Migration

No matter where you go – there you are. ~ Confucius

Dearest Birds,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I wanted to use this morning to tell – write, rather, over this cup of hot tea – the here and there of thoughts and particulars, and musings about such. This damp, cold January morning in a quiet house feels like the perfect time to undertake this exercise and let you know again how much I regard you as friends, even though most of us have not met face to face.

My husband was recently asked to apply for a job in another state. It was an application only; a fellow pilot recommended him for an upcoming opening, and at the time no other names were given. For years we’ve spoken of jobs elsewhere, but never considered a move. We have family here, and his mom only lately found a new, small house in our neighborhood. The girls walk to the school down the street and we have an ongoing love affair with our church. We are settled. We are happy.

And yet, the idea struck us – should we do it? Should we at least try? After five days of continuous discussion, a conversation with our pastor, talks with his mom, reviews of the new schools and phone calls to family members who live in that area, we opted to apply.

And then we went on with our lives.

This is the year I will be fifty. An interviewed psychologist said the years 50-65 are referred to, across the professional psychological spectrum, as “the transitional years.” They are the years, he said, when people realize that time in life no longer stretches farther than the mind can imagine, so they move into the careers they have always wanted, write the books they’ve had in mind, find condos in the city or farmhouses in the country. In other words, life becomes real in ways it wasn’t before; it involves presence and movement rather than the passive, “Someday I’ll get around to that,” which is the basis of so many choices that keep us running on the same plastic hamster wheel, going nowhere.

What you may or may not know is that most of my life I have been a change-resister, only moving, finding new jobs, breaking up with boyfriends, or getting married when the option of not doing so was no longer a choice. “But I can’t leave this apartment/the company/that man/not be single,” I’d fret, worried that in the losing of what I had, I could never return to the place that I was.

But I chose marriage when I allowed myself to accept an even stronger sentiment: the inability to imagine the rest of my life without him. In that moment, I chose to look ahead at what was to come, rather than behind at what would be left.

As I’ve been writing to you this morning, the overcast sky has given way to sunshine, and raindrops still clinging to leaves and branches sparkle with the jeweled colors of the spectrum. The seasons of the past year have bloomed and faded, and will renew, sprout, and bloom again. I used to mourn the seasons’ passages, but finally understand I cannot clutch and keep them to myself, beyond change.

This is about the rest of my life.

Wayne may or may not get the job or take the job, if offered (we have a broader perspective about the timing of this move and, as you know, timing is everything). But I have neither mourned nor grieved our probable staying or possible leaving.

This is about the rest of my life. And Birds, it’s time to go.

Forgetfulness

No, this is not about Billy Collins’s poem. Although, that poem is awesome and you should totally check it out if you don’t know it.

This is about my own tendency.

Scenario #1.

I was in the earthquake-stricken Visayas one day after that devastating earthquake. The energy of the earthquake was described to be equivalent to 32 Hiroshima bombs. People got injured and died. Houses were destroyed and unsafe to live in. Hospitals were shattered. The term in-patient was then inaccurate since patients could be found along the road, in the parking lots day and night. There were even birth deliveries occurring in the parking lots with just curtains covering the patients. This happened with each of the hundreds of aftershocks felt every day. My team’s mission was to do rapid health needs assessment in as much area as we could survey. Yes, I’m one of those who count casualties and report which health facilities are functioning or not, and recommend health care priorities.

I remember interviewing one of town mayors about the health situation in his town. He couldn’t help but cry as he shared his experiences and the state of his people. I thought then that I would never forget that experience. It was just too sad.

It has been a year since it happened. But, I did forget.

Scenario #2

As the airplane landed, I saw the extent of the devastation in Leyte a week after the super typhoon struck. It seemed like a nuclear bomb had been dropped in the area. Body bags lined the roads as they were prepared  for transport to a morgue the moment I stepped into the City of Tacloban. I was there to augment with the public health services. A friend of mine who was a health worker in the area recalled her experience. She was so sure she would die the day of the storm. As ocean waters started to surge inside the house, she ensured her body could be identified by wearing on her neck a big identification card with her name written on it. Miraculously, she found her way to the ceiling of the bathroom and stayed there until the waters receded. She was carrying a set of underwear when she was telling me her story. Someone had given them to her because everything she owned had been washed away, she said.

I told myself I will never forget this… But, I did forget.

Scenario #3

I was interviewing widows of men who died of a mystery disease. We were in the area for an epidemiological investigation. Nine families lost their main breadwinners. While there was no definite cause and source of transmission at that time, I can’t help but think about the children who were left without a fathers because of some weird disease those men had acquired.

