Share the Stories, Say Their Names

Today I sat in a church that holds memories of important days for me and added one more.  I sat there, saying goodbye to a man who taught me Physical Science in college.  And so much more.

It was a privilege sitting with others who love and miss him, listening to the one who was closest to him share his stories–some from as far back as 51 years and others as recent as four days ago, when this wonderful man took his last breath and the room was filled with peace.

As the stories were told, I was mesmerized.  I love listening to stories.  Maybe some folks were antsy, wondering how much longer, but all I could think of was More.  Please tell me one more.

Afterward I did get to hear more.  As people gathered around the tables heavy laden with foods, savory and sweet, they shared their memories.  Laughter and tears flowed freely.  Hugs were given again and again.  Old friends were reunited, and new friends were introduced.  The sun was shining, and the promised rain never came.

Only a gentle breeze that offered refreshment and relief from the afternoon heat.

Tonight I’m thinking about those stories, and how people from many different parts of this one man’s life came together to honor, remember, share, and listen.  There were people he’d taught, people he’d mentored, ones he’d worked with, others who worked for him, folks he worshipped alongside of, people who shared his love of camellias or music or books or good food…..

So many different people.  Gathered there in one place because of their love for this one very special person.

A beautiful thing to see and be in the midst of.

It was an added gift that I saw folks whom I love and have not seen in a long time.  I got to visit with women who were basically “rock stars” in my mind–they were prominent on my college campus when I was there.  I got to introduce them to my own Wesleyanne, and it warmed my soul to see her wrapped up in their stories from another time of the campus she loves so much.

I visited with a high school friend, and we laughed and laughed, and I know now why women go to the bathroom together.  It’s good to have a posse, y’all–no matter how many years go by between seeing each other.  My daughter looked at my friend’s daughter and could not believe how old they are both getting.  Yeah, that’s where life takes you, my girl.  Down a path that moves so quickly you are constantly surprised at how everything and everyone is changing.  It can be dizzying at times.

One of my favorite moments came when a family I’ve known for over thirty years came in and sat behind me in the church.  It was good to see their smiling faces.  I leaned over to my girl and whispered, “I babysat him once upon a time.”  Her eyes grew big as she took in the thirty-something year old man behind her.  “Wow,” she mouthed back.

His sweet Mama whom I remember from library events and school things–she’s dotted all through my childhood memories–leaned in to hug me.  “I love your blog,” she said.

Y’all.  That meant so much to me, yes.  To know that someone out there is reading these stories I share–and then her kind words.  Yes.  Thank you.  (I am humbled and honored when I discover that someone spends his/her time reading something I have written.)

But what meant the most to me was what she said next.  And she said it again in the hallway outside the bathroom in the parish hall.

“When I read them, I can see your Mama.  And I can hear her,” she said, smiling her beautiful smile.  “And your Daddy too.”

She knew my Mama–living in a small town, folks know just about everybody, but they volunteered together and well, she remembers.

And THAT meant everything to me.  She said their names, and she remembered.  I want to hold on to that moment for a long, long time.  In that moment, it was almost like I hadn’t completely lost them.

Today was about listening to stories.  And sharing them.  But most of all, today reminded me to speak the names of those whom we love who are no longer walking alongside us.  There is power in saying their names, in sharing their stories.  In that moment, we can bring their memory and stories to life and begin to heal the hearts of those who are hurting from the pain of missing the ones they love.  No matter how long it has been.

Whose story can you share today?  Who needs you to speak the name of one they love?  Whose story will you sit and listen to today?

Those stories, y’all.  They matter.  Some days, they’re all we have.

Love to all.

Flip the Flag

Miss Sophie and I went for a walk late this evening, after the sun was well behind the trees and there was a lovely breeze blowing, dissipating some of the heat from the day.

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As we walked down the cul-de-sac, I noticed a flag up on a mailbox, and in that moment, I wished we had flags like mailboxes.

A flag that we could flip up as a signal to say, “Hey, notice me.  Stop here for second, could you?  Can I please give you some of this that’s weighing on me for you to take away?  Will you share something with me that will brighten my day?”

Maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but that’s it.  I think that a flag to flip up when the words are hard to say–that would be just what I need sometimes.

Wishing you all the words to say and the people to hear them.  And to understand.

