From Cold War to Coronation

From Cold War to Coronation, horse and wagon to Rolls Royce. “It was like sitting in an armchair” said Meals on Wheels recipient Maureen Royale as she recalls her experience being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce. Maureen’s last name is uniquely parallel to the life she lived which can be described as nothing short of extraordinary. She describes her life’s adventures full of travel, adventure, and even a royal invitation to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. I might have found it hard to believe that this 90 year old retired nurse from Australia had actually received an invitation to the palace if I hadn’t seen it myself.

I had spoken with Maureen many times on the phone when she called to make requests regarding her Meals on Wheels delivery. I never expected to meet her, until one day she called inquiring about her meal that had not yet been delivered. After speaking with her for a few moments and apologizing for the mix-up, I decided that I would personally deliver her a box of food. She gave me the directions to her home, I loaded the food into my car, and followed the directions to a beautiful neighborhood at the north end of Ukiah. Maureen met me at the door and invited me in. She invited me to sit at her dining room table. I set the box of food on the table and sat down as she began sharing her life journey with me.

Maureen talked about meeting her dear friend Lorraine and how they adventured together through Russian occupied Vienna during the Cold War, travelled by boat through the Suez Canal and shared about their experience riding a camel to the Egyptian Pyramids. Maureen reminisced about the many churches that she had visited in Rome, the art in Florence and hitchhiking in Great Britain and Ireland. Maureen told me about her invitation to the coronation and how she observed the coronation from a seat in Hyde Park. She also spoke about her attendance at a royal garden party at the palace in July. As Maureen recalled the glorious invitation to the palace, she rose from her chair and walked towards the dining hall hutch. She carefully picked up a colorful box. Tucked away neatly inside the box was the framed invitation to the palace. I caught my breath, imagining her as a young woman receiving this invitation.

Maureen spoke about growing up on a farm in a family of 10 children. She understood the value of hard work. At the age of 29, she passed her GED with flying colors even though she had not attended school since 12 years old. Maureen obtained an RN certificate in California, Canada, Australia and England. Although she spent much of her life working as a private care nurse, she ended her career as an auditor for Blue Cross.

I listened intently as Maureen shared her many adventures. I imagined her and her friend Lorraine…vibrant young women with the world at their fingertips. “But it wasn’t always so glamourous” Maureen stated. “Look at me now! The only part of me that still functions is my cerebrum” she said laughing out loud.  As she paused to check her 2:30 p.m. blood pressure and take her pills, she invited me to view the photographs and paintings on the hall walls. I walked down the hall towards a small bedroom and noticed a colorful painting hanging on the wall next to a landscape of London. Maureen explained to me that the colorful painting had been painted by her son Jeffrey. She smiled as she retold stories of travelling with Jeffery, her daughter Dianna and her husband. They had visited Australia several times, toured the United Nations building, and even toured the streets of Washington D.C. Maureen laughed as she recalled touring the main streets of Washington while driving a car with a broken muffler. “It was so loud!” she said.

I sat there eagerly listening to this incredible story filled with adventure, royal invitations, the struggles of raising a child with Down syndrome, and the incredible passion of this amazing woman.

My mood quickly sobered though, as if waking from a fairy-tale dream. I noticed the Lifealert band on Maureen’s wrist and the bottles of medication on the table. I asked Maureen about her daily routine and she told me, “I wake up each morning, I put my eye drops in and then I phone my daughter. My daughter who lives in North Carolina, usually cannot answer when I call because she is busy at work, but she knows that I have called and that I am okay. I walk to the dining room and open the curtain so that my neighbor knows that I am awake and okay. I have to have a routine to take care of my body” she said.

As my time with Maureen came to a close, I asked her about the significance of the Meals on Wheels program. “My caregiver comes several times a week, but I do not have any family close and do not cook. I wouldn’t have anything to eat without these meals, and the people who bring them are so nice. This is how I survive” Maureen stated.

 

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My Place in This World

Why do I climb? Why does the top of that mountain call out so loudly?