I thought it was just so tragic and that I would never forget these families… But, I did forget.

These suffering poor made me feel that I would always appreciate what I have in life. To always be thankful for a daily provision, family and friends, and to simply enjoy a roof over my head and a warm bed. To always be thankful for life.

Instead, I can whine about the barista who brought white sugar instead of brown. I whine when I was given Coke Zero, instead of regular. Or, I can whine about Brazil losing the World Cup.

I do forget the grander scheme of things.

In an interview, when Bono went to Africa with his wife the first time, he also said something like, “I will never forget the suffering I saw in this place.” But then, he also confessed that he did forget about the suffering he saw, and, basically, moved on.

I guess we all have that tendency of forgetting as we move on in life. I know God wouldn’t want us to feel melancholy all the time.

While I may forget the suffering I saw, may I not forget what it reminds me of…

“But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ~ CS Lewis

 

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Seeing in Color

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”
– James 1:17

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In junior high biology we learned about the cones of the human eye. Cones are in the middle and perceive color. (Rods, if you recall, are on the perimeter and detect black and white.) And we humans, with the sum of our three cones, are able to see the rainbow’s spectrum in all its brilliance from red to cerulean blue to a deep, dense violet. Although we have three cones, butterflies have five, and mantis shrimp have an astonishing sixteen.

Which makes me wonder: Do they see colors we can’t? And if so, what, exactly, are we missing?

A few years ago I began a gratitude list in response to the national bestseller One Thousand Gifts that was reviewed on noted blogs, and swept through small groups as a way of recognizing all for which to be grateful. Although I started strong, the entries gradually waned, ceasing altogether on October 24, 2012. Thankfulness had become, as with so many other things, another should, as in: I should have more patience, I should have a sparkling, dust-free home, and I should keep a gratitude list.

But the keeping of it – or rather, not – only led to more feelings of too much busyness and guilt.

Recently, I re-read the list: Number 548: Wayne home safely from trip. Number 587: Living in a house we can afford. Number 659: Dinner with friends. Number 668: The sound of the coffeepot, brewing. These details were mixed in with others like the morning after rain, a loving husband, and the sound of the girls’ voices in song.

Overcome, I had to sit down. The beauty was almost too much to bear.

Genetic testing has determined that some people – a rare few females – have not only three cones, but four. In other words, tetrachromats might have the ability to see colors the rest of us can’t. Though the theory was tested for years, it found little success; almost all women with an extra cone were unable to perceive the finer shades of amber, emerald, or indigo. But one woman could. Her ability however, had come only after years of work with color, and the slow, but practiced recognition of detail.

She had learned to see it.

After my grandmother – GranMargie – had a stroke, I would sit by her bed and read Psalm 23 at her request; it was her favorite passage from the Bible. A few years ago I told the girls about it, and even read its few lines out loud to them before bedtime. But the entire experience would have been forgotten to history until I saw this: Number 571: Sarah asked me to read GranMargie’s favorite psalm.

The words and the scene came to mind: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…he prepares a table before me…he restores my soul.

And gratitude once again fell upon me, dazzling, like diamonds from the sky.

My work, then, is to pay attention to the colors; for in this I learn, through the slow and practiced recognition of detail, to see beyond the surface shades to a deeper, more subtle palette of hues. And the picture I had once perceived as having a backdrop of endless gray is transfigured before my eyes into a brilliant mosaic of color; an explosion of beauty, blessing, and grace.

So I have again picked up this practice of list-making, and add entries daily. It is in this work of conscious gratitude – of giving thanks for all that is routine, mundane, or commonplace – through which I hope to be transformed as well; if, by no other means, than by the dropping of scales from my eyes.

For my cup indeed runneth over.

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a beginning

I have long wanted to try my hand at fiction, but I have always been afraid. Where to start? Where to go? If it’s made-up, how do you know if you’re doing it right?

So I thought, maybe, I could start something and then a friend would jump in and add to it and then another friend would add a little more and then… amazingly… there’d be a short story. Not entirely my responsibility. Full of possibility. A great way to stretch the boundaries of comfortable for me.

Let’s see what happens.

Inspiration: this silo, found 2 miles from my driveway. Seemed like a great place to start a story.

Part 1, by Katie Mulder

silo
“I can’t believe they tore it down,” he said in disbelief.