Love to all.

upon being awakened by the sound of a fly buzzing

upon being awakened by the sound of a fly buzzing,
trapped, I could only suppose, behind the blinds
I began to wonder

it didn’t sound frightened or scared,
just the persistent buzzing
much like a bee as it goes about its business
humming, happily oblivious
or not, I guess,
to all that is happening around it

and I wondered how many times
I mistake the words coming from a person
sitting right next to me
as meaning she is okay–
hearing what she says but not really listening

and realizing

she too is trapped behind the blinds
or the masks
or the circumstances that have her feeling afraid,
lost,
with nowhere to turn

such that she just continues to buzz
hoping that someone will hear
and understand her cries for help

and set her free

The One About a Phone Call, Cardboard, and Loving While Letting Go

The number wasn’t one I recognized.  It was a local number so there were any number of folks it could have been.

When I answered and heard that voice, oh my heart.  Relief flooded in.  A smile covered my face.  I do love that voice.

And the one it belongs to.

Mac.

My friend.  I haven’t heard from him in several months.  The last I knew he was in a transitional home, sober for a few months, doing what it took to stay there and work the program.  To keep a roof over his head.  And then the communication stopped.

I feared then what I now know happened.

Mac got fed up.  He was tired of following the rules.  This is not the first time he’s left this home or another like it.  But it might be the last.  I don’t know where else there is for him to go if he wants to get off the streets again and fight the disease of addiction that is wearing him down.

But for today, hearing his voice was wonderful.  He was calling to check in.  To see how we were doing.  We talked about piano lessons and math books–he guessed correctly which of the littles wasn’t happy with their math today.  The rain has run him off from his usual “camp.”  We talked about how nice the weather was today and how his best friend JJ is doing.

But there was more.

“I just wanted you to know that wasn’t me they pulled out of the river yesterday.”

ummmmm, what?

“Yeah, they pulled some guy out of the river, and I didn’t want you worrying.”

I don’t keep up with the news as much as I should, so I hadn’t heard about this.  Mac went on to say that yeah, he was some white guy and none of them knew who he was.

Bless him.  Bless all of them.

Mac confirmed what I thought, that he had left the home back in August, and that he was sticking close to one particular area of his hometown.  He isn’t able to get around as easily as he did before, and even back then he was very limited.

Now he has a walker.  It’s one that someone donated.  He can take breaks, walking, and sit on this walker he has, and that makes getting around a little better.  He still isn’t able to make the long trek to the church where lunch is served on weekdays very easily.  Most days not at all.  So he sticks close to the convenience store.

“Yeah, a few days ago, the cops come along, and I was panhandling there.  I told ’em just go ahead and arrest me.  But they didn’t.”  He told me this very matter of factly.

“Did you want to be arrested?”  He’s wanted it before.  To get out of the weather and fight his addiction.

“No, not really. But I figured they were there, they saw me doing it. Might as well.”

Ah.

“But they didn’t.  They went and pulled some cardboard out of the dumpster and made a bed for me to lay on behind the store.  I’d had a little bit to drink, so they walked me around there and told me to go rest.”

I listened, waiting.  He laughed.
I finally asked my question–“Well was that a good thing?  I mean, you were glad?”

“Heck, yeah!” he said, laughing again.  “I mean they went digging in the dumpster for that cardboard for me.  They didn’t have to do that.”

No.  No, they didn’t.  Bless them too.

Tonight I am thankful for a phone call that reconnected me with my friend, my brother.  I am learning how to do this thing called life just as he is–as we go along.  One day, one moment at the time.  And I’m learning it’s not about helping him get where I want him to be, but more about loving him right where he is and not asking him to be any different.  It’s hard, but I know now it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Just love him.

I think it’s okay for me to want something better for him, but it’s not okay for me to define what that is for him.

I can’t help but worry though.  Convenience stores are high on temptations and low on nutrition.  There’s him falling down and breaking something.  Falling down and no one knowing.  All of this rain.  Mosquitoes.  Unkind people.  Hunger.  Addiction.

But for tonight I turn to the warmth in my heart of knowing where he is, and that for this moment, he is okay.  He is my brother, and I love him.

And for a Monday, as hard as it is to leave it there, that will have to be enough.

Love to all.

“Owww”

Last week I was visiting with my friend Shirley, and she told me about her grandson’s day at school.

Sam has autism and apraxia.  As I know very little about the different aspects of autism, I apologize in advance for any terminology I get wrong here.  Sam doesn’t communicate verbally very much. With apraxia, Sam knows what he wants to say but the brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements so that he can say them.  Thankfully, after quite a wait, he now has a device that he can type in what he wants to share, and it voices it for him.  He can then practice repeating after the voice box on the device.

Shirley says this is a huge help.

So at school one day last week, Sam’s teacher heard him say “ow.”  He said it several times. “Owww.”  She became concerned, so she asked him if he was hurt.  No.  Was anyone else hurt?  No.  She asked him why he kept saying it, and he replied with his device two words.

