“Made for some interesting reading and allowed me to look at community development from a different perspective. Thank you.” — Doug Henson, Tillamook, Oregon city councilor
Grey, round and wet on the windshield
Before the wiper swipes, the squeegeeing
Seeping into my bones, dank and cold
Sopping, slogging, splashing,
Slowly dripping onto
Piles of sloppy Gortex, boots and coats and hats
Freshly tracked in floors, patterned in rainboot waffle
Stuck on bits of leaf mold and mud
Everywhere you look.
Dry now means less damp, relative
Humidity always close to a perfect 100, we must be in first place
In rainforest championships and synonyms of rain.
Sidestepping squalls, all fifty shades of grey,
Our world now just ponds and roaring creeks on once green land,
Everything seen through the eyes of a duck,
We are all becoming paddlers.
–Neal Lemery 2/13/2020
Neal’s new book is out and available on Amazon.
Building Community: Rural Voices for Hope and Change: An Oregon Perspective, by Neal Lemery
How are rural American communities working to build a better world? These are the stories of building a stronger rural America. These are the stories of a resurgence in diverse talents and work in progress to improve community services, relationships, and to further collective societal values and organizations. Active community involvement engages everyone, to address social conditions and improve our collective lives. In part, this book gives voice to diverse points of views and experiences, and shows the strengths and talents of rural Oregon communities. Numerous community members from rural Oregon offer their perspectives and describe their work, building better, more vibrant communities that are meeting the difficult challenges of rural America in the Twenty First Century.
Available at Amazon.com https://smile.amazon.com/Building-Community-Voices-Change-Perspective/.
Also an e-book, also available on Amazon.
By Neal Lemery
One year at Thanksgiving, Mom told me to set an extra place setting. We’d counted up all the relatives who would be coming, and I was curious as to who she was adding. By my count, we hadn’t forgotten anyone and the place settings matched the numbers of who was coming.
“Oh, it’s nice to have an extra setting, just in case,” she said. “You never know who might come.”
I was very curious, but she wouldn’t answer my persistent questions.
Thanksgiving morning came and we were all put to work on preparations for the meal. My dad had to go into work for an hour, and not long after he left, the phone rang. It was my dad.
“That’s fine,” she said. “Of course. No problem. The table’s already set and there’s an extra chair.”
She turned to us after she hung up the phone.
“We’ll be having another guest for dinner,” she said. She smiled then, and started humming a tune, as she turned back to the stove.
Sure enough, my dad arrived home with our mystery guest. She was a co-worker, and had no other place to go for Thanksgiving. Her smile said it all, how grateful she was to be included.
Every year after that, we always set an extra place for Thanksgiving. One year there was a flood and some neighbors couldn’t make it to their family dinner, so we set up another table and had another half dozen dinner guests.
One year, it was one of my friends in high school, needing a refuge from a tough time on the home front.
As always, my folks asked no questions, and passed no judgement. The unexpected guest was welcomed with open arms and the first serving of turkey.
My wife and I continued the tradition, welcoming friends, making sure there was a place at the table.
The first Thanksgiving we had our foster son, we made sure he felt welcome, as family gathered to enjoy the holiday.
And, as if on cue, the phone rang, and I heard myself saying, “Sure, of course there’s room. We’d love to have him.”
I made a special trip while the turkey was cooking, and brought his brother home for the weekend. We made sure to make him feel welcome, a part of the family. He responded with a tear running down his cheek, as he sat down in the extra chair.
Years later, after my folks had passed away, and our kids were starting their own families and had moved away, it was just my wife and I who would be home for dinner.
“Let’s set another place,” my wife said. “You never know.”
A few days before, she called first one and then another friend, friends who were single, and who, it turned out, would be alone for Thanksgiving.
“Of course, you’re invited. We’ll expect you at 1,” I heard her say.
We set two extra plates that year, and the Thanksgiving celebration became even more special, as two lonely people found a warm home and bountiful table to share, and our friendship grew. Thanksgiving took on a new, richer meaning that year.
One of our traditions, just as we sit down for the meal, is for everyone to share their gratitudes with the rest of us. There is so much to be grateful in our lives, and we so often tend to skip over giving thanks on Thanksgiving. Instead, we slide into talk about a lot of other subjects, forgetting what the day is really about.
Thanksgiving truly is a day to celebrate our gratitudes and to give thanks. And, often what I am most grateful for is that extra chair, that extra place setting. I’m grateful for the company of someone who would otherwise be alone on the day we gather and give thanks for all that we have. And that list begins with being thankful for each other.
is often the greatest gift, the
highest act of friendship.