She waited in the car, unsure of whether she should get out or not. She wasn’t even really sure where she was. Thirty miles north east of nowhere… that’s where she was. Not a store, not a car, not a house in sight. It was almost old outside, and she was not particularly interested in weeds.

“Ellie?” he called, “Did you hear me? It’s all gone. All of it.”

She sighed and stepped halfway out of the truck.

“All of it except that… thing. What is that thing?” she asked, gesturing at the round pile of bricks standing sentry in the weeds not 30 feet off the road.

He waved his hand dismissively. “It’s just the silo. But the house, the shed, the barn… it’s all gone. There’s no foundation. There’s no driveway. Nothing. It looks like it’s been gone for years. ”

She sighed again.

“How long has it been since you’ve been here?”

“Mom, Janie, and I left when I was 15, so… 16 years. It’s only been 16 years. How could there be nothing left?”

“Let’s go eat, Mike. Come on. Let’s find somewhere to sit down, get something to drink, and figure this all out.”

He agreed, but silently. She could tell he would be silent for awhile. She turned the car due west and headed towards the hotel.

This was going to take longer than she thought. But he was worth it. They were worth it.

[to be continued]

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Pain

twiiter photo

by Vikki de los Reyes: MD. Epidemiologist. Aspiring Writer.

Low Back Pain.

All of a sudden it strikes. It is the last thing I need. It’s Sunday night. I have important out of town work tomorrow. But, no, it has to happen tonight. I can’t sleep because it hurts so much, can’t even move without shrieking.

I go to the hospital. I am in so much pain, I actually fantasize about stealing an elderly man’s wheelchair. The doctor’s diagnosis: mechanical back. My muscles are in spasm. Having no other neurological deficits, treatment is only symptomatic without exact determination of the underlying cause. The doctor basically tells me, “Here’s a painkiller to help a littl. Take complete bed rest, and let’s just wait and see how it will progress.”

With thanks to my doctor friend, I take all the medications that I need; however, following his order of complete bed rest is tricky. You see, I live alone.

In pain and alone.

I wish I lived closer to my family. Being sick, I just want my mom around. Unfortunately, Mom is one hour away by plane. She is not healthy enough to travel this time either, so here I am, wondering how God will provide everything I need.

Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most common neurological ailments in the world, second only to headache. It is especially typical for people like me: hyperactive and hyper-alert. I am experiencing something common to many, but for me it’s the very first time, and it is debilitating.

I HATE being in pain.  I’m using the word hate here. I can’t do my job. I have to rely on people for the simplest things. I have to go the doctor . I have to take my pills. I feel so limited.

So, I cry out before God. I am painfully (with the LBP and all) kneeling. “Why am I such in pain, Lord? Why at this time? What are you teaching me?”

Pain makes me do this: kneel before God. “You have my attention, Lord. It’s just you and me now. What’s the focus this time?”

I seek answers from the Word. “Whenever we’re sick in bed, God becomes our nurse, nurses us back to health.” (Psalm 41:3)

I listen to some podcasts, which (miraculously) lead me to a discussion on pain by Tim Hansel in his book You Gotta Keep Dancing. “One of the best things we can do for those in pain is to encourage them to slow down, focus more on being than doing, and adjust to a more limited energy span… we must focus more on the privilege of being alive than in the deprivation of energy. We need to monitor rest very carefully.”

“Okay, Lord. You want me to trust that I will be nursed into health. You want me to slow down.”

God has to pin me down to make me focus on Him. I start to realize God’s Love Language must be Quality Time.

My time alone with God, while I am in physical pain, helps me entrust Him with the deeper fears of my heart. God continues to reveal my anxiety over family and work concerns. There is so much preoccupation in my life with these issues that I fail to recognize my need for God’s peace.

As it turns out, it’s me who needs Quality Time with God.

Pain can be for our benefit. It can be a form of protection. People with leprosy feel no pain; as a result, they can unwittingly traumatize their bodies, making a wound or injury worse and worse. Pain is useful—it can prevent you from further harm. Pain is an indicator that action needs to be taken. As a result of pain, some change of behavior is applied. Some sort of modification is made.

God nurses me to health by providing a community. He allows me to go home and enjoy my Mom’s caregiving. I slow down and take pleasure in being with my family. I realize I really need that and my family needs it, too. I monitor resting in God more carefully. I claim the Shalom that transcends all understanding (Phil 4:7).

So, I thank God for the low back pain that God is allowing to happen.

I thank God for family and friends.

I thank God for pills.

I thank God for nursing me back to health and slowing me down.

