Blue Christmas

Christmas. To many it is a time of bright lights and colorful presents and joyful noise unto the world. To others it can be a difficult, and even blue time of the year. One is bombarded with jolly messages and flocks of red and green, but these things can be reminders of things lost or broken. Often, the heart can’t take all this forced Christmas cheer.

What is to blame for this “holiday syndrome”? Was it created by psychiatrists and psychologists in order to increase their patient loads? Is it because so many are overwhelmed with all of the family obligations, school concerts, office parties, and the overabundance of food and liquor at every gathering? Could it be the Hallmark and Lifetime movies that are shown around the clock that depict the “perfect” small town Christmas, complete with caroling townspeople and a magical Santa? Or is it perhaps the onslaught of heart-wrenching songs such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “Please Come Home for Christmas” that focus on missing loved ones who are far away during the holiday season? Or could it be the popularity of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life that has contributed to the mythology that the suicide rates spike around Christmas?

Whatever the reason, this season does bring out the blues in many of us. Instead of cheerful, we feel melancholy. Our expectations are often way out of whack with reality. We are gloomy, even when surrounded by holiday festivities. There is so much going on this time of the year that we sometimes want to hide from it all. Crawling in a dark closet and staying there until February sounds surprisingly appealing.

How do we combat the holiday blues? There's tons of advice out there. Exercise. Eat well. Drink more water than alcohol. Stay away from the news (especially good advice this year!). Simplify. Learn to say no. Have gratitude for what you have instead of focusing on what is missing.

Me? In our old house, I had a blue Christmas tree. We'd tramp out to the tree farm for a real one that goes in the family room, and the artificial tree was set up in what was the living room and eventually became my writing office. This was the tree I decorated with all the blue and silver bulbs and ornaments I  collected over the years. It sparkled and glittered and reminded me that even when I was glum during this crazy season, I had only to look at this shimmering tree to experience joy. This year in our new, smaller home I decided to put a few of the blue and silver ornaments on a tiny tree out by our front porch. It resembles Charlie Brown’s little tree, but it still reminds me to keep hope in my heart, even in the darkest of times. 

I do find “comfort and joy” in this blue tree of mine, whether it is inside or out.  It reminds me to breathe, to slow down, and to acknowledge the blues are part of the human condition.

    “And when those blue snowflakes start falling

    That's when those blue memories start calling

    You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white

    But I'll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas.” 

    -Blue Christmas Songwriters: Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson

Perhaps next year I’ll put up a blue tree in my office, because I have realized I’ve missed looking at it while I write.

Perhaps next year I’ll put up a blue tree in my office, because I have realized I’ve missed looking at it while I write.

A New Christmas

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” - Charlie Brown

The tree is up. Lights are hung. A collection of Santa Clauses grace a front table. Twinkling fairy lights glow from the bookcase. Christmas has come with all its greenery and delight, except…except everything is different this year. Since our move we have had to adjust to all types of changes, including our images of Christmas.

As I was packing up Christmas last year I knew we would be moving, so I carefully went through all my decorations and packed a box to be donated to a local charity. I hoped someone else would grow to love my old nativity or the large metal reindeer that used to stand guard at the front door. My precious Mary Englebreit Santa flag was gifted to my step-daughter and the little lighted tree to my son. A former student came one Sunday afternoon to load our artificial tree in the back of her boyfriend’s red truck. I whittled down Christmas to just a few plastic bins.

I unpacked a few decorations before Thanksgiving, pondering placement in our new, smaller home. Where would I put everything? In our old house I arranged things in a certain way every year: Santas on the mantel, blue ornaments on the tree in the living room, a string of silver bells on the hallway mirror, glass ornaments in crystal bowls. This year I would have to rethink everything. Slowly, I began to pull out familiar items, not really knowing where they would go. For a moment, a sense of melancholy swept over me. So much had changed in the past year, and now Christmas. Instead of my usual excitement, I felt sad, as if I was drifting through a foggy night. I took a breath. I would tackle this just as I had tackled everything else in this move. I then spied new places to tuck my angels, snowmen, and Santas. My blue ornaments found their way to a humble little evergreen out by the front porch. The vintage red and gold balls still fill the Tiffany glass bowl given to me by my dear friend Nancy. Last weekend we found a tree farm out in the country, and that afternoon while I watched a hokey Hallmark movie and arranged my ornaments, my husband figured the placement of the outside lights. Christmas did arrive, despite the locale shift. 

Webster defines tradition as, “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom). A belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable.” Sometimes we are forced to rethink our traditions. Often the old ones don’t fit as we grow and move. The past doesn’t work any longer, so we look to fresh stories. This year I am reimagining the old and the new. My customary patterns have been rearranged, and I am learning to accept this passage as an important challenge as I settle into this community. It is as if I’m a child again, seeing Christmas with fresh, almost innocent eyes. Every light sparkles and each carol sings. I’m embracing it all.

“Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” - Norman Vincent Peale

“We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.” - Laura Ingalls Wilder

all our hopes, loves, and dreams surrounded by new christmas lights.

all our hopes, loves, and dreams surrounded by new christmas lights.

My Reading Prayers

My friend Marcia often texts me book recommendations. Titles and photos of dust jackets pop up on my phone like surprise Christmas gifts. Some of them I’ve already read, a few are placed on my ever growing TBR list, and others are devoured as soon as the “ting” comes through my screen. Her latest, My Reading Life by Pat Conroy, had been sitting on my shelf for almost two years. I had revisited both Prince of Tides and Beach Music after Conroy’s death in 2016, and the dark family stories he covered made me step away from him for my mental health, so this little book sat unread.

My Reading Life is a series of essays on Conroy’s love of books and how they led him to his writing life. He wrote about the power of the written word and how books gave him the world, thanks to his well-read mother and a series of teachers who recognized the fire in this broken, scarred young man. He praised Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, The Lord of the Rings, the works of Thomas Wolfe, and hundreds of other novels that showed him glory and grace, beauty and destruction, retribution and forgiveness. Conroy haunted book stores, collecting works of Tolstoy, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and O’Connor. This southern writer acknowledged the poetry and prose of other authors inspired and saved him every day of his life.

