Thursday, November 26, 2015

Five things

On this day of thanksgiving Americans all over the country show their thanks by overstuffing themselves with food that is rarely seen on the table any other day of the year.  Sure, we eat turkey on other days, but how often do we take the time to baste and roast a full bird?  The same goes for dressing, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce; foods that make you go “Ugh, I ate too much! Pass the pie.”

More important than the food is the thanks we are supposed to be giving for the blessings God has bestowed upon us.  Using gluttony as a tool for thanking God has a certain oxymoronic ring too it if you ask me. Perhaps Thanksgiving should be a day of fasting instead of feasting.  Or perhaps we should be more mindful of giving thanks every day instead of saving it all for the last Thursday in November.

My aunt, the Sister, has the right idea.  This is what she has to say about being thankful, 

“I tell you what.  Every morning think of five things that you’re thankful for.  I can name all my five I name every morning.  Five things that you’re thankful for, every day.  That will make you feel a little bit better.”

Since she told me this I’ve tried it many times.  It’s hard to think of five things at 5:45 in the morning, but I think God appreciates the effort at least.  The first thing at the top of my list is “Thank you, God, for letting me open my eyes on another day.”  Then I stumble out of bed and hobble around until the muscles in my back warm up enough to allow me to stand in an upright position and continue my mental list of five things. 

I am thankful for my family every day.  I am thankful I have a home to keep me warm and dry and a job so I can continue to be warm, dry and fed.  The list could go on and on, and sometimes there are so many things to be thankful for I have a problem prioritizing them into a list of only five.

My aunt is a wise woman, and her daily list of five things is an inspiration to me.  But on Thanksgiving I think we should set aside the list of five and give a sum total of all the things for which thanks should be given for the whole year.  Here is mine for this year:

Thank you, God, for my family, my home, and my job.  Thank you for ten months of opportunity to prove to myself I can do a job that is beyond my comfort zone, even if I blundered at times.  Thank you for the blunders to prove to myself I did not want the job.  Thank you for new friends, old friends, new experiences, and refreshing changes. Thank you for the moxie to make a life changing decision and stick to it knowing it will be hard at times but worth it in the end.  Thank you for sending me to church even on those days when I would rather go back to bed.  Thank you for time spent with my sister cousins and friends.  Thank you for card games that run late.  Thank you for allowing me to wreck my car and survive, proving that every minute is a gift not to be taken lightly.  Thank you for pennies from heaven, rocks with faces, bird feathers, and all of the other little things you set in my path to brighten my day.  Thank you for the laughter and tears, and the stability to know the difference.  Thank you for giving me words to express my feelings, and your Word to live by.

Tomorrow morning I must try to remember to list my five things.  As my aunt says, “That will make you feel a little bit better.”  I’m agreeing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Six years

I remember a few years ago, six to be exact, when The Boy left us.  By proper definition he was a man by then, all 24 years of him.  But if you knew him as long as I did he was still just a little boy with a spirited grin that could melt your heart.  Nephews can be like that. Well, when The Boy left us on that evening six years ago I was set on a path of many wet, flowing tears.  You might say tears are always wet, but just like Forrest Gump’s varied description of rain; there are just as many kinds of tears.  There are tears that sting the eyes but don’t fall, tears that well-up in the corners of the eyes and drain down the side of your face and into your ears, tears that drip, tears that stream, and wet tears that fall involuntarily and drench your entire face. 

These wet tears are the ones I had for weeks after The Boy left.  Sometimes without even knowing I was sad my face would be drenched to the point that only a washcloth could clean up the mess.  In fact, that night six year ago, I slept with a washcloth in my hand.  I clenched it, and kept it close like it was a lifeboat keeping me afloat in a sea of wet tears.