Oh, and have I mentioned the most important trait of low back pain?

Recurrence is common.

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“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― CS Lewis, The Problem Of Pain

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Elvis Has Left the Building

tha short story by

Jean Foster Akin

“Bingo, Bingo, Bingo, Harold,” Gladys Pinsky sang unpleasantly.

She sat stiffly in the Cascade Blue, 1965 cruise-liner that Buick had originally christened The Le Sabre way back in ‘59. Gladys felt it resembled less a car than the QE Two. Where did the hood stop and the world begin?

Her clunky, black, sensible shoes were planted firmly on the clean rubber floor mat on the passenger’s side of the car, and her back was straight and imperious under her heavy grey coat. She gripped her black handbag in her lap as she waited impatiently for her husband to fasten his seatbelt. The wrinkles around her eyes deepened, and her brown eyes glittered as she watched him fiddle with his seat-back. Her lips were caked with an orangey-red lipstick that had worked its way into the lines of annoyance around her mouth. Even the flowers on her hat gave off a censorious air.

The big boat in which Gladys sat so stiffly was what Harold called proudly a “third generation Buick cream puff.” Harold Pinsky had been twenty-five years old when he docked the huge, blue, three-year old beauty in Gladys’s parents’ driveway in ’68 and honked the horn. His hair had been thick and glossy black, his dark eyes sparkling with the thrill of being alive, being young and virile and handsome, being the owner of a relatively new Buick, and the soon-to-be husband of the prettiest girl in town. He had no brown scabby spots on the top of a bald head back then, or bristly hair poking out of his ears and nostrils. No, he had been a fine-looking man, and when he honked his horn, Gladys had come a-runnin’—her blonde hair done up in a heavily sprayed bee-hive (with just a little golden curl artfully arranged in a coquettish fashion across her smooth forehead), her peasant skirt swirling around her white, knee-high, “go-go” boots. Her smile had been as dazzling as a billboard advertising Colgate toothpaste. And her laugh, oh her laugh filled his chest with bubbly excitement as she threw back her head, exposing the white gleam of her lovely throat.

But that was then. And this? Well, this was now.

Harold had bought more gas efficient cars after their first child had come, and as the size of their family increased, and soccer games and ballet classes and camping trips filled their schedule, rides taken in the Buick decreased. The blue behemoth slumbered uneasily in the garage, shrouded under a protective cover, taken out for a spin only rarely, but polished to a glossy patina every week by an ever-aging man whose eyes sparkled as he ran the chamois over the glassy finish.

As the years passed, as the children left for college or work in other parts of the country, his Gladys had become more critical of their lives together–especially when their grandchildren started popping up in every conceivable locale…except in Gladys’s neighborhood. It was as if, when the last of their children had left their home, that boy had absconded with the exuberance and playfulness of all his siblings and parents combined. Harold would look across the breakfast table in the mornings, his eyes as dull as pennies, and wonder who that stranger was, that disapproving old woman who had once been his Gladys. He found himself considering the benefits of running away to join the Circus. Problem was, he was seventy, and all he’d ever done was explain fixed-rate and adjustable rate mortgages to people who couldn’t afford either, and, more recently, fall asleep with spittle dripping from the side of his mouth in front of the evening news. No one would buy a ticket to see that.

“I told you that I wanted to get to the Bingo game in Cranston by six,” Gladys was saying now, asSONY DSC Harold turned off their street and headed for the highway exit. “I told you that Harold. I told you that several times.” They were insulated from the world by old soft vinyl, gleaming chrome trim, and the mild emerald glow of the dials on the Le Sabres’ expansive dash.

Harold sailed off the exit and entered the rush of the highway traffic. A semi-truck trundled along in the right lane. Harold buzzed passed it in the middle lane, other cars staying back to avoid being caught up in the LeSabre’s wild-wind vortex.

“I wanted to get a good seat by the cage,” Gladys carped. “That’s the thing. If I get there late I can’t get a good seat by the cage and see which balls are dropping. Seems to me that hussy Eleanor Bickle wins more than her share of games, and I think Bill’s making up calls—to help her out.”

“Hussy?” Harold asked, confused. “Eleanor Bickle?”

“What of it?” Gladys snapped.

“Eleanor Bickle is eighty-four and wears a hearing aid…”

“Bill’s a dog, Harold.”

“Bill’s ninety if he’s a day!” Harold said, incredulous, looking over at his wife for a second.

“Bill’s a dirty old man, Harold.”

