Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Show me How


Show me how to love without limit, how to open my heart to those who are different. Show me how to embrace, envelop, and nurture those who turn me away. Show me how to accept, how to accept rather than tolerate. Show me how to find the light where I see only dark, how to smile when I want to cry. Show me love where I see hate. Show me the seed of myself in the face of the other. Show me. Show me how to love.

When others spit at me, spit in my face, hold me strong. Chin up and head held high, help me move forward in your way. Give me strength, give me courage, and arms that hold me tight. Show me. Show me where you need me to be in this trying time. Show me how to stand, how to stand not for myself but for others who need what I am about. Show me how to do that which I cannot do. For them. For you.

I do not exist in this world on my own. Nor do I breathe or move or dance in a space that is composed of those exactly like me. My world is rich and deep and alive because I have known many unlike myself. Can I love one so different? How can I not?

Love.

I love cake. I love funky earrings. I love a cheesy romance.

But do I love a soul who does not love me? How do I love one who spews hatred and ignorance and vile, ugly words? How do I love one who has caused me pain and torn me down? How do I love then? Do I love?

I love a good book. I love his quirky humor. I love a long walk on the beach.

Making light of a heavy word. This love is easy.

But how do I love when the face I see represents the very extreme of that which I live, me in opposite form?

Show me how to love without limit, how to open my heart to those who are different. You have not created in MY image, but in YOURS. How am I, then, to hate? How am I to judge? Each face I see is your child, your love. Each face, each face is you. Show me. Show me how to love.

Show me how to embrace, envelop, and nurture those who turn me away.

Because there WILL be those who turn me away. They will turn me away because I am not like them. They will turn me away and call me names. They will hurt me more than I have ever been hurt. Help me to move forward. Help me to move forward with strength and courage to do the work you have put me here to do. Help me to move forward in the face of adversity to spread love, to spread love and compassion and to live your word. Help me to move forward. For others. For you.

I love my dogs at my feet. I love the first snow, a baby’s behind, the feeling of clothes fresh from the dryer. I love chocolate.

Show me the seed of myself in the face of the other. When I look and see a stranger, show me a friend. Show me the me in the face that looks so different, the life so at odds. Show me how very much we are the same, how very much we are one. Show me the piece of you that lies in us both. Show me.

I love a good glass of wine, corny jokes, and candlelit dinners. I love songs that remind me of special times. I love one who can show me what it is I have to offer the world, who can cut through the crap and get to my core. I love a challenge, to make something happen when others say it won’t.

Show me how to open my heart to those who are different. Show me how to embrace, envelop, and nurture those who turn me away. Show me how to accept, how to accept rather than tolerate.

Show me. Show me how to love.




Friday, December 20, 2013

The Reason for the Season



A darkened room, twinkling lights, music so soft and beautiful I cannot describe, my cat curled beside me on the couch, my dog on the floor at my feet. I am a couple of glasses now into the wine and may have found the peace in my heart that I have lacked in this holiday rush. I sit in my old robe and husband’s socks, fresh from a steamy shower, shower complete with candles, music, and lavender soap. I am remembering to breathe. I have forgotten how to do this in all the holiday bustle. Funny. How does one forget that which keeps her alive? I have forgotten, too, to smile, to love, to treasure. And how, too, can this be? Isn’t this the reason for this “joyous” season?

I am not certain anymore the reason for the season. I could hardly pick up my dinner tonight for the maddening traffic. Cars. Cars everywhere. Does Christmas not come at the same time every year? Why must we always wait until the last minute to select gifts? I’ve SEEN the thought that goes into those last minute gifts. I worked retail during and after college for a bit. I once had a man throw a pencil at me. At what point, I wonder, is it okay to say to oneself, “I am so angry with my life and my situation right now that I am going to throw something at this minimum wage employee, this teenage girl.” One of my students had a customer throw a hot drink at her. Another had a sandwich shoved into her hand. “This is NOT what I ordered.” And all of this "joyous" giving is done in the name of love. Love for the recipient. Love for God.

Keep Christ in Christmas.

How many times have I heard this?

And, yet, I’m pretty sure Christ never maxed out his VISA. I don’t think He would have cared if you bedazzled your bare shoulders with a little holiday sparkle for the company Christmas party or sent engraved cards to all of your friends, whether you brought pumpkin cheesecake or your mom’s traditional cheeseball to the family potluck or opted out of cookie trays for the neighbors for the rest of your life. But we do this in love, right? We do it to spend quality time with family and friends, to focus on that which matters, to keep Christ in Christmas. Why, then, the guilt trips, the alcohol, the “Let’s just get this over with” mentality? Why the tension and stress?

You may say that keeping Christ in Christmas is about prayer and church and feeling blessed. Why, then, midnight mass? I mean, I know why. But no amount of Jesus in my heart was worth keeping four babies awake or waking them up to celebrate His birth. After playing Santa, coordinating family visits out of town, licking close to a hundred Christmas envelopes, and baking insane amounts of sugar cookies, gingersnaps, and Mexican wedding cakes, there was not a chance in HELL I would have four children in their holiday best at the stroke of midnight. Did this make me less a Christian? Was I not keeping Christ, then, in Christmas?

I preach constantly simplicity, stress management, and self-love. You should know that I am practicing none of that right now. I have complicated my life needlessly to the point of allowing others to take control. I am not very fond of the person I see when I catch a glimpse at myself in the glass. Would Christ, I wonder, want me to feel as defeated as I do? Would He want me to be so at odds with myself, falling apart as I am? I have had soul crushing meltdowns lately in the middle of my kitchen, at the coffee shop, in my car, on the phone with a friend. No parent wants to see his child struggle.

Keep Christ in Christmas.

If I remember my lessons correctly, Christ is about love. He is not about fruitcakes or gifts with purchase or stockings or Secret Santa. Love is not purchased. It is not wrapped. It is not scheduled or decorated or sent. It is me enveloping you in a light that energizes you and warms you and gives you strength. You cannot send that by UPS. You cannot find it in a pew. Love is in the heart. It is only in the heart.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name


A friend recently asked a group of us when it was that we first realized our sexual orientation. I honestly could not answer. Maybe I could not answer because I am still confronting the question. I told her I wasn’t sure, that I could easily be bi. I mean I like guys. I’ve always liked guys. I have been with my husband for thirty years. We met when I was nineteen, but the year before I had had a serious attraction to a girl in my dorm. I felt uncomfortable and confused, certain that it was just a side effect of being away from home for the first time. I didn’t share my feelings with anyone, didn’t see it necessary. Still. The attraction was there.

I’ve always liked to look at women. I mean, LOOK at women. I enjoy a nice set of beautiful breasts, an engaging walk. Just being honest. I have always dismissed this as envy, sizing up the competition, appreciation of beauty. Maybe it’s all of that. Maybe it’s all of that and something a little more.

If I am confessing, I am not gender specific in whose head I turn. As long as heads are turning and looks are being had, life is good. Flirting, to me, is just a part of conversation, something that is done as a matter of course. I place no rules or restrictions on the recipient of a seductive glance or batting of the lashes.

Is this me, then, coming out of the closet? I don’t think so. I think it’s just me, figuring out if I’m even in the closet.

As I answered my friend’s question, another question came into my head. Would my current friends still like me if they found out I, indeed, were bisexual? And, to follow up on that, how different would I have to be for you to consider me no longer your friend? What if my skin color were not what it is, my religious beliefs, my political bent? Underneath all of it, I am still me. At what point would you draw that line? Granted, any superficial change would result in a concurrent deep-rooted social change. We all know that we are only who we are because of all that has happened to us in our lives.

To complicate my question further, then, am I me because of the life that I have led, or am I me because of egg and sperm? Regardless the answer, what would it take for you to deem me no longer worthy of your love? Where do you draw that line?