Because, at the top of every mountain is the satisfaction in knowing that I have accomplished something very difficult. I have stretched my lungs to their capacity, my muscles ache; they have been challenged too. My breathing is labored, face and hair are windblown. My body cries for sustenance, my throat is parched. My mind is clear. The distractions of work, finances, family and relationship strains have all been left behind at the beginning of the trail, or if I’m lucky enough, back at home. My heart beats wildly from the exhilarating climb and the beauty around me.

 

Sometimes I gaze down upon layers of mountain ranges and valleys, other times I see a blanket of fog or stare down at the vast ocean. The smell of evergreens or the chill from nearby snow drafts, sometimes I am surrounded by desert cacti and I pause to observe unfamiliar creatures.

 

There’s something about being “on top of the world” and yet feeling so tiny. I feel the power and beauty of nature and the significance of my insignificance. It is at the top that I gain clarity, that I can see clearly my place in this world.

 

Sometimes I am a confident leader, fighting for what I believe in. I can feel my strength coming from the mountains, the wind at my back and those who have led before me. Other times, I am a passionate giver seeking to bring opportunity and equality to everyone. I feel the warmth from the sunlight on my cheeks. In the complexity of nature I see that everything has its unique place to create different, yet equal balance in the natural world. I hear a hawk cry out and know too that I am a visionary, my mountaintop vantage point stirs creativity and enables me to envision what could be.

 

In these moments on top of the mountain, I envision a world that is not driven by ego. A world that is filled with peace, with love. It is on top of this mountain that I find my significant place in this world. My place that is different than every other person, but equally important.

 

What will you see on your mountaintop? When you remove the distractions of this world, when you can see clearly your place in this world?

 

Start the Conversation. Hand Up, Not Hand Out.

 

The General

“I came here to die, it’s just not working out that well for me yet”, he says laughing. George will be 56 years old this month. He is originally from the east coast and has lived the last few years in the Fortuna/Arcata area where people there know him as “the General”. George was an orphaned child. His mother died when he was young, and his father was not a part of his life. George’s younger brother died several years ago. He is a veteran and served in the military as a young man. George has been homeless off and on for nearly 30 years.

I was sitting on a park bench on Sunday afternoon pondering life when George pulled up on his bicycle hauling a trailer full of his belongings and some cleaning supplies. He had a flat tire on his bike and one on his trailer also. I wanted to help him, but there were no stores open for tubes and he didn’t expect to be in the area the next day for me to return with tubes. I offered him an apple and he laughed showing off a toothless grin, “I have no teeth, do you have applesauce?” he asked.

George was a breath of fresh air after a long and stressful week. Although he complained a bit about being harassed by the cops for sleeping alongside the road and losing his window cleaning supplies while being harassed, he had a wonderful sense of humor. He revealed that he made money by cleaning people’s car and business windows. He travelled from town to town and made friends with other homeless folks along the way who usually offered him a safe place to spend the night in their encampments.

When I asked the reason for his homelessness he stated that it was because he was an orphan. He felt that many young people who are wards of the state find themselves homeless after they turn 18 when their foster parents no longer receive financial support to provide care for them.

I asked to take his picture, he gladly agreed and stated that he was already a celebrity as many people had taken his picture during his travels across the states.

George didn’t ask me for anything. He didn’t ask for money, food, or a place to stay. When we finished our conversation, I shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and wished him well. I was touched by this man “The General”. He accepted life on life’s terms, treated me with respect, and warmed my heart with his sarcastic humor.

So many untold stories, we all have them. Each of us has traveled a different path.  If we would only sit and listen, be still awhile. What a simple gift to give.

Hand Up, Not Hand Out. Start the Conversation.

At Your Service

At Your Service

She smiles through the pain as she serves up a slice of apple pie. How can I be of service she asks? Between doctors’ visits, the chiropractor’s office, and routine pain medication injections she doesn’t have a lot of time for herself, yet she chooses to spend it in service. Ask her why and she’ll tell you that serving others helps her to forget about her own pain and discomfort.

