The Professional Guest: In Paradisum

Moorings Beach5Cue up, Musical Readers!
Gabriel Faurés Requiem: In Paradisum:

My time in my cousin’s wonderful condo is coming to an end. I’ve had an amazing three months here. I landed as a visitant in a safe place, with time to adjust, explore the area, recover from the chaos of moving, and start making new friends and contacts. I can’t thank my cousins enough for this godsend of a place and for their generosity. I will never forget it. I’ve gone as often as I can to Moorings Beach at sunset, just to watch God’s glorious creation as the sun slides slowly beneath the silvery horizon, to breathe in the salty air, watch the waves rolling ashore, pelicans and seabirds diving far offshore, observe with amusement the shorebirds like sandpipers, plovers, and snipes scuttling up and down probing for crustaceans, mollusks, fly larvae and algae,  and above all, to decompress and thank God for his goodness to me. To me!

I’ve plopped into my lean-back beach chair, wind blowing around my legs, and just ABSORBED the beauty of this nature, this beach, this place that brings me back more than 30 years ago to when I was so happy, so carefree, so unfettered and free. Faurés Requiem flows through my mind. I remember singing Gabriel Faure’s Requiem at a concert in Canada when I was a young Bible School intern, staying in Cambridge, Ontario in 1983. We attended a very old, established Anglican church which included weekly choir practice on par with any British choir school. What an experience! I’m an alto so it was much new learning for me. We rehearsed the Requiem for weeks before finally performing it during a candlelight service in that lovely old church. In the U.S., I had learned Handels’  “Messiah” along with other choral masterpieces, and sang many of the great choir pieces, but I had never sung Fauré’s Requiem. I will always remember “In Paradisum,” because it was a song of hope, of transcendence, of life beyond the dead.

Why do I bring up “In Paradisum?” Because I feel that at last, I have arrived in paradise, and the adventure is only beginning. At last, the oppressive heat and humidity of summer has dissipated with the arrival of October and I’m remembering why people call Naples paradise. There have been heavenly ocean breezes rippling the branches of the palm trees and nearly everyone is breathing a huge sigh of relief.

“That was a hot one!’ I’ve heard more than once. But I still have no place to call home!

Cue up: Mary Beth Carlson’s “Over the Rainbow.”

On Sunday, I attended church at Shepherd of the Glades Lutheran Church again on Rattlesnake Hammock Road. I learned why Rattlesnake Hammock Road is named that. I’ve been told that a “hammock” here is a term for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem; trees growing on slopes between wetland and drier uplands, almost like an island. Its origin is 1550s English as a nautical term for a tree-covered island. Apparently, rattlesnakes seeking higher ground made their dens on these mounds, hence the name. I was relieved to learn that rattlesnakes do not, indeed, make rope mesh beds and hang suspended from trees. People are not used to looking UP for rattlesnakes.

SherylCindyMerlynI met more Minnesotans (including the pastor) and went out to brunch afterward at Royal Palms Country Club with Cindy and my new friend, Merlyn, both former Minnesotans. We had a lovely time eating crepes, omelets and chatting about life. Merlyn lived in Minneapolis for 40 years. When she was a teen, she played on a softball team and Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame was her softball coach! Epic! I felt so relaxed and at home with my Minnesota compatriots. At church, during the service, Cindy had introduced me as the newest Minnesota visitor. When I said “Go Vikings!” the minister came over to shake my hand! These are the “ties that bind.”

My date to be out of this condo is October 25th so the scramble has been on to find a new place to live. In my journey as a Professional Guest, I have decided I do not want to buy a home, nor do I want to rent an entire apartment right now. I can do that anywhere, anytime…later.

No, now is the time to write about life, about interesting people and places, to have just enough space to sleep, eat and do my graphic design and keep the overhead low. I had a dream one night. I dreamt that I found my “room” to rent, and one entire wall was floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a lake. Oh, what a view!

I’ve had bouts of fear and anxiety just because everything is so new. It might not be a big thing to someone else more traveled than I, but I had been in the same town for 35 years; as a student, a working young adult with a nightlife, then a single parent, a struggling artist working two jobs, and then slowly turning into an old person—a winter shut-in. I’ve traveled to a few faraway places but those were for only one or two weeks at a time, not enough time to really escape my Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Last April, I felt as though I was dying a slow death, trapped in so many ways. It became very clear to me that I needed to bust out. Now… or never. If there was any adventure left in me, I needed to find it. I think God knew that.

