Monday, April 24, 2017
I have been challenged to write a letter to someone telling him or her how he or she has impacted my life. Well, now. Isn’t this a can of worms? It’s a beautiful idea, in theory, to think on how someone has touched my life. But I open that lid and all kinds of feelings jump out. Best to keep the can closed and not think on it too much, go about enjoying my iced tea on the sunny patio at my local Starbucks like feelings never happened. Nevertheless, a challenge is a challenge and growth is good. Besides, I challenged my friend to adopt a pet. She now has a cat named Smokey. I think it only fair I comply.
I have all the right parts and yet am wretchedly inept at functioning as a human being. I have eyes on my face, ears on my head, and a heart in my chest and still have been blind and deaf and have failed to pick up on words that should have fed me. It’s not my fault I’m like this. I was raised to believe feelings were the drunkard uncle we don’t talk about in public. I have a sense of self-worth the size of a peanut. When someone is saying something nice about me, I believe it to be obligatory small talk. Sort of like saying, “How is your day?” Good, thank you. And yours? Feelings of kindness and affection pretty much escape me.
Did you ever play scavenger hunt when you were a kid? There were all these clues scattered about leading up to one big final aha! moment. In the game, that aha! moment was usually some sort of prize or trophy or long lost friend who would jump out and envelop you in a giant hug while you both screamed screams of joy. In my case, I have been led by clues throughout my life to an aha! moment in which the prize is a feeling or, rather, the realization of a feeling.
What were these clues? I have gathered them for you to see:
• Never lets me down
• Listens, regardless how difficult it is to hear
• Pushes me in directions I am too afraid to push myself
• Says things that need to be said
• Cares unconditionally despite what a pigheaded, insensitive, unaware brat I can be
• Is present
• Makes me laugh
• Makes me think
• Steadies me, calms me, quiets me down
• Talks me off the cliff
• Talks me onto the cliff
• Is the cliff
Have you ever had the feeling that you could do no wrong, that you were a beam of light and that your every breath and every move was enough and perfect just as it was? Have you ever felt like this? I have. I have, but I could never see it. I could never see it because I talked too loudly and moved too fast. I never paid attention to the clues.
So, to my friend who left me these –
Despite my continued ignorance, my insistence on repeatedly saying things I should not have said, talking about things I should have left, and failing to intuit that which was so obviously there, you remained my friend. Thank you for that. Thank you for your shoulder onto which I cried, your ears into which I complained, and your heart into which I wove myself a safe and comfortable spot.
I see now that you had my back even when I did not know, that you protected, guided, supported when I was still yet unaware. I see you in the corners watching me as I grew, watching as I moved about my life doing what I had to do. Can I tell you the comfort I feel in that, how deeply I am moved? You told me once that that is just what friends will do. I have had friends. But believe me when I say, I have had none with whom I felt I could be so completely myself and yet so completely loved.
Accept my apologies for being such an ass. Accept my apologies for being full of myself, insensitive, unaware. Accept my apologies, my gratitude, my hand. Take it please and continue with me on this journey that is my life. Knowingly or not, ours is the measure of friendship on which every other is based.
To be so fully oneself and to be accepted just the same. What a gift you have given me. What a beautiful, glorious gift.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
I’ve always had a thing for a contest. And I’m a pretty good winner. My strategy is to do something most people don’t do: Read all the directions. I’ve found many contestants are ruled out simply because they haven’t completed every required step. Take social media contests, for example. Have you liked the page? Have you shared the post? Have you tagged a friend? Have you left your name in the comments? It’s simple, really, but you have to do it. You have to do every step. Here’s a list of some of the things I have won in my life and how I’ve won them:
• a $5.00 gift certificate to a local shop – I guessed the number of marbles in a jar
• movie tickets from a local radio station –I didn’t mean to try to win these but called to request a song and happened to be the seventeenth caller
• a month’s supply of diaper delivery service – I wrote an article on creative uses for DyDee Baby cloth diapers (as if trying to pin a piece of cloth to a wriggling infant without drawing blood isn’t a creative project in itself)
• unlimited miniature golf for a year and a rockin’ birthday party filled with arcade games, balloons, cake, pop, and prizes for an ungodly number of neighborhood tweens – I put my name on a paper and put it in a fish bowl
• a selection of deli meats, cheeses, and a romantic basket for picnics that never really happened and, so, never got romantic – I acquiesced to one of my children who wanted me to enter
• a ride in the 7-Up balloon in the Indiana State Fair hot-air balloon race – I filled out four sweepstakes forms while my mom was paying for groceries
My mother was terrified. To the last minute, she asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. I shared the gondola with the pilot and a marketing rep from 7-Up. It was the biggest movie star moment of my life. I wore my free 7-Up t-shirt and sported my glammest shades. The media interviewed me and snapped shots from all angles. I thought I was the absolute shit. I never had a doubt I was in exactly the place I was supposed to be. There was no fear, no uncertainty, no questioning whether I was to do this, just a clear knowing that this was a skip along the pebble throw of my life.
In that moment where the balloon was untethered and we began our ascent, I knew I was going on an adventure and that the adventure was mine. I was not there to prove anything to my mother. I was not there to support 7-Up. I was not there to give the paper a good story or to brag to my friends. I was there because when I stood at that display at the end of that grocery counter and saw the poster of that hot-air balloon, my heart said yes.
I’ve lost this in my life. For a long time now, I’ve been living for others. I’ve been living for the press. I’ve assumed the fear of those around me as my own. It won’t look right, won’t sound right, will be more difficult than you think. People will make fun. People will talk. You will be seen as an ass. You’re above that, better than that, not one who participates in that sort of thing. You’re not capable enough, not talented enough, not as smart as you sometimes think. You’ll embarrass yourself, embarrass the family, embarrass your colleagues or the staff.
Enough. Time to silence the voices in my head.
As of today, I am once again filling out the form. I am guessing the number of marbles in the jar. I am signing my name and placing it in the bowl. The universe can bring me what it may. The more creative or whacky or exciting the prize, the more happy and delighted my heart. As of today, I’m untying those lines, sporting my glammest shades, and flying this balloon called Life.
Oh, yeah, baby. Jump in or let go. I'm ready to ride!
Monday, February 20, 2017
“Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish. How many pieces do you wish?” You say this while your friends are circled up, each holding out one fist. As you say it, you go around the circle hitting your fist against their fists. When you finish, you wait patiently while the person whose fist you landed on decides how many pieces they would like. “Eight,” they say. Then you continue around the circle, pounding your fist against those of your friends, one at a time. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and you are not It.” You repeat this until there is one person left. That person is It. I need my career choices to circle up so we can play Bubblegum, Bubblegum. Maybe then I’d figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life.
I grew up understanding we become something. We become an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a nurse. Often, we become something through the institution of higher learning. We attend school for many years, take an ungodly amount of exams, chat up professors we think are cute, eat more pizza than any human should ever consume, and get wasted with our friends on a regular basis. At the end of this time, we receive a piece of paper that says now we are officially this thing, this thing being an attorney, an architect, or perhaps a super smart chick on history or financial affairs. We never feel that. We never feel we are really this thing. “How could that even be?” we ask ourselves. “I’m still just me.” We walk around thinking someone important is going to find us out. “I’m still sleeping on the twin bed I slept on in elementary school, for God’s sake.” But, no. You are officially now a grown up. And you are this Thing.
I wish someone had told me this process really doesn’t change as you age. I’m fifty-three. I guess I could call myself a professor. Technically, that’s what I am. If I am to confess, though, I still wonder how that happened when all I was doing was doing the things I love – reading, talking, going to school. And do I have to be a professor forever? Can I change my mind? Can I do something else instead? If I do choose to do something else, how do I choose what that something else is?
Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish.
I can’t say the younger generations have it any easier. As a mother of four Millennials, I see the struggle. Despite the fact that younger generations change jobs more often than did their parents, there is still the question, “What do I do?” Something has to be first. Something has to be now. If anything, I feel the younger generations are at least under no illusion that this choice will be a forever decision. They are prepared for the fact that they will be making this decision over and over again.
I have counseled so many students regarding majors or degrees. They stand in front of me seeking my professional advice. I’d like to become one of those students and stand in front of myself for some of that advice. What should I do with my life? I should know this. I studied for this exam.
Inevitably, during the process of choosing It, we would all get restless, eager to get back to the game. In the end, this was the reality. Nobody cared. Nobody cared who was It. We just wanted to play the game. If we decided we didn’t like the game or were tired of it and wanted to play a different game instead, Tag morphed into Cartoon Tag morphed into Swinging Statue morphed into Hide and Seek. The ultimate goal was to have fun, to laugh and smile and run and be so tired at the end of the day that you could barely make it through bath time before falling asleep.