He was a good boy, truly.  He was adventurous, funny, kind and tender-hearted just for starters.  A person, especially an aunt, couldn’t help but love a boy like that. It’s no wonder I struggled so when he left.  To have a light in your life extinguished so suddenly is a shock to the system, and a feeling of loss and void sucked me up like a vacuum.  Now here’s the part where I’m going to sound selfish.  As much as I missed that boy and felt the void he left in the world, I shed all those wet tears because I missed having that love shine on me from those twinkling eyes of his.  When you love someone and you lose them you still continue to love.  Love for a person doesn’t fade just because they die.  Your heart can still feel warmth when you think about them and you can keep them alive when you speak of them freely and without regret.  But when you are loved back, and you know you are loved back, and then that goes away cold turkey, well, wet tears are the least of your problems.  And I know down deep in my broken heart that The Boy loved me back.  I’m just knowing it. 

When a love you can feel like sunshine on your shoulders is suddenly gone you can feel the hurt deep down in your soul.  And on the surface, too. 

In these six years my pain has eased for the most part because I have found a place of well-being in keeping him alive in my memories of him.  Today though, just like six years ago exactly, I found myself mopping my face throughout the day.  I didn’t even know I was sad yet those wet tears fell involuntarily and caused a general mess and revealed my red-rimmed eyes and nose where the make-up had washed off in the deluge.

Part of me will always miss The Boy, but most of me will miss his love more than anything.  Aunts have a right to be selfish when it comes to these things.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A little soul for All Souls Day

This weekend I had another one of my 4:00 a.m. wake-up calls and my thoughts went to the word, soul.  I knew I needed to get up and write it all down, but God must have known I needed sleep so he didn’t push me.  But that Spirit, ever so Holy, has been needling me since, and I still can’t get the thought of the soul out of my mind.  Now here it is All Souls Day, a flashing sign to get to work if ever there was one. 
Last year my sisters, my cousin the Artist, one of the twin girls, and I spent a day with my aunt, the Sister, and I recorded the whole day on a small voice recorder I bought just for that purpose.  Being a nun afforded my aunt the honorary title of Family Spiritual Advisor.  My mother never put much credence in anything her children told her, but there were three people to whom she heeded all advice: her sister the Sister, any priest, and any doctor (in that order).  If my aunt said it to be so then it was and that was the end of that.  So it was no surprise many of the questions we asked my aunt that day leaned towards spiritual matters.  One conversation went like this,

The Artist: “Aunt Frances do you believe that your mama and daddy and sisters and brothers will be sitting there at your last breath waiting to take you to heaven?”

Aunt Frances: “No, because they say when you die you don’t think of anybody. It’s such peace, such happiness you don’t see anybody.  Just God.  You know, we try to figure God out; we can’t do it.  We can’t.  It’s impossible.  It’s impossible.”

I could see the disappointment in my family’s faces and hear it between the lines of the recording.  We all want to believe we will be reunited with our loved ones, that they will be there waiting to embrace us like the end scene in “Ghost”.  I want to believe that, truly, I do, but I’m beginning to shift towards my aunt’s beliefs and another idea entirely. 

You see, I believe we humans can only think in an earthly way because that is the way we are wired.  The bible says so, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground..” Genesis 2:7.  Our meager human minds cannot grasp the reality of heaven.  We can only imagine it from the smidgen of description that has been revealed in God’s Word.  We have too much dusty ground in us to understand the whole truth.

That verse continues, and it is this last part which holds the basis of my theory, “… and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

God gave life to mankind and we became living souls.  Have you ever counted how many times the word, soul, appears in the bible?  I have, with the help of an electronic bible, of course.  In the King James Version the word, soul, appears 459 times in 432 different verses.  The bible pairs the words heart and soul about 73 times.  As in Matthew 22:37 when Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”  Our soul is as much of our being as our heart or our brain. 
All of these little tidbits are meant to bring you to my new revelation.  I think when God breathed life into Adam and made him a living soul He gave a bit of himself in each of us.  We strive for heaven not because we will be reunited with individuals, but because our souls must be reunited with God’s.   Each of us carries within us a piece of a puzzle that fits in a certain place.  When we get to heaven our souls will interlock with each other’s and stitch together as a collective, eternal voice of praise.  In this way, yes, we will be reunited with those who have gone before us, but in a way we cannot possibly understand while our bodies remain grounded.  I am not a theologian and I did not spend hours studying God’s Word to come to this conclusion, so this is only my opinion, not gospel.  You should study for yourself and listen for God to reveal Himself to you. 

