Holy Week memories and diverging emotions

I must have been about 10 or 11 when I first visited a synagogue. Our Sunday school teacher had arranged the tour, and the rabbi graciously welcomed our wide-eyed gaggle of juveniles.

Simply by entering, we knew this was a sacred place. We were all eyes and ears taking in the unfamiliar surroundings as the kind rabbi explained the various symbols. I wish I could remember his words. I can never forget the awe that overwhelmed me.

There is no better time than Holy Week to recall those memories, especially this year. Passover and Holy Week overlap, as they often do. It’s an excellent time to remember our Judeo/Christian heritage.

From Palm Sunday to Easter morning, we experience the whole gamut of human emotions, actions, and reactions. The historical and spiritual significance of humanity’s triumphs and failures are on full display. Jewish and Christian roots run deep into humankind’s evolution.

Easter Morning Worship

Passover, a major Jewish holiday, began at sundown, March 27, and ends the evening of April 4, Easter Sunday. The miracle of Passover commemorated the Israelites exodus from Egypt and began their transition from slavery to freedom.

The seder is the central ritual of Passover, occurring the first two nights. The retelling of the Exodus story accompanied by psalms and songs highlight a festive meal of traditional foods.

With Jerusalem teaming with people, Jesus rode into the city on the day we now call Palm Sunday. By Maunday Thursday, the scene had turned more solemn at the last supper. Good Friday, Jesus’ crucifixion and death occurred to the great horror of his followers.

On the third day, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection occurred. Today, we call it Easter morning.

That was always a day that I anticipated as a child, more for the secular celebrative goodies than the mystical resurrection story. That always fascinated me, but being a child, I was more interested in more tangible traditions.

I wasn’t alone. My four siblings joined in the fun. We cherished the challenge to find our woven Easter baskets chocked full of chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and the hard-boiled eggs that we had colored the day before.

The over-sized Easter Bunny (our father was six-foot, two-inches tall) didn’t make it easy on us. If we accidentally found a brother or sister’s basket, we kept quiet, not wanting to spoil their fun.

We always knew that the baskets were somewhere in the house, usually on the main floor. However, I once found my Easter basket in the basement in the washing machine.

Once that fun was over, we hurriedly dressed up for Easter Sunday worship service. We often took a family photo before heading to the always-packed sanctuary.

After church, we couldn’t wait to return home, where our saintly mother had fixed an Easter ham with all the trimmings. An Easter egg hunt outside often followed the noontime meal.

My wife and I continued those traditions with our children. They enjoyed the searching as much as I had in my childhood.

Of course, age, life experiences, and maturity appropriately alter one’s perspective on holidays, along with many other life events. That’s as it should be.

As a grandfather, I am more focused on the more meaningful reasons for Passover and Easter. We still enjoy hiding the decorated eggs for the grandkids while I can still maneuver to hide them in a downspout or reach high into a redbud tree.

Perhaps that has been part of my spiritual resurrection. I still relish the fun stuff of holidays while contemplating the more profound, personal satisfaction of celebrating another Easter morning.

Easter Sunday Service.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

April Fools!

Imagine my surprise when I opened this tightly secured trash bin in Okefenokee National Wildlife Reserve. I certainly didn’t expect a greeter, especially a dead one.

This poor mouse had somehow found its way into the steel container, but couldn’t get back out. It got wedged in the latch to the lid, and that was that.

I’ver never been a big fan of April Fools jokes, but I simply couldn’t resist this opportunity.

“April Fools” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Subtly celebrating 50 years together

We couldn’t have done it alone

Our family in Covid pandemic times.

My wife and I had big plans to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. The pandemic significantly altered them.

In that regard, we know we are not alone. Scores of folks have postponed anniversary celebrations, weddings, vacations, reunions, bucket list trips because of the coronavirus.

Even with having received our second vaccine, we plan to mark our momentous occasion in a much more subtle way than initially planned. Staying safe is paramount.

Instead of an exciting vacation-like shindig with family and friends for our Golden Anniversary, we will overnight at a local bed and breakfast. It’s the prudent thing to do.

Like most couples, we have taken plenty of risks in our life together. Now is not the time to do a highwire act.

Our risk-taking lifestyle began when we married less than a year after we had met. We haven’t let up one iota in all those 50 years, until now.

We were so young then.

Our unified approach to life was a simple one. Neva and I have tried to put our faith into action in service to others. We recognized that doing so meant taking risks, but we were game. That has always fueled our marriage as a couple and as individuals.

