Of all things given this season, our presence fills each other’s lives the best.

Hold on to each other, friends. I wish you all wonder-filled holidays, and an adventurous New Year!

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

Shift

The balance of power amazes me. I’m not talking politics here–far from it, actually, though it all may be applicable in the end. Follow me on this: There are times, when you wait tables, when everything goes wrong. Guests are grumpy, you’re not making any money, the place is short-staffed, morale is down, you’re working entirely too hard and you know it… And then suddenly management hires, not just any lackluster fill-in, but someone, the right someone, and instantly, morale is up, the work is easier, the spoons are back and the coffee’s hot and the ice cream’s cold. You go from everything going wrong–we’re talking layers and layers of wrong that you begin to suspect can never be put right–to watching all that was in the air a moment ago settling in to exactly where it belongs. Oh, you’re still working the same long hours and the grumpy people are still there (aren’t they always?), but the outlook has changed. And it all came down to that one substitution. The entire balance of power simply shifted. That’s what amazes Shiftme, that it can be so tenuous as that.

Get the wrong person and it’s nothing but arduous. Sometimes you don’t even notice because you’ve grown so accustomed to arduous. But get the right person, and head–spinning eye-opening change occurs. You’ll wonder what took so long, and in a way, you won’t care so long as it’s finally here.

We spend our time striving for the almighty dollar, reaching that next level, trying to land that big fish, get the corner office and the pot of gold, and these things all come and go, like mile markers on a mountain road. The thing is, the entire thing, is to stop striving for the next change but to be that change, the change that causes such a shift.

That’s all. And it’s everything.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

That Ever-Singing Chord of Curiosity

That Ever-Singing Chord of CuriosityMy nephew has started swim lessons, which reminded me of my own swim lessons as a kid. Have I told you this before?

If so, I feel as though we all need this walk down memory lane. Imagine, if you will, a dozen little kids in the pool in their brand new swim clothes, all wearing Styrofoam “bubbles” as they called them, practicing our kicking and clinging to the side of the swimming pool because our very lives depended on it.

The bubbles were football-shaped foam secured to our backs by a blue belt that fastened around our chests with metal clips. In my vast little kid knowledge, I’d never seen any swimmer wear such a thing, so it struck that ever-singing chord of curiosity.

We were told not to let go of the side of the pool. They yelled and yelled at us not to do that because we would sink. But this was a lot of talk and no action, so I let go. Just for a moment, mind you, to test it. I didn’t sink. But I really hadn’t given it much of a chance, so I let go again, and again my hands sprung back to the side of the pool to catch me. I let go of one hand, then the other, and I quickly got up my nerve to let go for slightly longer periods of time, daring to do a twirl before putting my hands back on the poolside. I twirled to the right, and, needing balance always in my movements then, I then twirled left. And I could feel during the twirls that the blue belt of the bubble was tightening and pulling on me. I looked around, and saw that no Styrofoam bubbles were under the water. In fact, on some of the kids, the bubbles were positioned even higher than their heads. It all made sense.

The girl on my right was crying from fear. “Look,” I said, and showed her what I could do when I let go. “You won’t sink. The teachers are wrong. The bubble will hold you up. See?”

She refused to let go, but she did calm down. The girl on my left started to test the theory, letting go of one hand and then the other. Soon the others started, all the way down the row of us against the pool edge. I let go completely and paddled around until I was a few feet from the edge.

Suddenly, whistles were blown and swim coaches were jumping in and that was the end of that. I tried telling the coaches that we all knew about the bubbles now, but the adult carrying me shushed me and had me hold the side of the pool again.

Remembering this, clearly I see that the adults were trying to keep all of us safe. And I appreciate that. I never was, and I’m still not, a troublemaker. I learn the rules, obey them, and try always to think of others first. But being led by fear and simply believing what I’m told, now those are things that have never worked for me.

