Thursday, October 13, 2016

Won't You Be My Friend?

UnFriends and Friends
Choosing Heart in a Heartless Campaign
 I have in-real-life friends and, like most people who have joined the twenty-first century, I have social media friends. My social media friends are a mixed bag: family members and real-life friends, classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and even friends of family and friends of friends. Many of my social media friends are those with whom I share common interests: the development where we live, orchid growing, epiphyllum growing, gardening, supporting local businesses, and local events groups. I don’t know my friend count offhand, and it changes depending on who is angry with me or who is angry with my family and/or other friends. It likely changes when I mention something controversial.
This vile political season has people dropping friends, hiding friends, unfollowing friends, and some pretty heated vitriol among “friends.” Earlier today, I read a status in which someone said that they would remove all people from their friend list who disagreed with their choice for president in the upcoming election. The person decided that those people aren’t worth any further association with them.
I understand differences of opinion and I understand differences of politics. I have immense differences regarding politics, religion, and social issues with several of my social media friends and even with my real-life friends and family.
In the years I’ve been on social media, I have removed one person from my friend list. One. I removed her because she attacked me personally without cause. She attacked me regarding my beliefs and knowledge, and she attacked my professional qualifications. I don’t need someone like her in my life, so she isn’t.
I disagree in the most strong terms with some of my friends’ choices for the upcoming election. I will not unfriend them. When I think of each person, I know they have goodness in their hearts. I know they love their family. I know they love their pets. I know they love their country. I know they love their God. I know they have compassion and caring because of the very things they have said to me. I know they have hearts that love, hearts that yearn, hearts that grieve, hearts that are full of hope.
It’s those hearts that I want to keep as my friends. I know that this election will end. Someone will be president. I refuse to separate myself from people who have hearts that touch mine and continue to touch other hearts each day. I intend to keep my friends.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancing Angel

Tiny Dancing Angel
My Tiny Dancer visited me today. I never know when she will appear, but I always get a sign. That sign is “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. On a bright November day in 1986, I took one of the worst rides of my life. My husband and I drove to the cemetery to bury our daughter, Alexa. Alexa died three days earlier at the age of seven and a half from brain cancer. The ride was quiet, muted, but we had the radio on. Somehow, my broken heart tuned in as I heard the melody of “Tiny Dancer” pulling me away from the gut-wrenching present. It is a song I’ve always loved, perhaps best the line, “Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer. . . . ” I would have given anything at that moment to hold my Tiny Dancer one more time. As the song faded, I said, “I will always think of Alexa when I hear this song for the rest of my life.”
The song resonated all the more because six months earlier, Lexie had danced in her first and only recital, which brought us so much joy and light in the face of a darkening illness.
It has been almost thirty years since the meaning of that song forever changed for me. Since that time, it has been a message from my angel. It comes when I’m sad, when I’m scared, when I’m facing a challenge. And it stops me, always, and makes me consider just what it means, and what my next moves, my next life decisions will be. The song always moves me toward my best self, the self that would make an angel proud.
I have faced a conflict over the last few days. It’s a serious one, and like most serious conflicts, it involves people I love. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve shared my feelings and concerns with only a few people because it’s a private matter, and I keep such things close to my heart.
Nonetheless, I have been fraught with emotion, yet I also know that the best thing for me to do is sit with those emotions and not act on them, to continue to pray and to ponder.
 I don’t often listen to the radio, but when I do, I prefer NPR. It is a rare weekday that I listen to the radio. Today was that day. While scrubbing walls in preparation for painting, I listened to the radio. I didn’t listen to NPR because I wanted something livelier—music. Not long after I tuned in, as I scrubbed and rinsed, the familiar opening notes of “Tiny Dancer” meant I put the cleaning cloth down and listened, not only with my ears but also with my heart.
I shared the song with someone I love while it played. I know the message is one of love. I know the message is one of reconciliation. I know the song was for me, just as I know I am typing on an iMac. It’s that clear. No one could ever convince me that my angel Alexa wasn’t here with me today, telling me to love, telling me that’s my only choice in this situation.
I don’t know how many people have a conduit to their angel. I don’t know how many people even are aware of such gifts. I hope they are. When I pray today, it also is my prayer that those of us who have suffered deep loss also have their own “Tiny Dancing Angel” who reminds them to stop, listen, and continue to love.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Running the Hamster Wheel—When It's 93 Degrees Inside

