The Beauty Of Repetition – A Story of The Bats


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The Beauty of Repetition – A Story Of The Bats

Good Night Moon for the two hundredth time
Crispy fried chicken from the colonel from Kentucky
Hot macaroni and cheese
Orange or yellow, boxed, or home made
And a glass of cold milk at bedtime
Cheek on cold pillow
Rhythms and patterns, the labyrinth of life


I start out to gather my words, herd them into a poem. They said, “no can do”. My words talk back to me. They can be headstrong like that. I know they won’t conform to my poem so I give them up and open the field of prose. Let them run wild and free.

I think they like it there sometimes where there is more openness, where it is wider, bigger more like South Dakota. A lot of space to stretch and breathe. And be the words they were created to be. With less fence lines and gateposts and cattle gates with locks.

Plus, it is difficult to write about bats in poetry. Unless you are Billy Collins or some other very creative and poet laureate-esq writer. Because the words, patterns, memories, recollections that have tried to form a poem have put their collective feet down and said “tell this in prose.” I assume your words talk back to you in a similar way.

She keeps telling the bat stories over and over again. And we laugh and feign misery and say”no not again, don’t tell the bat story.” And then we spell as if she can’t and say, here comes the b-a-t story again. Being a child and being an adult are not that dissimilar. Familiarity is comforting. And patterns are guideposts to our living.

Repetition comforts. Pattern calms. Tradition and customs and pilgrimages restore our souls with the balm of the familiar.

I walk to the spring and stop. Stare at the water trickling down. Measure with an invisible yardstick in my memory. Check to see if the water is coming from the spring in a rapid or slowing rate. Twenty something years of going to Wynne Lithia Spring and it’s new every single time. The beauty of repetition restores me. I stop and lose myself in the beauty of the spring. And remember my memories of this place. I have stockpiled them. Hoarded them. Hold them tight.

She asks me if I have read this book, the one in her hand, the one by Flannery O’Connor. And I say yes parts, until I realize it is a different Flannery O’Connor book. And I remind her of the author’s love of peacocks. Thinking we’ll discuss the short stories with tales of the peahens and peabiddies. And she said yes, “I see that now in technicolor on television.” And I haven’t a clue. Until I catch up with her mind and her world and where she has gone. She is not in the room. Her look is far away. Empty. Vapid.  And I am lost.

Dementia is a game player. One moment we are discussing Flannery O’Connor and the next she is remembering NBC’s early logo from the television of her youth. I go there, with her, in my mind. And follow this trail to her past. Where I learn. And revisit. And uncover. And secretly wonder about this place of distant remembering that she goes to brush off the dust and bring back a treasure from her past.

I was thinking of O’Connor’s beautiful peacocks, her beloved peacocks from her youth. Mother was thinking of NBC. As the crow flies, they aren’t that far away. You  must learn the language of dementia before you can communicate with it’s strange dialect. The nuances. The subtleties.

We cross our legs in laughter. Red faced and breathless. The bats came walking into the powder room one day as she sat there. Stunned. Amazed. Bewildered. And then they came from the bookcase during another time in her life. We zig zag through the stories of the bats. And where do all these bats come from. And why is there a series of unfortunate bat stories in this family. And aren’t we all a little batty anyway.

There are other “bat stories”. No not stories of bats. But ones she repeats. The stories of her youth and childhood. The ones that are emblazoned there in her mind. She grabs the photo album. We sit down side by side. And she shows me the pictures of us again. In Boston. I am two.

And I savor her narrative of this faded photograph album.

And listen to her telling of us.

As if it is the first time. Because like my visits to the spring. Her stories are always welcome and new. With an added piece of herself, folded into the telling. And if I listen with the ear of a child, I will walk away, wiser. Changed.

By the beauty of the repetition. And dementia loses another battle. And we are winners, again. We beat back the dark and stand in the light. And say “Wonderful story, mother. Tell us again.”


Learning Lessons from The Spring

Stone and rock call out to a community and we become pilgrims.

We go as individuals, trekking up or skipping down this mountain in the Blue Ridge chain.

It calls your name. Its strong cold marble is strength. It is continuity.

It knows stories. And It knows parts of mine.

On any given summer day, sweet devoted visitors come and sip the water trickling from an underground spring. They come with jugs. They come with pitchers to fill up their vessels with cool earthborn water.

It looks like a New Testament scene, or a snapshot from Africa or Haiti. People traveling with children, family, dogs to drink the water that is more than a drink for a parched mouth. It replenishes the soul with tradition.

If stone could talk, this spring named Wynne Lithia could tell stories of watching children grow.  For my family, those stories started when the spring was built in 1908.

People will tell you their story of the spring, I am sure, if you will just ask.

I met a woman who freely offered a slice of her life, tales which were tethered in memory back to the spring. It was our first meeting, yet the stories flowed off her tongue like the cool spring water from the old metal pipe.

“I brought all my boyfriends here.”

“My husband named our first dog after the spring, Wynne-Lithia, but we just call her Wynnie.”

Why do we long to travel to a place of deep history and story? Where generations have laughed and sipped and gathered water.Why do we slip out after a summer southern supper to make one last visit to sip water and stand by the trickle in the cool of the night? Alone. Or with a child.

What longing we must have for tradition to be pulled by a trickle of water, which for many means hiking up?

For me and generations of my family it’s a rich well of deep longing after place. We, like many in this small community, can go back over the sepia-toned photographs of our people–at Easter, on a summer day, or dressed in their Sunday best–and dream of their stories.

It began listening and witnessing family , children and women in long skirts dragging the mountain dirt path. They stare stone-faced in sepia  into the camera beside their stoic men whose cool stares  mimic the hard marble of the very spring they loved so.

And you can line up generations of photographs which add to the story of the spring. They add narrative from generations before my own, like a mosaic of mountain memory.

The  spring’s rich story is repeated over and over by families in this mountain  community and well beyond. The story of the spring and the need to return.

Water draws us. It always does.

We return home like Prodigals to be received, refreshed, restored — by the familiar, by comfort and consistency of the flow.

Sometimes it is a strong pulsating rush up and down from below the earth. Sometimes it is a trickle, slow and faint. No strenth in the anemic journey out from the ground well from which it flows. But it is there. It is present. It waits. And it woos.

If you are parched and if you are in need ,the water fills you and sends you on your journey.This place in the shade will always provide.

If you are weary, rest waits here.

And I draw lessons from this place, not only water. She teaches what it means to prepare the heart, to always be welcoming and available.

She models how to  sit quietly and expectantly, always prepared to welcome — always prepared to listen.

She shows what it looks like to offer a refuge to family, to a friend to a stranger. Her strength and calm show how a peaceful spirit can offer a balm to a restless soul, how we can offer a quiet place of comfort to a broken world.

She teaches how to give out of what we have, her flow may be strong, her trickle may be slight but she sits at her place on the mountain always prepared to offer what she has.

And she offers what she is and what she has both to strangers and to familiar souls with a generous spirit. The spring gives all that she has, freely and abundantly.

The spring that bears my name gives glimpses into what it looks like to be the hands and feet of Jesus, The Living Water. To  serve a parched and hurting world.  To  love the lonely, the hurting and those in need of an ear to listen to their story. To receive their story.

A trip to the spring reminds me to bend low in my day, to give freely of my time to others, to seek every opportunity  to show hospitality, to release the gifts that God has given me back to Him. She was built in 1908 and is still strong and steady.

I know only that I have today, to serve Him. And today is a good day to begin, anew.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scipture says.” John 7:37

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

I am linking with these kind folks today. Jennifer and Duane.