The Sign on the Path Oft Taken

First, this is not a political post or commentary.  That would be breaking one of my Daddy’s major rules for life–do not talk about politics in general company.  If you know me at all, you know I try not to ever disappoint my Daddy–or my Mama for that matter–even still.  I try to give them no cause to come back and give me a talking to.

Second, there is some language coming up.  I warn you in case you might have littles close by while you’re reading.  My apologies in advance.

Monday afternoon Cooter and I were riding up the interstate as we do several times a week–this time for his drama program.  Roles for the spring show were going to be announced, and between being excited about that and talking about his birthday coming up very soon, we were in high spirits.

As we got close to our exit, we saw the sign…..the sign that for many years has made clear that this business didn’t support our previous President but does support our current one.  It’s not an electronic sign, but the kind you have to put the letters up manually, so each message tends to stay a while.  There was a new one up on Monday.

I haven’t really had a problem with their political messages.  It’s their sign, their business, their right to put up their message.  Folks can choose not to read if they don’t agree, just as I do with social media posts that don’t geehaw with my way of thinking.

But Monday.  Monday.

Cooter saw it first.  And the question he asked drew my attention to it just before we passed it.

What.  On.  Earth.

Surely not.

“Mama, what does ‘MF’er’ mean?”

Y’all.

I did not want to have to talk to my 11 year old about that.  NOT AT ALL.  I’m not even sure I’d like to talk with my 23 year old about it.  Yep.  I just thought about it.  I would not.

After a quick glance at the sign which said, “Re-elect the @*’er 2020,” and a deep breath, I explained to him that it stood for a very ugly term and he wasn’t to ever use it.

He got it.

“Oh.”  He paused, as I turned on my turn signal for our exit.  “But Mama, they really should not, I mean SHOULD NOT have that on the sign!  I mean, that’s ugly.  What if a small child read that?”

Bless.  He has no idea that in my heart, he’ll always be my small child.

He paused again.  “I think we should sue them!”

(Sometimes I think having a sister in law school has him a little lawsuit happy.)

We talked about how suing them wasn’t feasible or likely to do any good.  “But can you tell them it’s not nice? That they shouldn’t put that up there?”

And so it was that I found myself on the phone today.  We double checked the name of the business on our way yesterday, because just as a I can quote you a commercial but not remember what the product was, I have passed by this place for years, but couldn’t remember what the business was called.

It turns out they have a few locations in our state, and the one closest to us is not the headquarters.  When a man answered the phone at the headquarters, I told him the location I was calling about.  Yes, they are all owned by the same person.

Our conversation started off nice enough.  Then I explained.

“I’m calling you because the language used on the sign at your location close to us is inappropriate and offensive.  I have no problem with the political commentary on the sign over the years, but if they were trying to win me over to their way of thinking, that would lose me right there.  I hate that I had to explain to my 11 year old what that term is and how ugly it is.  Even my child recognized that it is inappropriate and asked me to call you and tell you it’s ugly and ask you to take it down because he’s worried about small children reading it.  A child knows it’s wrong, but an adult–I assume it was an adult who put the message up–doesn’t?”

There was a pause. I wondered if maybe they hadn’t been aware. And then–

“Well–“he seemed to be shuffling a bit–“an adult said it first.”

Y’all.  *wide eyed stare*

I nearly choked on my indignation and disbelief.  An adult said it first?  I’m sorry, what?!?

I gathered my senses enough to reply.  “But don’t we teach our children that we don’t repeat everything we hear?  To discern right from wrong for themselves?  This is wrong.”

He sighed and said he’d share it with the owner.  I asked to speak to the owner and was told he was out to lunch, but that he’d give him my message.

And so that was that.

My heart was heavy and I had a bad taste in my mouth.  This is what is wrong with our world today.

My Mama raised us on several basic principles, but the top two were the Golden Rule–“Do unto others as you’d have done unto you,” and “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  I might have those in reverse order, as there was many a time one of the four of us would use as an excuse for some wrongdoing, “But he did it first…..” “But she was the one who…..” “and then he…..” “she said…..”

My Mama didn’t play that.  Ever.

I can almost see my Mama’s eyes rolling at the man’s response today.  Maybe because I saw my own in the mirror after I ended the call, and I look more like her everyday.  (I was hiding in my room for the call, as one does when privacy in a house full of folks is needed.)  Or maybe it’s because I know, I KNOW, she’d have had something to say about that excuse–“But an adult said it first.”

I can also hear my Mama, “well if an adult jumped off the bridge, would you?”

No ma’am.  NO MA’AM.

My heart breaks that this is what we’ve come to.  We respond, we retaliate, we follow blindly behind others–whether it be responding with inappropriate comments because someone said it first or participating in illegal or harmful activities because someone else was doing it first.

If someone else doing it first makes things justifiable, we are headed towards a whole lot worse world of hurt than we are in now.  Please, y’all, please–will you help me spread the word that taking the high road, the one oft less travelled, is best? (I know it’s hard–I struggle myself at times.)  Not responding in kind when hurtful words are spoken, not taking a sip or a puff when underage drinking or illegal drugs are present, not following along just because “everyone else is doing it.”  Can we please encourage and support each other to be stronger and better than that? Can we please break this vicious cycle before it breaks us?

Cooter was pleased I’d made the call.  Unfortunately he thought that would fix it, so he was very disappointed when we passed by tonight and the sign with its ugly combination of letters was still there.  “I hate that sign,” he mumbled, almost under his breath.

Oh buddy, I know.  I hate it too, and all that it represents–a world where tit for tat is okay.

But I hope that he never stops speaking up and out for what he sees is right and just and true.

Tonight I leave you with the wish below.  For you, for me, for Cooter, for the folks who made the decision to put those words on that business sign, and for all who feel the brokenness  in this world.  PEACE.  Love to all.

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Art by macon.ink Instagram @macon.ink

 

A Grace Filled Eve

Tonight I will gather with little folks (and a few big) whom I love right here in my living room, and we’ll debate about staying up to see the New Year in.  We may or may not watch some form of something dropping to beckon in 2018, and then the laughter will turn into sighs and we’ll gather up the remnants and used cups and crumpled napkins of 2017 and go to bed.

This is as good as I can do.  I don’t have big plans and schemes for this New Year.  If I start thinking of tomorrow as a day THAT ALL BIG THINGS MUST BEGIN, I kind of sort of start breathing a little funny and want to go crawl in Miss Sophie’s crate with her and wait for spring and for this “all great ideas and good intentions” phase to pass.

Because, see, my feet are cold, and most days I have to take it one day at a time.

My Mama said that is okay.

She said do your best, that’s all your Daddy and I ask of you.

And that I can try to do.  Moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour, and sometimes day by day.

But a whole year?  In one big gulp?

I’m happy for folks who are excited about the newness of tomorrow and the 364 days to follow.  But for many of us, 2017 and 2015 and 2013 and 2011 were really really hard, and we’re still learning a new way to breathe because of what happened when the clock turned over to November 13 and 17 and December 18 and February 10 and September 26 and May 12 and January 11 and all of the other days of the year when we had hard things happen.  For some of us, each day is a new challenge, filled with moments of learning new ways to live.

Grace.

If you are of the mind of taking on new ways of living and find tomorrow a good day to start, maybe grace could be a good one to add to the list.  Most of all, be kind to yourself.  And others.  When days are hard–for you or someone you know and those you don’t, offer grace and kindness.  Grace that it’s okay to say it’s hard and stay in bed for the day, literally or figuratively, and kindness in the midst of the struggles.  A smile, a listening ear, a hand to hold, patience, empathy.

Tomorrow we will have the traditional greens, peas, cornbread, and such.  I’ll try not to do anything I don’t want to be doing the rest of the year (though I’ve found reframing certain things has helped me in this old tradition), and I won’t be doing any laundry out of respect for the ones who’ve gone before me.  We will spend time sharing stories and laughing and remembering.

And I will do my best to rejoice and be glad in the day, as my Mama reminded me I am called to do everyday.

But for now, I just can’t take on the chunk of a year all at once.  If you are struggling with another day of celebrating and being surrounded by festive spirits, know you are not alone. We are all doing the best we can and walking each other home, as Ram Dass wrote.  Come sit with me, Miss Sophie will make room, and we’ll warm our toes by the fire and sit quietly and we will be okay.  And if tomorrow is a day of new beginnings for you, I wish you all the best. Some of us will be celebrating the dawning of a New Year and some will be thankful for making it another day and some folks will be somewhere in between.  AND ALL OF THAT IS OKAY.

