Spread Your Wings and Soar

This past Saturday many young women walked across the stage I’ve walked across, and they received the piece of paper that is so much more than that–it’s the results of minutes and hours and days and years of listening and learning and writing and critiquing and speaking and sharing and thinking and challenging themselves to do more, do better, be stronger, think harder, and take one step more towards their goal.

And now. They’ve taken one very huge step.

They are college graduates.

One of those young women is my friend whom I had the privilege of sitting with about a month ago.  As we sat in the rocking chairs facing the green of the golf course on my visit “home” for Alumnae Weekend, I had the honor of hearing about her journey.  Some about where she’s been and more about where she hopes to go. What she hopes to do.  I heard her decisions and her questions in her stories and thoughts, and let me tell you this–

We are in good hands.

If.

If we don’t mess this up.

This beautiful soul has, as so many of us have, found out a lot about herself during her years at Wesleyan.  Some surprising, some not so much.  She has gained confidence in her abilities and her voice, as her professors and classmates challenged her to come up with ideas, defend her opinions, and put together words and thoughts in a way that others could learn from her.  And now–

Now she leaves this nest, this safe place, this place of incubation and growing.  It is time, and she is ready.

But–y’all.

I need to ask a favor.

For years, we have been telling this young woman and all the young people her age to “grow up.”  We’ve sighed when they’ve been silly, calling them out to “do better, be more mature, be responsible.”

And now that they are on their way to do this, it is our very important job not to muck it up for them.  It is up to us not to discourage them.  And it happens everyday, doesn’t it?  People groan about the millennials.  I’ve heard comments:  “Oh look at them, they think they are grown.  Who do they think they are?”  Or this:  “Ha.  Did you hear the ideas they’ve come up with to fix this or that?  Right.  Like some young upstart can fix this.  It’s been a mess for years.  Our generation tried, and we couldn’t do a thing about it.  What makes them think they can?”

This is WRONG in every sense of the word.  Because, in the words of the Grinder, “But what if they can?”

We’ve told them to grow up.  They’ve been watching us for years to see what THAT looks like.  Now that they’ve reached this pinnacle, this landmark of “being grown,” how can we be anything but positive and encouraging?

We need their dreams and their hearts.  They are fragile right now.  Fragile, strong, and prepared.  Like a baby bird who is a baby no more and whose wings are ready to take flight.  Instead of letting our words and eye rolls and patronizing tones take them down like a rock from a sling shot, let’s cheer them on.  Just as we did the little blue birds who finally take flight as spring turns into summer and the leaves sway in the breeze and the frogs sing their evening songs.  Let’s let them be who they have been becoming the past four or more years, and let’s watch them and listen to them and treat them with the same respect and love that we show those little birds.

And to my little birds who have flown the nest.  It and all of your sisters will always be there for you.  Years from now, when you most need to feel the safety of the nest, they will take you under their wings and you will be held tightly in their safe embrace, protected, if only for a moment, from life’s greatest storms.  You are going to do small things greatly and great things well.  Your dreams you have right now might not come to fruition, but never stop dreaming.  Never forget the hope you had as you packed up your things to move on to the next part of your journey.  Oh I know, there was trepidation too.  I remember that.  I hate to tell you this, but it never completely goes away.  There’s the next step and the next step and the one after that.  Over twenty-five years since I left the nest, and at times I still feel the uncertainty of what to do next.  But hold on to the woman you have become.  She and all the encouragement and advice you have gotten and all of the things you have learned both in the classroom and outside of it will guide you if you will let it.  Hold on to your dreams and keep growing.

Because that never stops either.  The growing and changing.  You are the beautiful butterfly and metamorphosizing caterpillar all at the same time.  Ever-changing.

And, to be honest, that’s been surprising and pretty cool too.

Here’s to our new graduates.  May we have the wisdom to listen and to encourage them and give them space to try out all the things without fear of what failure would look like.  And may they have the energy and resources and support to envision, create, attempt, dream, and change this world for the better.

Because I’ve met them.  And I know they can.

Love and pomp and circumstance to all.

Soong_Ching-ling_diploma
By Wesleyan College [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Working Out

It was June, I think, or maybe July.  I’m not sure.  I know it was very hot.  And that Daddy was still going for treatments at the Cancer Center.

This particular day Daddy’s physical therapist, Miss Ida, whom I loved and adored from my own visit to the PT office where she worked, had helped get Daddy situated in the passenger seat of Mama’s car.  Mama got in the back, and I drove the two of them down and over to Highway 96 where the Center is located about twenty minutes away from the house.