When I was a little girl, I loved to play with paper dolls. Tiny tabs held shoes, pants, and skirts on various paper figures. With nothing more than a whim, one could completely change an outfit or lifestyle. This is what I’m getting at. Do this for a second. Picture the homeless woman crouched inside the bridge, wearing last week’s dirt and reeking of piss, valued possessions in a shopping cart beside her, and sign that reads, “I was you once upon a time. Have a beautiful day.” Now. Put my face on that woman. Put my face on her and tell me, do you love me now? Do you love me enough to let others know that you love me, to spend time talking to me, to share a meal? Put my face on any number of women who represent everything you find repulsive and tell me, how do you love me now? Am I not still me inside the skin, aside from the sexual preference, in spite of the ideological leanings and idiosyncratic lifestyles?

Am I not still a child of God?

Hate the sin; love the sinner. I hear many say this. This is not love. Love is pure and simple and without condition. It is heart to heart embrace, seeing one’s self in another. Understanding that we are all interconnected and that what I do to you, I do to myself. It is, “I love you.” Period.

This is love. How different would I have to be for you to deem me unworthy of that? How different would I have to be?

Where do YOU draw that line?







Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Love Letter. To Myself.


I have spent most of my life embarrassed of who I am. I have spent most of my life hiding from the parts of me I cannot face, hating the childhood I cannot change, creating a reality that did not exist. I took the cold, sad, lonely little girl that was me, and I shoved her into the darkness of my head. I buried that little girl. I buried her in my mind. I allowed only her bubbly, singing, pom pom flinging alter to shine through, to follow me through my days and out into the world. I embraced the pretty, loved the good, shared the sweet. I painted a beautiful picture, smiled a pleasing smile, put on the goddamned proverbial happy face. Well. The aching stomach, welts on the legs, tear streaked wretch of a girl begged her turn for love. She begged, and still I pushed her back.

Have you ever been hungry, ever asked for food, but could not have it? Could not have it because it was not there.

Have you ever cried alone in the dark, tear stained pillow, cuts fresh on the legs from the switch, thin and stinging?

Have you ever chewed your nails to nubs, made yourself throw up because the stress of all the yelling and fighting and swearing and hitting is just too much?

Have you ever sat your skinny little six-year-old ass on the cold metal rim of a coffee can day after day just to pee because among the other things this house doesn’t have, like heat on a winter’s night or a washer for all the diapers your mother has to clean by hand, it doesn’t have a bathroom, a toilet or a tub?

I got brave one day. I wrote my story. I let that little girl out onto page. A friend suggested that perhaps the story was too heavy, too depressing, that maybe it needed a happier end. She suggested that readers want an upbeat tale, a hopeful read. I wanted to say that if the story was too much for a fifty-year-old, too much for a grown up, what, then, of the little girl who lived it? My story was real. It was not me sitting over a table agonizing about character development and plot. It was me wearing the same clothes day in and day out, me being ridiculed and teased, me wishing for a different life, wishing for a better way. My story wasn’t pretty, no. But it was real.

So I wrote the story. I let the little girl out. I allowed her space. I thought I was good. I thought I was free of her. I thought I was. Until now.

Have you ever faked self-love?

Have you ever, in your head, believed something that you never felt in your heart?

I have spent most of my life embarrassed of who I am. I am done with that now. I am glad for that childhood. I am glad for it. It is not one I would ever have chosen, no. But it is because of that childhood that I feel the compassion, the love, the sense of oneness that I do. It is because of that childhood that I embrace those who are different. Because I know. I know not because I have read, but because I have felt. I have felt the pain and humiliation of being one of the so-called dregs of society. I have felt the stares, the jabs, the denigrating thoughts. And yet to this point I have merely acknowledged this little girl in my head. I have only looked at her, allowed her room, given her space. And still, I am disgraced by her presence, disgusted by her words.

Enough. Enough already.

I am ready now to embrace her for the beautiful little girl she is. I am ready to hold her and to love her and to tell her what a big and wonderful heart she has and how strong, how very strong she can be. I am ready to hold her and to cry with her and to tell her how sorry I am that she had to go through all of this and how sorry I am that I never loved her before. I am ready to hold her and to tell her how sorry I am that I never stayed with her and protected her, but that I am here for her now and will never, never leave. I am ready now not to worry what others might think, not to worry about words or thoughts or stares. I am ready now, ready to love her just for who she is.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Go Jump Off a Cliff


A friend told me recently to go jump off a cliff. I know this sounds harsh, but she meant it in the nicest possible way. I have spent my life strapped in, buckled up, ears open, eyes alert. I have worked, striven, yearned, and achieved. I have planned, contrived, scaled, and navigated. What’s next, I ask myself now? What is next? I’m not sure, really. What IS next? I have found myself lately very unsettled, a homing pigeon who cannot find home, a rat in a Skinner box when there is no treat, last to bat and the crowd has all gone. WHAT is next? WHERE am I to go? HOW will I know? What the freaking hell do I want to be when I grow up? I’m fifty. I should have this part down. So, my friend tells me to just go jump off the cliff.

But jump into WHAT?

I remember as a little girl waking up to a bowl of Cheerios and cartoons on a Saturday morning. Still in my jammies and parents in bed, I cozied up to the likes of Underdog (Never fear. UNDERDOG is here!!), Popeye, Tom Slick, and Snagglepuss (Exit, stage left.). Probably the most frustrating of all those Saturday morning cartoons, however, was The Roadrunner. Inevitably Wile E. Coyote, after rigging contraptions, painting mountainsides, and setting ambushes to do away with his quick and clever nemesis would, himself, take an anvil to the head, smash into the fake landscape painted onto rock, and run off the cliff after becoming victim to his own trap. He did this every time. Also without fail, cliff falling involved spinning feet, hanging midair, and dropping dramatically into the vast unknown.

“It’s like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff wondering which way to go. Just JUMP.”

Another friend told me this. Fine. But jump into WHAT? If the jumping is figurative, as I assume it is, I need something toward which to jump. I have nothing in my life right now that beckons or calls. I am content. Not passionately happy, but content.

“You need to put more joy into your life. Just lie back and let the waves carry you where they will.”

I was also told this. Asking ME, however, to lie back and allow is like sitting a napkin in front of Martha Stewart and expecting her not to fold it. I can sit and allow for about five minutes, then a notepad and a game plan will magically appear. My friend suggested that the jumping is not so much a jumping INTO something as it is just a jump. I need to practice, she suggested, saying yes more, overthinking less, being open to what comes my way. Making friends with destiny, karma, synchronicity. Standing vulnerable to the forces of nature and God, the Universe and fate. Opening myself to a bit of serendipity and all things that are good and true and meant to be.

Well.

I have tried everything else. It may be worth a shot. Turns out, I am, indeed, not the Almighty. I do not have the power, despite having believed so, to make all things happen. Who would have thought? And maybe the powers that be did not intend for me to always struggle, to always suffer, to always work so damned hard for every single thing. Maybe my lessons don’t all involve rolling up the shirtsleeves, pulling myself up by my pretty pink bootstraps. Maybe some of those lessons aren’t work at all, but are packaged, instead, as gifts, and it is my job to learn to accept those gifts just as I accepted the work and the struggle. Maybe it is my job simply to learn to allow, to smile, lie back, and be.

So, this is me, World, letting the waves carry me where they may, saying yes more, overthinking less, being open to what comes my way, to the destiny, the karma, the synchronicity. Allowing. Allowing for Divine timing, the will of the Universe, fate, and a bit of serendipity. This is me, running full speed at that cliff, arms spread, breeze in my hair. This is me. Exit, stage left.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Hump Day


I have never liked that phrase. Number one, I envision a celebration of wild, unbridled sex. Number two, it conjures up the idea that work is something one must endure in order to get to the real point of living, that being partying, spending time with family and friends, and lying around consuming inordinate amounts of junk food and trash tv. I must say that I am a fan of neither. I believe that one should enjoy junk food, trash tv, and wild, unbridled sex whenever taking the notion and not just on the weekend or special occasion. Still, I get the point.