Ahead, three semis blocked the lanes, one edging along slowly in the right lane, the second passing only a little faster in the middle, and the third thundering around the others via the left lane. Harold took his foot off the gas.

“Oh for the love of—!” Gladys exhaled on a sharp sigh. “We’ll never get there! Look at the time!” She looked down at her wrist watch. “It’s almost six now, and we’ve got at least twenty minutes to go in good traffic. If only you didn’t have to grab a rag and rub this dang car like a genie’s bottle every time you pull the sheet off it.”

Harold didn’t answer.

Gladys sniffled. “I wanted that framed Elvis, tonight, Harold, I really did.”

“Elvis?” Harold was confused again.

“Yes, Harold, I told you. You never listen. That’s your problem. I tell you the same thing, over and over, but do you listen? No, you don’t listen. Harold doesn’t listen. Harold doesn’t think he has to listen.”

Harold remained silent, listening.

“There’s a gorgeous framed painting of Elvis reserved for the winner of tonight’s raffle. Only players who win at Bingo can sign up for that raffle. Oh, it’s glorious! The King, displayed on black velvet, singing on a Vegas stage in that beautiful white body suit he liked to wear—with the sequins glittering on it? Stunning!” Gladys’s eyes gleamed in the sea green dashboard lights.

“But honey,” Harold said as delicately as he could. “You already have three framed paintings of Elvis.”

“You never liked Elvis!” Gladys hissed fiercely, as if he had just admitted that he’d been having an affair with Eleanor Bickle.

“Well, no, I’ve never been too fond of Elvis—he slurs all his words together when he sings—but still, even people who adore Elvis don’t need four framed paintings of him on their walls.”

“And if I can’t win that,” she said, ignoring his last remark. “I had my eye on the cat clock.”

“Cat clock?”

“What are you, Harold? A parrot?” she asked, turning her cool gaze upon him. “Repeating everything I say? ‘Hussy? Elvis? Cat clock?’ What is it with you? Are you trying to drive me crazy?” Gladys was fairly shrieking now.

“Of course not, Gladys…” Harold said softly, trying to keep the volume of the conversation below sonic boom level.

Gladys cut him off. “So why is it you never seem to be listening, and then repeat whatever I say?”

“Well,” Harold responded reasonably, “if I wasn’t listening to what you said, I couldn’t very well repeat what—”

“Oh yes. Be didactic, Harold. Be didactic!

The semi in the middle lane had moved on and Harold maneuvered the Buick between the two other trucks, inching along between them as they gradually dropped behind the Cascade Blue cream puff.

draw+cat+vintage+image+graphicsfairy003sm“The cat clock,” Gladys resumed, “is in the shape of a gorgeous black cat. The green eyes and the tail sweep back and forth with the seconds, and when the hour chimes, the jewels on the cat’s collar light up and flash, and the cat meows! So, for instance, at two o’clock the cat meows twice, ‘MEEE-OWWWW! MEEE-OWWWW!’” Gladys screeched at the windshield.

Harold jumped, but said nothing.

“And at nine o’clock—”

“I understand,” Harold interjected quickly.

“No need to be rude.” Gladys said primly, pursing her lips.

Harold thought of when those lips had been soft, but he didn’t take time to reminisce; instead, he said, “Dear, you have seven clocks in the house already. A frog clock that croaks on the hour, a macaw clock that flaps its wings—”

“I know what I have, Harold. I live there. Unfortunately.”

That last word stung him, but he pretended she hadn’t said it. “I’m just saying, dear…”

“Then there’s the wind-up salt and pepper shakers,” Gladys said, looking out her window into the dusk.

“The—” Harold began, then shut his mouth tightly.

“Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers. She’s the salt and he’s the pepper. When a guest asks for the salt and pepper, you wind up the shakers and they dance across the table! Isn’t that darling?”

“Oh, yes,” Harold said, though he didn’t see how it could possibly be darling to wait for two ceramic geegaws to hitch and wobble across a table while your mashed potatoes got cold.

“Anyway,” Gladys said, her smile fading, “I want something.”

Harold nodded in the otherworldly glimmer of the dash.

“I want something I can have,” she said to her window.

“Excuse me?” Harold glanced in her direction and saw her chin trembling. “Gladys?”

She said nothing and he watched her swallow back tears. He was now officially alarmed.

“Gladys? Are you all right?” He made a wide arc around a camper but kept sending her nervous glances.