After our March ceremony, we spent the summer of 1971 operating a hikers camp halfway up Pikes Peak in Colorado. It was a voluntary service assignment through the Mennonite Church that set the tone and tempo of our life together.

Our marriage has been and continues to be about relationships and service. It’s why we spent careers in public education. It’s why we participated in community non-profit boards and organizations like thrift stores and volunteer fire departments.

Doing so took time away from our family, which was a sacrifice unto itself. Even at a young age, our daughter and son understood. Consequently, they have grown to be creative, productive adults with successful, service-minded careers. We couldn’t have asked for more.

It’s a no-brainer that grandchildren are the long-term rewards of parenting. They were the main reasons we pulled up stakes from our beloved Holmes County, Ohio, to move to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

We wanted to be near the grandkids to watch them grow, participate in extra-curricular activities, and help in any way we could. Evan, Davis, and Maren have been risk-free blessings beyond measure.

The pandemic, however, made it challenging to shift to infrequent interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and church members. We are grateful for the new friendships and renewed friendships we have made since we settled here nearly four years ago.

We were thrilled to find circles of friends, like those in Ohio, who mirrored our shared values. Trusting in one another and graciously encouraging each other to use our gifts for others has been the loving ingredient that has bound us together for half a century.

I was surprised to learn that violets are the 50th anniversary flower. So, I got one for each decade.

Neva and I both know that we could not have made it this far on our own. Family and friends, some now departed, have served as both models and encouragers, especially in trying times.

It’s the little things that have enriched our marriage. After 50 years together, we have learned not to take ourselves so seriously.

Each marriage is different. It’s finding the comfort zones of those differences, sharing household responsibilities, as well as laughter and tears that have kept us forever holding hands.

We have learned that it’s the everyday moments together that truly matter. Being comfortable with extended quiet times, surprised by a tender touch, a smile, or word of appreciation are a few examples. Saying I was wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you became the icing on the wedding cake.

We have appreciated all of the well-wishes and congratulations that we have received from family and friends. It’s that sure foundation that has kept us loving and living for 50 years together.

A golden sky for our Golden Anniversary.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

A Sure Sign of Spring

When my wife and I lived in Ohio’s Amish country, there was one sure sign of spring that I always relished. Our Amish neighbors plowing the first furrows of soil always said spring to me.

I never tired of the witnessing the annual tradition. Powerful and beautiful workhorses pulling the farmers seated upon one-bottom plows sealed the spring deal for me.

The jingle of the horses’ harnesses, the smell of freshly turned soil, the encouraging voices of the men calling the names of the horses to keep going created a reassuring feeling. Though the vernal equinox had already passed, this scene always invigorated me. Of course, the longer days, the chorus of songbirds, the pale blue sky, and the budding flowers didn’t hurt either.

“A Sure Sign of Spring” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Why March is a favorite month

March has always been one of my favorite months for several reasons. Mind you, I don’t get as excited as youngsters on Christmas morning, but it’s close.

March is a transitional month, especially for those who live in the northern realms of the northern hemisphere. That’s especially true for March weather, though I don’t give much credence to the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” folklore.

March serves up a meteorological smorgasbord. Rain, sleet, snow, sunshine, and severe weather can all appear in the month’s 31 days.

A March day in Ohio’s Amish country.

The day I cherish most is the vernal equinox, which is March 20 this year. Let’s hope that the green of St. Patrick’s Day carries on over into April. I won’t hold my breath, however.

March marks the official transition from winter to spring. If the ground isn’t too soggy, planting vegetables and flower gardens commences, and farmers prepare their fields for sowing crops.

When we lived in Holmes County, Ohio, I always marveled at the hardiness of farmers, usually teenagers and young men, who braved the elements to plow and disk the fields. It may have been sunny when they left the barn, but somehow it always seemed to snow or rain when they hit the fields. Still, their teams of beautiful workhorses plodded on.

Here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, it’s giant-sized tractors and the consequences of zipping in and out of fields that drivers have to watch out for on the ubiquitous narrow, winding roads. Unfortunately, the sticky, red mud is difficult to clean off of your vehicles.

Speaking of mud, I never knew about schools closing for mud days until I moved to Holmes County. Curiosity cured me on the first trip down a rural gravel road. When I became a township trustee, I positively hated when gravel roads turned to mush or hard surface roads disintegrated.