Michael Jackson.

Wow.

I love this story so much.

Shirley says that Sam is crazy about Michael Jackson.  Being of a certain *ahem* age, I know my Michael Jackson music, and if you do too, you know how much he says “Owww” in his songs.

Bless it.

Thank goodness for music and how it reaches beyond walls that others think might separate us.  I am thankful for teachers who ask questions, and for teachers who share good stories like this one with the families.  I am especially grateful for technology that is opening doors that otherwise never would have been open.  And for little guys who embrace music and know their favorite artists–well, I just love it.  I love his spirit.

I also love that Sam’s teacher took the time to ask questions and to hear his story.  She didn’t ignore him.  She didn’t just assume.  She asked.  And what a surprise that answer was, I bet.  I hope it made her day.  I know it made mine.

May we all be just as willing to sit and listen and not to discount ANYONE.  We all have a story and a smile to share.  We just need someone willing to receive it.

Owww!

Love to all.

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Learning from a Bear

The littles and I have been reading A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond.  In anticipation of the movie, don’t you know.

Because I am THAT parent.  The one who treks all over trying to find a copy of the original book.  (Speak to me of the “movie adaptations,” and I may not be able to look at you the same way–or at all–ever again.  #booksnob)

And the one who has us reading it BEFORE we go see the movie.  After all, that’s what it says to do right there on the cover.

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Finding the original was harder than I thought it would be.  The on-line megastore was sold out; they said it would take weeks to deliver.  Our local bookstore sold out every time a copy came in.

We finally saw one behind the cash register as we were checking out at the other bookstore in town, and no one had claimed it.

So we did.

We’ve been reading it a chapter at a time.  We were all excited because there are only 8 chapters.  We thought we could zip on through it.  But the chapters are very long, so it’s taking us a little longer than we anticipated.  We are enjoying our time reading aloud to each other though.  In the car, at home–it’s an amusing story.  And precious.  I laughed out loud over the spelling of “Modom” when the store salesman snootily addressed Mrs. Brown.  I could hear his tone perfectly.

Today it was my turn to read aloud.  Poor Paddington.  He was in quite a pickle.  He just got this new overcoat that he was quite thrilled about, but when he bent over the hood covered up his face.  Only he thought the lights had gone out.  So he headed towards what he believed to be the door and wound up in the window display, knocking everything over.  When he realized what had happened, he said, “Oh dear. I’m in trouble again.”  He realized that some people, most likely a lot of people would be cross.  And then he thought–

“People weren’t very good at having things explained to them, 

and it was going to be difficult explaining how his duffle coat hood had fallen over his head.”*

Bless him.  And he’s right, isn’t he?

How often do I jump to conclusions and start my ranting?  Rarely taking the time to let someone explain…..

Over spilled cups, broken toys, things missing, unlocked doors, locked doors, things not picked up, assignments not done…..

Oh me, Paddington, I’m one of THOSE people.

And I’m sorry.

Tonight I’m thankful for time reading with my littles.  I look forward to seeing the movie with them. I just hope we finish it in time.  It seems like movies come and go so quickly from the theaters these days.

I’m also thankful for books published almost sixty years ago that still have important things to say to us today.  I give thanks for the little bear with the hat that is his best so he doesn’t want a new one, and for my children’s innocent laughter over the things he says and does. (A bear who loves bacon and tucks it in his case to take along for the day?  Who wouldn’t love him, right?)

Most of all, I am grateful for a little bear who touched my heart and softened it a bit today.  I want to be the patient one so very badly.  I want to be one who listens first and reacts second.  I am afraid I have a long way to go though.

Wishing for us all a patient and listening heart and mind…..after all, hoods that fall over faces, that sort of thing could happen to anyone…..

Love to all.

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*Love this story by Michael Bond, copyrighted 1958.  To read more about it or order your own copy, click here.

why i will miss Christmas

come Friday I will be sad

that Christmas is over

few celebrate it all twelve days

anymore

 

my heart will be heavy

not because of the gifts

which will have all been given and received

and not because of things done

and left undone

cookies can still be baked

and stories can still be shared

 

instead I will be sad

over the loss of vision and hearing

that seems so much better

during Advent

as we watch and wait and listen

 

we watch with anticipation

for the lights

in the homes

and in the yards

that mean Christmas is near

 

we watch for the special gift

and the smiles on friendly faces

as we wander through shops

and markets

 

we watch for the lone light

on the back porch that

tells us someone is there,

that we are welcome,

and we are not alone

 

we watch for the colors

that bring cheer to the season,

the colors on ornaments,

sweaters, socks,

paper, and ribbons

 