My own reading life began as a young girl, curled up on the corner of our couch with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of the West or Nancy Drew mysteries. My mother let me check out books without censor, never questioning the age appropriateness, and for that, I am grateful. Books were my window to the world beyond my little town. I danced with Russian aristocrats, farmed with Native Americans, and road steam engines across this country. I loved both steamy romance paperbacks and classic novels such as The Secret Garden and Little Women

Books continue to give me comfort. They are my refuge, my sanctuary, my dreams. Conroy wrote, “Reading and prayer are both acts of worship to me.” Books have been my own personal church. I have found the divine in lines that still make me gasp in delight and recognition. Romeo's pre-dawn whisper to Juliet, “And I’ll still stay, to have thee still forget, Forgetting any other home but this,”or Huck’s struggle with his conscience when he spurts, “Alright then, I’ll go to hell,” or especially Dumbledore’s question to Snape, “After all this time?” and Snape replies, “Always.” These words are holy, filled with longing, love, regret, and pain. They are my warmth when the world gets too unhinged. Conroy wrote, “Some of us read to ratify our despair about the world; other chase to read because it offers one of the only safety nets where love and hope can find comfort.” I believe I find both in all the books I have read and the ones I have yet to open.

When we moved last spring I gave away hundreds of books, knowing we wouldn’t have room for them in our tiny new home. Some were donated to the library for their used book sale, a few were placed in Beth's Free Little Library, but most were given away to friends. I wanted to share these books, not hoard them away, with hope the readers would find their own little prayers tucked away in them. I have since purchased a few more books to place on my shelves. I will continue to lend out my favorites, not worrying about their return. Perhaps they’ll be passed on to another. Maybe someone else will embrace the words and find their own peace, their own magic. That, I hope, will be my legacy.

“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” - Alberto Manguel

“A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation…A book is not only a friend, it makes friend for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.” - Henry Miller, The Books in My Life

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Inviting Grace to the Table

What is grace? The word has been swirling in my head these days because it appears as if the world has lost its sense of grace. We are divided, spiteful, bitter, and full of venom.  Has grace disappeared or is the glory of grace is that it always there, patiently waiting? As I delve deeper into the meaning of grace, I realize I have witnessed it in all its brilliant simplicity.

The word grace, used as a noun, has multiple manifestations. Grace can be elegance or beauty, an attractive quality, a favor, a pardon, or a delay in debt. The word is derived from middle English, middle French, and Latin meaning such things as kindness, mercy, and honor. 

In Christianity, grace is believed to be given by God through Jesus. Those who accept Christ will receive salvation. Faith is confirmed through baptism, communion, and discipleship within the church. 

In the Jewish religion according to the Talmud, God combined both mercy and justice, thus creating divine grace. Both mercy and justice counterbalance sin and man’s existence here on earth.

Muslims believe God is the only one who grants grace. Faith and good deeds do not guarantee Salvation, although both are encouraged; is only granted through God’s grace.

In Buddhism, grace comes from within. Looking inward is the only way to acquire grace, which is often referred to as spiritual awakening. Lama Surya Das, an author and Buddhist teacher, states, “Grace is the “isness’ of life. It’s the recognition that everything is connected and sacred. The more in touch we are with this natural abundance of life, the less we need.”

The writer Anne Lamott says,“I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Pastor, writer, and public speaker Joseph Prince once said, “The law condemns the best of us; but grace saves the worst of us.” 

Writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel stated this about grace: “For me, every hour is about grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”

I asked my friend Glenda, a yoga instructor, freelance writer, and seeker of truth to give her personal definition of grace. She wrote:

 “Grace is invisible; it cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is more about a feeling, an experience rather than a tangible. It is extreme benevolence, a second chance (or 3rd or 4th) because the essence of grace does not keep track of how or when it arrives on the scene. But it's there, always, for the taking or the giving. It is an inherent quality bestowed upon all and the measure with which you apply or extend it is in direct proportion to your receipt and continuance of it.”

Where is grace in my life? It is when my sons call their grandmother to just catch up her, with no prompting from me. It is the gentle sound of my husband’s voice when he talks to his girls. It is the text I receive from an old friend, just to let me know she’s thinking about me. It is the courage of my friends out in Northern California, going about their daily lives, despite the fire destruction in their towns. It is opening a door for a stranger, a anonymous donation, a smile across a crowded room. It is showing up at a relative’s funeral.

Grace is acknowledging our stories. It is knowing we all come from different places in life. Our language, our neighborhood, our food, our customs, our beliefs may be not be familiar to others, yet grace is looking into one another’s eyes and catching a glimpse of a person, not a stereotype or a caricature. Grace is recognizing love, even when it is difficult and strange and unconventional.

Grace is accepting our privilege, our gifts, our abundances. To gratefully recognize all we possess, yet reaching out to give to others without expecting thanks or something in return. Grace is knowing all our stories have substance, even the downtrodden, the oppressed, the unlovable, and seeing each other for the magnificent creatures we are. This is grace.

As we gather next week for Thanksgiving, let us invite grace to the table. Let grace teach us forgiveness and joy and gratefulness. Allow grace to whisper, “All are loved.”

Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.
— Petrarch
photo from antwuanmalone.com

photo from antwuanmalone.com

Six Months and One Day

Six months and one day. It has been six months and one day since we packed the remainder of our stuff in cars, put the cats in their carriers, and signed reams of papers in two different states. Six months and one day of being bombarded with new. Our new house is coming together. My husband likes his new job. We had to get new license plates and new drivers licenses. I am learning to meet new friends. We have tried dozens and dozens of new restaurants. We’ve had to find new doctors, dentists, and optometrists. All of this new has at times been jarring, kind of like a drive on a narrow, curvy two lane country road. You never know what is around the next bend. We are discovering how to navigate the route, but, I must admit, some of it has not been easy. When I moved around in my younger years, I crammed all my belongings in my car and took off, never looking back. This move, though, has been exhausting and complicated. Our lives were uprooted from the known to the unknown, and every blind turn gives us something to either learn or unlearn.

We are discovering how to live new lives while holding onto old attachments. We miss our families, our breakfast joint, and our slew of friends. My husband misses his golf buddies. I miss hanging out with my sister on the weekends and practicing yoga with my tribe. We both miss Sunday dinners with the grandchildren, crayons scattered all over the family room floor, and playing piggy back and stacking towers of blocks only to watch them fall.