The miraculous sale of my home and the open door to Naples was mind-boggling in its swiftness. I received this three-month gift: a landing strip in the Moorings neighborhood of Naples from my cousins. But now the search was seriously on. Where do I go next? I don’t know very many people. How in the world do I find a place to live with someone I can trust? I prayed, “God, you’ve led me this far, where do I go?”

A couple weeks back when my son was here visiting me, the brakes went out on my car and I brought it in to Frank’s Pure Automotive on Tamiami Trail. While I was there, I met the owner, Vince (Frank’s son), who gave me a ride home while my car stayed overnight at the garage. He told me about a business networking group he’s a part of and invited me to attend the next Monday. I did and met several local business people. You never know when you’re going to need a painter, realtor or a coffee supplier. But there was something about Vince that I “recognized” although I’d never met him before in my life. I pondered this in my thoughts.

Vince also put me in touch with a woman from another networking group which I will attend next week. Since he seems to be a real networker and in touch with so many folks about town, I decided to let him know that I was searching in earnest for a room to rent somewhere in the odd chance that he might hear of someone who has an opening.

Two days later he emailed me and said he knew a woman named Priscilla who was looking to “rent a room to a Christian woman.”

“Are you a Christian?” he asked.


“Good. What church do you go to?”

I said I had only been to the local Lutheran church here once, but back in Minnesota, I attended Westwood and Wooddale churches in the Southwest suburbs. Before that, North Heights Lutheran Church and before that, always and forever, Bethany Church in Bloomington.

I’m not saying Vince was pressuring me. He was just asking. But I knew it! The “thing” that I had “recognized” about him, even though he was just the owner of the garage, just the guy who gave me a ride home; there was something else about him that my “spirit” recognized. He was a Christian. I never asked him. He didn’t ask me. But The Spirit, the One Who Gives Us Both Life knew it. And I know from now on Vince is in my trusted network of friends and contacts. The Jews do the same thing. When you worship the same God and read the same Bible, you become sisters and brothers, not just business acquaintances.

He gave me her number and I called and left a message. A couple days passed and I didn’t hear back from her so I called again. This time she picked up and explained that yes, she had thought of renting a room but realized her life was getting crazy-busy all of a sudden and decided against have renters in her home at this time but she did have another friend named “L. J.” who was looking for a renter and gave me her number.

So I called L. J. To my delight, on the other end of the line was a chatty, happy, cheerful woman who talked to me like we’d known each other all our lives! She had me laughing within five minutes of the conversation as she told me all about her life; how she goes for long walks every morning for her health, and since she’s on the hunt for a man, she figures she’ll just make that walk to Home Depot around 8:30 a.m. because that’s when all the construction guys are there buying their building materials!

I liked her immediately. (Heck, I might join her on those walks to Home Depot!) We made plans to meet the next day at her place so I could see the room and we could talk more.

60_214013490_2_1394565268_636x435When I arrived at her condo which sits on a beautiful lake in the heart of East Naples, I rang the doorbell and waited. No one came. I rang again. The door burst open and a short, very wet woman wrapped only in a bath towel opened the door and asked, “Are you Sheryl? Come on in! I’m just getting out of the shower. Sorry, got carried away on the phone! Just look around, I’ll be ready in a minute.”

“Take your time!” I shouted back as I wandered around her lovely condo decorated in nearly all white with the entire front wall floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a blue, very blue lake. It was just like I saw in my dream! And any woman brave enough to answer the door in a bath towel is worth waiting for! I couldn’t have done it.

L. J. (her given name is Lynda Jo) soon came out dressed, but with still wet head, and proceeded to tell me her whole life story while making me hibiscus tea. She’s a 62-year-old nurse with a gift—her clients always ask for her to come back; a widow who’s had her share of life’s hardships, and with them developed a wicked sense of humor, eternal optimism, boundless energy, and a “can do” attitude. I was amazed at her forthrightness, humility, honesty, humor, boldness, and healthy sarcasm. It completely disarmed me and all my fears and worries about meeting a stranger went out the window within 15 minutes. She never sat down once. I found my way to a bar stool on the other side of the kitchen counter and contented myself to listen…and laugh.

In some ways, she reminded me of my former neighbor, Audrey, whom I lived next door to for thirteen years, and whom I adored for the very same qualities. Audrey was a widow living alone but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She was outgoing, happy, loved people. She would meet someone and know their whole life story with ten minutes of meeting them. She always told me she’d talk to a fencepost if there was no one else to talk to. Audrey’s optimism and happy outlook on life kept me laughing, kept me encouraged when times were tough, and best of all, kept me from getting too far inside my own head (which is ALWAYS trouble). She was my cheerleader, my encourager, my son’s banana bread baker, and like a second mom to me.

