Friday, March 16, 2018

Amazing Grace and Mondays

I wrote this on a Monday two years ago when I was deep in grief and looking for a way out. I'm glad to have found it for today because this has been a difficult week. Too much sadness and worry and heartache for one little set of days. So...yes, I'm glad I found it. I hope you have a great week.

This past week was springy. We've had warmth, rain, wind, and--here and there but not here--fog. The birds are everywhere, flashing flirtatious bright red wings and calling their spring congregants to order in raucous, cheerful voices. My cats, both of them reluctant outdoor residents, leave clumps of winter coat behind when they rub up against the bark of trees. Duane and I pick up hundreds of cottonwood twigs in the yard and grumble about it all the time we sniff greedily at the scent of spring and new beginnings.

I've walked the Nickel Plate a few times, building back up to where two miles won't leave me gasping and leaning forward with my hands on my knees. I didn't exercise all winter, and have yoyo-ed up 20-some pounds in the absence of motion. Does anyone else do this? It's nearly an annual thing for me, I'm not proud to admit.

Also this week, I got a little of my voice back. Silenced by the stress and grief of the illness and loss of my mother-in-law, I hadn't written a word beyond lists petitioning myself to buy eggs and milk in several weeks. This week I wrote a paragraph, then a few, then a couple of pages. I have, however, choked and stumbled over emotion. It's always one of my favorite parts of writing, but when I can't get past my own feelings to experience someone else's, I can't articulate it, either.

My grandsons are in the yard, picking up more sticks--cottonwoods are amazingly prolific with what they give up to the wind--and here is more emotion; there is little in life more fulfilling than being a grandparent. I've heard "Amazing Grace" a dozen times this week and accepted the comfort it offers, but it also opens up more feelings, releases more tears. Yesterday I wanted to call Mom and ask her when to put out the hummingbird feeders and realized I couldn't this year. That hurt.

In Anne of Avonlea, L. M. Montgomery says, “That is one good thing about this world...there are always sure to be more springs.” Along with those springs, even the false ones like this past week, comes depth of feeling that, like the reawakening of the earth, is revitalized each year. I have been this emotional in spring before, when kids and grandkids were born, when our sons married, when Duane and I married, at graduations. Each year, I am amazed.

I will forget by next year how this spring has been. I will be used to Mom being gone. I won't remember how the grandboys look in the yard with the tractor. I will have to be shown again, hear again, feel and see again, the "Amazing Grace" in each day.

Soon this spring, Monday glee I learned from my writer friend Holly Jacobs will be back and I won't quite remember how still and empty these past few Mondays have been, when even if the weather promised spring, winter resided dark and lonely in my heart. Eventually, when the ache lessens, I'll get more of my voice back. The grass will be greener, the sky more blue, the sticks picked up until the wind blows again. There will be kids on ball fields, tractors in fields, music on the air. We will remember that laughter is the blessed breath of life.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Keeping love alive...

This isn't old at all. It was first published in The Pink Heart Society in February of 2018. I suppose it's lazy, in a way, using it so soon, but I think the audiences are different--listen to me! Like I have a multitude of audiences!--and I also believe the subject is important to most of us. It doesn't have to be about marriage. It can be about friendship or family ties. The hard parts of those relationships have different titles, but they're hard parts nonetheless. Have a great week, and thanks for reading.

"A relationship is like a house. When a lightbulb burns out, you don't go and buy a new house. You fix the lightbulb."

from Pinterest with thanks

The truth is, if we really knew how to keep love alive, we’d all do it all the time. There’d be no discussion of divorce, no drama, no growing apart, no infidelity, no abuse, no looking across the table and thinking, Who is this man and what did he do with the guy I married?

Most of us don’t have to deal with all those things, but I’m fairly sure all of us have to deal with some. In nearly all long marriages, I’m certain there are years that don’t bear repeating (mine are 1982 and 2017.) There are things said that can never be unsaid. Bleak days and nights and weeks that seem to have no end. Long drives home from work when you intend to walk in the door and say it’s over. It’s done. You don’t want to play anymore. But then…

You have to work at it. Not just on the bad days, although especially then. You need to say you love each other every day even if you’re saying it through your teeth. You need to have each other’s backs, to laugh at the same things even if you don’t think they’re funny, to grieve when your partner does if for no other reason than you don’t want him or her to grieve alone.