Instead we have Sunday FaceTime visits with the kids and occasional trips back home to check up on things. We are quickly learning, especially with the holidays approaching, that everything is different. Our house was the gathering place, but no longer. We will improvise and create fresh memories. Everyone will be okay, because traditions are not meant to be dictated with a permanent Sharpie. Instead, they can be erased and rewritten, fitting the new flow of our lives.

Six months and one day of new. Most of it positive. Some of it frustrating. All of it a unique adventure in this New Town of ours.

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
— Walt Disney
Our New Town

Our New Town

“It’s chaos; be kind."

Last night my husband and I watched comedian Patton Oswalt’s Netlix special “Annihilation.” It was raw and coarse and heart-wrenching. The middle was devoted to the aftermath of his wife Michelle’s sudden death, and how he is now groping his way through the grief. Even through the tears, he had us laughing, because that is life. It’s awful and joyous, deliriously agonizing while blissfully awesome. He said that he and Michelle used to have deep philosophical debates about the universe. He thought that perhaps there was something bigger than all of us while she argued the world is just chaos. There’s no plan. The only way to combat the chaos is to be kind. Oswalt then said she got to prove her theory through the worst possible way ever: her death, leaving him alone to raise their young daughter. His story about trying to protect Alice from the the harshness of her first Mother’s Day without her own mother was especially poignant. He ended his show with his wife’s words, “It’s chaos; be kind.” I love this. The reaction to all the chaos in the world is to just be kind. 

It’s chaos; be kind.

When I look at my thesaurus for synonyms for chaos, the list is exhausting…bedlam, disorder, pandemonium, anarchy. All of these can define the world we live in now. It is unruly. We’re all wandering around in a fog. We roar against the turmoil only to have our voices echo in a vast canyon of utter confusion.

Where do we find comfort? Be kind. What to do when confronted with a troublesome situation? Be kind. What if our world seems to be swirling toward a Scylla and Charybdis of our own creation? Be kind.

Smile at strangers. Generously tip waitstaff. Hold the door for the person behind you. Be patient when you’re behind a slow driver. Realize there is a personal story behind the young mother in front of you at the store using food stamps to pay for her groceries. Say “good morning” and “have a nice day” and really mean it. See people instead of stereotypes. Admit you’re wrong. Forgive. Acknowledge that everyone out there has their own worries, their own pain, their own struggles.

It’s chaos; be kind.

Be present. Know life is shitty, but it is also precious. An ecstatic announcement of a long awaited pregnancy often comes at the same time as a dreaded diagnosis. This is the paradox that is life.

It’s chaos; be kind.

Some find comfort from chaos in houses of worship, singing familiar hymns, holding onto faith and believing in the power of prayer.

Me? I walk beside a muddy river that churns along despite everything. I dance on the path and sing off-tune to my favorite songs. I nod at fellow walkers. I spy white pelicans walking gracefully in shallow water. A stranger stops me and asks if I can identify the hawk in the viewfinder of her camera. I say no, I am not a bird expert. She smiles and says, “That’s okay. I’m new to all this.” We smile at one another and continue our separate walks. 

Aren’t we all new to this? We naively stumble through each day ignorant and broken, yet we seek solace from the mess. We cook for each other. We hold hands. We listen to music. We pray to whatever deity we honor. We comfort the wounded. We stand up. We continue to believe in goodness, because as Anne Lamott once wrote, “Love and grace bat last.”

It’s chaos; be kind.

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The Fierceness of Habit: The Story of a Table and How it Inspired Me

On Monday morning I found myself crouched beneath my kitchen table, hyperventilating in short, ragged breaths. This project is too overwhelming. What was I thinking? I can’t do this. It is going to look atrocious. If this turn out to be a disaster, we can’t afford to buy a new table. Oh my goodness, I may pass out. But then a strange sense of crazy calm took over my psyche. I had already spent almost one hundred dollars on paint, brushes, and a drop cloth. I’d watched YouTube videos on technique. A few talented friends had offered me great advice. I had already donned the painting clothes (and I looked kind of of cute, I must admit). I’m not a total klutz in this department. I’d painted before, damnit. I could do this. So I crawled out from the table, grabbed a brush, and began.

We bought an oak dining room table with six chairs the spring after we were married. We needed a table that would be large enough for our family and friend gatherings. This particular table, when the two leafs were added, seated eight comfortably, and ten if we squished. At larger dinners we often placed a card table at the end to accommodate extra guests. This oak table saw years of tall tales, raucous laughter, heated debates, smeared cupcakes, spilled red wine, heaping bowls of buttered mashed potatoes, and piles of crumbs hidden beneath the claw-like legs. It was where we came together over food and pie.

Last spring when we knew we were going to move and downsize I had to decide on whether to keep the dining room table or the dark brown bar-height one in the kitchen. Gosh, I loved that table. My husband surprised me with it for a Mother’s Day gift, and after ten years it had also witnessed much.  It was where we ate most of our meals. My kids did their homework there, and I graded hundreds of papers sitting on a stool at that table. We were there finishing up our New Year’s Day chili when I received the call about the passing of my dad. After I retired, it is where I wrote my first blog pieces. This tall table with its stained and carved up top would be difficult to part with, but I knew it wouldn’t fit in our new, much smaller house. Thankfully, it was bought by a young, single mom just moving out on her own. I knew it would be in good hands and would continue to watch over her small family as they began their own traditions.

Fast forward to five months later. I was on the floor, panicking over my decision to chalk paint and distress the oak table that graced the kitchen of our new cottage. This once great idea lurked over my head like a dark, ugly monster, but I gathered up my courage and began the adventure. Four days later after additional trips to hardware and paint stores, white paint flocking my hair (it goes well with the gray), the cats freaking out over the plastic drop and the disarray, and numerous texts asking for advice, it was completed. 

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Many times in our lives we are faced with daunting tasks. Some make us question our sanity. Others attempt to break us. But if we focus on each step instead of the huge, seemingly unending pages of directions, then it doesn’t own us. We take control with each brush stroke and application of stain or wax. Then when it is finally completed, we gaze with pride. Yes, we did that. But don’t look too closely now. No, it isn’t perfect, but what is? We finished it, and that is the ultimate goal.

After this table project, I have found renewed determination to not give up, to keep plodding on, even if the end seems light years away. Last fall I began a novel, but the move and life stymied it. Now seems the perfect time to pick it up again…my shitty first draft. A typical young adult novel has an average of 60,000 words; I have already written 22,363. That means I have 37,367 words to go. Now that number makes me want to crawl back under the table and breathe into a paper bag, but if I divide it by 61, the number of days in November and December, that comes to a little over 600 words a day. That looks more realistic. Six hundred words is approximately three or four developed paragraphs or a page of dialogue. My challenge is to complete my shitty rough draft by January 1, 2018. Word by word, I will stumble toward the finish line, but with this daily writing I will also rebuild my writing routine. Each day these characters and the story will take me on glorious adventures. I will slow down, breathe, and enjoy the process of writing again while establishing my fierce habit.

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A job offer presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we are welcoming the journey. I’m chronicling this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

Sunday Dinner

Back in my early single mom days when the boys and I survived on boxed mac and cheese, I realized that even though money was tight, I still enjoyed inviting friends and family over for dinner. It didn’t matter if the meal was simple and the dishes didn’t match. It was the fellowship that was important. I began with jarred spaghetti sauce, and then eventually graduated to more complicated meals. I tried new recipes and, yes, some were epic fails. Laughter and conversation ensued as the children played beneath our feet. Love was present.

Gathering over a meal became a tradition among my family and friends. Sometimes it was Friday nights, but Sunday soon became the evening when we would meet over a warm pot of chili, roasted chicken with potatoes and gravy, or spaghetti and meatballs. Sunday dinners meant a newfound recipe or an old favorite. Often it was a last minute invite, inspired by a drop in the temperature or the discovery of a tempting new dish or the desire to whip up a delicious dessert. The table was set. Pots bubbled on the stove. Bread was warmed up in the oven. We showed up.

After grandchildren graced our lives, Sunday dinners meant stacking blocks or playing horsie on the living room floor. Oohs and ahhss were expressed over colorful drawings. Cupcakes were eyed, but not distributed until a few bites were coaxed from the main meal. Kisses and hugs abounded. This was our heaven.

Now that we have moved to a new state and a new community, our Sunday dinners had been on hold, waiting for life to settle itself. Yet last Sunday we decided it was time to resurrect the tradition. Daughter and son-in-law sat around our cozy table as we shared stories and reflections. Talk ranged from our favorite music to holiday plans to the preparations for their new baby due in the spring. I looked at these faces around my kitchen table and instantly recognized love in its purest form.

A meal shared is a simple way of offering up your heart. Fancy table settings or matching serving bowls are not required. You don’t need to have a perfectly clean house. Just clear some space and you are set. Don’t worry about whether there are dust bunnies or the bed isn’t made. Light a few candles, heat up a pot of your favorite soup or order pizza, and crowd around the table. Coming together over food will strengthen your bonds and enhance your life. If family doesn’t live near, invite friends or make new ones. Life is infinitely better when you gather together, (especially if there is pie.)

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“Eating is so intimate. It's very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you're inviting a person into your life.”  - Maya Angelou

 

Come to the Table

A group of friends gathered over coffee and muffins. The conversation turned to a political hot topic that exploded over the weekend. The tension in the room rose immediately, knowing there were opposing views. Many thought to themselves, “Is this wise? Should we be talking about this? What if someone gets upset? What will happen if I offer up my opinion? Will I be judged? Will this fracture our friendships?” Instead, the group allowed civil debate. No one yelled or threw names around. Each view was heard. It was honest, open, and a bit startling. There was grudging acceptance of conflicting beliefs. The friends concluded that this type of raw communication is vital in order to heal our nation’s brokenness. We must all come to the table with honorable intentions.

But how do we do that? In this fractured Twitter/Facebook-enabled world in which we coexist, it is easy to upchuck vile words with the tap of our fingers. We immediately shut down other viewpoints with an ugly phrase or hateful name-calling. It’s safe to live in our own little world, convincing ourselves we are right and the other side is wrong. With arms crossed, we block anything that doesn’t fit into our own definition of certainty.

What if we upend it all? What if we decide to tune out all the electronic sonic buzz? What if we all decided to have hard and often delicate conversations with open minds and open hearts?

According to the American Bar Association, “One of the hallmarks of a democracy is its citizens' willingness to express, defend, and perhaps reexamine their own opinions, while being respectful of the views of others.” In order to do this constructively, the ABA offers certain rules that must be honored by the group:

    1. Show respect for opposing viewpoints.

    2. Do not monopolize the discussion. Allow others to talk.

    3. Direct comments to the group, not to individuals.

    4. No name-calling, bullying, or shouting is allowed.

    5. Do not interrupt.

    6. Remember to listen and really hear what others are saying.

The School of Thought International requests that everyone contributing to debate adhere to “The Rather Nice Rules of Civil Conversation.” A few of their rules include:

    1. I will try to reach a shared understanding rather than ‘win the argument’.

    2. I shall endeavor to not commit logical fallacies in support of my claims.

    3. I promise to remain genuinely receptive to changing my mind if presented with compelling arguments or evidence.

    4. I promise to try and see the merit in what people are saying.

    5. I will seek to clarify that I understand their point of view.

A few personal additions:

    1. Be aware of your own body language. Nonverbal communication speaks volumes. How are you sitting? Are you crossing your arms? Have you rolled your eyes at a comment? Think about what you are communicating through facial expressions, gestures, and posture.

    2. Do not attempt this type of discussion if alcohol is involved. Nothing productive will come of it.

    3. Do your research. Read credible sources. Do not begin if you do not know the facts. Be an informed citizen of this country and of the world.

None of this is easy. We will trip over missteps and cracks in the sidewalk on our way to understanding, but the journey will be worth all the bruises obtained along the way. Let’s open our minds and our hearts, and begin to see what brings us together instead of what breaks us apart.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” - Albert Einstein

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” - Marie Curie

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” -John Steinbeck

Photo: pinwords

Photo: pinwords

 

Sources consulted:

“Ground Rules for Ensuring a Civil Conversation.” American Bar Association. americanbar.org. 2017.

“The Rather Nice Rules of Civil Conversation.” The School of Thought International.. 2017.

 

For the Simple Love of the Game

On Sunday evening after finishing a dinner of hearty soup and apple cake, my husband and I settled in to flip through television channels and happened upon Field of Dreams on MLB Network. We had missed the first half hour, but it didn’t matter. 

After a tumultuous weekend of divisive rhetoric concerning protest, what constitutes respect, and American sports, this gentle movie offered us a little peace and it got me thinking. 

I am not an athlete. Far from it. I can’t throw or spike or bat a ball. No one wants me on their team. I have no coordination and little competitive spirit. Yet, I spent years on worn benches in humid ball parks, rainy soccer fields, and freezing ice rinks. I have seen the power of sports. I have felt the visceral connection players have with their coaches and teammates. I’ve experienced disconnect when irate parents questioned an official’s call or dominant teams were encouraged to run up the score. Despite the conflicts, sports allowed my boys to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They learned the rules. They wore their jerseys with pride. They looked up in the stands when they made a goal or hit a line drive, just to make sure we were watching. 

Field of Dreams isn’t about politics. It is about something deep in our national psyche, our fractured and complicated relationships, and our innate love of the game. Not the fanfare or the spectacle, just the simple pared down freaking love of the game. The snap of the ball. The hush before a putt. The thump of the ball hitting the back of the net. The squeak of shoes on a wood floor. The look of triumph after crossing the finish line. These are the moments that fill us with awe, no matter who or what we root for.

My husband has told me he watches sports for the story. Not the personal anecdotes of players, but the actual drama played out during each match or game. He claims it is better than any scripted movie or television show, because one never knows how it will play itself out. This is the beauty and appeal of sports, he says.

Late last fall, an entire nation (and parts of the world) held its breath as a team who hadn’t won a World Series in over a hundred years came back after a power outage and won the title. I knelt at the edge of our bed, knowing my oldest son was also watching, and I could feel his joy halfway across the country. This is the connection of sports. These are the significant moments we hold in our memories. 

My dad was a huge Chicago Bears fan, even in their darkest years. On any Sunday we would find him in the basement family room, dressed in his blue Bears sweatshirt, and often down on one knee in front of the television, hoping the tide would turn and the Bears would score. This precious memory has been on my mind during the past crazy weekend: my ultra conservative father, taking a knee during a professional football game. 

Terence Mann, the character James Earl Jones plays, has a moving monologue at the end of Field of Dreams, and as I watched it again, my heart filled with tentative hope for this fractured country of ours. Even as factions want to divide us, most clamor for peace, for good, for justice. When my husband and I head to one of the final St. Louis Cardinal games of the season this Friday, I will remind myself of all that is important and basic as the players take the field. America has heart, even if we disagree. The flag and the anthem are symbols, but it is our goodness that will prevail. That hope is my own personal field of dreams.

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“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.” - Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

Stand in Love

Love presents itself in a multitude of forms. I truly believe there is no cap on love. With everyone or everything that touches our hearts, we grow and learn. Love prepares us to give, to be brave and strong and fierce. It also guides us toward forgiveness, of others and ourselves. Love is scary, but it is the greatest of all teachers.

But before exploring the different types of love, what about the science of it all? What makes our hearts beat faster, our eyes widen, and our palms sweat? After a short Google dip, I found hormones and neurotransmitters play a big part in this process. Testosterone and estrogen fuel the beginning stages in both men and women. These are the hormones that guide us to one another. Soon adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin fire up the transmitters in our brains. Our blood circulates as our breathing rate increases. We feel a strong sense of euphoria. We can think of nothing else. We lose our minds as we fall “madly in love.” One article I read stated that parts of our brain literally shut down during this stage. Later we attach with the help of oxytocin and vasopressin. We cuddle. We bond. We nest.

The ancient Greeks honored love in many varieties. They believed in the importance of defining and sharing all types of love.

1. Eros - sexual passion

Eros was the Greek god of fertility. Eros, the fiery and irrational form of love, is that loss of control. It is dangerous and often fleeting.

2. Philia - deep friendship

The Greeks valued true friendship above all other forms of love. A good friend is loyal, self-sacrificing, and generous.

3. Storge - family

Storge is the natural affection between parents and children. Most of us feel it at birth, and then it develops through the years. Many of us struggle with storge as we grow and fly away. We begin to question lessons taught us. Some find storge later in a strong circle of friends.

4. Agape - love for everyone

Agape is a selfless love, given to all people, especially strangers and those different from us. Empathy and sympathy come out of our sense of agape. C.S. Lewis called it “gift love,” and believed it is the highest form of Christian love, but other religions embrace some form of agape.

5. Pragma - longstanding love

Pragma is mature love. It is that level of understanding that evolves throughout the years. Compromise, patience, and tolerance are the major tenets of pragma. Longstanding marriages and friendships practice pragma every day.

6. Philautia - love of self

The ancient Greeks believed in order to love others you first have to love yourself. Self-compassion widens our capacity to love. It is important, though, to not think of self-love as narcissism, which is a self-obsessed focus on fame and fortune. Narcissists do not share love with others, they only “love” themselves.

Erich Fromm, the renowned psychoanalyst and psychologist, once stated that we humans need to learn how to “stand in love.” I believe this means instead of focusing on the process of “falling in love,” we should focus on love itself. What does love bring to the table? How can love save us? How do we incorporate all these different types of love into the fabric of our life in order to make it more vibrant, more tactile, more generous?

Standing in love is a practice, not an end goal. We must train ourselves to embrace, not turn away; forgive, not judge; and love, not hate. None of this is an easy path. Love exposes us, makes us susceptible to heart break and agony, yet it is a gift beyond any sane explanation.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

photo: i.pinimg.com

photo: i.pinimg.com

Love Is...

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
— James Baldwin

I found this quote online the other morning and it touched me, because it speaks the truth. A true love is never a straight road. It’s a never-ending battle. It is chaotic and often bruises the heart.

Love changes us, molds us. We learn from love. Forgiveness is born from love, and so is pain and worry and loss. Love teaches patience. it gives us wisdom, but it isn’t always clear. Love gives us a picture of our desires. It can lead us to joys we have never known.

Love is hard. It’s worry and tears. It is heartache. It’s sleepless nights. It is a constant pounding of the chest.

Love is a puzzle that never gets finished. Even as we find the last piece, something comes along to knock part of it on the floor.

Love is a growing up. We wind through tribulations and then discover our strength, our gifts. It makes us strong, but is also bring us to our knees.

Love is new. Love is old. Fighting for love is a struggle. We claw. We brawl. We step back. We embrace. We disagree. We’re silent. We start all over.

Love is trusting the unknown. It is believing there is hope, even when the darkness permeates our souls.

Love is letting go. Love is hanging on. Love is our destiny.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.
— Neil Gaiman
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A Serious Thing

It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in a broken world.
— Mary Oliver

Simple words with simple truths. It is a serious thing to be alive today. The sun is breaking through the clouds on this fresh morning. Strong coffee. Good pens. Clean pages. Perfect ingredients close at hand. Yet. What about the brokenness? 

So much of our world is broken. Massive floods. Angry mobs. Inept leaders. War. Fear of war. Bombs. Young sailors lost at sea. Frightened immigrants. Road rage. Judgment. Hateful words masked as religion. Division. Bitterness. Marginalized people. Marginalized souls. 

Still recovering from a fall, I feel broken. My hip aches. My leg throbs. Torn muscles silently shriek. Tears are small comfort for my whiny ass. My usual activities are stifled with pain. Every night is a challenge. Every morning there is optimism in the mending.

Is my fall indicative of this broken world? Can we get through the darkness? When do we recover? Even though every step brings misery, is there hope in the healing?

I cry. I whine. I wallow in disgusting self-pity, yet…I cling desperately to hope. I continue to believe in grace and dignity and the dream I’ll be able to walk across the room without looking like a peg-leg pirate. Aargh.

This personal pain gives me a crooked kind of perspective. There are times when we have to own our hurt, sit with it, and acknowledge its existence. Even though we are broken, every morning still offers up a wispy belief of a better day, and we declare, “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in a broken world.”

Even though there are storm clouds in the distance, hope leads us home.

Even though there are storm clouds in the distance, hope leads us home.

“If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is."

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” - Kurt Vonnegut

Since I retired two years ago from teaching, I often find myself scurrying to fill my days with activities. Lunch with a friend. Errands to the grocery store or post office. Yoga classes. Day trips to new places. Scribbling out a blog post. Writing more of my book. If my days aren’t packed with all types of endeavors, I feel guilty. I need to be busy. I need to be productive. I shouldn’t waste these days.

But there are also days when I spend all morning in my pajamas and robe (today). The car never leaves the garage (Hey, I’m helping save the ozone.). I cuddle on the couch and read an entire book (It can be done.), or find a show to binge-watch on Netflix. (Personal recommendations? Anne with an E, Friends from College, Girlboss, and Grace and Frankie. Guilty pleasures? The Ranch and Fuller House.)

What I need to pack away is the guilt I sometimes feel on these days. It is not critical to have every moment crammed. Every item on my goal list does not need to be checked off. Sometimes quiet is the answer and for that I should be grateful.

Busyness does not equal happiness. After all these months I still struggle with this concept. When my husband comes home I love to report to him all I have done. See, honey? I’m not a total slacker. I do things. I contribute. But here’s the thing: he never judges. If my days are packed with stories, he listens. If I’ve sequestered myself at home, he smiles. 

I am slowly learning to smile at myself. I am grateful for these muted days when I slowly sip coffee while a cat purrs on my lap. I shuffle around in my ragged pink robe, not planning a thing. I put aside “I shoulds and I need tos” and bask in “whatevers.” There is solace in throwing out lists and relishing in simple joys.

And I whisper, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Sweet summer evening, hot wine and bread
Sharing your supper, sharing your bed
Simple joys have a simple voice:
It says why not go ahead?
— "Simple Joys", Pippin
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Forgiveness Doesn’t Come With a Debt

Yes, forgiveness doesn't come with a debt
I take my chances
I take my chances ev'ry chance I get
I've crossed lines of words and wire
And both have cut me deep
I've been frozen out and I've been on fire
And the tears are mine to weep
But I can cry until I laugh 
Or laugh until I cry
So cut the deck right in half
I'll play from either side
I take my chances
“I Take My Chances” artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter  songwriters: Don Schlitz and Mary Chapin Carpenter

We hang on tightly to resentment. We don’t want others to steal it from us. It makes us feel safe and smug. it justifies our anger at the betrayal, the theft, the wrong. We sit with it as it festers.

Bitterness is easy. We cast blame. Unhappiness is not our fault. It lies within the misdeeds of others. They are the reason for our suffering. We wallow in our victimness.

Forgiveness is difficult, because with it comes reflection. If we forgive, we must let go of the grudge we have harbored for so long. If we release resentment, what is left?

Oprah Winfrey tells of a moment she had on her show back in 1990 when a man told her that forgiveness is letting go of the past we thought we wanted. She calls this her “transcendent moment.” She states, “He said forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” She then adds, “It took me to the next level of being a better person. I don’t hold grudges for anything or any situation — and neither should you. [Forgiveness] is letting go so that the past does not hold you prisoner.

“So the past does not hold you prisoner.” If we let go, we are free. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of the past. So here’s the truth: we cannot change history. It has been written. Some wrongs were self-inflicted, others possessed malice toward others, and a few unintentional burns still smolder.

I have discovered that offering up forgiveness to others and to myself is a daily practice. When the rage begins to seep into my psyche, I say a simple, silent prayer, “I forgive.” And when I do this, I feel lightness appear. This quiet thought gives me pause. I begin to let go of hurt and pain and remember the line in the song, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.” 

Forgiveness is love. It is loving yourself, embracing all that is flawed. It is loving others, acknowledging we all stumble. I’ll take my chances.

hoffmaninstitute.org

hoffmaninstitute.org

“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is not forgiveness without love.” - Bryant H. McGill

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” - Mahatma Gandhi

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” - Bruce Lee

"Pack Codes and Tribal Laws"

I grew up in an old green house with a pitched roof that was located near the top of a steep tree-lined street. We played games in the road while one of us was on look-out. “Car!” When hearing this alert, we would scramble to the grass, waiting for the driver to pass, and then tumble back to resume whatever ramshackle competition we were playing.

This is just one of hundreds of stories my siblings and I have tucked away from our childhood. Each of us may have a different perspective. My recollections as the oldest are much different from my youngest brother’s, yet we hold a connection, a bond, a book of tales from our youth that is uniquely ours.

These stories wire us together, despite the arguments, the betrayals, the loss, the misunderstandings. Families are complicated. This is why so many novels center on them. From Thomas Wolfe to Pat Conroy, authors continue to write about these fragile units and how our families frame our psyches.

Families, especially our relationships with our siblings, remind me of spider webs, and how they are both delicate and a force of nature. They are spun into complicated designs with intricate details. They are mighty, yet with a flick of the hand be flung away across the yard. But…but the next morning they can reappear, bigger and more dazzling than the day before.

If you grew up in a family with brothers and/or sisters, you get this. We were the troops, with our parents the generals. Even in the worst of fights, we came together with a silent understanding of our loyalty.  We could be vicious to one another, but if someone else said or did something to hurt one of us, damn. Watch out. That tenuous filament became the strongest of steel beams.

What happens to these connections when one of us stumbles, loses our way, or even dies? What happens to the stories? Where do they go? Only our siblings know the real family secrets, the cracks, the nightmares that still keep us awake. Without them, where does the history go? Is it tucked away and stored in a dank closet or thrown out to the wind?

I have friends who have lost sisters and brothers, and when asked about it, they say it is like losing a limb. They still feel the presence, but are still shocked it is gone. Many of us say, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a brother or a sister,” but I think it is better phrased, “I can imagine.” I can imagine the loss, the emptiness, the ache. I can imagine and it breaks me into fragments. I can imagine life without my siblings and it is silent and gray.

Most families are grimy and convoluted and tangled up in our unreasonable expectations of what we want from one another, yet we desperately cling to the frayed rope that leads us to our crazy family tree. When we discover a branch has suddenly snapped, we gaze down with a dizziness we have never known. We teeter on the edge, not knowing whether to turn back or jump.

A good friend of mine just recently lost his brother, and I can imagine his grief. I know he is lost, but what he still possesses are the stories, the family lore that now only he truly understands. These anecdotes will be shared with others, stories most likely told amid raunchy laughter and salty tears. 

This is how our webs remain mighty, despite everything. Despite the silences, the harsh words, the broken promises, and the elusive definitions of family, we tell our stories, no matter how fractured or imperfect or disfigured they may appear. And with each anecdote, we disclose where we came from, what we really are, and who we wish to still become.

"We know one another's faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws." - Rose Macaulay

"Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk." - Susan Scarf Merrell

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jenny Josephine Fisher Warner, and her sister, Edith Fisher Ludwig. I know nothing of their “pack codes and tribal laws,” but I’m sure they were fierce. I see my sons’ faces in these young girls. The power of family...and genetics.

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jenny Josephine Fisher Warner, and her sister, Edith Fisher Ludwig. I know nothing of their “pack codes and tribal laws,” but I’m sure they were fierce. I see my sons’ faces in these young girls. The power of family...and genetics.

Room for Big Mistakes

Right after I graduated from college back in the early 80’s I was adrift. I had majored in a crazy degree called Speech Communication which was a potpourri of speech, English, theater classes, and education classes. Teaching jobs were difficult to obtain, and at this point I wasn’t even confident it was my calling. I had a friend who was moving down to Louisville, Kentucky, and without much pondering I followed her down there. After five months of failed attempts at sales and waitressing, I ended moving back home where I spent a semester substitute teaching before I was offered my first full-time teaching contract up in Northern Illinois.

For years my dad would often talk of the mistake I made when I moved down to Louisville. He felt this decision of mine was errant and foolish, and I should have stayed home and looked harder for a teaching job. But you see, I never thought of it that way. Louisville was my mistake, yet I had no regrets. This decision was one of the first things I did all on my own. I was able to live for a short time in a beautiful river town, and it also helped me realize teaching was what I wanted to do with my life. I never lamented that move, not for one moment. Yet my father’s words burned. They whispered, “I had failed.” Even now, almost 40 years later, his words still sting. He didn’t mean to hurt me, my kind and practical dad, but he did.

Now that my children are grown and making their ways in the world, I am reminded of this story. I want them to have their own “Louisvilles,” their own big mistakes that will give them insight to their desires, but I don’t want to be the whisper in their ears they hear for years. They may fall, but man, they may also soar. 

This is not an easy endeavor. Allowing my adult children to travel their own roads has been one of the most difficult tasks I have ever tackled, and I have stumbled…shit, have I stumbled. I am covered in bloody bandages from all my falls, yet I keep getting back up and reminding myself they are grown now. No longer are the days when I could nag them about school work and manners and cleaning up their rooms. I am learning that I can’t fix things for them. Their lives…and their decisions…are their stories now, not mine. 

Yes, I still worry. That’s what mothers do. And yes, I have opinions, but I’m trying so fricking hard to keep them to myself. They will learn from each stumble. I know I did. Shit, I’m still stumbling and still learning. If they come to me, I’ll be there, but mostly I want them to find their paths, because these are their journeys, full of glorious messes and brilliant triumphs, wide open spaces and big mistakes.

“Who doesn't know what I'm talking about

Who's never left home, who's never struck out

To find a dream and a life of their own

A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow

A young girl's dreams no longer hollow

It takes the shape of a place out west

But what it holds for her, she hasn't yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces

Room to make her big mistakes

She needs new faces

She knows the high stakes”

“Wide Open Spaces” lyrics by Susan Gibson, sung by Dixie Chicks

The Tending of Friendships

At the end of the 9th episode of season 3 of Fargo, two police officers meet at a bar to discuss the case they have been working on together. Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon, tells Winnie Lopez, played by Olivia Sandoval, about her frustrations. Her superior officer is condescending and sexist. He doesn’t believe her theories on the case involving the murder of her step-father. She’s exhausted and ready to resign from the force. On top of that, she admits to Winnie that automatic doors don’t open for her. She can’t get the hands free faucets or dryers to work. The sensors don’t recognize her. In a wrenching moment, Gloria confesses to Winnie she often thinks perhaps she doesn’t really exist. Maybe she is invisible. Winnie then tells her to stand up. Gloria rises and Winnie embraces her in a giant hug that lasts for close to a minute. At first Gloria stiffens, but soon melts into Winnie’s inviting arms. When they finish, Winnie suggests Gloria head to the ladies’ to freshen up. In the next scene, Gloria is getting ready to wash her hands in the restroom and the faucet turns on immediately after she waves her hands in front of it. She looks up and smiles when she sees herself in the mirror. Winnie’s mighty hug sparked Gloria’s energy. She is not a ghost, a flimsy specter with no voice. She’s Gloria Burgle, a woman with a fierce sense of honor and justice.

When I watched this scene unfold I felt myself audibly gasp. Gloria was there, but she had lost her confidence. Winnie’s human contact renewed Gloria’s voice. This scene reminded me of the power we women have when we reach out to one another. Our connections solidify our foundations. We keep each other upright on that flimsy tightrope spanning the raging falls. We scream, “Don’t look down! Keep your eyes on me!” We then hold out our hands, and pull each other to the safety of solid ground.

We are there at bedsides, church pews, poolside chaise lounges, and bleachers. We ride shot gun, with the windows down and Bon Jovi blasting from the radio. We cry. We listen. We hold hands. We nod in understanding. We argue. We make up. We can lose through neglect, yet sometimes we find each other again and it is precious.

During this move of ours I was worried about leaving friends behind. I needed their support, encouraging words, and hilariously dirty stories. Would I ever find women who could hold my deepest secrets close to their hearts? Would I be adrift?

I quickly discovered I wasn’t leaving anyone behind. These women are forever with me in texts, Facebook posts, phone calls, and quick trips back to my hometown for coffee or lunch dates. And now, I am slowly tiptoeing into new friendships. I am searching out fierce women who aren’t afraid of the mess, who celebrate their flaws, and who love whole-heartedly. I’m open to expanding my tribe.

Yesterday I invited a dear old friend over for lunch. We once knew each other in high school when we spent our evenings crammed into cars, cruising the streets in search of excitement in our sleepy town. We worked together at the local pizza parlor where she ran the front desk and I assembled the pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. Throughout the years we have sporadically stayed in touch, yet life and children and husbands and grief tugged us in different directions. Now we live within miles of one another. We spent the afternoon sharing stories. I was amazed at the honesty. Nothing was glossed over as we talked about the sharp edges of our lives and how we have travelled parallel paths. I am grateful for this woman and our commitment to nurture our new-found connection.

This is a lesson I have learned as I’ve aged. I can’t expect friendships to materialize out of nothing. I must make an effort, reach out to forge and maintain relationships. Sometimes it is hard and scary, yet necessary. If someone is important to me, I will send that text, make that phone call, offer an invite to lunch, because my women friends make me stronger, and I hope I offer them the same. Just like Winnie helped Gloria retrieve her mojo, my friends give me innumerable gifts for which there will never ever be enough thank-you cards.

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” — Jane Austen

“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” — Gloria Steinem

“I’m so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

“Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people! In other words, friendship is the most important thing―not career or housework, or one’s fatigue―and it needs to be tended and nurtured.” ― Julia Child, My Life in France

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My Gift of Imperfection

In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she begins her chapter on cultivating self-compassion with this quote by Anna Quindlen, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Brown, a research professor, has studied the paralyzing effects of shame and fear, and continues to research how to practice resilience in order to embrace our true selves. Every day we are slammed with doubt, especially on social media. Look at everyone. This friend travels the globe. That one sees her grandchildren every day. Wow, another lost 50 pounds! Her house is immaculate. He runs 10 miles every day. They seem to have the perfect marriage. How can my life compare with these images and posts?

The answer is in the Quindlen quote: “…embrace our true selves.” All of us, in order to learn to take care of ourselves, need to tattoo this on our foreheads. “Embrace our true selves.” Our crooked teeth, lumpy thighs, thinning hair, quick tempers, and dry skin are all integral parts of who we are. When we accept our “flaws” make us unique and fascinating, that is when we begin to love what we see in the mirror.

In my case it is learning to embrace my fibromyalgia. What I have discovered over the years and through major and minor flare-ups is to be compassionate with myself. This doesn’t define me. It is not who I am, but when the aches creep up and every nerve in my body tingles, I know it is time to slow down. I cancel plans. I rest. I read. I watch episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I acknowledge this is something I can’t control. It is my gremlin, but not my defect. As the Leonard Cohen song says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

Through this crack I have learned much about myself. I am allowing the light to flow through the windows. It is my gift of imperfection.

“Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.” - Brene Brown

Image: www.greenaldercoaching.co.uk

Image: www.greenaldercoaching.co.uk

Patriotism, the Magic of Hope, and the Power of Pie

As a remedy for the overabundance of that which is the celebration of 4th of July, I ponder patriotism, the magic of hope, and the power of pie.

Patriotism - devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty

Hope - the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best

Pie - a baked food having a filling of fruit, meat, pudding, etc., prepared in a pastry-lined pan or dish and often topped with a pastry crust

During this past holiday weekend displays of patriotism were everywhere. There were parades and festivals. Families gathered for cookouts. Copious amounts of beer was consumed. People donned red, white, and blue clothing. Flags hung from porches and balconies. Fireworks filled the skies.

The 4th of July is our nation’s celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a document written by Thomas Jefferson and subsequently ratified by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia that announced that the thirteen American colonies were not longer under British rule and were now independent. It was a brash act, changing the course of this new country. These words set our nation on a path of independence. The past 241 years have been rocky, divisive, and fraught with constant struggles, and yet we still optimistically hang onto the simple phrases put to paper in this original document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Right, that amount these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our forefathers knew patriotism was not blind loyalty. This was evident in the heated discussions over whether or not to break from England. Our nation continues to disagree on vital issues, yet deep down in our collective psyche we channel John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Like all of us, these were not perfect men. They had deep flaws, but they chose to put their trust in the promise of this new America. 

Despite the hateful rhetoric, discordant politics, and contentious leadership, there is still hope in this fractious country of ours. It lies in all of us. We want what is best for our families. We believe in honor and truth and an abiding sense of justice. Hope is why we continue to live each day with fire in our hearts. We take care of one another in small ways. We show up. 

Where do we find our power, even when our voices aren’t heard? All of us have unique gifts to give the world. We need to dig deep and use them for good. Perhaps you are a teacher guiding young souls or a father showing his children what is decent and honorable. With each small act we change the direction.

Me? I write rambling words of hope. I ask questions. I read words that both encourage and enrage me. I bake pies for family and friends, hoping the depth of my love is felt with each sweet bite. These are my super powers. What are yours?

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”         – John Adams

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” - Benjamin Franklin

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”             - Thomas Jefferson

(Definitions from dictionary.com)