Unlike L. J., Audrey was the “Queen of Malaprops.” She was always using the wrong word for something and my lips would quiver with suppressed mirth as she described world events.

“Isn’t that something about that earthquake in Japan? They say it’s the largest one ever recorded! And then that huge salami flooded everything! There must be thousands dead!”

There was the time her grandchildren got a “Weed” (Wii) for Christmas! Oh how they enjoyed playing it, especially the tennis and dancing games. We talked about the dangers of traveling to other countries. She said she’d be afraid to travel to Israel because “what if the bad guys sent their “Skid” missiles while she was there??!” She was suspicious of “Islams” who followed their “Sierra” law and worshipped “Ollie.”

L. J. doesn’t use malaprops, she’s much younger and wittier with words than Audrey was, but she has that same “spirit”—that “I get knocked down, but I get up again” attitude, that ability to laugh at herself, at life, and, when appropriate, at others. She comes from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and was an antique buyer and seller at one point in her life. She has an eye for beauty and art and it shows through her lovely white condo with high ceilings and an open, airy feeling. And that lake! Just feet away! I envisioned myself sitting out on her deck watching the sunsets, sipping hibiscus tea with her and writing. I’ve only known L.J. for a couple days, but I already “know” her. She’s a survivor, a fighter, a woman who knows how to be strong. And she looves men. I love men, but I’ve been hurt by men more times than I can recount. Still I long for the love of a man. L. J. does, too. But what we’ve learned in our travels is that women know how to pull a full-horse team when there are no good men around to do it. And we can sit around and laugh until our sides ache. Oh, it makes my heart glad to have found another tough woman to get through life with. For however long this adventure lasts.

I’ve always been told you should not move into any place in which you cannot “envision” yourself living. Even though the room that I will rent is small, barely large enough to accommodate a twin bed, a dresser and my computer desk, walk three steps around the corner and I get to drink in beauty. I wanted to say “YES! I’ll take it!” right then and there but I told her we should both take a day to think about it, make some calls, check things out, get wisdom and guidance.

That night when I went home and went to bed, I dreamt all night about living there. I could “envision” myself there. And I know this: L. J. is going to be good for me because of her energy and optimism. I hope I can be good for her, helpful with computers, someone to go do things with, someone to chat about the day with. We talked about not being able to deal with “needy” people or “bossy” people, so apparently we’re on the same page about that. When you live in close quarters, you have to be able to define your own space, have your own routines, independence and then when things are right, spend time chatting. You may suggest, but never “boss.” She seems well able to set boundaries for herself and that is a great quality.

So, by the end of this month, I will have moved on from my Professional Guest adventure on Binnacle Drive in the Moorings, to Crown Pointe Blvd. in East Naples, on a lake! Still only a short distance to the beach, but on a lake! In Minnesota, the Land of (more than) 10,000 Lakes, I was never able to live on a lake, nor did I have a cabin to go to. If I had, I might have stayed there. Although I loved my home, I could not even see the sunrise, sunset, the moon or the stars because I was so covered by hills and trees. When I was a teen growing up in Clear Lake, Iowa, we lived on the lake on both South Shore and North Shore Drives and something always happened to me when I was living on the water. My creativity soared. My writing flowed.

L. J. says she is writing a book, too! Yay! Two writers in a loft! Eating healthy, walking miles, going to Naples concerts and outings, and spending hours laughing. I can hardly wait.

There’s something else here that I’m realizing in hindsight. Back in Minnesota when I was selling my home but did not yet know where I was going to live, I was checking into renting spare rooms and lower level walkouts from generous friends and family. But the thought of spending another long, cold, dark winter there, especially in a basement filled me with anxiety. I had prayed for three things.

I asked God, “Please God, if you’re willing, can I ask three things?
1). Can it not be a basement?
2). Can there be lots of sunlight? and
3). Can it be near water?”

He answered all three prayers by sending me to Naples, Florida to my cousin’s condo. And not just this first place it seems, but now the second place encompasses the answers to that desperate plea I sent up back in July. God is good.

The story continues! Both L. J. and I are excited. It’s a shot in the arm for both of us. She’s creative and needs to keep her creative juices flowing. So am I. Two woman, two widows (well—her for real; me, only in the basest sense of the word, but an unmarried mother nonetheless) joining forces to make life happen. There are adventures to be had, stories to be told, and sunsets on the lake to behold…even in JANUARY!


4 thoughts on “The Professional Guest: In Paradisum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s