Bad Guys and Hurting People

We had a house full of fun little folks today.  They played and ran and talked and got to know each other in such a way that I am convinced the littles in this world should be in charge of peace negotiations.

They know what’s most important.

Like favorite colors, how to ask for what they really want, favorite Star Wars characters, how to share dressup clothes and stickers, and how to use their imaginations.  They are kind and even when it’s hard, they acquiesce and take turns when they are reminded that’s how we roll.


At one point Cooter, all decked out in his shield and body armor and sword (thank you GW Boutique), came up behind me and announced in his “announcing” voice:  “I’m a bad guy.  I hurt people.”

And then he ran off.  To wreak havoc and make superheroes cry, I guess.

He’s a cute little guy, but he’s so much more–sometimes the words that come out of his mouth really make me think.

Like in this instance.

Because what has weighed on my heart today is that it’s not always the bad guys who hurt people.  Their feelings and emotions and sense of being okay.  In many cases, it’s the people we hold near and dear who really hurt us the most.  Or whom we hurt.  Without even thinking.

It’s sad.

The hurt that is caused by “bad” guys is bad, but the hurt that is caused by someone whom we think loves us–whether intentional or not–that pain goes much, much deeper.

And it takes a lot longer to heal.

I am glad that my seven-year old son sees the world in black and white right now.  It hasn’t been long since I realized there are all these shades of gray out there.  I have often heard and even quoted, “Hurting people hurt people.”  And while I think that’s true, I think it’s important to realize that not all hurting people are bad.  In fact many are good–they’re just going through something that is causing them heartbreak and pain, and that gets passed along.

Tonight I’m thankful for the words of my little guy that have me looking at my heart and thinking about the pain I’ve caused, some inadvertently and some, I’m ashamed to say, not.  I wonder how much longer before his world gets rocked and he figures out all who hurt others are not bad.

It’s a lesson I needed reminding of today.

Love to all.




Bouncing Back is Optional

I just finished reading Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.  Forget that book about the shades of gray, this book is all about the gray.  There is no black or white clear-cut good guys or bad guys or women and girls in this book.  It was not a hard book to read, but it was a hard read.  Just when I’d decided where I stood on the characters and what was happening, the character telling the story changed and there I was again–in the Land of Gray.

But that’s where we all live isn’t it?  I’m glad I read the book, even though it frustrated me at times that there were no concise answers, good and bad. It made me think and feel emotions that I later questioned, and that part wore me out.  Wesleyan alumnae were encouraged to read the book as part of the Pioneer Book Club.  All of the first-year students were required to read it as part of their first-year seminar classes, so it was a way to connect alumnae to life on campus.  I was motivated to read it because my oldest is a first-year there and mentioned that she thought the book was good.

Then she finished it before me.

And she immediately posted on Facebook on a Tuesday afternoon:

Just finished “Silver Sparrow” and I’m sitting here about to cry in Starbucks.

I think to say I enjoyed it would be an odd choice of words.  It triggered some feelings for me, maybe because of stuff from my previous life.  But yes, I’m glad I read it, and at some point, I would like to read something else by Ms. Jones.

But it was when I came to the last paragraph in the book that I paused and gave thanks for having read it through to the end.  (spoiler alert here)  Because I know what she is talking about.  I live there everyday.


I know folks mean well, but sometimes people don’t need to hear about doors or windows that will open.  Nor do I believe that things that are hurtful or sad or painful will make any of us a better person or a stronger person.  Those things will shape who we are, yes, but for better or for worse?  Who’s to say?

So tonight I am thankful that someone else out there gets it.  And maybe if she does, it is possible that there are others.  Maybe I’m not as abnormal or mal-adaptive as I thought I was.

Or maybe I am.  Either way, I’m thankful for writers like Tayari Jones who write about the real shades of gray in this world and let those out there who hurt, who question, who doubt, and who are scraping by know that it’s okay NOT to feel stronger–they are not alone.  It’s good to know bouncing back is optional.

Mama and the Drug Dealer

Last August when Mama was in the hospital, she had a really rough time.  She had been admitted with a temp registering over 105.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frightened in my life.  They took her back immediately and left me to do the intake…..and worry what was happening back there.  She was dehydrated, her blood levels were off–it wasn’t good at all.

As happens they needed to “get a vein” on Mama quite often during that ten day HospitalStay.  Putting in an IV was especially tricky.  Mama did not, for whatever reason, have what could be deemed “good veins.”  I watched her in pain as nurse after nurse tried to find a way to get it set up.  Eventually they did, but each time Mama was left more exhausted than before.  And unfortunately, the vein would give out I guess or she would be in great pain, and they’d have to move it again.