Running the Hamster Wheel
When It’s 93 Degrees—Inside
The air-conditioning died two weeks ago on Saturday afternoon. I knew the repair would be pricey. I’d avoided the freon leak repair too long. No longer could I afford to refill the freon. I had to get the leak beneath the concrete slab of my house fixed. I was daunted knowing I faced a $1200-plus repair. However, that despair was minimal as I watched the thermostat creep up, up, up inside on an August day in Central Florida. Every window was open, the doors were open, the fans were spinning, and it was 93 degrees inside.
In spite of being wilted, I had to meet deadlines. I edited until my computer was hot to the touch, and knew that wouldn’t work. It’s a desktop, so skipping off to the nearest Starbucks wasn’t an option. Instead, at 8 p.m. that Saturday evening, I began the race to find a window unit before every store closed at 9 p.m. Sebastian Walmart, none. Vero Beach Walmart, none. Home Depot, no, too expensive. Lowe’s, no, again too expensive. Best Buy? Maybe. I found the last unit tucked in a corner on the floor in the rear of the store. The clerk carried it to the counter, where I paid for it. He asked if I needed a cart to get it to my car. Five-foot, two, 115-pound, weakling that I am, I said, “No. I need a person.”
My neighbor installed the unit in my bedroom window Sunday afternoon as I was lying on the sofa in a near-faint from the heat. A few hours later, I began to recover in a cooled room, icy drink still in hand.
Monday morning, computer in my room, I got back to work. Tuesday morning, the air-conditioning repairmen arrived. By 3:30 or so, the house was beginning to cool. Not so cool was my near-sub-zero checking account balance.
I continued to meet my deadlines, and the checks started rolling in. I paid my bills and began to ponder a new computer purchase. Mine has been a workhorse for six years, a long happy life for a desktop iMac. I don’t want to risk being without a computer, so I am thinking it’s time for an upgrade. The upgrade would allow me to continue working and earning. To meet my responsibilities—the payment on this 1800-square-foot house, utilities, repairs (such as air-conditioning). It hit me that I needed a new (expensive) computer to keep working to pay for my too-large (expensive) house and maintenance (often-expensive) and just keep going, going, going. It then hit me that I work to pay for my house and I work to pay for air conditioners and I work to pay for a new computer so I can continue working to pay for all these things and all this stuff that I think I need, but just might not.
In the meantime, because I have been working to pay for a lifestyle that doesn’t meet the true needs and desires of my soul, my soul is not fed. Until yesterday, it had been two weeks since I exercised. Until right now, it has been months since I wrote more than a scribbled word or thought on a piece of paper. I’m tense, I’m anxious, and I’m not particularly joyful.
I am on the hamster wheel and I’m running, running, nowhere and while running, I’m running past all that gives my life meaning.
Today, I got off the wheel. I’ll be back on it for a time while I continue to work today. But I’m exploring ways to stay off the wheel and live in such a way that the true needs and desires of my soul are met, so that my soul is fed, and in the process I can feed others.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Not Going Even a Tiny Bit Postal