When we got there, I pulled up under the breezeway to let Daddy out as close to the door as possible.  Mama went in and came back with a wheelchair.  I helped Daddy turn his legs around, and then we wrapped his arms around my neck, and I lifted while he tried to help.

At this point the lymphoma was zapping his strength and his broken hip from a few months before, though healing, was hindering his physical abilities as well.  I lifted, but my efforts did little to get him from the car to the chair.  We tried again, and I got him up a few inches.  And then…..

I almost dropped him.

He almost fell onto the edge of the car and to the pavement below.

I was mortified.  Daddy was fine, but still.  WHAT IF?

A kind soul happened upon us then–no coincidence at all–and she came right over, enveloped my Daddy in her arms, gently placed him in the wheelchair, waved off our thanks, and went on her way cheerfully, wishing us a good day.

BLESS.

It was easier getting him into the car on the way home, and somehow we got him from the car to the house without another incident.

But that moment stuck with me.  My upper body strength was sorely lacking.  If I couldn’t take care of my Daddy, something would have to change.  Immediately.  I was broken over the fact that it had been a stranger who had come to his aid–that after all he’d done for me through all the years, I couldn’t help him–unfathomable.

And so I began working out back then.  Nothing too serious, just trying to build up my strength so that I could help lift him.  And when he was bedridden at the end and would slide down in the bed, I was able to move him back up in the bed.  I am thankful for that now.

A couple of days ago, I woke up thinking about how we work to build up muscles.  How we work and push them beyond their limits to be stronger and to be able to do more with them.  Almost completely recovered from a frozen shoulder, I am ready to start rebuilding my core and my ability to “lift and tote.”  Mostly for groceries, but still–it’s a good thing to work on.

Then I started thinking about our hearts.  And how we love.

That’s a good thing to work on too.

We don’t build up our arm muscles by continuing to do the same thing every day–by only lifting the laundry from the dryer or the groceries from the car.  We have to be consistent, and we have to go outside our comfort zones to be strong and stronger.  We have to lift things we wouldn’t normally lift.

I think it’s the same in building up our hearts–and our capacity to love.  We don’t do it by loving the same people all the time.  We do it by loving folks outside our comfort zones.  And by doing it consistently.  That’s the only way to build up our love muscles.  Loving those we wouldn’t normally love.  Going out of our way for them.  For others.

And that’s the only way to build up the kingdom too.

A kingdom where I’d really like to live.

Wishing you all a day of working out–and building up those muscles.  For the good of all of us.

Love to all.

Die_Frau_als_Hausärztin_(1911)_135_Bruststärker
“Die Frau als Hausärztin (1911) 135 Bruststärker” by Anna Fischer-Dückelmann – Die Frau als HausärztinLicensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

The “H” Word and Why I’m Not Saying It

I have had it on the tip of my tongue more than once this week.

And I’ve held it back.  Held it in.

Tried to change my way of thinking, the way I see what is before me.

I’ve really tried to keep the “h” word away from how I feel about this day.  This day that makes the card companies and the florists and the chocolatiers and restaurants all so very happy.

And so many of the rest of us just NOT.

But right behind all of the negative thoughts, I realized that hating any day would be disrespectful of the one who raised me, the one I miss so much, the one whose absence makes me dread the day.

In my Mama’s eyes, hating any day was pretty much a sin.  It is a gift given, and it should be appreciated.  Not everyone gets this day.  Go with it and fill it with love and laughter and sharing light.  

That was my Mama.

So, on this day, that has every single person feeling any myriad of emotions from joy to sorrow to pain to happiness to dread to anticipation, I decided to do what my Mama taught me to do.

Try to find something to be thankful for.

Tonight I’m thankful for the woman who made the decision to have me–she chose me over her college degree, after she was advised to quit with only two quarters left in order to have a healthy pregnancy.  I’m thankful for her patience and perseverance over the years.  Every bit of that went into making me who I am right this minute.

My Mama was a strong woman.  She still is–she’d have to be, the way I still hear her voice and feel her guiding me, strong as ever, even three years after she took her last breath.

I realize this Mamahood journey isn’t an idyllic one.  It’s not what the greeting cards would lead one to believe.  But before I start groaning about messy rooms and little people full of sass, I think about those for whom this day will be especially hard.  And I hush my mouth.

You see, I “lost” my Mama.  (I didn’t really lose her, but for the lack of a better word right now, we’ll go with it.)  But y’all, that’s how life goes, isn’t it?  It’s what one might could call the “proper order of life.” As we grow older, our parents leave this world, and somehow, unbelievably, we carry on.  However, there are sweet precious Mamas who still walk this earth whose children no longer do.