we watch for the knowing glance

of a dear one we love,

and the smile that tells us we

will always be known

and loved

 

we listen for the sound of delight

as little ones and old alike

catch their first glimpse

of the lights so deliberately strung and hung

 

we listen closely for the words,

for the longing in the voice,

so we can find the perfect gift

we listen better and intently,

seeking clues about those we love

and what they like

 

we listen to the songs

that warm our hearts

and lift our spirits

through the stories they tell,

songs whose lyrics we know

and have sung for years and years

 

we listen to the quiet

and think about that night

in the barn that started all of this

listening and watching

and waiting

oh so many years ago

 

and then, as December comes

to a close,

we tidily box it all up–

this acute awareness–

and we hurry on our way,

back to the busy days

and the to do lists

and resolutions

and whatnot

and we forget sometimes

to listen and watch

and wait

until the magic

of the holiday comes

’round again

and reminds us

 

that listening and watching

and gathering with

those we love

is the greatest gift of all

 

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every. single. day.

all those good people

scurrying back and forth

carrying lists

lists of groceries for the food they’ll prepare

for their many,

lists of presents for the friends and family afar,

lists of gifts for the children,

lists of things to do during the hustle and bustle

of the holidays

 

and on that list

for many

“serve a meal

to those in need”

 

oh bless them

it’s a beautiful thing,

it really is,

to want to help those in need–

many come and ask,

do you know?

how?  where?  when?

 

and I do

but I don’t think they want to hear

if you only have one day, one hour a year

please just don’t

 

don’t serve a meal and never come back

don’t hand out groceries and go home

and forget

don’t stand out in the cold,

pouring hot chocolate into cups

that are sipped slowly,

for the warmth on the hands

is more needed than the drink,

don’t hand them a cup

and then go home and climb into bed and never

think of them again

 

for these folks who are just

a check mark

on a list

they live this life everyday

they sleep in the cold and the heat

they fight frostbite and mosquito bites

they can’t get a job to buy a car

because they don’t have a car,

they can’t go to job interviews

because they don’t have the clothes to wear,

a never-ending cycle of loss and need

 

folks need your help and love and offers

of kindness

not just on the fourth Thursday or the

twenty-fifth

or on the day of rest

but every. single. day.

 

and they need what they need–

food, shelter, clothes, homes–

but what they need most of all

is someone

someone

you

me

us

to sit with them

walk with them

listen to them

every. single. day

 

offer not what you think they need

one day or two

to fill you with holiday spirit…..

instead ask their story

and listen

and the pain and sadness in the brokenness

of the story

and the laughter and the joy

is not so different from yours and mine

it only lacks a caring listener

not just once

but every. single.  day.

 

go

be

that

one

for

another

 

 

 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

“I Think Jesus Loves a Good Hootenanny”

“Why I Don’t Volunteer with Homeless People” 

Because Life’s Too…..

Such a treat was in store for me today, and I had no idea.

This afternoon my oldest and I headed out to run an errand.  The littles were off with the Fella, so it was just the two of us.  We were off seeking treasure–the last five jars of No Nut Butter that Aunt had seen at the Big store.  After we finished there (got ’em), we decided to pop in at the GW Boutique across town before heading home.

And it was there that we came upon a second treasure.  Quite unexpectedly.

We had scanned shelves and flipped through some of the clothes racks.  It’s always fun to ponder what one could wear or how something would look and to search for new crock pot lids.  But that’s a story for another time.

As we traveled down an aisle, headed to the check out counter, we crossed paths with a lovely looking older lady.  She said something about how much she liked the skirt we’d picked out, and before long we were chatting and visiting like old friends do when they meet up at the library or the grocery store.

She told us a little of her story, widowed twice over because of that horrible cancer.  After her second husband died nearly twenty years ago, she started on her bucket list.  She will be 82 in the fall and still has two things left on her list.  One of which she plans on doing on her birthday.  As she told of her adventures, long waterslides, ice skating, skiing, there was a sense of peace and grace about her.  Such a beautiful person, inside and out.  We shared some of our story too.  About Aub’s upcoming sophomore year and post-graduate plans.  About how I was looking for a dress to cut off and make a fun top out of.  As we talked she looked at me intently and said, “You have the loveliest complexion.”

Oh my.  I was surprised.  I thanked her.

“Well if I do, I give my great Aunt credit for that, I guess,” I told her.  “She told me two things that I’ve carried with me all through my life.  First, don’t hold my nose every time I went underwater–it would make my nose pointy.  (too late)  And second, don’t wear makeup–she told me the sooner I started wearing it, the sooner I’d need it.  And so I just didn’t.”