Not Going Even a Bit Postal
After a Crushing Delivery
Cram it in the mailbox. Doesn’t fit? Doesn’t matter. The mail must be delivered. If it gets in the box, that counts as delivered, even though cramming is damaging.
I have a precious (albeit cracked and mended) cup that was wedged in a too-tight mailbox. I’ve pried packages from mailboxes. Recently, a flat package with a hard surface was folded and then pushed into the mailbox. At least the letter carrier didn’t do a complete fold and was satisfied with a bend, so the gift doesn’t have a hard crease all down the middle.
The hard crease is only the top inch of the mat of the original watercolor painting I received. I glanced at the painting for only a moment, and then I focused on the crease. Then I focused on the slight bowed shape of the painting.
The mail carrier is busy, busy. She has a schedule to meet. I’m in a Facebook group for the development where I live, so I know far too many people received damaged mail. I suppose I should be grateful that the gift even arrived at my address. I am, but I’m not grateful for the damage.
I flashed on writing a nasty note to the carrier. I imagined taking a photo of the painting with its bowed shape and crease at the top. I would print the photo, add a not-so-nice note, and place it in the mailbox with the flag up. I also would post that photo on my social media group and sit back and wait for multiple angry notifications as others shared their own mail woes. We could have a collective bitchfest/mini-rage about the mail. I also imagined reporting the carrier to the post office and having her reprimanded.
As I devised my small acts of vengeance and savored the fruits of my anger, I also imagined describing the painting rather than taking a photo. I then realized that I was so invested in being angry that I didn’t really know what the painting looked like.
That stopped me short. My energy was so caught up in anger, spreading the negativity, and contemplating acts of vengeance that I didn’t even know the basics of the painting that had only minimal damage.
I stopped complaining and looked at the painting. The multicolored flowers greet a swallowtail butterfly hovering above them. Looking closer, I realized that it isn’t exactly a swallowtail, but it has similarities. It has deep blue in several shades, so I know my gift giver paid attention when she was here. She noticed the blue throughout my house and knows it’s a color I love. She also noticed that the color isn’t overwhelming. The blue in the painting is subtle—it is only a part of the painting, just like blue is only a part of what could loosely be called the “d├ęcor” in my house. The flowers are masses of colors and shapes, just like my flowerbeds.
I spent so much energy thinking about how I would wreak vengeance and express my anger at the mail carrier, that I missed the painting. I missed the colors. I missed the attention. I missed the details.
Anger does that. It obscures most of what is happening with the red film that covers one’s eyes. It isn’t an attractive film. It’s less attractive when the film obscures reason and one then acts on the anger.
I’m relieved that I didn’t vent and complain on social media. I didn’t take photos and leave a nasty note for the letter carrier. Instead, I looked at the painting and focused on what matters to me. I focused on what kind of response I want to make in my life to things that bother me. I focused on the beauty of the painting. Does it have a flaw? Yes, but the flaw is in the mat, not the art. Will I cover the flaw when I frame it and hang it? No, I won’t. It is a good reminder to skip anger and go to what matters in my life: art, beauty, gratitude.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I Will Have It

Why I Have Too Much Stuff
Having It vs. Using It
 “I will have it,” he said, after I asked
what he would do with it.
Propped against the stop sign, the piece of wood was no ordinary stick. It was about three feet high and had artful twisted shapes. No mere stick, it called out, “Take me. I’m cool.”
It was cool. We noticed and we wanted. It was there for the taking on that undeveloped street—or not. I turned right at the stop sign and asked, “Do you want it?”
“Yes,” he answered, “but maybe not enough to turn around and get it.”
“What will you do with it?”
“I will have it,” he said.
If we were in a comic strip, a light bulb would be shining in the bubble over my head. “Ah. There it is, the having versus the needing or using.”
I have too much stuff. The problem is that I have it. I don’t need it and often, I don’t use it. I simply have it.
I have some rose-scented dishwashing liquid. I bought it because I had to have it. Rose scents beguile and beckon me like The Odyssey’s sirens.
That rose-scented dishwashing liquid sits on my sink. It’s barely been used. Why? Because I want to have it. I tried using it to wash mere dishes, but it seemed wasteful when I pumped out the precious fluid to clean a dog food bowl or a grease-encrusted pot—kind of like casting pearls before swine. Dirty dishes are not swine, however; they are just dishes. When I consider it, that near-full bottle of soap is just soap, rose scent aside.
I know it’s just soap and I know it has a purpose and that purpose is not to take up space in my kitchen, in my psyche, in my life.
But I want to have it, even while knowing that having it is pointless if I don’t use it. It’s not a Van Gogh or priceless piece of artwork that has worth simply because it is. It’s not precious stones. It’s soap. It is for washing.
I want to use it for washing, just maybe not washing dog food bowls or empty cat food cans before they are placed in the recycling bin.
Having something like soap is use-less if it isn’t used. I know this. I know this about all the stuff I have that I don’t use.
My challenge to myself is to use the rose-scented soap. Maybe I don’t have to use it for the cup with a crusty coffee ring in the bottom. Maybe I don’t have to use it for the bowl I removed from the fridge that held too-old leftovers. Maybe I can put it in a place where the scent will linger and will remind me of the gift inherent in the soap—the scent. My challenge is to use it well rather than have it. I do need soap, so it is use-less if it sits on a sink so I can just have it.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothering Cut Short