As a little girl, I loved to ride my bicycle. Uphill was always the toughest. It was grueling, tiring, challenging in every sense of the word. There was this sense of wanting to give up, but not being able to because I was in the middle of the upside of a hill. You can’t exactly stop halfway through the upside of a hill. As soon as I reached the top of that hill, however, hope surged back into my body, energy breathed life back into my bones, and sunshine flooded every nook and cranny of my tiny little soul. I’d take my feet off the pedals, breathe one deep steadying breath, and fly down that slope with the sun on my back and the wind in my face. It is no different with life. This Hump Day that we speak of is nothing more than that point at which we reach the top of that hill, that point at which we begin to see the fruits of our often much complained about labor, that point at which we surpass the storm and begin to make out the rainbow.

It’s not like we plan these things. It’s not like we look at the calendar and think, yes, today is the day I will meet with that challenge that will consume the next two years of my life, today is the day I will begin that grueling ascent up that slope. We don’t see that we are approaching the hill. We don’t even always know that we are ON the bike. It’s often not until we are past that point of being able to quit that we realize we are in the middle of something we may never have chosen to take on.

I met with such a challenge recently. It HAS consumed a good near two years of my life. I must confess that it has been an ugly ride. I have whined a good deal on this journey. I am not much one for endurance sports. Or sports. Or endurance. I have always had the benefit, however, of a strategic mind and refused to let something as simple as an obstacle stand in my way. I am not much one for no. I do expect that I will eventually reach the goal, that I will meet with victory, that I will achieve that which I set out to achieve. Quickly. And with as little pain as possible.

With this particular hill, however, I finally met my match.

Nonetheless, I have kept pedaling. I have eaten dirt, taken gravel to the knees, and thrown out some very unladylike swear words. Most of the journey I could see nothing more than the road in front of my wheels. Most of the journey I dragged unsuspecting spectators into my misery. Most of the journey I forgot that a hill is shaped with two sides, not one. Most of the journey I wanted to be anywhere else but on that journey.

And now. Now I find myself at the top of that hill looking out. This is not a place I expected myself to ever be. For one, I forgot it existed. I could not see this place in my mind, could not imagine it. I must say the view is spectacular. I can feel the hope flowing back into my body, can feel the energy breathing life into my bones, can feel the sunshine filling every nook and cranny of my tired, old soul. I am ready now to take my feet off those pedals. I am ready to breathe one deep steadying breath. I am ready to fly down that slope, welcoming the fruits of my much complained about labor. I am ready. It’s Hump Day, baby. Let the wild, unbridled life begin.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Feeding the Soul


“Your soul will do what it needs to do to evolve. But it WILL evolve.” A psychic told me this at a recent reading. I believed her. Then I wondered from the way she stressed “will” if I were perhaps doing something to prevent my soul from doing its job. I’m stubborn like that. If it were at all possible for someone to stand in the way of a force of the Universe, I would be the one to do it.

Admittedly, though, I don’t know much about this business of soul building. I assume it has something to do with obstacles, a major challenge or two, definitely change of some kind. I would like to think, though, that it also has something to do with joy, with filling one’s heart with friends, family, food, and fun.

I am trying to force myself lately to move toward joy. I know this sounds odd, forcing oneself to experience more joy in life, but I am stuck at a plateau and have forgotten what it is exactly that brings me joy. I have forgotten that I am deserving and worthy of such. I operate in my life from routine, live for others, and go about my day because it is, well, my day. Today, though, I tried. I stepped out of my life for just a bit. I stepped out and allowed the joy in.

I met a friend at Starbucks. We didn’t go in for drinks. I parked the Prius then hopped into her car. We drove together to the lake. We spent an hour or so talking about exhibitionists, wind turbines, and the price of corn. I taught her a sorority cheer and shared with her the first time I ever swore. She taught me the sorrow of losing a friend to cancer. I reminded her what it’s like to be fifty. She showed me how to be fabulous at sixty. We laughed. We joked. We talked about what it might be like to enjoy the company of another woman in a way that neither of us ever had.

Then we spent three hours kayaking down the Kalamazoo River.

I am new at this, but already I love it. It was a quiet trip. We had the river to ourselves. We passed sandhill cranes, unnamed purple flowers, mating turtles, and the occasional Ryder truck on the highway overhead. My friend is a great teacher. She is patient, kind, and never panics when I am floundering. “No way you’re drowning on MY watch,” she assures me. I believe her.

We followed the paddle with lunch on the river. We found a place in town, sat on the patio by the boats that were docked, watched the canoes, kayaks, and ducks drift by. I had a veggie burger with fries and a salad. She had tacos with seafood of some sort. Mostly what we had was great conversation and a few laughs for dessert. She took my picture, but wouldn’t let me take hers. She said she already had one for her obituary and that one was good enough. I handed her my camera and asked her to snap more of me and told her that one is NEVER good enough.

After lunch, we did a little shopping. I have a weakness for funky jewelry made by local artists, especially when the local artist is sitting behind the counter chatting up the customers while she creates more funky jewelry. I didn’t buy a thing, but I tried on plenty.

On the way home, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought some fresh Michigan blueberries. They’re in season. And delicious.

I closed my day with about an hour spent roaming a field, MY field, praying heavily for a friend and mentally crafting an essay. Silently, however, I hoped I wouldn’t come across the giant hawk that swooped down at me the other day, thinking me his prey. I can think of many ways for my life to end, but I’ll be damned if I go out of this world pecked to death by a bird.

At the end of my day, I reflect back on the words of the psychic in that reading. I don’t know much about this business of building the soul, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with kayaks, patio lunches, and long car rides with a dear, close old friend.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Journey


I don’t know a thing about sailing. Oddly, I have always been drawn. I snap photos of boats in the harbor, long to be on those at sea, and sit staring at sails as if they were oxygen and I should perish should I not. I am not certain I could swim to save my life. Still. Something in my heart is married to the water. Something in my soul is promised to the deep.

I had a dream, a dream of the nighttime sort. I am on a boat. It’s a beautiful day. The air is clear, the waters blue. I am enjoying the breeze, crisp and clean, turning my face to the sun in a silent prayer of gratitude and love. Someone is guiding me. I am not certain who it is. This is not my boat. I am not the captain in this scene. In fact, the captain is not a physical presence at all, but rather a force, a force that is strong and sure and completely in control. I am alone here except for this. I should be frightened, I know, but I am not. I should be concerned, but I am calm. I don’t know exactly where we are going. I am not aware of a destination. I know there is one, but I am not privy to it. Still, I am at peace, serene, in a state of conscious bliss, perfectly content to surrender control. The captain tells me that I am not to worry, that I am doing well and am almost there. I am to meet someone who is waiting for me, who is looking forward to seeing me, who knows that I am safe and on my way. And I am almost there.

I must confess that as calm as I was in the dream, I was equally disturbed on waking. Was this a metaphor for my coming death? Was God calling me, guiding me home? Was I perhaps lost and uncertain and being reassured on a spiritual level? Or was I, rather, being reminded that I am not always to know the path, but to trust, surrender, enjoy the journey? Regardless, the blissful feeling with which I awoke dissipated quickly into a tiny panic of sorts. What was I to make, exactly, of this metaphysical message?

The dream was, in fact, significant as I have been feeling very lost lately. I have always in my life taken charge. My days have more closely resembled an athletic event than an afternoon sail--set the goal, go for the goal, overcome the obstacle, celebrate the victory. I am uncertain, now, as to the goal. I am uncertain as to the course. I am uncertain the look of victory or the picture of defeat. You should know that I am rarely uncertain. This is a new place for me. A friend suggested in unknowingly appropriate analogy that I simply allow, that I allow and ride the wave. I confess that I am not very good at this. I have gotten to where I am in my life by active intent, not by any riding of the waves. Life, to me, has never happened like that, has never been that easy. Life, in fact, has been difficult, a chore. Life has been work. I am not certain if I know how to allow. I am not certain if I know how to surrender.

And, just being honest, right now the wave is swallowing me. I am struggling even to breathe. I cannot see the shore. I cannot keep my head above the water. I am working against the forces that are supposed to help me. This is not the picture in my dreams. I am desperate. I am desperate to learn. I am desperate to live without controlling, to surrender to a force greater than I. I am desperate to tip my head back in soul feeding bliss, feel the sea breeze on my face, breathe in the clean, crisp air, and offer up a silent prayer of gratitude, of gratitude and love for this beautiful day, gratitude and love for this beautiful life.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ready to Feel


I advised a writer friend recently that he was writing from his head, that he was an observer of his own life, that even his most painful life events were logically analyzed and carefully scripted. Real writing, I shared, comes from the heart. Real writing is raw and hurts and leaves the reader wanting to hold the author, to comfort, to console. I find it interesting that I would tell him this, as I have never once written like this myself.

I pretend I have. I pretend my writing leaves me exposed, vulnerable, in need of a good hiding place and an alias or two. I haven’t even come close.

I choose every sentence; craft every word. Even my most emotional essays have been penned in a very dramatic, “this is how they do it in the movies,” sort of way. This is how THEY do it. How do I do it? If I am not analyzing my words, I am analyzing the writing process. I can’t do anything from my heart. I can’t because, and just being honest here, I am not much a fan of emotion. I am not a fan of messy or inappropriate or vulnerable. That’s for saps and those women who cry at dog food commercials.

I cried at my dad’s funeral. I cry when nobody’s looking. I made a mistake once and cried in class.

There was no place for emotion in my family. Buck up and deal. You’re okay; get over it. Don’t be such a crybaby. A child hears that often enough and things get shoved to the back. Things get shoved to the far back. A little girl knows that when she asks for food and can’t have any because it’s just not there that there’s no use crying, no matter how much her belly hurts, no matter how long it’s been since she last ate. Crying isn’t going to make food magically appear. A little girl knows when she’s different from the others. She knows when she’s made fun of and ridiculed for what she doesn’t have. She WANTS to cry, but crying won’t make it better. Instead, her mother teaches her words like gratitude and appreciation and making do with what you have. It’s a cover, all of this. Her mother’s efforts at clever distraction. Nothing more than a bunch of SHIT. But what can you do?

Emotion has gotten me nowhere in my life.

It was not emotion that helped me break a cycle of poverty, hunger, teen pregnancy, and alcohol and drug abuse. This was the world in which I grew up and, by all means, the same one in which I should have died. It was not the life I saw for myself. Strategy, perseverance, clawing my way through each day, that’s what got me out. Neither was emotion what got me to college or what helped me to graduate despite every goddamned obstacle that could possibly be put in my path. (I never use that swear word. You should know that because it shows how very strongly I feel.) It was also not emotion that saw me through my children’s early years with a husband who was on the road more than not, at the office longer than I would have liked, and not always mentally present even though physically he was. Buck up and deal. You’re okay; get over it. Don’t be such a crybaby. Crying won’t make it any better.

Well.

I think I am tired of chasing life. I am tired of working so hard. I am tired of MAKING life happen.

I am ready, for once, for life to come to me. Don’t get me wrong. I look around me and have much for which to be thankful, but contrary to what some of you think, none of this has simply appeared in front of me. I have not been handed it. I have worked my ASS off for everything I have. I have made choices and sacrifices some of you would find confusing or inconvenient. I have made these sacrifices with the sole purpose of getting to where I am. And I find myself in the interesting position once again of being ridiculed, being judged, for who I am and what I have. Regardless, I have earned a rest.

I am ready now for less strategy and more serendipity. I am ready to cry, to laugh, to smile, and not just from my head but also from my heart. I am ready to let you in, to write raw and real, ready to go in search of that which long ago I shoved to the back. I am ready, ready to ride the waters of life, to feel the sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair, to ride those waters and see where they might take me. I am ready, ready again to feel.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor



“Apparently, some people think Jesus was an ass.” I can’t tell you who said this, but I can tell you the conversation centered around proclaiming to be Christ-like in action while behaving abominably toward others. I have a friend who went out for dinner with her significant other. They ordered tomato and onion, cheese-less with extra tomato. They enjoyed intimate conversation, shared a few kisses, and left a generous tip. As they were about to leave their table, an older gentleman accosted them. My friend’s significant other, it turns out, was female. The gentleman didn’t care for this. Said they were acting in a disgusting manner, said they should be ashamed of themselves, said they were a horrible example to the other young people in the establishment. I would venture to say it was he who acted in a disgusting manner, he who was a horrible example.

Love thy neighbor.

But only if thy neighbor is exactly like thyself.

There is a definite movement lately to encourage singularity in thought, word, and action. If you believe as I do, then you are worthy of God’s love. If you act as I do, think as I do, look as I do, then you are worthy of God’s love. If you attend the same church, claim the same denomination, profess the same faith, then you are worthy of God’s love. Only if you are worthy of God’s love are you worthy of mine. I know a guy who was dating a girl. She professed her love, her ultimate love, but assured him that he was going to Hell because he was not baptized in the church in which she herself had been baptized. She professed her love, but assured him, that despite being Christian, he had a place in Hell.

Love thy neighbor.

But only if thy neighbor is exactly like thyself.

I remember an evening spent writing at the local coffee shop. I was with my daughter and the words were not coming. Not coming at all. I watched as, at a neighboring table, a woman approached a mother and daughter. The pair was both studying and finishing up a little work. The woman, with blond hair tied back and sparse make-up neatly applied, asked if they might spare a dollar. The woman, with her male partner, was approaching multiple tables in the same fashion. At first I was taken aback. This is a bookstore. This is a respected business. Then there was a part of me that was thankful, thankful that I, on a beautiful summer night was enjoying time penning an essay and sipping on sweet lemonade. Thankful that I was not at a point in my life where I had to beg a dollar from neighboring tables in order to eat. This moved me, but not enough to approach the begging woman. Not enough until I was outside, at which point I slipped her a twenty and prayed to God that I was never in a position to have to grovel for money just to survive.

Love thy neighbor.

Every neighbor.

This is the deal. My biggest challenge comes in loving those not like myself. My greatest lessons come in accepting others whose beliefs differ significantly from mine. One of the most rewarding friendships I have ever made is crafted from a difference in beliefs so great it pains me to even consider. I am tested every day to the very outer limits of my patience. But he makes me laugh. He makes me feel good about myself. We have a very good deal in common. We have a very good deal in common despite having a very good deal that separates us. He has been my lesson in tolerance. And it has been a wonderful lesson indeed.

Love thy neighbor.

Every neighbor.

The friend who made the original statement? The one who was so much like me and so much on the same page? He has since left me, deeming me unworthy as a friend. We have gone our separate ways. Maybe to meet up again at some point in the future, maybe to never meet again despite a wonderful beginning. I can proclaim to be Christ-like in action, but ultimately I am human and will love only as much as humanly possible.

Love thy neighbor.

But only as much as I am capable of loving.








Monday, May 27, 2013

If This Moment Were Your Last



An acquaintance recently shared the last words of her good friend. The friend, thirty-two, had risen early on a misty morning, was enjoying a cup of coffee and a beautiful sunrise. He said he imagined heaven would be much like this. Then he left for his morning run. He never came back. On the run he suffered a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest. Those were his last moments on this earth.

I don’t think it’s true what people say. I don’t think, given twenty-four hours, one would go skydiving, spend the entirety of his or her bank account, or fly to Vegas to go out in some drunken, crazed, gambling spree bedded down with an odd assortment of Elvis impersonators and plumage-covered dancing girls.

I don’t see panic. I see almost a nesting, the sort that happens right before birth. I see gathering loved ones, making sure everything is in order, preparing for a life that’s different, not bad, just different. And not just for the one who is leaving, but for the one who is left. Who are you without me? What is your life without mine?

The truth is, though, that death does not come as does an eviction notice. It does not come with orders to ready oneself and to get out, leaving time to pack boxes, wrap the fragile, and say our goodbyes. It comes quietly when least expected, leaving us with dishes in the sink, emails left unanswered, and arguments yet to finish. It comes on a bad hair day, when we step out of the house in those sweats we’ve had since freshman year in college, and on the day we somehow forgot to apply the mascara. I put on nice underwear every morning. Just in case. One friend wants to go out without her bra. “I refuse to die in that contraption!” Lord help me if I go out without mine.

I know I make light of a serious issue. The fact is, though, that we do not get to choose. This very moment may be our last. You reading my words, or me penning a simple thought. Death. A side effect of birth. Because we breathe, we will die. Fact.

I am not much a fan of the maxim to live each day as if it were your last. That, to me, is exhausting. I imagine days spent on safaris in the middle of African jungles, trekking mountains, whitewater rafting, jetting across the world to some exotic locale. I see meals and meals of rich and delicious desserts and drinks and beautiful, seasonal local specialties. I picture alienating everyone I know because of such wretchedly inexcusable behavior, ending up alone and lonely and sniveling in some corner, wondering when I might see an end to the agony and a bit of relief. I am not a fan of this. But I am a fan of savoring each moment as if it were my last.

If this moment were my last, this is what it would look like. I am sitting quietly in my kitchen, feet up, wine in hand, penning the essay you currently read. Over my lap is a blanket crocheted by my mother. The lights are dimmed, the candles spill a woodsy spice into the air, and Emmylou pours a little soft gospel into my ears. My daughter sits in the adjoining room, headphones on while she works a brain game on her computer. Neither of us speak. The white of the Christmas lights are twinkling on the plants in the corners even though it is somewhere near the end of May, beginning of June. My dogs lie at my feet, snoring and making old dog sounds. I am coming to terms in my head with some choices I have made in my life and some choices I am making still. If this moment were my last, I would leave this earth with a full heart and a contentment beyond that which I can describe.

If I had to guess, I imagine heaven is just one giant library, books as far as the eye can see. A cup of hot cocoa. A cozy blanket. Soft music filling the air.

If I knew this were my last hour, I would gather those who mean the most to me. We would build a fire, pour some wine, and turn to where our bookmarks reminded us that we had left off. We’d sit quietly, each engrossed in our own versions of reality, our own stories of romance or mystery or high-class crime. There might be chocolate. There definitely would be music. And candles. Lots of candles. Occasionally, someone would chuckle or wipe a tear or let out an exclamation of surprise. Someone would pour us each another glass. I would comment at some point how glad I was that we could all be together, that I enjoyed the company immensely, and that I imagine if, indeed, there were a heaven it would definitely be much like this.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Cleansing of the Soul



Rainy days always do this to me. I know some find them dark and depressing. I find them soul cleansing. A little Carole King on the front porch, glass of wine, and a really good book. A washing out of all that’s real. An earth and water come to Jesus. Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook for the very first time. And any time after that. The moment you push life into this world, and the moment after that when you hold it in your arms.

I do love a rainy day.

Well, friends, this particular soul cleansing is about you. I am reflecting now on all who have furthered my path in putting thoughts to page. A writer does not get to where she is all by herself. I know what they say about writing being a lonely profession, but it’s not true. A writer sits at the keyboard with every soul she has ever encountered, with every smile that has lifted her, every scowl that has brought her down. She sits with the professor-like older gentleman, the one with the white beard and the glasses slipping down his nose, the one behind her in line at the library. He tells her in the middle of nothing more than small talk that perhaps one day she will write. It fits with nothing they are discussing, but he seems to need to tell it. She sits with the mom she has known more as an acquaintance than a friend, the mom who asks what she will do with her life now that the kids have gone back to school. “Maybe,” says the mom, “maybe you will write.” And how would she know this as there has never been evidence that such a talent exists? I am reflecting. I am reflecting on that place inside of me that is you when I put pen to page.

This is my thank you for all that you have done to allow me to be the writer I am. This statement may seem prideful, but it is nothing more than the truth that each of us is not a single entity but rather the melding of every person who has ever crossed our path.

To you, then.

To the one of you who sat with me on a bench and cried over words that were long in the making, painful in the writing, draining in the reading. I felt exposed. I felt exhausted. I felt proud and confused and spent. You were there. Know that I feel your warmth, your presence, your comfort still. You wiped my tears and brushed back my hair and told me that it would be okay, that I was a beautiful person and kind and strong and had given so much to the world and had so much yet to give. You sat with your arms around me absorbing forty some years of emotion, emotion that had been unchained and set free, emotion that was violent in the pouring forth. You held me. You held me until I was able once again to hold myself.

To the one of you who said, “For the record, keep writing.” You have no idea how many times I repeat those words to myself. They feed me when my writer’s soul is empty. They comfort me when I am hurt, angry, embarrassed, when I want to run from my words and from all who have seen them. They encourage me when it seems that no one cares and that I am speaking only to myself. They remind me of the power of a word. When I have lost faith in my ability to impact others, to effect change, with nothing but characters and spaces and an expletive or two, your message reminds me of all the good that has happened since you penned that simple thought and placed it on my page.

And when I argue with your words, and I ask myself, “Why bother? What does HE know? Why continue to expose myself, to speak from inside of my heart, to speak from a place of vulnerability so intense it feels as if I have been left as the carcass in the field, left for my readers to pick at and devour and to walk away when they have had their fill?,” when I ask myself, “Why? Why should I write?” one of you steps forward and tells me to shut up and just do it, “Because you’re damn good at it!” But, still, I doubt. I doubt my abilities, myself, my content. I find a dark place and a box of tissue and gather anyone who will listen, and I berate myself for ever thinking me a writer, for being nothing more than an arrogant fool with an opinion. And you, you point your finger and say very simply, “Quit your whining and get back to the page.”

Get back to the page, indeed.

Rainy days always do this to me. I know some find them dark and depressing. I find them soul cleansing.



Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dreams, Take One



The roads are all closed because of snow, but apparently what’s snow to the locals is no big deal to me. I am at a crossroads and not sure which way to turn. I am looking for the highway. I stop and ask a dream guide. To the left is a clear shot, bright and paved, easy driving. To the right, a steep incline, dark, and confusing. She suggests I turn right, take the road less traveled. Robert Frost, why the need to dominate my dream? Why the need to dominate NOW? I’m like you’re kidding, right? No way am I going to make that. She insists. I do, in fact, make it. I make it so much that I slightly miss my turn. I backtrack a bit and take the tiny road she spoke of that is more a path than a road. Perhaps it is a driveway, perhaps an alley. I am not really certain. Whatever it is, Dream Guide knows her stuff. From here, I have a straight shot to the highway. I have a full tank of gas, the wind at my back, and nothing but beautiful skies and great tunes to see me through.

I am big on dreams. I know there is meaning behind this nighttime madness of mine. This is not simply a rehashing of the day’s events. The rehashing dream came prior. I recognized it from the cast of characters, the student from that morning’s lecture, the waitress who earlier served my falafel, the extra large man in the red velour sweat suit who was exiting the bookstore at the same point that I was entering. It was exciting, this rehashing dream, but uneventful with very bad acting and too little plot. No, the highway dream was of some significant meaning in my life, a lesson. I knew this. And I was determined to pay attention in hopes of scoring high on this particular life exam.

I was determined because I have been struggling awhile now with a situation that I cannot share. I have been struggling and am in need of direction.

When one spends her life breaking a cycle, overcoming obstacles, and blazing a trail, which I have, one does not do that by simply sitting back and waiting for life to happen. She wakes every day with determination on her face, MAKES opportunity while everyone around her is waiting for it, and crafts her life story much as the writer pens a bestseller. She grabs life by the balls and says, “Listen here, buddy. We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way. But we definitely are, by God, going to do it.” This approach to life makes a girl strong, sees her through things others would find unbearable, gives her an awareness of what she is capable, and blesses her with an appreciation of all that she has. The problem with this approach, however, is that it makes her feel as if she is God.