Between me, my Aunt, and my siblings we stayed with Mama pretty much around the clock.  I spent the nights with her.  Though you could still hear voices in the hall and the lights were as bright as ever out there, there was a hush that came over the hospital after dark.  People who came in the room talked in low tones, and were more deliberate in their movements.  Often I dozed through the comings and goings.  One of the symptoms of Mama’s newly diagnosed syndrome was that she could run a fever and then sweat so profusely the bedclothes would need changing.  The staff was very good about helping her and sometimes changing the linens twice in one night.  They understood.  I’m so thankful for that.  And Mama, who had been to nursing school, kept a keen eye out for which ones had those special bedmaking skills.  Before she was discharged, I knew what was considered the right way, and who the best bedmakers were on our floor.

One night I had been sleeping for a couple of hours when I awoke to voices talking quietly, almost a whisper.  I sat up and Mama said, “Oh Tara, you have to hear the story that Sonya* just told me.  She’s the best at setting up IV’s.”  I smiled and rubbed my eyes.  Mama was beaming.  Sonya was finishing up connecting the IV, but it was in, and Mama wasn’t hurting.  Oh so thankful.  “I’d like to hear it.”

pic of drug needles

Sonya had been in nursing school in Virginia I think.  Mama liked that because her baby boy and his family live there, and it was a connection for her.  Eventually, Sonya wound up in New York doing some training.  Late one night she was having a hard time getting a vein on a patient.  One of the more experienced nurses told her to go up on the ninth floor to see Harold*.  He could help her with accessing veins.  Sonya went up and found Harold, an older gentleman patient diagnosed with AIDS.  He was a former drug dealer.  One of the aspects of his business was showing new folks how to get a vein, in the hopes that they’d get hooked on the drugs I suppose.  He was very, very good.  Maybe at selling drugs too, I really don’t know.  But eventually he wanted out of it.  He quit dealing, turned his life around and was involved in many good programs helping people before AIDS put him in that hospital.  On the ninth floor.  Where he taught Sonya–very well–how to “get a vein.”

The next morning as we sat, like you do in a hospital room, I thought about Sonya’s story.  “Hey, Mama, did you ever think you’d be thankful for a drug dealer and his skills?”  I don’t remember her answer.  She might have been sleeping.  All I know is I was and still am thankful for him.  And for Sonya who took the time to learn from someone others might have overlooked, something that all of her patients from then on would benefit from.

A few weeks ago I wrote about all the shades of gray in our world.  And remembering this brings it home for me.  So often in the past couple of weeks I have said to my Aunt or my friend or to my oldest–and yes, in frustration quite honestly–“See, no one can be put in a ‘white’ or ‘black’ box.  We are all a mixture of good and bad, light and dark, and we all go in the ‘GRAY’ box.”  *sigh*  So often I wish I could just write off someone who has upset me or disappointed me because there was nothing redemptive about him or her.  But it’s just not that easy.  There’s no all the way on anything or anyone.  It’s always a mix.

And that’s why I love this story.  The story of how my Mama, a feisty but sweet Mama of four, volunteer, Winnie the Pooh lover, great cook, reader, artist, and writer was touched and blessed by a drug dealer from New York City.  Because that part of his life did not ultimately define him.  Just as no one part of Mama’s life defined hers.  We are all these amazing stories whose lives intersect in the most fascinating and ordinary of ways and at the most interesting times.  And when they do, isn’t it breathtaking the stuff that can come of it?  When I think about the ripples, all the lives touched in a good way by Harold because he was a part of helping programs, because he was willing to share his skills with nurses, I am blown away.  Just as there’s no way of counting the lives that Sonya touched and still touches as she goes about caring for patients and helping people heal and be comfortable.  Or how many little lives my Mama touched all those years she read to children in classrooms at Byron Elementary.  I think that’s one of the coolest things ever.  How our stories travel far and wide to places we’ve never even been.  My Mama and a drug dealer’s lives connected?  That’s the most beautiful shade of gray I’ve ever seen.  Light in the darkness.  I love it.

*not their real names

All Those Shades of Gray

The theme for this week has been gray.   Or grey.  Either way, that’s been the theme. All the shades of it. A lot more than fifty.