Sometimes, when you’re in that kind of mire up to your eyeballs, inspiration strikes. That’s not something to ignore. Stick to your gut. Great discoveries are meant to be shared.

They’re meant to make a splash.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Jody BrownKingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

On the Other Hand…

Sitting in a dark movie theater, watching all the previews of the upcoming movies–many of which involve fighting or strife because those things make great stories–and I think about how the dramas unfold. I think about the ways in which the hero is put down, the ways he’s knocked around, pushed aside, and cast out. As I think of these things, I picture a hand with fingers slowly closing into a fist.

Then comes that line-in-the-sand drumbeat followed by violins (or guitar, depending on the movie) and the moment arises when the hero has taken all he will take and he comes out swinging that fist, because that makes great movies.

In real life, we deal with all sorts of things on a daily basis but it’s not the heightened drama of the movies. There are times, certainly. Times in war, times in protecting our families, times in standing up for what’s right. But most times, they’re just times. And most enemies are just people.

In real life, it’s hard to do nothing. We think it’s cowardice but it truly is difficult to do nothing. And yet, it’s even harder to come out swinging. But what if there’s a third option?

What if we don’t shrug and do nothing, nor come out swinging that fist of fury? What if we look to the other hand, the one with fingers outstretched, and offer it? What if we make understanding and bridging the gaps a priority over drama?

On the Other Hand...What happens then?

I sat in the dark thinking about this. And when the movie was over, I walked out into the light and looked at my hands, still thinking about this.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

Undertake the Crazy

Writers get to create every detail in a story. It’s a big responsibility, and, truth be told, a lot of fun. Characters, families, histories, motives–whole worlds get created and it’s all up to the writer. (For the most part, anyway. Well-drawn characters typically begin to tell their own stories.) But this work makes you look at the world and always think that you can effect a change.

I’ve been noticing lately that many of us are asking questions deep inside ourselves. We wonder if we’re doing the right things, making the right choices, living in the right place, working at the right job… And I think: We can’t possibly be right all the time. Typically it’s doing the wrong thing that helps us learn faster and better, anyhow. So, as much as our insides are begging, “Right? Right? Right?” I’ve also been noticing that if we quiet that anxious voice and listen, the answers are coming. We’ve indeed been receiving answers all along.

Things don’t always go our way in life, and yes, there’s plenty of negativity to go around. But with a slight shift in focus, sometimes life is just downright magical. The shift can be as simple as this: If you look for the good, you typically get good. If you look for something to laugh about, it could very well show up.

Undertake the CrazyThe thing to do–and I can’t believe that I’m saying this–is to look at the world like a writer. Start by dreaming up and creating your own life, listening to that inner voice, the instinct that tells you which way to go. Populate it with the characters you want, with the job you want, the story you want to live. Create your world much the way writers create the ones for the storybooks. And then dare to undertake the crazy, the lofty, the grandest thing you can imagine, the thing you believe is hovering just beyond where you think you can go.

Go ahead, reach for it. It’s your world, after all.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Merry Little Christmas

Merry Little ChristmasThis morning, Santa brought an easel for my little nephews and put it under our tree. Santa forgot, however, to supply the dry erase markers that are much needed for the easel. First, we searched the house—to no avail. Second, we made a list of places that might be open this Christmas morning who would sell dry erase markers—knowing full well that none of us had any intention of going to any store on Christmas Day. Finally, we got creative with some magnet letters and managed to spell out Merry Christmas on the easel board for my nephews. It’s imperfect, and they’re going to love it.

And this brings me to another moment this week: During the church Christmas pageant, one little boy had a bit of a meltdown and refused to play his part. He’d practiced and practiced with the other little kids, but when the big moment came (actually, it was about fifteen minutes before the big moment), he wouldn’t go on. Instead, while the rest of the kids were in front of the church singing, his father rocked him in a chair in the back to comfort him while his mother looked on, with the little lamb costume in her hands that would go unworn this year. Seeing this, I smiled and thought to myself, “This is Christmas.”