Grace.

Wishing you all a good night’s rest, the energy to get up tomorrow, and the still quiet of peace settled in your heart today and in all the days to come.

Love to all.

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May we all take the words to my much loved and missed friend Denise to heart today and every day–“What people in our community need the most is for us to slow down and love each other.”

That’s Hilarious…..and Important

A few days ago I had the privilege of speaking with a most delightful fellow on the phone.  My little nephew, who just turned four, woke up from his nap and came in the room where my brother was on the phone with me.  The miles divide, but the heart does not.  Thankfully so.  When his Papa told him who he was talking to, the little guy got on the phone and said hello.

My brother was suffering with a pretty bad cold.  After we said our hey, how are you’s I asked my little friend about his father.  “So are you taking good care of Papa?  Since he’s sick?”

“Uh huh,” he said.  I could almost see his head nodding over the phone.

“Oh good,” I replied.  “I need you to take very good care of him, because I love him.  He’s my baby brother.”

“What?!” he exclaimed in disbelief.  He turned to my brother. “Papa, Aunt Tara says you are her baby brother!” He giggled as he relayed this silly idea.

“That’s right.  I am.  She’s my big sister,” I heard my brother say on the other end of the phone.

“What?!” my nephew repeated through his giggles.  “THAT’S HILARIOUS!!!!!”

Oh, the joy in hearing him erupt with laughter on the other end of the line!  Bless him, I miss my brother and his family.  The laughter was like a balm to my soul.

I’ve been thinking about that little guy and his shock and disbelief about our connectedness.  It was as though something like that had never even entered his mind.  About how we are joined together.  The string that connects us.

I am thankful for my nephew, his laughter, his joy, and his reminder that sometimes we might not know or remember just how much we are all–every single one of us–connected.  And oh–the joy and laughter that knowledge should bring.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to remember the things that divide us–those things tend to be so much easier to focus on, don’t they?

But wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone to remind us of that connectedness and laugh like a child with joy over that knowledge?

Hilarious.  And fabulous.

And one of the most important things to remember.

Love to all.

 

Umbrella and Steagles and 2017

Hard to believe since today has been cold as all get out, but a couple of months ago the littles had a swim meet.  It was one of those Georgia days that started out pleasant–the temperature just right–but rapidly moved into the “I’m sweating an ocean right where I’m sitting” situation.  The Fella was helping as a timer, so he was somewhat in the shade, but Aub and I–not so much.  We sat in our camping chairs (that have never been camping, but they have attended numerous sporting events over the years) and tried not to complain about the heat too much.

Because it was hot as mess.

We were using arms and sunglasses to block the burning glare, but there really was no escape for those of us who were watching the meet.  We were drinking all the water (subtracting out what may or may not have been poured on one or both of us in an effort to cool us off) as we cheered our swimmers on.

Just when we didn’t think we could bear it any longer, a woman came up to us from the pool area.  Separated by the chainlink fence, she hoisted her black umbrella up above her head and over the fence.

“Please take my umbrella.  I’m about to leave, but my son is over there.  He’s staying until the meet is over because his daughter is still swimming.  You can just give it back to him when the meet is over, okay?”

I was stunned.  Not only had this stranger offered us protection from the glaring rays of the sun in the form of her lovely umbrella, but she’d been paying attention.  To us.  Folks she’d never met before.  And she’d noticed our distress.

Of what she had, she was giving.

I’ve thought about her many times over the past few months since.  She touched my heart with her generosity and interruptibility and compassion.  And with her umbrella, which was the embodiment of those three things.  She saw, she noticed, (and those are two very different things), and she gave.  She was the umbrella.

Two days ago Cooter shared with me a story that he read in one of his books of football stories.  In 1943 because so many young men were being drafted for WW II, two teams–the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers–combined the players that each had left, so they’d have enough players to make a team.  Formerly bitter rivals, they worked together and had a winning season.  Though not their official name, the blended team was called the “Steagles.”  During a time of crisis, the ones who were former “enemies” banded together, worked together for the good, and created a winning team.

As 2016 comes to a close, both of these stories are at the forefront of my mind.  While I know my Mama would be fussing at me for disregarding the beauty and joy in everyday, several times over the past month or two, I’ve said along with many–“Good riddance, 2016.”  I know it hasn’t been all bad, but good gravy, we’ve had some doozies this year, haven’t we?