With grace and compassion she attends to our community’s most vulnerable; teaching young children to read in our schools, serving lunch to the homeless, and mentoring our youth at juvenile hall. She is an extraordinary champion, the most sincere depiction of selflessness and all that is good, humbly standing out in the crowd. She dresses with pride, never showy, but always neat and well-groomed. She greets strangers with smiles, eagerly embraces challenges, and accepts compliments with genuine appreciation and modesty.

There are others too…selfless individuals in our community who have dedicated their lives to service. They serve in our schools, hospitals and jails too. They can be seen building trails and cleaning up trash, walking dogs at the shelter, and distributing food. They hold their heads high with pride and dignity. They have discovered the secret…that it is greater to give than to receive. It seems they are so filled up inside with gratitude that they simply bubble over with goodness and giving.

What incredible value we receive from these people, through their gifts of service in our community, and also, if we are open to receiving, the valuable lessons of empathy, giving, compassion, and respect.

On their most difficult day they smile and say, “How can I be of service?”

Hand Up, Not Hand Out. Start the Conversation.

 

Understanding a Shifting Donor Culture

It seems that everyday another donor is requesting that their donation be designated for the Meals on Wheels program and not the dining hall, and I’m trying to wrap my head around what has shifted? I am ever so grateful for all of the donations that we receive and am excited about expanding our Meals on Wheels program to better serve the seniors in our community, but I wonder what has changed. People are less inclined to support the dining hall than they
once were and it has me curious...

I grew up in a religious home, went to church on a weekly basis. I remember seeing the slides and hearing the mission stories about feeding the hungry. The offering basket would pass and my family would contribute to the poor kids in Ethiopia, or China, or some other foreign country. There was also that thing that my mom would say about not finishing my plate...something about feeding the starving kids in Africa. I didn’t really understand, I couldn’t relate. But maybe that was the magic? It was a faraway place where we didn’t have to see the politics or disparity in incomes. We just saw the scantily clothed body and a young face with a dirt-stained tear rolling down the cheek and we were inspired to give. Certainly this poor child in this faraway country was deserving of our charity?

In 2017, Plowshares served over 1,700 meals to children in need right here in Ukiah. Most of them were properly clothed, and I seldom saw them crying, but each of them had been selected to live a life less privileged than others through this crazy thing we refer to as the “birth lottery.” You know the one... he was born into a wealthy family, she was born into an abusive family, she was an only child...etc. Not only does this lottery determine their social status as a child, it also determines whether they will be safe in their home or have enough nutritious food to ensure physical growth and adequate brain development.

I think that we tend to forget about those in need right here in our community. Those who were raised here, who are raising their children here, are an established part of this community, and need our support. Maybe we think that there isn’t legitimate need with food stamps and Medi Cal, and subsidies, or maybe they are somehow less deserving? Plowshares does not receive federal funding, and people don’t come to eat here for the plush furniture or lavish draperies. They don’t come for the dinner entertainment or the numerous selections on the menu. People come to eat at the Plowshares dining hall because they are hungry. Maybe the community isn’t aware that kids right here in Ukiah are not receiving daily adequate nutrition.

We have an opportunity to invest in their future; to invest in ours. We have an opportunity to tip the scale in their favor. Hand Up, Not Hand Out. Start the Conversation.
 

Humanity

I saw the shopping carts loaded with empty bottles, tattered blankets and cardboard. I pondered without judgement, what would it be like?

To spend a night on the streets… no heat, no safety of a front door or walls, what about when I needed the restroom, and where would I get my next meal?

I felt saddened to think of this life. Was it chosen, was it the result of numerous poor choices, or was it a combination of generational poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, loss of job, lack of family and friend resources? At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Living on the streets isn’t safe or sanitary, and it definitely doesn’t fit into my
picture of a thriving, sustainable community.

What can I do? I am only one person and every time I turn around there seem to be roadblocks and problems so complex, that the answers are ambiguous and the solutions unattainable. The shopping carts, unemployment, drugs, car campers, trash, mental health issues, the kids…what about the kids?