No expectation of conversation,
yet the richest communication
(communing — action).
The most difficult, the most awkward
the most challenging
is simply to just be
be in the lives of another
suspending opinion, commentary,
judgement. Breathing in the quiet.
Saying it all, without voice.
In the quiet, much is conveyed
and what is hard becomes
eased, relaxed, now flowing
back and forth
Silence is love in action
an opening, a sharing
—Neal Lemery 9/13/2019
We never celebrated Mom’s birthday on the actual day. It always fell during the first week of school, and the following Sunday became the official celebration. We took turns replacing Mom as the chief planner, cook, and baker for family celebrations, and tried to make her a cake that was at least edible, though we could never achieve her skill and standards of perfection.
She would just be happy we thought of her and made the effort, and took the time to gather together to enjoy a meal and laughter.
Today, the Sunday after the first week of school, would be the day we would celebrate her, though she passed many years ago. One way I honor and remember her is my tending of her favorite rose in my garden. The bush hasn’t bloomed for about a month, the dry summer and warm days obviously not to its liking.
Yet, we’ve had two days of rain now, and the rose decided this morning that it was time to send forth a blossom. School had started, fall was coming, and it was time, once again, to celebrate. She would have smiled at the gift.
Happy birthday, Mom.
By Neal Lemery
We are often called to stand by a friend, offering a hand and being their anchor.
A friend was recently in the middle of a storm in his life, a challenge that required his full concentration and talents. I knew he was up for the challenge, and had been preparing for it for some time, with a great deal of thought and energy. He was focused, zeroing in on what needed to be done, what was critical for success.
Yet, the task was daunting, overwhelming at times.
“I’ve never done this before,” he confided in me. He voiced doubt, insecurity, talking of the old demons that walked through his life, and so many lives of people I know, including my own.
I’m good at doubting myself, finding pessimism and self-criticism in abundance. There’s a lot of things I haven’t done before either. Walking into new territory is perilous. I’ve failed, too, and have those recurring thoughts of worthlessness and inadequacy. The journey opens me up to be vulnerable and to risk failure and criticism. The worst critic is often me, and I can readily rattle off a long list of why I will fail at something. Others tell me I’m not alone in having that self judgement and self-sabotage. Friends can joke with me that such talents can be turned around, becoming our greatest strengths.
Sometimes, I’m the storm-tossed boat and sometimes I am the anchor for someone else. Life is like that, taking turns with others, being on each other’s journeys, a hand reaching out to another hand.
With my friend, I sensed a need to step forward and be an anchor. I invited myself along in his task, volunteering to be the listener to a long litany of doubt and fear, the one who waits while he took on his challenging task. It took almost everything he had to meet his challenge, and he had to do it alone.
I held space for him, being nearby, prepared to give both comfort and encouragement. The nature of the challenge didn’t allow us to communicate, but in important ways, we did. He knew I was there, being supportive, being present, being the vessel of his hopes and dreams, fears and doubts. I accepted all of that, absorbing the bad, reflecting the good of who he was and what he was experiencing.
When the Hurculean task was done, I was the giver of hugs, the cheerleader, the repository of his relief and his doubts that they had done a good job. I encouraged, I empathized. I was the listener in chief.
Afterwards, I took him to dinner and a well-earned beer. He could barely get in the truck and buckle his seatbelt, his sentences just fragments, a serious case of being “brain dead”.
I made sure that he could look out into nature as he ate and began to process the day’s experience, unwinding and coming into the normal world, able to breathe in the beauty of this day.
I recalled other “anchoring” duties, many of them in the arena of hospitals and bedsides; the stark and cold visiting areas in jails and outside courtrooms; the midnight talks when there seemed to be no hope, no direction into the future. There was the time I sat in a darkened room, the pistol cocked and loaded in my buddy’s lap, clenched in his fist, as he cried out the tragedy of his life. The time my aunt was my anchor, inviting me over to tea but really calling me to task, taking me into a profound conversation about life and my future.
Anchoring changes lives and saves lives. There’s magic, because one often doesn’t know what really works to help give that essential support and love.
When duty calls, you show up and you become the anchor, the rock, and hopefully the healer. The work is a gift from the heart. When your own storm is raging, you remember you need your own anchor, and you reach out to someone who cares. Then, you truly realize the power of this gift.
We are called, as humans, to hold space for others, to be their anchor in the storms that buffet their lives. We need to be a witness, a presence in their lives, so that they are not alone, they can know that they matter to others, that their struggles are honored, their journeys worthwhile.