It is a seductive feeling, this writing one’s own story. I forget sometimes that I am not the one in charge, that there is a greater force at work, a greater force who is preparing my path, overseeing the script. I am not, as I have imagined, the author of this piece, but rather the one who was chosen to play the starring role. To this point, might I say, I have played that role well. Lately, however, I have turned into the needy, attention begging leading lady that everyone loves to hate. I am spending my time ordering the Universe, telling God what God will do, putting my needs above those of others, and doing all of this with a dramatic flare worthy of an award winning performance.

Relax. Let’s just see how the script plays out. A friend suggested this the other day during one of my sniveling fits. Are you kidding me? Just sit back? Just sit back and let LIFE come to ME?! I have to admit, though, it’s an appealing thought. It definitely would be easier than the approach I’ve taken to now. And Dream Guide seems more than willing to show me the way. I may just have to go for this. It will definitely be a challenge. I may just concede and see what happens. Excuse me, Universe. Could you fetch me some popcorn? I have a drama to watch.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Life as a Novel.........or, When I Die



I am a big fan of flipping to the back of the book after reading those first few paragraphs just to see how the story ends. Let me do that for you now. It ends. This is what we never believe about life. We live as if the book goes on forever. As readers, though, we all know there is that one day when we close the pages, take a heavy look around, and mourn the loss of a really good story.

This is what I want you to know about MY story.

As the protagonist of this tale, I have enjoyed my share of triumphs, trials, and tears. One never knows in that first chapter which direction the pages will take. In the beginning, there is a good degree of possibility and potential for plot. Yet, there is a formula inherent to the writing that any good author must follow. There must be good guys and bad guys. There must be struggle, something which to overcome. There must be a climax, a point at which the reader feels she can hardly stand any more, feels she wants to reach inside that book and relieve her favorite characters of their distress, when she wants to make it all turn out the way SHE wants it to turn out. And yet, the story must continue in the way that it does. It must. And it will.

As for settings, I have seen many great lands. I have seen mountains and beaches and wide open spaces. I have watched the sun set over vast waters and watched it rise over others. I have watched the stars. Many times I have watched the stars. I have seen wealth enough to satisfy my needs and to help me satisfy the needs of others. I have also felt the burning sting of a cold home, an empty cupboard, a degrading stare. I have known cities and country and classic suburban sprawl. But you should know that I am not here to discuss setting. Neither am I here to discuss plot. I am here to discuss you. I am here to discuss your part in this story of mine, the part that you have played either knowingly or not.

Some of you have played major roles. Some just stepped in for a scene or two. Know that I am thankful for whatever part you played. To those of you who have served as mentors, have served to grow me in some way or another, to build me up, to educate, guide, or inform, thank you. Imagining this story without you is unbearable, an ending I never wish to entertain. You have strengthened me in ways you cannot imagine, reinforced my soul in ways I may have never shared. To those of you who served as peers in that process of growth, know that you have been as much a teacher as the instructors themselves. I have learned from you what I could not get alone. I have enjoyed the company and hope that, in turn, I have contributed in part to your own happy ending, to your own character development and strength of plot. To those of you who served as the antagonists of this story, those against whom I had to contend, thank you also. Thank you for building my courage, my grit, my determination. Thank you for not making this road an easy one, because we all know that easy never makes for a very good read. You have added color and depth to this story that otherwise would have been lacking. You have shown me what I am capable of, taught me critical lessons I would not have chosen to learn on my own. You were the bad guys on page, yes, but bad guys I grew to like for the good that you brought into my life. To those who broke my heart in one way or another, I cannot thank you deeply enough. Although that heart at times felt ripped in two, the pain more than I felt I could ever bear, I would never want to imagine my story without you in it. I am glad for the time we shared. I am glad for the smiles, for the love, for the chapter that is yours. Sometimes the deepest sorrows come from the greatest joys. Just know that I would never edit you out of this story. I would never rewrite your page. To those of you who filled my heart, you have no idea how glad I am that you decided to join me on this journey. It’s funny how physically small the heart really is and, yet, how very much it holds. Because of you, this heart of mine held more than you can ever know. You built me up, picked me up, encouraged, supported, and guided. You made me smile. You made me laugh. My heart was full. YOU did that. YOU did it. Thank you for that. To each of you who joined me in this story, you each have played your part and, if I might, I would just like to say that you have done a damn good job of it.

I know that now this story must end. It is time. So let us together close the pages, collectively take that heavy look around, and, as one, mourn the loss of one hell of a great read.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Written in Stone



Some would say that I am a product of God, created in His image, borne as His own. Some see me as a prime example of teen pregnancy gone okay. To others, I am nothing more than a metaphysical soul in a physical body, here to learn lessons that move me along my path toward enlightenment. The truth is, I am all of these. I am all of these, yes, but I am so much more. I am the product of your chisel to my stone, your brush to my canvas, your pen to my page. I am every word you have ever spoken to me, every deed you have ever done.

I received three notes this week, each of them building me up, each of them strengthening me, each of them contributing beautiful marks to the canvas of my soul.

First, a card. A simple card that read, “To the most beautiful woman I know. You are truly amazing.” This was validation and praise in a way that I could never hope to receive. And then another, “God truly showed up when he created you. Thank you for being the person you are.” I am allowed. I am allowed to be who I am. I am appreciated for doing exactly what I do and being exactly who I am. Then, I received a personal message within a formal reply, “Thank you very much for choosing this profession. Thank you for loving what you do. The world needs more people like you.” Thank you for doing my job? Thank you for showing up? Thank you for doing the thing I can’t help but do? These words each watered my soul. They fed my heart. They moved me beyond words and beyond tears. I made the mistake of reading one of these messages in public. I had to excuse myself. I had to blot my eyes, dry my tears, gather my composure. I had to pretend for a second that I didn’t feel as deeply as I felt. I failed. I failed at that. I failed miserably. I cried. In front of others.

Then, there are the marks that no words can fix, that no pen can erase. Still, one of you tried. You used your words to paint around what was ugly and dark, to place color where there was none, to create beauty where beauty was not. The canvas was marred, compromised in a way that could not be repaired. You took your brush and splashed color with your words, covering the wretched, hiding the vile. The dark remains, the canvas permanently scarred, but it is brightened by the flowers you so beautifully placed atop its mark.

One of you tried your best to create new marks of darkness. You flung words of torment, ridicule, disdain, and contempt. Your tone was harsh and more than a little disturbing. You took your verbal knife and pierced my soul clear through to its very center. You etched your own grotesque formation into my stone until I felt repugnant, revolting. I questioned my beauty, my worth. But soon your words made me think of my own that I had imparted to others. Your words became a beauty in their own right in that they opened my eyes to the verbiage I was flinging at those whose lives I have touched.

What had I contributed to YOUR masterpiece?

I had splashed huge strokes of yellows and oranges and pinks and blues. I had thrown on “You are beautiful,” “You are worthy,” “You are special just because you are you.” But I had also hurled words of hatred, words of harm, words of hurt and insensitivity. I had hurled words meant to diminish, to destroy, vile words of anger and contempt. I had contributed splendor, yes, but I had also darkened a canvas or two.

Lord, help me for I have sinned. I have torn down that which you have created. I have sought to belittle that which is you in another form. I have taken big fat black crayon to your Mona Lisa. Please help me to love, to build up, to encourage. Please help me to fling colors so bold and brilliant and brave that they cannot help but lift, motivate, inspire. Please help me to cover the dark parts of the souls of those whom I meet. Please help me to be the Michelangelo you so need me to be.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why I Hate Cancer


Johnny at 5 days....Dad, two weeks before the diagnosis (and looking a little uncomfortable holding a baby!)

It’s late in the evening, and I am home alone. My husband, Mike, is on the road as he is many nights every week. My six- and three-year-old are upstairs in bed, finally giving in after a bedtime story, a night-night song, a few Dixie cups of water, and a stern warning that if they don’t go to sleep this minute Mommy’s gonna lose it. I sit nursing my newborn, watching reruns of Cheers, feeling the opposite of sexy in my frumpy white robe and falling apart ponytail, spit-up encrusted burp cloth tossed over my left shoulder.

The phone rings.