I cannot fathom their pain.  I cannot imagine what Mother’s Day is like for them.

Strong women walk among us.  Amazingly strong women.

Like the Mama who, back when I was director of the child care center, brought in the three year old child she’d just adopted.  She worked with this child who didn’t always know what to do with her feelings, and she raised her the best she could, all by herself.  I ran into this Mama last fall at a funeral for a mutual friend.  I asked her about her daughter, and her eyes darkened for just a second before she smiled again.  Her sweet child, long grown, had passed from this world a couple of years before.  This woman who stood before me–still a Mama, always a Mama–pulled her daughter’s funeral program, with her obituary, from her purse and pressed it into my hands.  “Take it,” she said.  “I keep extras with me all the time.”  Oh bless.  Bless her heart and all the broken pieces she has had to pick up and put back together–and still does–as she faces this world day after day without her child.

Or the Mama whose only child left this world, although grown, long before his time. Each Easter Eve, she boils three or four eggs. In her kitchen by herself, she dyes these eggs, and puts all but one in her Frigidaire.  The last egg she places in a tiny basket with grass and takes out to her son’s grave.  “Because the boiled eggs were his favorite.”  The next day she goes back and cleans it all up.  She’s done this each year, and it makes her tired heart smile to remember the Easters when the boiled eggs made him smile that beautiful smile of his.

Then there are the Mamas who have watched their children go through great pain and heartache.  I’ve stood in the afternoon sun, listening as a sweet Mama talked about the struggles her grown baby had gone through.  She knows him best.  She knows what everyone else thinks has hurt him, but she sees through it and holds him in her heart and prayers.  She holds on to the hope that one day he will smile again, without the pain showing through his eyes.

Much like the hope the Mama whose son is on the streets hangs on to.  She’s tried her best to help him, but the addictions have a stronger hold on him.  And so he calls her from time and time.  She takes him to breakfast or takes him to buy a new pair of pants.  She listens for the phone calls that don’t come, and when they do, she bows her head before answering, dreading the news she knows will eventually come.  And yet, still she hopes.

The thing I like least about this day is that it draws a line between “us” and “them.”  The ones who have children and the ones who don’t.  The ones whose children are doing well and the ones whose children aren’t.  The people whose Mamas are still living and the ones whose Mamas are not.  The children, young and old, who had wonderful relationships with their Mamas–and the ones who didn’t.  The lines that could be drawn are endless.

In honor of my Mama, I won’t take the blessings of where I am on either side of these lines  for granted.  I won’t focus on what I had.  Instead I will look around at all that I have and hold them tight in my arms and heart, and I will SMILE.  There might be moments when tears will accompany the smiles, and there will be moments when I stumble and forget to be thankful, but I will keep smiling.

Because it’s just a day.  Like all days, a precious gift.  And Monday’s coming.

And in the words of my very wise, much loved Mama, who told me not to have regrets about “us” when her time here was done, I will celebrate and proclaim as she often did, “Happy Everyday!”

Because life and this journey is more than just this one day a year.  And we are all in this together, no matter what side of the lines we are on.

Love to all.

Vergissmeinnicht,_40_cm_x_40_cm-SG107822
“Vergissmeinnicht, 40 cm x 40 cm-SG107822” by Alo Bové – Own work, 2012-06-27. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vergissmeinnicht,_40_cm_x_40_cm-SG107822.jpg#/media/File:Vergissmeinnicht,_40_cm_x_40_cm-SG107822.jpg

 

 

 

the red couch

flying down the interstate
one goal in mind
home
mile after mile
and then unexpectedly
we see
a red couch
abandoned, in the emergency lane

cushions awry
broken slats

someone will walk into the house
and feel incomplete
like something is lost, missing
for their red couch is no longer there
waiting for them
to continue with their stories intertwined–
the couch filled with tears
and laughter and movie nights
and evenings spent reading together
by the fire,
hardly noticed
until it was gone

some will be angry
others wondering why
some blaming, some crying
some simply sitting where it used to be
wishing somehow they could bring it back

and so that is how it is
today
with you gone
and your stories with you–
how will we go on,
walking into the room
or the gathering
or taking the photograph
with one less smile?

like the couch
we are lost and broken
without you here

this journey
with all its pain and goodbyes
and finding joy in the hardest of days
laughter in the midst of the tears

it’s baffling
it’s all so baffling

much like a red couch
abandoned
on the trip back home

Red_sofa
By Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/190007) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons