My Pens, Our Children, My Grief, Our Grief

Back when I was teaching I graded papers with Paper Mate flair pens. I would buy packages of these thin multicolor markers at Target and stockpile them in my desk. I was drawn to specific colors, especially purple. Purple was regal. It was power. It was respect. Every time I used my purple flair pen, I hoped my almost indecipherable scratchings would be noticed, understood, and remembered. These markings were how I often “spoke” to my students. It was my ancient wisdom delivered through side remarks and proofreading edits. I rarely used red because research stated that red was thought to elicit negative emotions from students. Red is an intense color. It signifies love, fire, and blood. So I tucked the red pens back in the drawers and instead used less impassioned colors to remark on essays, homework, and speech critiques.

After I retired and began journaling, I gave up the flair pens. I didn’t like the way they flowed over the pages and often bled to the other side. After experimenting with various brands, I found Paper Mate Ink Joy gel pens. I am still drawn to purple and pink, and usually leave the red in my desk.

On Wednesday in honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to pull out the red pen for my daily scratchings. I admit it felt odd to write in red, this pen color I had cast aside for years, but I scribbled three pages of ideas for possible blog posts. Bright red words on crisp white pages. I then tucked my notebook away and got ready for a luncheon I was hosting for a group of women I’ve grown to love.

Later that afternoon a news alert came over my phone. My heart lurched. I turned on the television to images of police surrounding a school, of terrified students running from the building with their hands over their heads, of parents pacing the sidewalks with cell phones in hands, of first responders working on victims. I stopped breathing. News trickled out. Injuries, then fatalities. My mind raced through the familiar halls of this school, imagining the terror. Even though I had never stepped foot in this building, I knew it. I saw bulletin boards, textbooks, and desks. And then my mind went to cowering kids, frantically texting their parents. I caught a glimpse of teachers fiercely protecting their students, yet thinking of their own families. But mostly it saw blood. Bright red blood splashed against artwork and lockers and fallen book bags.

I am sad. I am angry. I am grieving. 

During my last few years of teaching I participated in code red drills, and every single one filled me with anxiety and dread. After one particular drill the assistant principal came to each room informing us of our errors. When he came to mine he told me I was “dead.” I still remember the sick feeling as he said this to me. I was dead. No, I couldn’t be dead. Not in this “safe” classroom of mine where I spent every day teaching Romeo and Juliet or listening to awkward speeches or working on yearbook pages. No. No. No. 

Code red. There’s that color again. Red. Our school colors were red and white. Red and white. My breath is ragged. My heart is cracked. Red and white.

Even though I no longer walk the halls, I am still there. I want to protect those kids from everything that hurts them. I want to swoop in and whisper, “Everything is going to be okay.”

We are the grownups. We need to work together to protect our kids. Yes, it is a gun problem. Yes, it is a mental health issue. Yes, it is a parenting issue. Yes, it is a political issue. Yes, it is a money issue. Yes, it is a societal breakdown issue. Yes, it is an isolationist issue. Yes, it is OUR issue. We need to own it, and come up with realistic, non-partisan ways to solve it. For OUR kids.

I am a retired teacher. I am a mother. I am a grandmother. I am the mother of a Navy veteran and a police officer. I am the step-mother of a teacher. I am the sister of a principal of an elementary school. I am friends with teachers. I am a liberal who loves this country. I am friends with conservatives who love this country. I am a non-gun owner. I am friends with gun owners. I am a writer of love, of heartache, of peace, of struggle, of simple joys and complicated pain. 

Part of me wants to use a red pen every day until we can come together to work on what is breaking us apart, yet I will leave it in the drawer. I can’t bring myself to put the red pen to the crisp white paper. It’s too painful, for I’m still grieving. 

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But first a little about February

I don’t know about you, but I welcome February. January is sad and dark and loaded with slimy germs. I coughed and hacked my way through every depressing day while the cold medicine made me dizzyingly disoriented. Now that I have convalesced, today right before I opened my eyes, I said a quiet, grateful prayer for this new month.

February. A month of cinnamon red hearts and wild Mardi Gras celebrations and the solemn first days of Lent. We honor past presidents. Football gets its own special Sunday. We await what the groundhog will see. Every four years an extra day is tacked onto the month. But why? What is the history of the shortest month of the year? It involves Romans, superstitions, and some math, so bear with me here.