My dad asks if Mike is home, if anyone is with me. “No,” I say. “What is it?” He says maybe he will tell me another time, that he doesn’t want me to be alone when I hear. He says Mike should be with me. “He’s not in for a few more days,” I say. “Tell me.” He says he has this thing in his head, that he and my mom were just having Thanksgiving dinner, just eating turkey. He says that’s when he noticed the drooling. The doctor says it’s inoperable. He wishes Mike were with me. He wishes he didn’t have to tell me when I’m by myself. “What do you mean a thing in your head? You mean a tumor? You have a tumor? Is that what you mean, a tumor? Is that the thing in your head? The thing in your head is a tumor?” “It’s inoperable,” he says. “It’s aggressive. Half the right side of my brain.”

The baby at my breast loosens his grip. Eyes closed and breathing slowed, milk spilling from his lips, he falls back into that breastfed baby nirvana, little chest rising and falling as he sleeps.

What did I just hear? My dad has cancer, cancer of the brain. Inoperable.

“So how do they make it go away?”

“We’ll try radiation first. Hopefully that will shrink the tumor a bit.” (It won’t. The tumor will double in size after seven weeks of radiation.) “Then after a little break, I start chemo.” (He won’t. The cancer will take his life while he waits the allotted time between the radiation and chemotherapy.)

They don’t make it go away. They can’t.

It has been three months since that first phone call. I get another, THE call. It is time to make the long drive home to say my goodbyes. It is happening.

The kids are in bed. Mike and I buckle pajama-clad babies into car seats. I pack. I don’t even know what I pack. Diapers, onesies, something for me. How long will we be? How much do we need? What about the schedule? I throw the calendar in the car. What do I need to cancel? Who do I need to call? Oh, my God. My father is dying.

My sisters and my mom are in the living room of my parents’ home when we arrive. My father lies in the hospital bed my mother has brought into their home. He has slipped into a coma at this point in the cancer. It is dark. The rooms are dimly lit, and we are speaking in hushed tones. My mom calls a friend who is a nurse. The friend has agreed to come and help us with the passing when it is time. It is time. The friend is hasty in her coming. She stands now with us by the bed. She tells us to say our goodbyes and to give him permission, to give him permission to go, to tell him that we love him and that it is okay, that we love him, and that he can go. He is passing from this life. The gurgling breath, the drooling, the warm body that soon will be cold. We say our goodbyes, and the transition comes. He is breathing one minute, not breathing the next. Just like that. I have just watched my father die. He pees himself. I reach out to touch him, the lifeless skin, the frigid body. This is not my father. This is the shell that held my father’s soul. I watch as two men come and put him into a bag. I watch as he is zipped into the bag and carried out the door.

I watch. I watch.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gratitude

This is never a good time of year for me. It is dark and cold and gray and gloomy in my little corner of the world. I am not a fan of any of those words. I am determined that I will live on a sunny beach at some point in my near future, taking long walks to the sound of waves crashing onto shore, soaking up the warmth of the day on my bare shoulders. But for now, I am here, and I am full of undeserved self-pity. I am certain that my life is pointless and that I am in no way contributing to the well-being of any with whom I cross paths. I have, and it pains me to say this, crossed over to the dark side. That is so not me.

I shared my plight with friends. One suggested I hole up with a cozy blanket, a latte, and keyboard, and pour my thoughts onto the page. Another prompted me to start up a gratitude journal. Given that I preach gratitude, believe in the power of gratitude, and am fully aware of the health benefits of gratitude, it surprised me a bit that I had dug a spot in the graveyard of my mind and given it proper burial. Time, I think, to resurrect the dead. So, in my effort to focus on all that I have and not what I don’t, I share with you that for which I give thanks. As much, though, as I appreciate what you bring to this blog as reader, these words go a little higher up.


Blessed Father in Heaven,

Let’s get the formalities out of the way. Yes, I am thankful for my family and my friends and the fact that I am warm and fed and clothed, but there is so much more. You know this, but I will say it anyway.

I am thankful for the opportunity to teach and to write and to further my education. I am thankful, too, for the childhood into which I was born and for the fact that that childhood nearly ended almost before it had begun.

Every day you provide me opportunity to stand in front of others and make a difference. Isn’t this all any of us really want? Give me the words that others need to hear. Put before me those who need what I have to offer. Help me to show others what it is they have to offer and to encourage them to go out and use that to do your work. Let me be a light in the darkness. I am tempted, here, to break out into song. You know me. You know that I would do that. This little light of mine. I do so want to let it shine.

Every day you provide me opportunity to put to page the words you have given me. Every day you give me opportunity to move, motivate, encourage, inspire. Please give me the words that someone needs to hear. I know that what I say may not be needed now, but may be needed, instead, at some point down the road. I know that maybe my words will not speak to all, but may be for one. I am good with that. I am totally fine with it.

I have a friend now writing on his experience with cancer. His words move me. I know these words. I have seen them in my friends. I have seen them in my father. I am holding onto them. I may need them again. I pray that you give my friend guidance and strength and courage to face what it is that he will need to face. Be with him and guide him and comfort him. Comfort him with your love as he comforts me with his words.

I thank you for giving me the opportunity to further my education, an education I never thought would even begin let alone get to the point it has. I love school. I love everything about it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn and to, in turn, share that experience with others.

I have heard that those who believe in past lifetimes believe that when we incarnate into physical form we choose the situation into which we are born. We choose the lessons that we will learn. We choose our parents. If this is so, I thank you for that choice. As an adult, I do not believe I would choose to be born into impoverished circumstance. The ridicule, the humiliation, the hardship is something no one ever can understand without experiencing and few would even acknowledge. As an adult, I would prefer to study the issue on an academic level. I am glad, though, for the cold nights and for the hunger when there was no food. I am glad for the loss and the loneliness and, even, yes, for the humiliation. Through this gift, you have given me strength. You have given me great compassion. You have put a love in my heart that is deep and real. Thank you. Thank you so much for that.

And thank you that you almost took it all away before it even had gotten started. Thank you for nearly taking this life when I was only six. I never gave that much thought. I’m sorry for that. I never gave it much thought until a friend nearly lost his own life some forty years later. How tragic, I thought, to lose such a wonderful opportunity. How tragic to not be on this earth to do your work, to spread your love, to help others to love themselves and to see what it is they have come to do. And, then, I remembered. I remembered that I nearly lost that opportunity myself, that I am here only because there is work I have yet to do.

And here I am sulking and complaining.

So I thank you. I thank you for the opportunity to teach, to write, to further my education. I thank you for my childhood and for the opportunity you give me each day to do what it is you have put me here to do.

Thank you.

Amen.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I am Alive



What would you do if you had a second chance at life? I was asked this the other day. My answer was easy. You’re looking at it. I would encourage others to love themselves, to love those around them, to love their lives, to use their gifts to bring good things to the world. I would uplift, move, motivate, encourage, inspire. I do these things now. I do them because I figure each morning I wake up, each morning I open my eyes to the beauty all around me, each morning I take another breath, each of these mornings IS my second chance.

I posted the following awhile ago. I feel the need to share again. I feel the need to share with the message that you are beautiful and you are worthy not because of what you do or where you live or how you look, but because you are breathing, because you exist.

If you would like to read more essays on my childhood, feel free to check out my book, Outside the Lines: Essays on Poverty, Possibilities, and the Power of Love, available through Amazon.





Sometimes I say things because I don’t want to say the other things. That last essay I posted? That was nothing. I didn’t even want to write that. I didn’t care. I wanted to write this, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because when I write, I have to go to a place, in my head, in my heart, in my soul. If I go to THIS place, though, I realize that I may not even exist. I realize that my children, my writing, the effects of my teaching, may all not even exist. I realize that my marriage would not be my marriage. I realize that not only would I not know you, but that any impact I have had on your life would never have happened, that you would be you, without me. If I go to THIS place, I cry inside. I cry inside because I would have been me, without you. I cry inside because on birthday number six, my story would end.