It started with going for paint chips.  It seems that we will be making a few improvements to help in the selling of my great Aunt’s house.  A little paint?  No problem.  Finding a color, fairly neutral, that will work in both rooms that need painting, well…..we’re dealing with carpet a yellow gold color (circa 1968? one friend asked–ahem, I’m thinking that’s a big ol’ YEP) and a light mint green.  So gray it is.  But which shade? I’m taking the chips down to the house to decide which shade best matches both and we’ll go from there.

A few of the many shades of gray that have been on my mind this week

A few of the many shades of gray that have been on my mind this week

So the color has been on my mind anyway.

And then the word should came into play.

We had a busy time last weekend and the beginning of this week–family visiting from out of town.  On the go.  All sorts of things going on.  Then Wednesday.  Quiet.  Back to some semblance of normal.  Whatever that is.

And I started contemplating the day’s plans.  What I wanted to do, what my body begged for, was to have a crashout day.  Full of nothing but the bare necessities (everyone clothed and fed as needed IF needed).  But there were other options.  Things I thought I probably should do.

It was when I talked with my Aunt last night that I realized it–“should” was a lot easier when we were little.

The shoulds of childhood, at least in my neck of the woods, were pretty much comprised of what was expected of you–

You should pick up after yourself.  Clean your plate.  Say please and thank you.  Yes ma’am and no ma’am, yes sir and no sir.  Mind your manners.  Don’t sass your folks. Be kind and don’t leave anyone out.  Take care of what you have.  Tell the truth and don’t wipe your nose on your sleeves.  Say excuse me when you burp.  All good shoulds.  Clear cut and not really open to debate or interpretation.  The end.

But the shoulds of my life today?  Without someone to lay down the law, it gets a wee bit fuzzy.  Cloudy.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of black and white–it’s all a lovely shade of gray. Many, many shades. All over the place.

The shoulds in my day to day are so constant, it gets a bit overwhelming.  This world of all the shades of gray.  The decisions of what should be done in any given moment are not always so clear cut.  I try to function on a take care of business first, then rest/read/relax mode, but that’s not always easy.  Should I continue cleaning house or do I give in to the aches and pains that beg for a moment of respite?  Should I plan and cook tomorrow’s lunch or plan our weekly meal out for that time?  Should I rally the troops and my get up and go, and go do {name the activity} or should I make it a day to be home? Is the timing right for the puppy I’ve been wanting, or should I wait? Should I call the attorney handling some business for us, or should I wait for him to call me?  In any given question or decision, there’s not really a right or wrong, just varying shades of grays–pluses and minuses and maybes.  And no one to tell me what I should do.  Maybe it’s the season of life I’m in right now, but even the simplest of “should deciding” can be quite overwhelming.

When I was little there were consequences if I didn’t do what I should.  Woe be the child who didn’t ma’am or sir a grownup in our house.  And sassing our parents–well that didn’t usually have to happen more than one time.  CONSEQUENCES could be memorable at times.  The thing is, in this hazy world of grownup shoulds, the consequences are not always clear.  It’s not always readily apparent that one choice or another was a poor one.  Or a good one.  It just is.

Then today I was visiting with a sweet friend, and we were sharing about people in our lives who can be challenging, who can be hard to be around or to understand at times.  Then other times we catch a glimpse of their story, of maybe why they are where they are, and there come those shades of gray again.  It seems that the older I get, the more I have to let go of the Disney-esque idea of villains versus good guys.  There is simply not a black and white, clear cut category to put most people in.  People are not absolutely 100 percent evil, and for sure there are none who are 100 percent lovely and fabulous and all things good.  No, most of us have varying mixtures of good and evil, light and dark, floating around inside, and, depending on the day/circumstances/amount of sleep we’ve had, one or the other will come out at varying levels.  It’s easy to be angry at someone, but when we hear the story behind what they were thinking or why they were compelled to do what they did–it all gets fuzzy and gray again.  Absolutes end and compassion begins.  We do not live in an Ursula vs. Ariel world.  Oh, how I wish we did sometimes, but it’s just not that easy.

So tomorrow when I lay the paint chips on the carpet–the many, many shades of gray I have to think about and try to choose just one, I’ll be doing something I should do.  But there will be gray area in choosing the right shade of gray because, being a grownup, I have to make some decisions all by myself, many of which I don’t feel qualified to make.  I don’t know what consequences my choice will lead to if any, but, like so many of the shoulds in my life, I’ll just have to make a decision and let the paint chips fall where they may.  Our lives and the decisions we make and the people around us are not all good or bad, black or white.  There’s an awful lot of in-betweens.  And that’s where I live.  In the shades of gray.