And in that I may have my answer. Just pick something. And run and laugh and smile and be so tired at the end of the day that bed is a welcome relief. If, at any point, I decide I am tired of that game or am ready to have fun with something else, allow it space to morph into whatever it is that comes next.
Now. To choose that thing that comes first.
Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
I’ve dated my ex. I’ve dated other people a couple of times, as well. When I was with someone else, I felt like I was cheating despite the paper that assured me I was divorced. I wondered when this “having the time of my life” thing was supposed to kick in. Maybe that was for women whose husbands had been creeps. Maybe that was for women whose husbands had cheated or hit them or gambled away the family money. I was grieving a loss. I didn’t especially feel like beer and karaoke. I didn’t feel like random meetings with men I didn’t know. Dating sites are great for some but truly not my thing. I decided after listening to so many others tell me how I was supposed to be doing this single thing to listen, for a second, to myself. And my Self told me I needed time to heal.
And so I did.
I allowed myself room. I allowed myself room to feel. I allowed myself room to come to a place of understanding that what I had done really was the best thing for both my ex and myself. I had to get used to people I loved judging me. I had to get used to people I loved hating me for destroying something that had been good for them. I had to get used to people I loved cutting me completely out of their lives. For the first time, I made a decision that was good for me and for me alone. That was inconvenient for some. It was confusing for them. They wanted to go on with life as it had always been.
I did a hard thing. While I healed from doing that hard thing, I was attacked and badgered and thrown to the dogs.
I thought the paper would make me feel divorced. The paper, as it happens, is just ink on a page. Truly feeling divorced has come from months of tears, from quiet spaces at the end of the day, from the heartache of allowing my children space to do their own healing, from a cold bed on a winter’s night, from remembering how much I care for the man who was my husband and from saying yes to coffee when I should have said no. Truly feeling divorced was not a fifteen-minute session that ended thirty years with the sound of a gavel. Truly feeling divorced was a year-long journey spent on knees in prayer.
Looking back to that glass on that shelf in that shop, am I having yet the time of my life? No. But, neither do I feel the need to prove anything to anyone, including myself, on the degree of happiness in my life or the correctness of the choices that I made. I have never hated him. I never wished him ill. I still care deeply and want for him good things. This is a difficult concept for many to get. I am at a place, now, though, where I realize it is not my job to explain. It is not my job to prove or soothe or act a certain way. It is not my job to live up to the standards imposed on me by anyone I know. I am at a point where I realize I suddenly feel single and, for the first time in a year, can call myself divorced.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
To me, though, they really are both the same. Love and kindness are my bottom line. Doing unto others. The Golden Rule. Putting myself in another’s shoes. I believe the entire world could operate a little better if we all just joined hands, offered each other a smile, and said, “I may not know what you’re going through, but I am here. I am here.”
My sisters and I had a childhood fraught with chaos. My parents yelled at each other, yelled at us, and frequently could put a hole through a wall with a fist. We moved constantly, had very little to eat, and more often than not went to bed with tears on our pillow.
But my parents were giving people. They did for others things that would never be found out, were first to mobilize when a family was in stress, lent a shoulder to kids from our school that weren’t even in our circle of friends, kids we didn’t know. I remember my mother at one of my sister’s softball games, arm around some girl’s shoulder. I had seen this girl in the halls. Her father had committed suicide. Sat in his car. Never opened the garage. My dad would leave food in the alley behind the house. Clothes. Shoes. Soap. The homeless guys knew these items were meant for them. They never let on, chatted up my dad like he was one of their friends. He was. He became that. That’s how it works. We are meant for each other. We are meant for love.
I’ve been called naive. Been told it doesn’t work like that. There is evil in this world. There are people who want to do mean things. Some of my friends have seen that evil. I may have seen it, as well. But just because that evil exists, just because it is there, does not mean that I cannot love. I will not fight anger with fists. I will not call names because that is what those around me do. I was taught better than that. I was taught to stand for my brother, to stand for the poor, to stand for those in need.
My mother used to tell me, “Never start a fight but never back away from one either.” I neither wanted to start fights nor remain in one. I would be the first to back away. At heart and in my dreams, I am the love child of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. For the first time in my life, however, I am called to fight. I am called to fight for my brother, to fight for the poor, to fight for those in need. I am called. I am called to fight, to fight for love.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Many people I know and love voted for this man. I want to tell them they voted against themselves. I know individuals who are women, who are lesbians, who are economically challenged, who are single parents doing their best to make it through who voted for this man. I know individuals battling chronic illness, individuals struggling to launch their young adult children, individuals making their way through college on government funds who voted for this man. I want to tell them they voted against themselves.