Our modern calendar dates back to the ancient Romans. Romulus, the first king of Rome, devised a ten month lunar calendar which began in March on the new moon before the spring equinox, and ended in December. But what about those winter months, you ask? Since it was mostly an agrarian society, the harvest was over and most Romans were just trying to stay alive during those cold days. 

The second king Numa Pompilius decided the calendar needed some tweaking, so he added two months and synced it with the actual lunar year, which is approximately 354 days. The new months of January and February had 28 days each, but even numbers were considered bad luck to the Romans. Numa added one day to January, but no one really knows why he left February with 28. Some say it was because February was host to many festivals that honored and purified the dead, so why not just leave it unlucky. Sounds like a good story.

This 355 day calendar did not stay in sync with the seasons, so every couple of years an extra day was added to February, but it was placed after the 23rd instead of the 28th. Go figure. Politicians added or deleted these days according to their whims, so many Romans still didn’t know what day it was. Confusing.

In 45 BC, Julius Caesar revamped the calendar and aligned it with the sun instead of the moon. Ten days were added, with an extra day to February every four years. Now the calendar was closer to cycle of the sun and was 365.25 days. 

That’s it. The calendar has been revised over the years to accommodate Christian holidays and seasons, but it still closely resembles the Roman model. February, that short month of purification, gives us pause. We send Valentines. We cuddle. We drunkenly stagger throughout raucous Mardi Gras parades. We spread ashes. 

We anxiously await spring.

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” - William Cullen Bryant

(And because I am always an English teacher...)

Hogelback. Jonathan. “Why Are There Only 28 Days in February?” britannica.com. 2018.

McAfee, Melonyce. “28 Days?” slate.com. 27 Feb. 2007.

Reilly, Lucas. “Why Are There Only 28 Days in February?” mentalfloss.com 1 Feb. 2017.

“Why Does February Only Have 28 Days?” PBS Digital Studios. https://youtu.be/AgKaHTh-_Gs  23 Feb. 2015.

 

 

 

grammerly.com

grammerly.com

Releasing Expectations: Letting Go

Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

Is it possible to let go of expectations that bring us pain and disappointment? How do we navigate the world when we release these barriers and trust in what is? Can we stop ourselves from believing in preconceived fantasies such as the “perfect” life? What are the steps we can take that give us peace instead of heartache?

Wayne Dyer said, “Peace is retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” We can make all kinds of elaborate plans, write pages of lists, and set lofty goals, yet life inevitably gets in the way. Accidents. Divorce. Job loss. Illness. Death. All are roadblocks that force us to scream, “Hey, this isn’t what I expected out of my life, damnit!” So we recalibrate, yet, if we continue to believe in false expectations, depression will follow.

I know my own life has been a series of reboots. I never expected to divorce, move back to my hometown, remarry, lose my father to Alzheimer’s, retire early, or move to another state in my late 50’s, but I am learning to detach from what I thought my life would be like. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s damn hard. I’ve had to let go of the fairytales, and to be perfectly honest, it sometimes just pisses me off. I get angry. I’m sad. I find myself crying, “I want what they have,” but then I take a breath. No one’s life is perfect. Everyone I know fights battles. So…I am on a daily quest to let go of my own unrealistic expectations. How do I go about it?

  1. Be honest. What is my truth? What is my motivation? Do I want something from others or do I just want love?
  2. Don’t take things too personally. Laugh. Let others just be.
  3. Accept frailty in others. No one, and I mean, no one is perfect. Thank God. Embrace the imperfection in others and in myself.
  4. Come to every situation with an empty cup. An empty cup releases expectations.
  5. Look at the world through a child’s eye. If it is new, there are no expectations.
  6. Be realistic and let go of comparisons. What I have is mine, so therefore it is unique. If struggling, remember # 3.
  7. Detach. Detach from fear. Detach from ego. Detach from disappointment.
  8. Work on relinquishing control over others. I can’t control how others think or behave. I have enough trouble with my own issues. If struggling, remember #2.
  9. Practice daily gratitude. Always.
  10. Know that plans will change. Lists will get torn up. Goals will be broken. This is life. Let go and move on. Sometimes the unexpected is painful, yet beauty can be found. Continue to look for joy.

When I focus on the wonder of “what is” instead of “what I expect,” I choose to live this life. I am present. I am me. I am living in love.

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.” - Wayne Dyer

“I let go of all expectation. People, places, and things are free to be themselves, and I am free to be me.” - Louise Hay

 

Promises Made, Broken, and Forgotten: A New Year of “I Wills"

I love to set goals, especially at the beginning of weeks or months or years. I lay out all my promises to myself with innocent glee. For the first few days I’m a maniac working diligently on the list, but quickly I lose focus. A day goes by and then another. The energy wanes. The intentions soon fade, and then I’m back to wondering, “What the hell? Why can’t I concentrate? Damn.” Then I am back to a new week or month or year. The different (or same) list is made. Affirmations are written down with the best of intentions. I tell myself this time I will accomplish my goals. And the cycle repeats itself.

So, why do I continue this behavior? According to vocabulary.com, a resolution is, “a decision to do something or to behave in a certain manner.” Making resolutions or goals gives us direction, even if we swerve off course. When I taught high school, I would make daily lists in the morning and cross off as I accomplished each task. They kept me focused, and frankly, if I didn’t write it down I would forget. It is the same with resolutions. When we write them down or make them public, they become real. Psychology Today states the best predictor to success is “self-efficacy - the belief in one’s ability to get the job done.” Set realistic goals, believe in yourself, and then plan out how to accomplish them. Don’t give up after a slip. Just set a new goal and move forward. 

Sounds simple? No, in fact, resolutions are damn hard. This is why the majority of them fail in the first few weeks. But why do we keep making them? Human nature, that’s why. We humans are on a constant quest to improve our lives. Very few of us wish for bad health or messy houses or terrible relationships. We desire more, and so we continue New Year’s resolutions year after year.

As I teeter on the cusp of a new year, I ponder how our lives shifted dramatically in the last twelve months. My husband got a new job in a new state. We sold stuff, donated stuff, and moved stuff to our new home. I left old friends in my old town, but am slowly making new ones in my new town. Most of my New Year’s resolutions from last year faltered, sputtered, and tanked, yet I am determined to come up with a fresh list to welcome 2018. What are my chances of actualization? Well, I’ll never know unless I try, so this year I have five “I wills.” 

  1. I will write. My writing suffered with the move. I seemed to have lost something, whether it was inspiration or determination, but I have decided I am lost without it. I am a writer, so I will write. I won’t be afraid to put my words out there, even if they face rejection or are ignored. I’m looking at signing up for writing conferences, writing groups, and even submitting works to online publications. Writing is a vital part of who I am, and I need to nurture it.
  2. I will eat healthy. I discovered back in November that my bad cholesterol is too high. If ignored, I risk clogged arteries and heart disease. This new year will include healthy choices, including backing off from alcohol, at least for “Sober January.” After that, everything in moderation. More vegetables. Less sugar. More beans and nuts. Less white rice and pasta. More water. Less wine. More fruit. Less crap. More oatmeal. Less carb-filled breakfasts. If I want to run around with the grandchildren, this is how I will eat and live. 
  3. I will step away from my phone more. For a few days each monthI will not check social media or read the news, especially anything to do with that crazy loon “in charge.” I will not drown in all the negativity; instead I will attack my “to be read” list with verve, which includes Tolstoy’s War and Peace, a few new young adult authors and titles, and some nonfiction.
  4. I will buy less stuff. I do not need more clothes or tchotchkes for the house. Embracing a minimalist lifestyle will help the budget and clear the mind of needless mess.
  5. I will practice yoga and meditation daily. Both will help with the other goals. Mindfulness creates calm, creativity, and energy from within. It is all about embracing the zen.

The key to success is believing it is possible. Faith. Hope. Vision. Looking to the new year with fresh eyes and an open heart. These are my “I wills.” I acknowledge I will stumble, but with each fall I will learn to accept my faults, my gifts, and my determination to really live this life.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself. Changing yourself. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. - Neil Gaiman

“The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.” - Roald Dahl

“The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.” - Roald Dahl

A Christmas State of Mind

When I was a young mother of two small boys, Christmas was crazily chaotic. December flew by in a mad jumble of holiday concerts (both choir AND band), classroom parties, quick trips to the mall, and cold nights spent watching hockey at the ice rink. I often plied them with pizza or McDonald’s because I barely had time to breathe, let alone cook a healthy meal. Sometimes I felt as though I was failing at the whole Christmas tradition game. Riddled with guilt I would try to squeeze in an afternoon of cookie baking, thinking this would be the holiday memory they would carry into adulthood, but usually the little traitors disappeared to the basement after five minutes of attempting to decorate, licking green and red icing off their fingers as they escaped the mess.

When I look back at those days now, though, I know I was doing the best I could. My boys have their own backpacks of holiday memories from visiting Santa and Mrs. Claus in Central Park to jumping with unbridled glee when they saw their presents under the tree. One Christmas we flew out to California to visit my brother’s family and they got to throw a football around on the beach while everyone back at home was shoveling out from a huge snowstorm.

Now when I look around at other young mothers rushing around, trying to make everything Pinterest perfect, I want to whisper, “Slow down, my loves. These precious days with your children will be over in an instantaneous flicker. Cherish the small, unimportant moments, not the grandiose and glittery ones. Put down your phones. Look at their faces. Listen to their sweet voices. Know your time with them is short and exquisite and magical. You do not have to create the “perfect” holiday. Just giggle with them and have fun. Always, always remember to have fun.”

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” – Mary Ellen Chase

We always had music, games, and laughter in our little house on christmas. Oh, and brotherly love, of course! 

We always had music, games, and laughter in our little house on christmas. Oh, and brotherly love, of course! 

My Grown-up Christmas List

The Christmas season always makes me a little weepy. Sometimes all the frivolity is just too much. Tears often flow at the end of Hallmark movies, in the middle of crowded stores, or when a especially poignant song comes on the radio. Usually it is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” because no matter who sings it, that song is heartbreaking, but the other morning another Christmas song took me by surprise. I was driving around, doing some last minute shopping, when “Grown-up Christmas List” popped up on Holly, a holiday station on satellite radio. I found myself gulping down sobs as I listened to the lyrics. When I pulled over in a mall parking lot, I wiped messy tears from my old face. 

What was it about this song that dredged up such emotions? I looked up the lyrics while I ate my Panera soup and sandwich. This song encapsulates this messy, broken world we live in today, even though it was written in 1990. Every generation has its demons and its heroes. At the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, Saddam Hussein rattled his swords throughout the Middle East, Lech Walesa became president of Poland, and the Berlin Wall was demolished. The United States was on the verge of a major recession. Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison. President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov signed an agreement to end chemical weapons production. Evil was present, yet good marched forward.

Many of us believe the tribulations we face today are unscalable, but for every bullying, sexist tweet or vicious attempt at oppression there are hundreds of examples of truth. Our beliefs may often seem shattered, yet hope reigns. The devils are everywhere: in our churches, our schools, our movies, and in our government. They prey on the vulnerable. They steal from the poor. They rob of us our innocence. Often it seems as if they are suffocating us, pilfering our dreams, but there are also angels among us that outnumber these demons. They fight for truth. They help the downtrodden. They hold out their hands to help. Decency triumphs because history isn’t kind to dictators, oligarchs, and purveyors of hate.

Before I sat down to write this, I listened to different interpretations of “Grown-up Christmas List.” From Amy Grant to Kelly Clarkson to Michael Buble, each summoned up childhood lists, my wishes for books or dolls or board games. I scanned the night sky on Christmas Eve, hoping to spot Santa’s sleigh. Now I’m older, I still believe in Santa but my lists have changed. I no longer want toys. I pray for peace. I hope for justice. I propose love, because love is stronger that hate. This is my grownup Christmas list.

“So here’s my lifelong wish,

My grown-up Christmas list,

Not for myself, but for a world in need:

No more lives torn apart,

Then wars would never starts,

And time would heal all hearts.

And every one would have a friend,

And right would always win,

And love would never end

This is my grown-up Christmas list.”

Songwriters: Linda Thompson/David Foster

In every photo I took of this angel, the dove she’s carrying appeared fuzzy. I’d like to think it’s a sign that hope is here, taking flight from our hearts to heal the universe.

In every photo I took of this angel, the dove she’s carrying appeared fuzzy. I’d like to think it’s a sign that hope is here, taking flight from our hearts to heal the universe.

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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