I have just turned six and my family has taken the long trip from Tennessee to Michigan to pick cherries. My dad has heard that people can make money like that. I don’t like this place. It is cold. It is the coldest place I have ever been. I will never come here again. Ever. Also we sleep in a big room with lots of beds and people I don’t even know. They are not really beds. My mom calls them cots. And the floor is not a floor. It is a sidewalk. I don’t like this. It is cold, and I am sleeping with people I don’t know. It makes me nervous. I throw up I am so nervous. My mom says I have the flu, that it’s just the flu. I am sick in this cold place with the strange people. I want to go home.

Being home, though, turns out to be not much better. My tooth is loose, and it won’t come out. It is sort of out because it is not connected. It is only hanging. My dad says come here, and he will take a look at it. He is working on his car. I don’t want him to look at it. I am scared he will try to pull it. He says, no he won’t, but he says let me look at it. He looks with the pliers he is holding. He looks, and then he pulls. He pulls with the pliers. I run back inside. I am running, and I am crying, and I am throwing up Spanish rice all down the sidewalk. I will never eat Spanish rice again.

I am sick, and I am whiter than I have ever been. I get whiter, and I get whiter. I get sicker and sicker. I never go to the doctor even when I am sick. We don’t have money, and we don’t have insurance, and I know doctors need them, but I don’t know how to get them. When I am sick I just lie on the couch until my mom makes me better, but this time she can’t make me better. My Pop tells her that you’d better get that girl to the doctor, that something is wrong. My mom tells my dad that she doesn’t care if we have money or not. She tells him that she doesn’t care if we have insurance or not. She tells him to go get a job and get some insurance because she, by God, is taking me to the doctor.

But the doctor says it is just a five-day virus and that my mom doesn’t need to worry. It will go away.

But it doesn’t. It’s been three more days, and I am getting sicker and whiter. I can’t do anything. I can’t play. I can’t watch television. I can’t do anything. I can lie on the couch. I am so sick and so white. My mom says that doctor was a quack. She says some other things that I can’t tell you because I am not allowed to swear. She takes me to another doctor.

I don’t go home. I go to the hospital.

This doctor says it is not a virus and that it will not go away. He says it is something called peritonitis. He says it is an infection of something about my stomach. I don’t understand. I don’t understand, and I am too tired to try. He says that if my mom hadn’t brought me in today, well Mrs. Wadley, you may have lost your daughter. You are lucky you got her here when you did.

I am in this hospital bed for two weeks. The nurses always come in with shots. They say it is penicillin. They say it is medicine that will make me feel better. They give me shots in my butt when I am awake and when I am asleep. For two weeks I get shots in my butt over and over and over, every six hours I get these shots, all the time I am here. I cannot sleep because I have to get shots. My butt is sore, and I am tired, and I want to go home. But my mom stays with me all the time, so I am not scared. Also, I am feeling bad because I itch and my face is big and I am getting red all over my body. The doctor says I am allergic to the shots, but I have to get them so I won’t be dead.

And I am not dead. The doctor makes me better. And I am excited because school starts very soon, in just a couple weeks my mom says. I like school. This is my first time in school. I practice spelling my name over and over when my mom drives me on the first day. I am so nervous I will forget how to spell my name. And I get my school pictures. But I don’t like them because I look bad. My mom says it has only been three weeks since I got out of the hospital, so not to worry about my droopy eyes and runny nose. She says they are the most beautiful pictures she has ever seen.

There is a beauty pageant at school. My mom and dad think it would be great fun for me to participate since mostly I was in the hospital and in bed all the end of summer, since I didn’t get to play or do anything fun. I have never been in a beauty pageant before. I am excited. I think I will like it.

Mostly, though, I can tell that I am not pretty like the other girls. They are all pretty and happy and smiling. They did not have to go to the hospital. They did not have all those shots or that bad thing in their stomach. They are not white or sick or tired. But I don’t even care. I don’t care because I am on stage in my beautiful pink princess dress. I am on stage, and my mom says that I am special, and I am beautiful, and that that is what’s important. She says not to worry about not winning the pageant. She says I already am a winner. She says I am a winner, because I am alive.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Whose List IS This, Anyway?!


As I sat down to conjure up a few wise words for my obligatory New Year’s post, I decided it more important to fold a bit of laundry, take a bowl of soup out of the freezer to thaw, and to put away a few Christmas decorations. Before I put fingers to the keyboard, then, I lit a couple of candles to set the mood, turned on some soft music and put on a pot of tea. Nothing. I updated Twitter, checked my email, posted a Facebook status, looked a bit into my birth chart. I’ve always found astrology fascinating. Maybe I’ll take it up as part of my New Year’s resolutions. Except that I don’t do resolutions. So why am I doing a New Year’s post? Focus, Tammie. Focus. And why can I not string together two words in the spirit of motivating and uplifting?

Lord. What’s the matter with me?

This is, after all, the year I turn fifty, the year I celebrate twenty-seven years of marriage, and, for Pete’s sake, I’m a writer. This is what I DO. I should have some major soul pouring to do at a time like this. Why, then, do words escape me at the very moment I choose to send a bit of hope and encouragement your direction?

Can I confess a minute? I’ve never been much a fan of this time of year. But, it’s a time for change, for renewal, for hope. Excuse me, but isn’t that EVERY day? Don’t we have opportunity at ANY moment to choose the better way? Every morning we wake, as I see it, is a time for change, for renewal, for hope. And yet, most of us will wait for the turning of the calendar to scribble out a list of improvements that aren’t even our own (admit it, do you REALLY want to drop twenty pounds and hit the gym three times a week?), take manic steps to pursue those improvements, and then promptly discard that list by month’s end, at which point we will begin hating on ourselves because we are quitters, losers, failures of quantum measure. Can we not get more creative than this? Can we not dig deep within ourselves and acknowledge that which has been doing its best to seduce us since we entered this world and consider ourselves try-ers for making efforts toward progress rather than quitters for saying, “Hey, I’m glad I gave it a shot, but, you know, it’s really just not my thing?” I’d put big money on the fact, for example, that most of us have some secret desire we would love to pursue but feel it ridiculous, inappropriate, or somehow unreachable. Please, for the love of God and your own growth and sanity, make THAT list.

My daughter wants to travel the world. She is headed, right now, into her last term in her undergraduate studies. At a time when her friends are suiting up for the big interview, she is booking a two-month work-stay at a bed and breakfast in Scotland. She goes from there to visit a friend in Spain. This, after spending the past summer as an au pair for a family in New Zealand. Roman Krznaric, in one of my favorite blogs, suggests that “if we wish to transform our own lives, we may have to defy cultural norms and risk standing out from the crowd.”

Why is this such a difficult concept?

Pardon me, but as much as I like you, I have zero time to live YOUR life. What you think of my actions, how you judge my words, and where you believe I should go with my talents, gifts, and skills are of no concern to me. I seem odd to some, strange to many, and silly to more than I can name. So be it. I have a mission in life. That mission is to empower others to move to a more positive place in their lives, to uplift, move, motivate, encourage, inspire. I want to positively impact the lives of huge numbers of people through speaking, writing, and teaching. I want to bring peace, love, and compassion to those with whom I cross paths and those I may, in fact, never meet. Idealistic. That’s what people call me. They say I live behind rose-colored glasses and operate with lofty, worthy goals, yes, but that my vision could never possibly happen. So? What’s the worst that could happen? I only make ONE person happy when they’re having a crap of a day? I inspire just ONE person to leave a soul-deadening job? How is that a bad thing? How is that failing?

I think too many of us put our dreams aside because we feel them too big, too elusive, an all-or-nothing prospect. We make a list of other people’s dreams, dreams that are easy, doable, within reach, and then we fail because we’re not interested, because they aren’t our dreams at all. Or worse, we succeed and we begin living the life someone else would like us to live, in which case we truly fail. On my part, I choose to follow my own dreams. And, seriously, if I can make one person smile, fill one heart with love, or elicit just one laugh I’m checking that baby off my list. And I’m not waiting until next year to do it.