This sweet lady smiled and gave a melodious chuckle.  (I told y’all she was lovely–everything about her.)  “That reminds me of my son and daughter-in-law when they got married.”

She shared the story with us.  This was many years ago, and the day of the wedding, her daughter-in-law’s bridesmaids decided to empty the bride’s suitcase of many things and pack it instead with rice or something like that.  Of the things they removed, her makeup was included.  The newly married couple traveled to Atlanta to spend the night, ready to fly out early the next morning for their honeymoon.  When the bride woke up and started to get ready for her day and the trip, she couldn’t find her makeup.  She was distraught, but her new husband looked at her and said, “You are beautiful just like you are.  You don’t need makeup to be beautiful.  You already are.”

Y’all.  Yes, we swooned.

That Mama raised a good boy, didn’t she?

And to this day, our new friend told us, all these many years later, that bride has never worn makeup again.  And from the way her mother-in-law described her today, she’s still just as lovely as she was when she was a newlywed.

Love.  This.  Story.

What an impact this short visit had on us.  Miss R (we are on a first name basis now) somehow looked my girl straight in the eyes, though she was a head shorter, and told her to get her education.  That if any fella came along, she just needed to tell him to hold on, that she was going to finish her education FIRST, so they could have a better life together after.  That no one should talk her out of that.

Then she looked at both of us, then back at Aub.  “Enjoy your life,” she said.  “Find something you love to do and do it well.  Because life’s too…..important.”

Oh how my heart sang in agreement with those beautiful words!

I had been so sure she was going to say life is too short, and while I am definitely in agreement with that, my soul rejoiced.  This. This is what I’ve been feeling.  Life IS too important.  To let the little things get us off track.  To let the big things derail us for very long. It’s too important not to just love on every one we meet. Too important to just accept things as they are with a shrug and a “I’m just passing through.”  It’s too important.  Beautiful, broken, and important.

Truth.

We left Miss R today, after reassuring her that her children and grandchildren were not wrong when they told her she could get away with outfits like the one she was wearing today.  She was adorable and elegant and graceful all rolled into one.  At one point I felt like she might be channeling my Mama in some of the things she said.  I just wanted to hug her.  So I did.  Twice.  Turns out she knows Aub’s godfather’s parents.  I love how small this world is sometimes.  And I love that there is a connection with this beautiful soul.

After our reluctant goodbyes and Aub and I were in the go-mobile headed home, we shared our thoughts on our visit.  We both were touched by this sweet lady who took time to visit with two strangers in the GW Boutique.

“That story about the makeup.  I LOVE that.  I think that should be a new tradition.  All bridesmaids should take the bride’s makeup,” my girl mused.

I agreed.  She then shared that she hadn’t worn much makeup all summer.  And she sounded happy about it.  Good on you, baby girl.  You are beautiful, and you don’t need it at all.  And one day you will find a lucky Fella who will think so too.

In the meantime, go and do exactly what Miss R told you to do today.  Live, laugh, do what you love, and enjoy life (“but not by doing things you shouldn’t” ahem).

Wishing you all an unexpected treasure or two.  Love to all.

 

Giving Thanks for Echoed Fears

Today when I was driving, making time to get things done, checking things off my list, I heard an old song by Pam Tillis–“Land of the Living,” written by Tia Sillers and Wayland Patton.  I have her Greatest Hits CD, and this was one of my favorites on that CD back when I was transitioning from my previous life into the new one I could barely fathom.

A line from the song today struck a chord with me, a different one from the many that did back then.  It was–

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One of the things taught about good listening is focus so you can repeat the problem or concern back to the person who just shared it.  If you can rephrase it, the person you are listening to knows he or she is being heard.

I think this lyric has a double meaning.  First, we all need to know we aren’t alone–that someone else struggles along the same path we are on.  They get it.  Second, when someone “echoes” our anxieties, worries, fears back to us, we know we are heard.  And maybe even understood.  Someone cares enough to really hear what our heart is trying to say.

Tonight I am thankful for the one who heard my fears today and echoed them and even had me laughing over them before it was over with.  That’s good stuff for sure, and I’m glad I can call her mine.

When I see someone who seems sad and struggling, I worry if they are alone in this world–if they have someone to listen and to help them over the bumps in the road.  Or to splash through the puddles with.  And laugh out loud.

As I give thanks, maybe I also feel challenged to be that someone for another.

As Mama used to say, “Pay it forward.” By, well, being the feather.  #bethefeather

Wishing you all someone to echo your fears, someone to listen–because your story matters too.  Love to all.