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Order in Chaos: can’t you see it?


As I look down this tunnel of books packed floor to ceiling, I hear… du-doo, du-doo, du-doo, du-doo. I am pretty sure Rod Serling is about to tell me I have crossed over into … “The Twilight zone.

I am standing in the back of a small bookstore in Lake Junaluska, NC. On entering, I ran nearly headlong into the first stacks of books, and the mustiness of decades wafted past me, sprinting for the freedom of the fresh air before I let the door close behind me. I, on the other hand, am trapped.

Any sensible person would have about-faced and bolted. But these are books: floor to ceiling, stacked backward and sideways, piled high on the floors, even on new shelves created by recalcitrant volumes not satisfied to stand they lay and allow more to be piled upon them. And not just in one aisle, but many, many aisles. Row after row of treasured tomes, perhaps a hundred thousand; my Dad would have had to calculate for sure. But even he would have been stymied because behind what shows forth is another. That is, when you pull out one item, another is behind it, and another. Their spines are laid flat or backed in, as if their pages could protect their identity.

But they cannot. Not to the curious. It is this promise of buried treasure that draws me in. And not only into the store but actually down the center aisle. Looking left and right, I recognize a few of the book covers and I can see they have been sorted according their contents, though only the random sticky note shoved in between even hints at the general category. An unseen hand has collected each and every book and has placed it with its fellows. The proprietor of the bookstore who offered a cheery hello and a “can I help you find something?” and an “I’ve got everything, don’t you think I deserve a few dollars?” when we came in. Forty years worth of collecting and more years of living are represented in these shelves. I have wandered in, unaccompanied, so I tug a book or two from the shelves to thumb through, in the unlikely expectation that I’ll ever successfully re-shelve them if I decide not to purchase.

I dig under a pile of popular magazines and arrive at a 1987 edition whose cover feature raves about this new technology that will save lives: magnetic resonance imaging. MRIs that regularly do save lives and limbs and are beamed into my house via computer to my radiologist husband. What I hold in my hands is ancient history, yet telling for its prediction of the future which I know know. I brush off the dusty cover and attempt to re-stack the magazines as I found them.

What else is here? Everything, it seems, yet so completely jumbled how would I ever find it? What a dilemma. I am standing amid all the world’s answers and haven’t a single means to find what I am looking for. This quest feels all too real and very distressing.

Still, I make my way, boldly to the end of the aisle. I’ve begun; why stop now? Arriving at the end, I must sidestep to make the turn. From here I spot Melanie, my cohort and partner in crime on this day, hovering near the entry-way. She is not leaving the safety of the entrance; I snap a photo, focusing on her in the distant tunnel. For a moment she seems very far away and the walls of books threaten to topple or to burst into flame.

Silly me. What an imagination!

But then the photo. The books seem to spin, the luminescence, haunting. It is not outside me but in. The brilliant light, a nerve cell, perhaps a brain cell, carrying information at warp speed. It sprints past my memories, my experiences, my past. All of it is so distorted and disorganized it can’t be retrieved.

Now that is the Twilight Zone.

The bookstore owner is Mary Judith Messer. She has written a memoir entitled, The Moonshiner’s Daughter. It is available from Amazon and in her bookstore, were you to get to Junaluska.

An excerpt reads: Her father, a hard-drinking, ardent moonshiner when he wasn’t in prison, and her mother, often showing mental illness from an earlier brain injury, raised their four children in some of the grimmest circumstances that you will ever read about. Both parents were extremely abusive during Mary’s childhood and she also reveals the trauma she and her siblings suffered at the hands of teachers, principals and members of the community as a “dirt” poor child.  

Perhaps Judith has managed life by accelerating past all these terrible memories riding that neon neuron for safe passage along the ceiling. The clutter that only she can organize is on display in that little bookstore. Her livelihood, perhaps, but certainly her life turned inside out. God bless her; she is a survivor. She keeps collecting more books.

Mental gymnastics for fitness, fun and joy

Word Finds keep scrolling across my Facebook wall. Those grids with scrambled letters asking you, “What is the first word you see?” Then, if you dare to share your discovery in the comments, you can find out what other people have seen. An interesting exercise. My mind races…

  • does my “first word” really say anything about me?
  • do I dare share it in the comments?
  • which would say something about me…
  • oh, okay, I’ll share it. Today’s word was “joy.” That’s a good word.
  • I wonder if that means I have joy on the brain.
  • oh, look at that. Other people saw “wealth.” I would not have shared that if that was my first word.
  • and there’s “team.” I saw that second. Maybe I should have shared that one. It looks better for someone in my business.

Oh my goodness. How quickly I jump from freely seeking to framing judgment. From what some might describe as creative and/or right-brained to analytical and/or left-brained. I dance across the hemispheres.