It’s hard, it’s…yeah, it’s hard.

But then there are the moments.

At a wedding a couple of years ago, we were leaving the reception early. We were halfway to the door of the venue when the DJ started a slow song. Duane turned back and said, “You want to?” and we went back and danced for the first time in years. It was only a moment--or a few of them--but it made me happy all day. It makes me happy to remember it.

The thing with moments is that they attach and melt together, so that they bring ease and cohesion to the hard times and the bad days―even the truly awful ones. Times that originally brought tears and anger are ones you often learn to laugh at and to appreciate for the growth they provided—whether you wanted it or not.

It’s a mistake, though, to think love’s path will ever be without bumps, because human beings are flawed. We hurt each other, and we hurt no one more than the ones we love the most. It’s coming out on the other side, skipping from one moment to another, that allows us to claim endurance.

Every now and then, there are defining moments, signature ones that last forever. It’s up to us to recognize them, to hold them close and keep them safe for when we need them.

I am, at the very best of times, clumsy, so it was no surprise a few months ago when I tripped over a pair of shoes in the kitchen and went down like a tree, falling—for the first time ever—right on my face. I couldn’t seem to move, and I cried from the pain that radiated out from my broken nose. I’m not a weeper, so it was the tears that alarmed me most.

Duane, with his two artificial knees, got down on the floor with me, lying against my back and holding me. Keeping me warm and safe. When the shock wore off enough that I could move and the splinters of pain finally dimmed enough that I stopped crying, he got to his feet and helped me to mine. 

It was probably five minutes in all, from the fall to when we got up, but they defined the going-on-47 years we’ve been together. They personified love kept alive. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Wisdom born of pain

I wrote this quite a while back, although I'm not positive what year it was. Because I make a concentrated effort--and believe me when I say it's an effort--to keep this column from being overtly political, I haven't changed it; its statistics are out of date and incomplete. I remain grateful to the women who rose up to get us as far as we've come and proud of the ones who are still standing (and marching) to keep us from ever going backwards. 

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. 
Susan B. Anthony

It's Women's History Month. I've never been particularly fond of March, but reading up on this has made me more so.

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the US with a medical degree. In 1853, Antoinette Blackwell became the first American woman to be ordained a minister in a recognized denomination (Congregational). In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. Lucy Hobbs, in 1866, became the first woman dentist. In 1869, Arabella Mansfield, became the first woman to be admitted to the practice of law, practicing not in cosmopolitan and forward-looking New York, but in Iowa.

In 1887, Susanna Medora Salter became the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. The 'firsts' are endless. Edith Wharton won a Pulitzer, Amelia Earhart flew alone across the Atlantic. Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman elected to the Senate. Diane Crump was the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Elizabeth Seton was the first native-born North American to be canonized.

Sandra Day O'Connor and Sally Ride both went boldly where women had not gone before. Mae Jamison became the first black woman astronaut and Janet Reno the first woman attorney general. Madeline Albright was the first woman secretary of state, to be followed shortly by Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman in that position.

In 1920, twenty-seven years behind New Zealand and 85 years ahead of Kuwait, American women got the vote.

Betty Ford had breast cancer, a face lift, and an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. And went public with it all.

Rosalyn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hilary Clinton, and Nancy Reagan "stood by their men" even when standing there undoubtedly put their teeth on edge.

Time magazine said Eleanor Roosevelt "gave a voice to people who did not have access to power. She was the first woman to speak in front of a national convention, to write a syndicated column, to earn money as a lecturer, to be a radio commentator and to hold regular press conferences." I remember it being said that she would "rather light a candle than curse the darkness." I can think of no higher aspiration. She's still a hero.

I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronté. These were women who wrote books when women weren't supposed to.

And then there are women closer to home. My grandmother, heavy with pregnancy, carried a treadle sewing machine down the stairs and outside when her house was on fire. My mother-in-law, growing up in rural Kentucky, delivered mail on horseback. My mother, and my friends' mothers, were the foundations on which our lives were built.