But that’s irrelevant now.
What is not irrelevant is the fire inside my heart, the fire that is fueled by the Holy Spirit. The question, “What Would Jesus Do?” lives constantly inside my head. And so I ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Jesus would take to the streets. He would feed. He would love. He would nurture. He would empower and hold and warm.
And so I stand.
I stand with the student living in her car, the student working full time to pay for class, doing her best to create some semblance of a life, sleeping on campus in a Chevy. Doing this to avoid sexual molestation at home. I will support her in her decision, when impregnated by her father, to not carry that baby to term. I will tell her she is beautiful and worthy and has much to offer this world. I will support her. I will encourage her. I will stand.
I stand by the single mom working full-time days, putting in the hours, making crap for pay. She is behind in the bills, doing her best, never gives up, and wears the smile that says I am tired, I am alone, I am lost, I have no choice but to move forward through the bedtimes and baths and permission slips and practice, but please, help me God, help me somebody, because I am falling but my love for my children will not let me stop.
I stand for the man in the park, the one living on the bench. With the help of many friends, I offered him food. I offered food to all of those living in this particular park. When I passed him later to ask if he had received, he held out his sandwich and asked if I was in need. No thank you, I said. But thank you for thinking of me. I thanked him for thinking of me.
I stand for the young man, Muslim if we’re labeling, born in this country, raised in this country, educated in this country, citizen of this country, contributing economically to this country. I support him. I stand.
I stand for my friend, my white friend who is married to a black man. I stand for their love, the beauty of it, the connection that is stronger than so many I have seen.
I stand for all those individuals I know – family, friends, colleagues – that choose to love in a way that is not accepted or respected by others because it seems different and wrong, because it is misunderstood, because it is not what some would choose.
I stand. I stand for love and acceptance and respect and courtesy and dignity. I stand for human worth, for a helping hand, for understanding that not everyone will think and act and speak and look like I, that not everyone will have experienced what I have experienced and may have experienced what I have not. I stand for an arm around a shoulder, for a kind word, for a simple, "I am here. I may not understand, but I love you, and I am here."
Yes, he is my president. But I refuse to choose to follow a man who does not have the best interests of those I know and love at heart. I am fueled by the Holy Spirit. I am a child of God. And, so I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?”
Jesus would stand.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Do you know how difficult it is to focus on things like reading and math when you know at the end of the day you are going to have the living daylights beaten out of you just because you exist? Even if I wanted, there was nothing I could do to appease this girl. She hated me. She hated me because I was there. I was an easy target. I was quiet, minded my own business, and did not have the confidence or chutzpah to think her a ridiculous bully who needed to be put in her place. I was a lover, not a fighter.
This is what it’s like to live in the shadow of a bully. I encountered Felicia and her flagpole order first thing in the morning as we walked into school. There were no buses at Parkview. You either walked or, if you lived farther away, your parents drove you. After being accosted, I stepped faster into school to get away from Felicia and closer to the safety of my teacher and my class. Felicia was older, bigger, in a different grade. I felt like I needed to throw up. I tried to listen to the teacher but I couldn’t. I thought about what would happen later. I thought about the ways I might be hurt. I thought about how people hated me when I was just a regular little girl going about my day. I thought about Felicia’s buddies who would support her and cheer her on. I couldn’t eat my lunch. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of people calling me silly or telling me to fight her back. I didn’t want to fight. I just wanted to go home and tell my mother about my day and play school with my sisters.
The flagpole was at the front of the school. You had to pass it to leave at the end of the day. You had to. It was right there. There was no other way. Most days, that is, there was no other way. Most days you didn’t think about the other ways. The flagpole was in charge. It said this is the way, this is how you have to do it. But there were other ways. There were side doors and back doors and doors that people usually didn’t even notice. And even though your mother parked on the street and you had to end your walk out front did not mean you couldn’t leave through one of those side doors and wind yourself back to her parked car.
Looking back, I am not proud I didn’t stand up to this sad girl. I am glad, however, that I didn’t allow her efforts to prove herself powerful to destroy even further what little esteem I carried at that point in my life. I thank her, now, for teaching me that it is far more important I stand tall and think for myself than to mindlessly follow orders of someone just because she is in charge. I thank her, too, for teaching me to look for all those little side doors, those ways of doing things no one else thinks can be done.