It can be a day when plans come to fruition, or a day when things go wrong and we think outside the box to make them right. We think with love. We smile at the cracks and the lines and tender imperfections because we’re humans and that’s what we do. And life goes on. Because the show doesn’t have to.

Have yourselves a… Well, you know.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Breaking the Rules on Christmas Eve

Breaking the Rules on Christmas EveIn my family, Christmas Eve brings with it the now infamous Sauerkraut Soup, creamed peas, and fried pork chops. The entire house smells thick with these traditional foods, and while earlier I’d planned to wait until some of the aroma cleared out in order to get ready for the day, I have since decided that it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve if I didn’t smell like fried pork chops.

Two years ago, in fact, I remember stopping at my Grandma’s house to drop off the chops and soup so she had them ready for the family to stop in and eat in shifts around church services and in-law schedules, and I spilled some of the soup down the front of me in the process. When I got to church and sat down next to my sister, she said, “What’s that smell?”

“Ah, that would be me,” I whispered. “It’s meat juice. Let’s hope no one is out walking a dog after the service tonight.” We laughed about that.

But in all the gettings-ready and gift wrapping and cooking and dress-ironing (which I don’t do) and food delivery and cleaning and place-setting and traveling, so much comes together for this night that we’ve long since given up on trying to make a perfect holiday, following order and rules and such, and instead enjoy whatever the day brings, sometimes with unplanned spillings and sometimes with surprise visits from favorite cousins.

And in it all, I’m reminded of the original Christmas, with the prospect of mandatory and dangerous travel just to register to pay taxes, and the delivery of a baby in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem. [Earlier I wrote the travel was to Jerusalem, because I truly have Jerusalem on the brain these days. But no, Mary and Joseph were, of course, traveling to Bethlehem.] I think of the Magi, who followed the star, sent by King Herod himself. And when they found said baby under the star, they gave gifts befitting a king. And I think of how the Magi left by a different route, not returning to King Herod because they were warned in a dream that the King only intended to kill the baby.

I think of this especially, because, even a couple thousand years ago, wise men broke the rules and followed their dreams.

And the world was forever changed.

Merry Christmas Eve!

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

The Good China

The Good ChinaA friend once told me a story about finally getting the kids down for a nap one day just as the doorbell rang. In the driveway, she saw her best friend’s car. She looked around at her messy house, with laundry and life’s debris everywhere, and dreaded answering the door–especially because her best friend was always so put together.

She answered the door and there was her friend with a cranky baby on her hip. “I’m all ‘mommy brain’ today and I needed some friend time,” her friend said and then saw the mess in the house and gasped. “Oh, thank goodness!” she said. “I thought only my house looked like this.”

Recently, my mom visited a friend of hers and said, “Your house always looks so nice. Between work and the grandkids, I don’t know how you do it. I know I’m busy, but my house never looks like this.”

Her friend smiled and said, “Did you ever notice that when you come over, we sit in the kitchen or in the living room and never venture to other parts of the house?”

“No, I never really thought about it,” my mom said.

“Well,” her friend said, “Allow me to show you the basement. When someone comes over, I take everything out of place from the kitchen and living room and toss them in the basement.”

On my last visit to my Grandma, her house was cleaner than I’d ever seen it, and yet, she lamented about how messy it was and even said that she’d noticed that my parents’ house was never messy.

I laughed. “I’ll tell you a secret,” I said. “We straighten things up at the last minute before anyone comes over. We don’t actually live like that, Grandma. I don’t think anybody does.”

Comparing ourselves to one another is a waste of time and energy. One way or another, none of us has it all together.

Let’s enjoy the moment, with the kids and the messy house, with the grandkids and the messy house, with the relatives over in the messy house. Absorb today because tomorrow things change.

Let go of perfection. Stop waiting for “better” times. It’s time to use the good china.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.