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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

It’s like, at the end, there’s this surprise quiz: Am I proud of me? I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth what I paid? (Richard Bach, writer)

This is the scene. Mid 1950’s. A playground outside a parochial school where the population has skin that is almost bleached. And this is the norm.

I am in elementary school. Color my hair red-blond. We are taught love that comes with precise word definitions. In catechisms. They graduate from blue to green covers. The discussion is secondary. Memorize. Every word in sequence.

A bell sounds to end recess. Classes line up to return to the solid, brick building. Defined. All reality has clear edges.

Children line up in pairs. No one stands next to me. “Ziggy the niggy,” another child whispers to me. My surname begins with a Z. The girl’s voice doesn’t reach the ear of the robed nun in charge. I know I am being insulted. The open space next to me feels emptier than it is. Because I am nothing in the emptiness.

The insult’s fuller cultural meaning doesn’t touch me until later. Much later. Into maturity. After the time when I realized Juneteenth was never part of the school curriculum. When the significance of the n-word reached beyond the shunning of a pale, shy little girl—into a reality called systemic racism.

“I need to become a saint to survive,” I told myself on the walks home as the taunting replayed in my spirit. But the stories of the saints in my school texts involved little more than their end sufferings or magical talents. No day-to-day hints.  

Fortunately, after I married, I found the gift of a racially mixed neighborhood. And I am grateful. My friends and neighbors come in different beautiful colors.

I am grateful for my long-ago experience of shunning. It appears like a splinter compared to an amputation next to the history of my darker comrades.  A first step on the road to understanding.

True, pale privileged people never learned the truth. Many remain isolated in their bubble of ignorance. After as long as ninety years of existence on this earth. Now is the time to break that barrier. The future depends upon it. All-about-me logic needs to go.

If I gave my life to become who I am now, a saint wouldn’t be anyone’s first answer. However, I do hope that in the end, my life will be worth what I paid.

 

 

 

 

 

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Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost. (Erol Ozan)

 

 

The directional app on my phone

remains mute, while the road twists

and my mind twists with it 

into places where I am lost, again.

 

Memories explode bully-style inside

my brain synapses, creating panic.

No sound, but an arrow on my screen says

turn left at the next corner. I remember

 

the shop with the worn yellow sign.

And space in my head and heart opens.

I know to move through uncertainty.

Celebrate my detours. Consider

 

the possibility that others hide pain

behind strange, sour, surly behavior.

May peace be made from pieces,

one imperfect turn at a time.

 

published in For a Better World 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cherish your human connections, your relationships with friends and family. (Barbara Bush)

 Jay’s cell phone rings. “Hi, Dakota!”

Our grandson has his own phone. He is calling to help this senior citizen. He called my phone first. Someone else answered. My buddy is taking care of me—he knew before I did that my smart phone had left its less-than-smart user.

I call from our land line, grateful that we still have one. The response? “The owner of this phone left it at Kroger’s.”

I laugh, and then don my mask again to make another trip out of our cave. Jay drives. I am pleased with his company.

Amazing how folk have become dependent upon a hand-held rectangular device. Unfortunately, the phone must have fallen from the side pocket of my purse. Some kind, honest person returned it to the desk.

I am grateful. My connection with the world found. Now, to find connection with me, that old lady I see in the mirror. That old lady who longs to play with trucks on the floor with her grandson.

Time now to call someone else who needs to hear a voice that doesn’t come from a TV set. A phone. An amazing invention when used for providing kindness.

 

 

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Everybody’s talking about people breaking into houses but there are more people in the world who want to break out of houses. (Thornton Wilder, 1897-1975)

 Thornton, you were ahead of your time.

 I am reviewing my four-year-old-child skills. With the same lack of finesse. Making a mask from one of my husband’s old shirts. The mask I have pulls my hearing aids out, and the silk scarf I tried for the grocery store, slid off as if I’d smeared my face with bacon grease.

 Now, I model my newest creation. In cotton, St. Patrick’s Day green, designed for social distancing wear.

 Take an old T-shirt. Cut off the bottom, as wide a space as needed to tie around the face. Then cut out a square on each side, leaving enough room to tie above and below the ears.

 This version took a few minutes, with scissors that have cut a lot of paper. And numbed the cutting edges. Something like chewing celery without teeth.

Yes, I do have artistic ability. And no, I didn’t use any of it here. Genuine creation takes time. All I want now is a walk. Outside. Where the air moves a farther distance than a furnace fan can reach.