Mothering Cut Short
It’s that day when Americans sing the praises of mothers, past, present, and mothers-to-be. Celebrating mothers is a fine thing. Celebrations are a fine thing.
However, it is not so fine a thing that amid the chorus of “Happy Mother’s Day!” are far too many silenced voices. Those are the voices of children lost. It’s a bittersweet day for women who long to hear those voices. Bittersweet because they are mothers, but there will be no mothering of their child today. Bittersweet because mothering their child made them who they are, shaped them, taught them a love like no other. They wouldn’t trade that love for the earth’s finest riches, but they would give away the pain of loss without a second thought—if they could. They cannot.
So, today, they will have a day—but not the Mother’s Day of cards, chocolate, and peanut butter on toast served on a tray, wildflowers in a vase nearby.
They might say, “Yes, I was.” Or they might say, “Yes, I am.” They might stumble through the day with lead feet. They might walk as if on air. They might pull the covers over their heads and decide that, today, they will not walk at all.
One thing they will do today is miss their child—aged sixteen days or sixty years. Mother’s Day isn’t different in that respect; mothers who have lost miss their child every day.
Some days it’s harder. Today, it’s harder. What can you do? Love them. Love them more today. It won’t change the day. It won’t change the loss. Love might make the loss a bit lighter to carry—not only on Mother’s Day but every day.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Can I Just Sit?

Can I Just Sit?
For Five Minutes?
Can I just sit? Can you? I don’t sit, unless I am doing something while sitting. Can I focus on just one thing for five minutes?

I scanned the amaryllis blooms as I watered them. They are gorgeous. I notice them daily when I walk by or when I’m watering or weeding. They bloom for about three weeks and then they are gone for another year.
Today, I realized that not once in seven years have I taken any time to sit and look at them. Three weeks out of fifty-two I see them in flower, and then I wait for another forty-nine weeks until I see them again. They are so fleeting and I don’t take the time. I challenged myself: “Can I just sit for five minutes and look at these flowers? Can I just sit and notice them for the first time? Can I just sit without answering the urge to weed, water, or trim? Can I just sit and look at them in the context of doing nothing else?”
I fetched my stool and my camera and I sat. I noticed. I did nothing  anything else for at least five minutes. In that time, I noticed that the throat of the amaryllis is deep green. I noticed that it has six filaments. When my five minutes ended, I kept noticing For the first time, I stuck one up to my nose: It smells like watermelon. I noticed that the petals on one flower were chewed. I checked a not-quite-open bud and found a rather satiated unidentified larva. I tossed it in the lot next door because this was sitting time, not killing time.
I noted that only a few buds remain to open and remembered that those will be the last of the blooms. I noted droplets of water sliding off petals and leaves.
I can just sit for five minutes. I can notice. I can see and learn. Can you just sit for five minutes? What will you notice?