Sandhill Cranes.

March usually means the end of sugaring time. By month’s end, the tempo of warm days and cold nights that encouraged the sap to flow has ended.

Birders live for spring, and March often provides the first rush of migrants returning to nest or passing through to destinations farther north. Is there anything more exciting than hearing a flock of sandhill cranes honking overhead in the twilight?

March means color returns to the deadened landscape. Green shoots of plants and flowers push through the barren soil, even if the majority are dandelions.

A walk in the woods reveals nature at work at many levels. Look down, and patches of spring beauties carpet the ground. Listen, and choirs of spring peepers fill the warm evening air. Look up, and you might find owlets staring you down, nervously jostling on a limb.

Crocuses are some of the first blooms in flower gardens.

Photos of royal crocuses, buttery daffodils, and perhaps the season’s first tulips fill social media pages. It’s society’s 21st-century expression of joy and relief.

Of course, March means work. Winter’s litter of sticks and last fall’s leaves piled in corners far from their mother tree get recycled. Folks are eager to get outside and fuss about the appearance of their yards. They crank up their mowers even though snow is in the forecast.

I put out my hummingbird and oriole feeders in the hope of attracting any early arrivals. While I wait, I am more than content with waking to a competing chorus of robins and cardinals each morning.

Of course, I’m partial to March for personal reasons, especially this year. It’s our anniversary month. Welcoming March for 50 years together is singularly reason enough to celebrate the third month’s arrival.      

The fertile farmland of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Spring!

The vernal equinox is March 20

Crocuses are some of the very first flowers of spring. They are emerging all around our neighborhood here in the Shenandoah Valley. Of course, spring doesn’t officially arrive until March 20. But we are glad for the floral showy expressions after this long, cold, wet winter.

“Spring!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

The pandemic redefined patience

Vigilance is still required

Patience is a virtue. The exact origin of that proverb is hard to determine but about as straightforward in its meaning as can be.

In “Piers Plowman,” William Langland wrote about a man searching for faith in the 14th century. This work marked one of the earliest references to patience. A line in the poem reads, “patience is a fair virtue.”

What does that mean exactly? To me, it says that instead of rushing ahead on our own, we should pay attention to what is actually happening, no matter how weird or repulsive it may seem. The coronavirus fits that description.

In this case, patience requires us to depend on those who deal with such anomalies daily. Scientists, doctors, and researchers all belong in that category.

Throughout the pandemic, vigilance remains required. We continue to need to wear masks when we go out or visit others. We also need to keep our social distance and wash our hands. Those were and continue to be simple instructions that I embraced because they benefited others besides me.

Still, practicing patience is hard to do. The ongoing pandemic is proof positive.

Impatient people bolted ahead, behaving as if everything was as it had been in the world, when in fact, it wasn’t. Refusing to wear a mask, physically distance, or alter daily routines has prolonged the virus’s life.

Consequently, the pandemic is also a teacher, and we all are in the same classroom. Some pupils listen and learn, while others misbehave or fall asleep.

The pandemic has taught us a lot about people and their willingness to accept scientific facts, the reality of a new disease and the unknown, and realize the consequences of an infection run rampant.

It’s important to note that being patient has its benefits. The pandemic forced me to slow down, relax, notice, care, and listen. Since we were together even more than usual, my wife and I gave each other expanded personal space and time than we had previously.

First pitch of the 2016 World Series, Cubs vs. Indians.

It’s not like I didn’t know patience before the pandemic. After all, the Cleveland Indians are my favorite sports team. It’s been 73 years since they last won the World Series. If following that team doesn’t require patience, I don’t know what does. I learned early on the mantra of “wait until next year.”

Well, it’s next year. A new baseball season is upon us. Perhaps this is Cleveland’s year. Only time will tell. Like enduring the pandemic, patience will be an essential virtue with this team and every aspect of life.

Patience requires us to stop, breathe, observe, sense, and move slowly. Patience is and will continue to be essential for mental, physical, and spiritual survival during the pandemic.

Ephesians 4:2 reads: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” I learned that it’s critical to apply that to myself, too. I realized that it was okay to feel down with all that the pandemic brought and about activities that we couldn’t do, especially with those we love.

Patience modeled.