Slipshod work is good enough. A little fabric glue between the layers later will complete the project.

And—my husband and I—we are in the sun. Vitamin D, I’m ready to soak you in.

 White clouds and blue sky, may I never take you for granted again.

 

 

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We’re capable of much more than mediocrity, much more than merely getting by in this world. (Sharon Salzberg, Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection)

 Unstable weather. Tornadoes. Sun, wind, rain take turns crapshoot style. While a novel virus spreads like something from a horror movie. And yet, somehow, love hasn’t died. My sister-in-law drops off an Easter lily. Neighbors check on us. We pass our blessings on. As news channels broadcast possibilities—none of them definite.

 A friend calls. She’s lonely and wants to visit. It hurts to tell her, “not now.”

 Our birdfeeder is empty. The feed will come. Eventually. When we can get to a store.

 Love. It’s so imperfect.

 My husband and I follow YouTube aerobics in front of our picture window. Our performance is below par, at best. Yet, our relationship deepens during this homebound time when human faults could tear a couple apart.

Are we better people? Good glory, no! Just lucky. We discovered a few life tools, crapshoot style. Sure, the tension could get to us at any time. We could forget. Let aches and pains tell us we need to be center of the universe, or at least the household.

 What is important? Now. A house that sparkles or a home that welcomes change, life as it is? The presence of a husband who thanks me for everything I do. The goodness of a neighbor who cuts our grass as I type. I pray to see blessings. Speak gratitude. Often.

 My husband has a unique skill. When he knows I’m irritated about something, he makes me laugh. I don’t want perfect in a mate. Not really. We would have nothing in common.

 Spring appears with open blossoms. A beginning. Always another beginning. Yes, there will always be an ending. In between are other days.

 

 

 

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When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words. (Thelma Davis)

I’ve been awake for less than five minutes when I look out our front window. A man, dog, and cat walk down our street—together. Yup, that’s a cat. I’m wearing my glasses. Their harmony is clear.

I view the scene as a metaphor for world peace. Somehow. When threat is the word for the day, an opposite scene stands out. And refreshes.

Another phone call arrives from someone who needs to talk. Yes, I’d rather work on an art or writing project, but I know my efforts would be shallow because I haven’t enriched my spirit by giving. I listen to the needs of a recent widow. And as I am drawn in, time doesn’t matter. Time isn’t mine anyway.

A neighbor slips a note inside my front door. She’s scheduling a grocery pick-up. Can she get anything for us? Yes, three items. No more. I won’t take advantage. I will simply accept the honest concern of a friend.

Perhaps the year 2020 doesn’t offer twenty-twenty vision. Yet. Heck, I get caught up in moments when I feel cleaning my house is no different than sweeping a beach at low tide.

Meanwhile, an ugly, dangerous virus threatens every human being in the world. Difficult times can present opportunities. Like plants growing through rock, beauty and goodness survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. (Rita Mae Brown)

Stories, the real-life kind. I talk to a friend as she relays an incident involving someone whom she has known her entire life. The young man has mental illness. Voices led him to rob a bank. No gun. He doesn’t own one. He had a knife. And didn’t use it. The threat was enough. Yet, this seriously disturbed man has been the comfort and support of a woman who is severely handicapped. She is alone now. In another state. 

Now, the young man is in jail. The fate by law of a bank robber… I step down now from extreme examples. How often does anyone know the full story about anyone? 

I like to think I’m allergic to judgment. Yet, I’ve come to strong conclusions concerning far less.

These two examples may not be spoken, but they are nevertheless real.

“Turn off your cell phone and pay attention to traffic.” Yes, distracting calls on the road are a dangerous practice. However, do I know how important the conversation is? About the closest liquor store? Maybe. A lost senior citizen… A dying family member… Not within my limited perception.

“Where did you learn grammar? From bubble-gum pop music?” Okay. I admit it. I grimace when I hear, “I can’t wait no more for you.” Maybe this young man needs school before he marries Paula. Yes, it’s a judgment. But I know it.

I met an uneducated, yet wise woman years ago. I wrote about her and published a short story in an Appalachian press about her. The book I wrote remains in limbo. For publication someday, when the virus fog rises. However, when I remember Gladys, I gain better perspective.

During these enclosed, time-to-reflect hours, I may not be able to cure the world. I can cleanse my thinking. And expand my ability to care. Opportunity comes in strange forms. May I find it in the rubble.