As I turn the page of my calendar tomorrow and greet a new day, a new year, I look for my word–the word to carry with me through the year, to hold close and inspire me, to encourage me, and to challenge me to, as my Mama used to say, “be my best self.”

For 2017, I’ve chosen two words.

umbrella

By Camera: Sternenlaus, Photo: birdy (selfmade by see authors) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 ((http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Umbrella

As I seek to make the coming year a better one, one that welcomes all, encourages all, loves all, I need to be the umbrella.  See, notice, share.  Offer protection, shelter, comfort, love.  And I need to pass along the umbrellas offered to me.  Pay it forward, backwards, upside down–pass it along to whomever, wherever/whenever it is needed.  And the really cool thing about umbrellas is even if you can’t afford to let it go, there’s usually almost always room to invite another soul in out of the rough stuff to stand beside you and be protected alongside you.

steagles-giants

By The original uploader was Coemgenus at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Steagles

This is going to be a year of collaboration, community, teamwork.  It will have to be.  I think great and beautiful things can happen.  But only if we are willing to break through the perceptions that are barriers, the ones that keep us from seeing how alike we are despite the world posting the differences on a lighted marquee sign.  While it will be way out of my comfort zone, I think it’s time to join up with folks from the other teams and see if we can do any better together.

Because better is what we need.

Desperately.

My last umbrella wound up going to someone on an exit ramp during a bad rainstorm.  Which is as it should be.  So I’m out of umbrellas and I doubt I can find a Steagles jersey on Etsy (but you can find Falcons ones, and that’s all I’m going to share about that because birthdays and whatnots are coming up, don’tcha know), but I can carry the spirit of them both with me and share it with folks I come across on the backroads and interstates and sidewalks.

Tonight I’m thankful for old WWII football players and grandmas at swim meets.  They both have taught me a great lesson–one I’m going to try my level best to live out in 2017.

Happy New Year!  But as Mama would say–even more importantly, Happy Everyday!

Love to all.

 

 

Be the Kicker

Sunday morning Cooter came into our room, bouncing on the bed.  It being a day of rest, the Fella and I were trying to stretch it out as long as possible.  Cooter is a morning person, me–not as much.

He was excited about the upcoming Falcons game, and he and his partner in all things football talked about the games from the night before.  I may have zoned out a tad during this bit.  Eventually the conversation caught my attention again–when I heard the Fella say, “Yeah, I don’t know if I’d want to be the kicker.  You have to be on standby, ready to be called in at any time.”

The conversation lost my attention again at that point, as I thought about the kicker.  I used to imagine stress as like being the catcher in a baseball game–ready for a ball to come from any direction.  But a kicker, sitting on the sidelines, not knowing for sure when he will be called in…..and expected to help the team out in a big way when he is?  Bless.

Because that’s the thing about football–there’s never a time when you tell the kicker, “Eh, just whatever, man.  It won’t matter.”

Anything and everything that kicker does matters.

That night I was in my think tank (some folks call it a shower), and I started pondering on who the kickers are in my life.  Those folks who are there, on my team, ready to step in whenever, wherever I need them.

Like Mess Cat making the time to come out after dark to pick up our Princess because I was with our drama king, Cooter, at his dress rehearsal.  (Coming out after dark is a whole ‘nother level of showing up, y’all.)  Or my Aunt who picks up the phone and listens and shares laughter and wisdom and “poor baby’s.”  Or my Cousin who answers my SOS texts when I’ve sliced my finger open, cutting up the cabbage for supper.  Or Aub who hangs out with her siblings so I can go do what needs doing.  Or the Fella who takes time from work when things go awry.  Or my brother who listens so well or my neighborfriend who picks up oyster crackers for my sick one or steps up in so many other ways…..my friends…..family…..And so many more–all these wonderful kickers, who are there, waiting, willing to be called into “the game” (and chaos) of my life.  Present, interruptible, loving, wonderful people.

I think we are called to be kickers in this life.  Doing our own thing, sure, but never forgetting we are a part of a Team, sharing the same goal, same dreams.  Helping each other out whenever need be.

Kick on, my friends.

Love to all.

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.

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By Wesleyan College [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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