We have waited patiently for an effective vaccine, and now it is here. People are receiving inoculations against this deadly virus. Still, we will continue to follow the crucial guidelines of wearing a mask, physical distancing, and washing our hands for 20 seconds or more. As Yogi Berra famously mumbled, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

Patience became the watchword of the pandemic. It will continue to persevere until we all work together to conquer this unwanted virus. That will prove patience a valuable and vital virtue, indeed.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Diamonds and Ducks

Two treasures in one photo

Bird migration is in full flight. To check for any waterfowl and shorebirds that might be passing through, I head to nearby Silver Lake in Dayton, Virginia. It’s also a favorite spot for sunrise and sunset photos.

On a recent afternoon, I found this flotilla of ducks in the sparkle of the afternoon sun at the south end of the lake. Among this group were Ring-necked and Redheaded Ducks and Greater Scaups.

“Diamonds and Ducks” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Routines dropped, added, and kept during the pandemic

Blooming Mountain Laurel in Shenandoah National Park, June 2020.

In one way, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we had to alter our daily routines drastically. In another, the time between then and now seems a blank.

One Sunday last March, I greeted people at the church door, welcoming them as they arrived for worship. A week later, state after state began issuing orders banning all large group assemblies, including church services. Officials directed additional guidelines as well, all for society’s well-being.

The coronavirus had instantly changed our lives. Since then, more than half a million have died of the virus in the U.S., and 2.5 million globally. That is the very definition of a pandemic. It has been an unwelcome global intrusion that affected all of us in one fashion or the other.

A change of regular routines became the norm universally. It was difficult to adjust so quickly, especially for those stricken with the virus. Given the circumstances, adjusting was all we could do to stay safe.

With our usual routines interrupted, the obvious choice was to develop new ones. So, that’s what my wife and I did.

If we went out, we wore masks that my industrious wife made. Throughout the pandemic, she sewed 1,200 and donated them to individuals, churches, non-profit organizations, schools, and medical facilities. She also knotted five comforts for a charity.

Instead of going inside to buy groceries, we ordered our staples online and picked them up curbside. We continue that process, along with ordering takeout from local restaurants. We like to support the mom-and-pop establishments as much as we can.

We took advantage of decent Virginia weather days in 2020 as much as possible, taking hikes, going birding, and meeting with family and friends in well-ventilated places. Of course, we always masked up and kept our physical distance.

Day trips to local, state, and national parks and arboretums replaced planned vacations. For the first time since 1987, we missed our annual respite at our beloved Lakeside Chautauqua.

My exercise program changed when gyms closed. I biked in the neighborhood, and I walked with Neva when the weather cooperated. We joined a twice-weekly yoga group via Zoom.

My wife and I started a new routine that we both enjoy. Nearly every morning, around 9:30, we take a coffee break and play cards. We’ve played hundreds of games, and I am exceedingly pleased that Neva hasn’t kept a running tally of wins and losses.

We loved hosting friends and family. With the necessary physical distancing guidelines still applicable, Neva magically transformed her gift of hospitality into taking food and meals to others.

Despite the sluggish snail mail, we have redoubled sending note cards to friends. We’ve also added more texts and actual phone calls to our repertoire of communication.

How we have attend church services for the last year.

Our church pastors and staff have done a yeoman’s job of keeping church services going via Zoom and YouTube. Thanks to them, we’ve only skipped that one Sunday.

We miss the joy of congregational singing. I have kept one custom, however. Despite worshiping remotely, I continue to dress for church. I felt compelled to continue that tradition if simply to confirm that it is Sunday.

When will we be able to return to our pre-pandemic routines? That question currently has no answer. Until then, we will continue to play it safe by maintaining our pandemic practices.

I do have a question about whenever we can return to worshiping safely in the church building again. Will I be allowed to take my recliner and drink my coffee during the service?

Neva made our Christmas masks.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Soft Sunrise

Heavenly pastels at their finest.

As lovely as this sunrise is, it wasn’t my objective for the morning. I had risen early to get a shot of February’s Snow Moon setting behind the Allegheny Mountains about 15 miles west of our home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The forecast said clear skies in the morning, so I headed out for the 6:47 moon-set.

A quick glance to the west and I realized that shooting the moon was out. Snow clouds had moved in over the mountains, obscuring the moon. I went for Plan B. I drove southwest to Silver Lake at the north edge of the town of Dayton. The sky to the east was clear, so I parked on the west side of the lake and waited. The sunrise wasn’t spectacular, but I loved the soft pastel colors that reflected in the small lake.

“Soft Sunrise” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021