I don't know if any of these women set out to make history; I doubt it. I imagine they were just women who wanted to do the best job they could. And they did. But they did so much more.

In the 2004 presidential election 65 percent of eligible women voted, as opposed to 62 percent of men. In September 2004, there were 212,000 women in the armed forces and more than 35,000 of them were officers? There are more than 1.7 million women who are veterans.

My daughter and daughters-in-law all go to women doctors. I went to a religious retreat where all the attending clergy were women (I believe by accident and not design) and where I learned the immortal words, "Clergy chicks rock!" and they did. They did.

When I vote, the gender of who I'm voting for is way down there on my list of considerations, right along with "do they have a nice smile?" I believe, thanks to these women in history, that it's way down there on my husband's list, too. (That being said, I must admit that I remain disappointed and angry that neither of the last two supreme court justices named was a woman and do not expect to get over it soon.)

Reading Little Women until the covers literally fell off made me know all the way to my soul that someday I was going to write, too.

All of this then is the legacy of Women in History. Because of them, we can vote and work outside the home or choose not to; we know that strength and power take many forms. Breast cancer and heart disease in women have become Matters of Importance in medical research and development.

"I am woman, hear me roar," sang Helen Reddy.

Thank you, Women in History, for giving us the voice to roar.

Friday, February 23, 2018

...the sounds of the earth are like music...

I wrote the bones of this three years ago. I've edited it some--I hope enough; sometimes my own writing is awful--but I still like those bones. Have a great week!

Oh the sounds of the earth are like music
The breeze is so busy, it don't miss a tree
An' a ol' weepin' willer is laughin' at me - 
Richard Rodgers

I’m not a movie person, but the quote above is from Oklahoma. I used it because I love what he was able to do with a few words that give voice to how I feel. But, about movies--I have trouble sitting in one place for two hours and the truth is, I don't like very many new movies--although there are some exceptions to that. I don't like violence, I don't think sex is a spectator sport, and I still flinch at four-letter words, especially when there are a dozen of them in a sentence. I’m not crazy about animation and I hate stupid, so it really cuts down on things to watch.

I am a theatre person. If it’s on stage, I’m probably going to like it. Worse than that for anyone around me, if it’s a musical, I’m going to sing with it.
I can't quote many things from movies and plays I have seen, beyond the obvious. "My dear, I don't give a damn" and "I see dead people" come to mind. But I can remember scenes and how they made me feel. Especially that—how they made me feel.
Sally Field in Norma Rae
I remember when Old Yeller died. When Sally Field stood on a conveyer belt and held up a sign saying UNION in Norma Rae. When Chamberlain and his Mainers charged Little Round Top for the third time with nothing more than bayonets and heart in Gettysburg. When Rick Nelson and Dean Martin sang in Rio Bravo. When black soldiers got boots in Glory. When Jimmy Stewart filibustered in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. (Is anyone with me on thinking that should be required viewing for all members of Congress and they can’t swear in until they get it?) The eight times I saw A Hard Day’s Night in the theater. Seeing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” being sung on Broadway. There are so many I can’t begin to think of them all.
          In 1994, I made my daughter’s wedding dress. Also the matron of honor’s, three bridesmaids’, and two flower girls’ dresses. (I bought the Mother of the Bride one--I was tired.) From March until August, I didn’t venture too far from the sewing machine. Over and over, while I sewed, I watched Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, the ones with Megan Follows and the late Jonathan Crombie playing Anne and Gilbert.
          I loved how they made me feel while I sewed. They got me over the crying-over-beading and the many times I said, “I can’t do this,” and all the days I was much too tired to thread the needle one more time.
          Duane and I went to see The Dixie Swim Club at the Ole Olsen Memorial Theater. While I admit to some bias, I think Peru, Indiana’s local theater group is full of outstanding talent, and it’s never been showcased any better than it is in this play. I laughed so hard I nearly cried, and then there was a brilliant, aching point where I was crying. Several years later I talked to Laura Stroud, one of the stars of the play, and when I tried to talk to her about that one line she had delivered with so much perfection it sliced my heart right in two, I got sniffly again and, oh, it felt so good.
          It’s always nice when readers say something that makes you goofy-smile and happy-dance all day. Or when they let you know you got them through something that would have been harder otherwise. It means that even though they may forget your name, the title of the book, or even its protagonists, they’ll still remember how you made them feel. It doesn’t get any better than that.
          It’s been a rough week for virtually everyone. Finding this column and changing it made me think of lines from Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You”:

“Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns?”
I remember doing that during that awful September, when the news became unbearable. Not I Love Lucy per se, but other reruns. Shows that didn’t hurt. Shows made us feel better, as if we could get through the day.

My niece, Sara Nider Biggs, is a teacher with two children. This week, she said on Facebook, “Every day, be sure to tell somebody Thank You.” Sara was starting with her children’s teachers, who keep them safe every day.
I join her in that, thanking everyone who does all they can to keep children safe. I also thank all those people who did and do write, direct, and act in movies and plays, and who sing songs and write books that I can’t quote lines from. Because no matter how hard or sad or impossible times are, you make us feel. You make us feel wonderful.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Of shamers and bullies and snots

These are getting too new! This one is only two years old and was first published on Word Wranglers. My point of view has changed some since then, because I think meanness has become the norm and that too many people think it's okay. It will be interesting to hear how others feel about it. I hope you had a good Valentine's Day and, as always, thanks for reading.

...when dreams were all they gave for free... - Janis Ian

I read on Facebook that actress Kristen Bell said her mother told her, "If you do decide to go on a prescription to help yourself [with depression], understand that the world wants to shame you for that..."

People are "shamed" for being obese, for being Christians, for not being Christians, for being liberal, conservative, vegan or carnivore. Young girls are shamed for not having the ubiquitous thigh gap and boys for...I don't know, not wearing their jeans low enough. Rural people are shamed because--obviously--you can't be smart if you don't live inside city limits. Urban people are shamed because...well, because they're urban, I guess.

It's obvious that One, I spend too much time on Facebook, and Two, shaming has become the new epidemic. And I'm feeling bereft.


I'm a Christian, I'm fairly liberal, I once took medication for two years because of clinical depression, any thigh gap I might have boasted closed (I think for good) more years ago than I can remember, and I'm probably doomed to being overweight because I love to eat far too much.

But no, that's not why I'm bereft. It's because I've never been shamed. I pray when and where I want, I vote my conscience, and I wouldn't hesitate to medicate again if I felt hopelessness circling my life's perimeter. I think people who love me wish I'd lose weight (and keep it off) to keep me healthy, not because they're ashamed of me.

I will admit, I remember being made fun of because I was poor and dressed accordingly, because I was a geek, because I was shockingly uncoordinated, but I don't remember "shaming" even being a word when I was growing up. I was very familiar with "Shame on you!" accompanied by a shaking finger and a frown of motheresque proportions, but that was mothering, right? Not shaming. 

And people who made fun of me were being rotten little kids, weren't they? Rotten like I was being when someone had a lot of trouble reading aloud and I snickered. Or when someone I didn't like tore her dress on the slide and I snickered. Or when someone else I didn't like started her period during 7th grade English class and I snickered.

But I wasn't shaming. I was being a snot. While I'm not saying it's okay to be a snot, I do think it's part of the human experience and that the recipient of said snottiness and shaming is often better and stronger because of it. And maybe they learn a little about forgiving, about taking the high road, about how not to treat a person who's different than their particular definition of cool. And the snots grow up and cringe at what they said or did to someone else. It's not necessary to brand them for life, is it?

But there's another part, too, that I have to admit to. Not all snots do grow up; some of them stay that way forever. And they will pick on people because that's what they do. We need to recognize that, roll our eyes, say "consider the source," and go on better and stronger. What we don't need is to ever say the world's going to shame you, to indicate that the world is full of bullies, because in truth it's full of pretty nice people with some crummy ones on the periphery. Keep them there. Do what's right for you and don't hurt anyone else in the process. That's not really hard, is it?

Okay. Off my soapbox. Have a great week!