As my aunt said, “You know, we try to figure God out; we can’t do it.  We can’t.  It’s impossible.  It’s impossible.”  I have to believe she’s telling the truth.  My mother would insist on it.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rainy days and awkward moments

More times than not in my life I have been confronted with awkward situations.  In fact I could honestly say I feel awkward at some point most every day.  For example…

I never quite know what to do with my hands during a conversation.  I end up flailing them around in gesticulations that look like American Sign Language gone horribly wrong.  Or sometimes they go straight to my hair or face leaving me with a bad case of the frizzies and smeared make-up.  

Make-up is awkward for me since I never wore it until only a few years ago after rosacea and hyper-pigmentation laid claim to my complexion.  My mother didn’t wear make-up either, so there was never a mother-daughter bonding session over the art of matching foundation to skin tone.  No one has ever sat down with me and gave me instructions so I’ve had to wing it on my own.  I usually feel confident until the eyebrow pencil comes out, the one thing for which I have actually received lessons in a bonding session with that pesky sister.  All and all the whole exercise in achieving the look of natural, flawless skin is hit or miss, mostly miss, and never fully polished.

Nail polish is equally awkward for me because it calls attention to my flailing gesticulations.  Air-traffic controller comes immediately to mind.

Small talk is awkward because it’s chatty and I don’t do chatty.  “How are you?” “Have a good day.”  These statements are about as small as my talk can go. I’d rather ask “Explain your rationale to coming to that conclusion”, or “How does that make you feel”, or “Tell me what your house looks like in (enter any country here).”  These are topics I’m more interested in, not whether the weather will hold or turn cold.

Clothing in general causes me distress.  I’ve never been one to wear career clothing because it’s not the way I feel inside so I feel pretentious in suits and heels.  I would much rather attempt to disguise my shape by hiding in layers of flowing frippery with lots of pretty jewelry for added distraction.  Dresses are awkward because they show off my thick calves and draw attention to my unflattering shoes.  I wear unflattering shoes because clunky is the only style the stores sell in my size.  

This fact was driven home yet again today after an unsuccessful shoe shopping trip.  The husband found a good pair for himself, and I must admit to a slight pang of jealousy when I pulled up my text messages so he could get 20% off his find.  To drive my point home I did not offer my wallet to the store clerk.  I left empty-handed and ended up getting drenched in the downpour that started while I was limping around the store with one shoe on and one shoe off in search of shoe boxes with the dreaded orange “W” sticker.  Diddle, diddle dumpling comes immediately to mind.

The Rainstorm that Rescheduled Halloween is what inspired this essay in the first place.  After the shoe store we switched to grocery shopping, and I carried my umbrella into the store because one soaking was more than enough for the day.  While we were shopping a tornado warning herded all of the customers to the center of the store, an experience I hope to never have again.  I figured the rain would stop by the time we finished shopping and were ready to leave.   That was not the case, which led me to today’s awkward moment. 
I remember years ago having a conversation about my disdain for umbrellas. Back then I was young and carefree and walking in the rain was an expression of my youth. I didn’t wear make-up that would smear, and it was the 1980s when frizzy hair was the norm so a little rain was not problem for me.  I love the image of an umbrella.  I’m always drawn to paintings or photographs with umbrellas as the main subject.  I just don’t want to carry one.  I feel clumsy and unsure with an open umbrella over my head.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but what is proper umbrella etiquette?   Where do you hold it?  If I hold it upright by the handle I feel like foolish, so I end up holding it in the middle which makes me feel gawkish.   Should the canopy be held high and mighty or low and brooding?  Maybe it should be held carefree at a rakish angle like Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the Rain.  