I look at my daughter and am grateful. Grateful for our home with a nice warm bed and refrigerator stocked full of nutritious foods. I am grateful for school choices and employment, family and friends, coffee at Schat’s and Low Gap Park.

Humanity: kindness, compassion, consideration… This is something I can do. This is something we all can do. It isn’t about handouts or acceptance of disrespect or disregard for laws, it’s about humanism and a culture of human kindness. It’s about creating the kind of thriving, sustainable community that I want to live and raise my daughter in.

So there it is…that’s my challenge to you, Humanity.
 

One is the Lonliest Number

I was recently out to dinner with my daughter and was seated across the table from a group of 7. They appeared to all be related; parents, children, maybe an aunt and grandma. The restaurant was packed and there was quite a wait for service. At one point I looked up and every single member of the family sitting across from me was on some type of device. Even the toddler in the stroller was watching cartoons on some type of iPad looking device.  The whole scene was kind of shocking and gave me enough awareness to set down my own cell phone and focus on my daughter.

 

In a world caught up in social connections made through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it is no wonder that we are considered the loneliest society. So connected, yet so disconnected. Brigham Young University conducted a study regarding geriatrics and discovered that feelings of loneliness were predictive of mortality. A Forbes article written about the study stated that feelings of loneliness are bigger health concerns than both smoking and obesity.

 

It seems that we were so caught up in independence and economics that disconnection snuck in under the guise of social media and we were unknowingly brainwashed by a world of technology. There are of course other contributing factors too: longer working hours, higher cost of living, the need to achieve “more”, geographically distributed families, etc…

 

We are more disconnected and emotionally isolated than ever before. We are also living longer. For someone who has maintained healthy personal connections, is vibrant and independent, this is good news, but to the homebound or lonely, this can mean extended years of painful isolation.

 

Plowshares Meals on Wheels program recognizes this need for connection and has been faithfully serving this need through the Meals on Wheels program. Each week day volunteers show up to deliver a hot meal and maintain a social connection with over 150 homebound seniors in our community who might not otherwise have their nutritional or social needs met. By developing these social connections, the Meals on Wheels volunteers recognize when a follow-up phone call is needed or an emergency contact should be called to check on their well-being.

 

Say “hello” to a stranger, invite someone to sit at your table, adopt a pet, open a door, leave your phone at home, volunteer, visit the senior center, bake some cookies to share, take a walk, visit the library, eat outside, plant a flower, thank your teacher, thank your banker, send a birthday card, better yet, deliver it in person. Don’t let isolation destroy our community. Get involved, Make a Difference.

 

 

It Takes a Village

We called him “Flash.” I never knew his real name. Dark brown hair, chubby cheeks, and when he was standing, he stood about waist high. He rarely stood though, which is how he earned the nickname “Flash.”

One minute here, the next over there. I began seeing him regularly for meals at Plowshares and offered him and his brother little toys as incentives for staying with their parents and sitting in their chairs.

One evening at dinner, Flash’s parents accidentally locked their keys in their van and I had the opportunity to give them a ride to the hotel where they were living.

My little Toyota pickup would only hold two extra people at a time and so I made several trips in the rain that night to get the entire family safely to their hotel. I learned a lot about them. They had experienced numerous health problems and their youngest son was autistic. They were unable to find a home that they could afford and did not have the credit or deposit required. That evening was to be their last night in the hotel because they were once again out of money. The next few days they would be living in their van and eating meals at Plowshares until they could again cover the cost of a hotel or come up with another plan.

Flash and his family have since moved to Southern California where they have family support. I’ve thought a lot about Flash and his family…I miss those chubby cheeks and wide grin. I even miss having to remind him to settle down and sit with his parents.

I think the meals at Plowshares were definitely about food, they had nowhere else to go, but they were also so much more…they were about community, social connections, and maybe even some positive maternal guidance.

That saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, I believe it’s true.