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open door

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. (Ernest Hemingway

In 2012 I wrote a journal during Lent when memories of trauma ate through the present. Today I survive, as imperfectly as everyone else. I decided to reread an entry or two. This story appeared on an ordinary Wednesday when I was babysitting two of my granddaughters. Rebe was four and Ella was a toddler:  

I’m rinsing breakfast dishes as the doorbell rings. Jay is busy with Ella, so I answer. Outside a young girl stands sobbing. She asks to use our phone.

     “Who are you?” I ask.

     She doesn’t answer. Instead she tells me her boyfriend beat her up, and she wants to call the police.

     Jay is standing behind me by now. He holds Ella. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want this girl standing out in the cold. I let her in and get her a glass of water, then finish the dishes as she calls from our living room.

     When I get back, Ella blows kisses to her and the girl smiles and tells me she has a one-year-old child.

     “How old are you?”

     “Eighteen.”

     The girl’s skin is a flawless ebony. I would have guessed she was much younger.

     While I don’t watch the clock, it seems like a long time until two policewomen arrive in two separate cars.

     We leave the room. I need to change Ella’s diaper anyway. On our way into the bedroom we hear one of the officers ask, “So why do you stay with him?”

     Apparently this is not a first-time event.

     After the girl leaves with bus money we provide, one of the policewomen comes back into the house and chides us for our kindness. This girl’s live-in is trouble. It is her choice to remain in jeopardy. Drugs are an issue.

       We should have called the police and made her stay on the porch. Twenty-twenty hindsight. (Although, an addition added to this entry in 2020, I doubt I would have followed her advice. After all, an abused eighteen-year-old girl is a child in need.)

Ella as a baby

       I am relieved later while Ella and Rebe watch Caillou, a children’s cartoon show, where a lost toy dinosaur is the only problem. Two little girls wrapped in the discovery of a stuffed toy and the loving concern of Caillou’s father.

     Real life isn’t always that sweet. I have been fortunate. My flaw today was trust. Yet, I pray that our little Ella’s blown kisses can be a blessing into the soul of this lost girl. A seed, perhaps. One that can grow someday, even if I never see it blossom.

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I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine. (Neil Armstrong)

 Sure, the word challenge has an encouraging, powerful ring to it. However, human experience adds a bite to it, the kind that draws blood, pain, or detours.

I was experiencing one of those Atlas-earth-carrying moments when I noticed an old homemade card on the floor by my bookcase. Huh? What is this? It looks familiar.

A birthday card from my father. He died more than ten years ago. He comments on the years since I was born, then mentions what a beautiful person I have become.

The how of the card’s appearance now, on a floor that was vacuumed yesterday, is curious. But the message is clear. I am worth the effort of any struggle.

I remember a night when I was sixteen. I hallucinated as the result of a dangerously high fever from a throat infection. As the fever rose I claimed the colors were wrong on my dresser drawers and stairs and needed to be rearranged. Now.

Both dresser and steps were an everyday, nondescript beige. Then I needed to take the number one million and convert it into a tangible object. Before morning. And take it to school. My arms churned as I counted. One-hundred-fifty, one-hundred-fifty-one.

My mother panicked as she hunted for aspirin, the fury of her feet on the floor amplifying my count. Somehow my parents managed to get me to swallow the small white tablet.

My dad told me he was good at math. He would do my assignment. Then, he would take care of the colored wood as I slept. After all, he knew a lot about paint. He carried me up the stairs to my room.

Somehow, that next morning I remembered most of the evening. The absurdity struck me as a nightmare, someone else’s nightmare. And yet, the loving response of my dad stayed with me.

I hold the long-ago card now. My father present in this moment even if he left the earth in a past decade during the last century.

“Thanks. I wouldn’t be here without you,” I whisper. My life is finite, too. May the heartbeats I have left, bring peace.

 

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Surprisingly lovely, precious days. What is there to say except: Here they are: Sifting through my fingers like sand. (Joyce Carol Oates)

Our neighbor came to our door with a ladder and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. We had a broken bulb in a ceiling light. My husband and I could fix it, but we have physical limitations. The job could take an unreasonable amount of time. Our neighbor came to bring light into our bedroom. He succeeded.

His wife had come earlier to help me with a task difficult for my arthritic fingers. Both husband and wife bring brightness into our home.

Precious moments. Simple, yet savored.

I recall times when friends come and share the difficulties in their lives. I listen. Blessed by more than sun. They trust me. I share my struggles. We recognize strength. Human bonds. Gratitude.

Ugly loses its power when the genuine person inside reaches for precious instead of perfect.

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