Since I'm on the subject, what about sharing an umbrella? In my opinion sharing should only be done as a kind gesture to old people or small children, with your spouse, or early in a budding romance when you are looking for any excuse to be close to your crush.  “I feel rain, falling right out of the blue sky…” is a song lyric that comes immediately to mind.  Otherwise open umbrellas should indicate a personal space and that boundary should never be compromised.  I will share with the husband, but that’s only because I don’t mind touching him.  If, and only if sharing is absolutely necessary then the handle holding should always default to the taller person.  I should be etching this in stone.

There are things I’m never going to feel comfortable doing. I have made great strides, though, and I surprise myself sometimes.  As a matter of fact I had one of those “I shall overcome” moments today as I tried to get a container of feta cheese that was too far back on the top shelf for me to reach.  A tall man was standing nearby, and I asked him to get it for me.  There was a time when I would have decided I didn't really need feta cheese after all, but today I reached out to a stranger and risked rejection all for a $3.97 container of feta cheese.  On the other hand, if he had needed to share my umbrella to make it to his car he would have been out of luck.  I haven't overcome it all, not yet anyway.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Like sparks in fireworks

I stood near the road in the darkness, the full moon peaking over the trees behind me, and focused my eyes on the sky above the field across the way to watch a grand display of whizzing rockets turn curlicues and loop-de-loops and finish in bursting sprays of fiery sparks.  I watched the colors of red, green, and gold bathe the faces of the other spectators all looking up, hoping you were looking down.   Did you hear the report resonating through the oaks?  I tried to count to see if there would be 27 blasts, one for each year since the day you were born.  Or maybe 11, one for each year you have been gone.  There were far more than 11, 27, or 38 even.  Some were colors of happiness, like the kind of happiness in your eyes when something made you smile.  Some were crackling showers of glittery, golden sparks like the effervescence of your youth.  They were all for you, a gift from your parents whose grief will always be near the surface and easily touched on marked days like the anniversary of your accident, your death day, Christmas and all the other 362 days of the year.  But on your birthday they celebrate your being with friends and family just like the 16 birthdays you had while you were here.

I will always regret we were not as close as we could have been.  The rush of busy living kept our paths moving in opposite directions.  Still, I have memories.  I remember a little baby with head full of black hair sticking out in all directions.  I remember the same baby growing up with a head full of straight, blonde hair the color of sunshine.  I remember the day I saw you out shopping and you rushed to me like an old friend.  I was surprised to see you had chosen to darken your hair when most young girls go to great lengths to achieve your natural color.   You were in a happy place on that day just months, maybe less, from the day you would no longer be here.  I remember your 16th birthday, the one with all the white tents and red roses.  We posed together for a picture that night.

After that the memories are not as fondly welcomed.  I remember where I was sitting and the position of the telephone on my desk when I received the call of your accident.  My first instinct was to let it go as something minor, but there was a nagging in my hearth that urged me to the hospital and within 10 minutes I was on my way.    I remember the other call and location of that telephone when the voice on the other end said it was bad and you were fading fast.  The remnants of a distant hurricane still blew in the air, and I remember wet leaves stuck to the hood of the car and the sidewalks as I made my way once again to the hospital.  I remember seeing you there, sleeping.  I remember the utter grief in the room where we gathered as a family and were told of your destiny.  I remember the long line of fallen faces waiting outside the door, and hoping not to meet any of the hopeful eyes searching for answers, or miracles.

But one memory is mine and mine alone.  It is of the night a month or so later when you came to me in a dream.  The effervescence of your joy showered me like those crackling golden sparks of the fireworks on your birthday.  You were jubilant!  You were at peace and for whatever reason you chose to let me in on it.  I know you visited me that night.  I felt the warmth of the hug you gave me before you told me you were happy and had found friends and then ran off, smiling, to your everlasting reward.

As I stood near the road and felt the blast of the report reverberate in my chest I remembered the good things and hoped you, too, were watching the trails of the fiery rockets as they headed towards heaven, your everlasting reward.