I like the creative. I’m not too fond of the analytical. Because it takes me places I would rather not go. (worry, second-guessing, judgment, anxiety, even paranoia) Alas, it is what takes me through most of my day. Except my mornings. When I let the creative out to play. And she shuffles words and plays with rhythms. She imagines pictures and colors in sights and sounds. The analyst steps aside, just sweeping up the bits of stardust that get too far afield and tossing them back into the swirl.

Signs of a scrambled, yet orderly mind.

Signs of a scrambled, yet orderly mind.

In the flourish of morning, I sometimes pick up the “Jumble” from the newspaper. I used to adore doing the “Junior Jumbles” when I was a kid. Now I have graduated to the adult version. The Atlanta paper prints them as I remember them. The Washington Post has re-invented them. Now they are Jumble Crosswords. That means there are “clues” to the unscrambling of letters.

Oh my. I unscramble with the ‘right brain’ and solve with the ‘left brain.’  Now what? I’ve no choice but to leap.

It’s the leap of trust that there will be both footing and a leaping back. The miraculous thing is that I can. I have spent all my years knowing and yet confirming that the analytical is there. The Rock of Gibraltar. It’s not going anywhere. It will be there. A firm foundation.

But the other land. Where things are fluid and ever-changing. Where there are rivers of surprise, fields of delight and sometimes monsters around the bend. This is a land of discovery. It’s not rock, but it’s not slippery. I wouldn’t want to stay (t)here all the time, but it’s fun when I visit.

What the Word Finds and the Jumble have helped me discover is that I can leap from one ‘land’ to the other without falling into an abyss. I am welcome in both. In fact, I am more agile when I do. A bit more flexible. A bit more powerful. A bit more “joy” full.

It may actually be this leaping that makes me unique. Or at least different. I must figure out whether fantasy-land is open for business in the afternoons. Or perhaps it has evening hours.

One thing is for sure. The Jumbles are a breeze. The Sudokus tie me in a knot. Perhaps I haven’t changed as much as I thought. I guess it’s nice to think that the older me is still the same me. But it’s hard to be agile when all those thoughts are weighing you down.

Maybe I need to lighten up…. into my afternoons.

If mind over matter works, would it matter if we adopted a Divine Mind?

Today, I feel great. Tuesday, I had a heart condition. How can that be?

Our mind is amazing, isn’t it? Tell us we are sick, we become sick. Tell us we can do it, we can. Convince us it is our lot in life to be such and such, we become such and such. This is no minor matter. Three days ago doctors suggested (not even told me, mind you) that part of my heart might not be working well. And all of a sudden that became reality to me.

By this, I don’t mean that I just believed them – intellectually. I mean that I developed symptoms to support the diagnosis they hadn’t yet confirmed. My mind made me sick.

Now before you go thinking I am totally off my rocker, I have shared the sensations I was feeling with other women I know and they say the same. That stress – deep feelings about people and events, concerns about hardship, fear, worry, uncertainty, even uncertainty over positive things – felt like chest pain to them. A feeling of pressure that they wanted to massage away. This is how it felt to me, too. Except, the reason for my stress was physical. I had a diagnosis.

But wait. It wasn’t. Just kidding. And now, guess what, no more chest pain. In fact, other aches and pains in joints are subsiding. Can stress and the power of suggestion really have this effect on my body?

Even though I am a die hard realist, trained in the sciences, I have to say yes. My mind took over my body there for a bit. And now I’m back. But I’m back wondering – because that’s what scientists do – how that happened. And what does it mean?

First, now I know why women are so much more reluctant to report symptoms of a heart attack. It feels like the empathy they’ve experienced a hundred times before. How can we know this time is different? Cardiologists, are you listening? Women need a different gauge. When you have one organ that both feels and circulates blood, how do you separate which is overloaded?

Second, I’m wondering how much my imagination runs away with me, physically. How often do I suppose something is so and then is becomes so even if it isn’t? Like, I imagine that someone doesn’t like me or is out to hurt me or will take advantage of me, and then that “thought” becomes real to me. Even if they haven’t thought it at all.

Third, can I use my mind for good? That is, can I think healthy and become healthier? Can I think forward-moving and overcome my procrastination? Can my mind really overcome my matter? Honestly, that seemed pretty far-fetched until this week. I mean, how could you connect your mind with your body that way?

But now I am wondering. Even though I can’t see the connection, I have felt it. In real time. In concrete and undeniable ways. And if mind and body are inextricably linked, should I not examine what I am thinking? Test those thoughts. See if they are true, if they are real? And should I not look at my body, my physical self – this sensation, this addiction, this behavior – and ask, might my mind be causing this?

Just introducing the thought has me wondering…Is this why we’re instructed to adopt the mind of Christ, place not only our bodies but also our thoughts in His hands? Would that not heal us?

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