Messy Things

Anne reveled in the world of color about her.

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill—several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

“Messy things,” said Marilla, whose aesthetic sense was not noticeably developed. “You clutter up your room entirely too much with out-of-doors stuff, Anne. Bedrooms were made to sleep in.”

“Oh, and dream in too, Marilla. And you know one can dream so much better in a room where there are pretty things. I’m going to put these boughs in the old blue jug and set them on my table.”

“Mind you don’t drop leaves all over the stairs then…”

– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Fiery, cascading leaves on a Japanese Maple tree obscure the twisting scaffolding underneath.
The fiery cascade of leaves on this Japanese Maple obscure the smoky, swirling scaffolding underneath.

Anne of Green Gables is a favorite in my family, and I will confess to having taken advantage of the 4th floor paperback library to read the entire series twice while working the night shift here years ago. The conversation above is just about the perfect balance of what we deal with at Homewoods each October. The “world of color” around us does indeed give me “several thrills,” yet at the end of each day we have such a thick carpet of fir needles and maple leaves in all of the entryways and stairwells that I’m left to wonder how there could be any left on the trees. 

Still, even with the mess, the wet weather, and the darker, cooler days, October has a beauty that is captivating, and I agree that skipping from September to November would be a terrible thing. October reminds my body that it needs rest, and reminds my soul that there is nourishment in spending time in good books, connecting with others, or just watching the river from the comfort and solitude of an armchair at the end of a hallway. October’s sunny days are also a treasure, with the same energy of summertime tempered with crisp, clean air, moderate temperatures, and early sunsets. Whichever way you spend your October, I hope you do so with the same rapture and inhibition as Anne in the quotation above. We’ll deal with the “leaves all over the stairs…” as they come.  

A Nonprofit Primer

Most of you probably know that Homewoods on the Willamette is a nonprofit, tax exempt organization. It doesn’t really get brought up in day-to-day talk all that often, yet when I mention it, most people say they can feel the difference between our community and other, for-profit communities. There’s a vague sense that it must influence our pricing, community atmosphere, and work ethic, among other parts of our culture here. But what does it really mean to be a nonprofit organization?

At the broadest level, nonprofit means that there are no private stakeholders who benefit from the profits we make. The money we make stays here, to be used in our organization. We set aside money for the large expenses that keeping up a property like this requires, and to prepare ourselves to weather unforeseen events. This gives us the freedom to focus our efforts exclusively on the mission of our organization and the stewardship of our building and property, without worrying about whether or not we are making enough money for owners or investors.

We are also provided a tax-exempt status, meaning that we do not pay taxes on any of the profits we generate. Nonprofit organizations are awarded this status when it is deemed that they provide a benefit to the community that, in their absence, would either have to be taken on by government or result in deficits in services within the community. For us, this benefit is mainly expressed through our relationship with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with whom we have contracted to provide market-rate housing and services for adults over the age of 62. Additionally, we use donations to provide significant financial support to retired pastors’ supplementary insurance, as well as local senior centers and community groups. We also provide matching funds for the Alzheimer’s Association Raffle and staff scholarships. Finally, we take positive action in our community, volunteering our time to local service organizations, assisting local schools with jobs training programs, and advocating for older adult interests in local, state, and federal politics.

This year, as we prepare to celebrate Resident Appreciation Week, I think it is especially important to highlight the role of our residents in this process. In a traditional, for-profit structure, the bottom line of the organization is what the owner gets. At Homewoods, we are all about what we can give, and every day our residents work to provide an excellent residence for others, an excellent place to work for our staff, and ultimately, have an excellent effect on our local community. In short, you’re all excellent, and we’re looking forward to spending an entire week telling you so!

Emily Dickenson, for August

The beginning of summer always feels like a good stretch to me, like the frantic pace of life is just what I’ve needed to release pent-up energy. After a while, though, all of the hard work stretches me thin. I have a hard time figuring out how to recharge my batteries when there’s still so much to be done, and sometimes things like quiet reflection and serious contemplation go out the window to make room for a couple more minutes of playing in the sprinkler with the kids. 

Thankfully, I can sometimes turn to others to help me express what I need to. I admire Emily Dickenson’s poetry on nature because she holds simple, whimsical details in equal esteem with celestial events of breathtaking awe, evoking in me a sense that all of the natural world is at once quaint, familiar, mysterious, and miraculous.

TWO butterflies went out at noon

And waltzed above a stream,

Then stepped straight through the firmament

And rested on a beam;

And then together bore away

Upon a shining sea,—

Though never yet, in any port,

Their coming mentioned be.

If spoken by the distant bird,

If met in ether sea

By frigate or by merchantman,

Report was not to me.

NATURE rarer uses yellow

  Than another hue;

Saves she all of that for sunsets,—

  Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman,

  Yellow she affords

Only scantly and selectly,

  Like a lover’s words.

Civic Duty, Hotdogs, and things that go, “Boom!”

July marks the halfway point in the year, and after six months of cleaning up my act from all the Christmas binge eating, I think I’m ready to celebrate Independence Day with my traditional half dozen hotdogs and a bag of barbeque chips! You’ll be hard pressed to know if the tears in my eyes are evoked by the Star Spangled Banner or the acid reflux.  

Though we tend to celebrate with food and things that go “Boom!” the foundation of Independence Day is the issuance of the Declaration of Independence. It states that the purpose of government is to function, at the consent of the people, to provide everyone with equal access to the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Two hundred plus years later, we celebrate Independence Day as a memory of the founding of our nation and as an opportunity to honor those who have served to protect it, but do we still hold to the original ideas presented in the Declaration of Independence?

The world is busy and government has grown complex beyond belief. Our lives are full already, and what little time and energy we have left to consciously devote to the state of our nation is crowded over with aggrandized accounts of conflict and corruption, to the point that it may be difficult to see the connection between the purpose of government as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the actions of modern government. 

What the Declaration of Independence does not state, however, is that everybody is going to agree on the best way to do things, so what we see when we look beneath the conflict is an ideological struggle to steer our course towards the ways people think are best. When a government becomes destructive towards the rights of its people, it is the ultimate obligation of the people to change it. This is the basis of our civic duty, and should influence our thinking each time we engage in political activities.

Conflict and corruption are unfortunate parts of this process, as is any other form of self-interest, but these are not ultimately the obstacles to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The only real and lasting obstacle to our rights is apathy. This Independence Day, let’s set our hot dogs and fireworks down for a moment and reflect on how our independence is impossible without acknowledging our interdependence, and the responsibility we have as part of the whole to participate in the guiding of our nation’s values.