“I’m old, Harold,” she gasped finally. “Old and useless. My hair’s dry, my skin’s sagging, and things creak when I move. I don’t know when it happened. I was young and beautiful just yesterday, and now…”

She snapped open her purse and pulled out a tissue, running it under both eyes. “It’s only you and me rattling around that old house now,” she whimpered. “I don’t know who I am anymore. Once the kids started leaving, I knew it was the end. I knew that soon my life would have no purpose. I just want something I can have—the Elvis painting, the cat clock, Fred and Ginger.” She gulped again. “Because I can’t have my youth back. I can’t have my kids back. I can’t have my happiness back.”

Harold’s chest felt heavy with pity for her. “Aww, honey,” he said gently. “We all have to adjust to getting older—”

“You don’t understand!” she wailed. “I see how you look at this old car! You look at it like you want to go back in time—to a younger wife, to a younger you. I can’t be that young anymore. I can’t be what the television and magazines tell me I’m supposed to be at sixty-eight! ‘Seventy is the new fifty,’ they say! Old women go to gyms and lift weights and wear Spandex, Harold! How can I compete with some sexy fifty-year-old woman?” She slapped her hands to her face and began weeping bitterly.Vintage-Dior

An enormous thought exploded in Harold’s mind then. The thought was so overwhelming in its clarity, so blinding in its brightness, he was forced to edge the car to the shoulder and park. He snapped on the hazards without conscious thought.

When Gladys’s sobs turned to sniffles, Harold spoke into the quiet.

“Honey, I think I’ve been feeling the same way. I didn’t realize it until now, but I think the reason I spend so much time mooning over this old car is because I feel like I left the best of me back in 1968.”

She didn’t answer, but dabbed at her nose and looked over at him in surprise.

“I’m wrinkled and flabby and I know it,” he went on. “I have hair growing out of places I didn’t know hair could grow out of. I used to be able to control my farts—” he looked at her helplessly. “I can’t control my farts anymore, Gladys!”

This last admission made Gladys burst out laughing, and suddenly her face was the face of that twenty-two year old girl in white go-go boots.

“I love you, sweetheart,” Harold said, reaching his age-spotted hand towards her and resting it firmly on her knee. “I have loved you for forty-five years. I don’t want to trade you in on a younger model. Forget the lies the television commercials try to tell you. I want nothing else but to live the rest of my life with you and to see that smile again—because when you smile, Gladys, you still light up the room for me.”

Gladys’s eyes glistened with her tears, and she squeezed the hand he’d placed upon her knee.

“And something else, too,” Harold said. “We’re not that old. Why can’t we start doing things that make us feel alive? So the kids aren’t nearby—why not find some other kids in between holidays?” Harold’s dark eyes flashed for the first time in a long time. “We could be grandparents to a whole bunch of kids! I could show some young boys how to take good care of an automobile. You could show some little girls how to garden or make cookies…”

“We could,” Gladys said, becoming inspired. “And we could learn to ballroom dance. We always wanted to learn, but when the kids were home we didn’t have the time or the money…”

“Gladys, honey, I would love to learn how to ballroom dance with you.”

They sat in companionable silence while cars and trucks rattled along in the world outside. “You have to get out of these stodgy old-lady shoes, though,” he said suddenly. “And that hat—that hat needs to go.”

She laughed again. “Hey, why don’t we stop at the diner?” Her eyes were bright as she looked at him. “Forget Bingo. We’ll get a slice of pie. We left the house so soon after supper that you didn’t get a chance to have something sweet.”

“I got something sweet right here,” Harold said with a hairy growl, and slipped his hand farther up her leg.

She giggled like a teen and slapped his hand playfully; then she gripped his hand as if she would never let go.

8753f93258f2f0abeaa3c7820cae8d01When they pushed through the door of the diner, hand-in-hand, customers looked up from their meatloaf specials and grinned at the two lovers, some of them thinking they’d never seen such young people in old-peoples’ clothes.

THE END

The Story

A guest post by Katie Timothy:

Some time ago, it seemed, we gave up the idea that marriage was happily ever after; that the dream we built for all those long unmarried years would prove worth the wait if we chose to enter into it at all. “No husband of mine will ever…” we had said to each other, rolling our eyes at the men chosen by college friends, and – later – work colleagues.

And then, when we fell in love, it felt perfect and unique. “My husband will always…” we thought to ourselves in blissful reflection, anticipating only the most marvelous expressions of perfected relationship bound, forever, in marriage. The fairy tale, once viewed as unattainable would now be lived! Happily ever after after all.

Donald Miller writes: It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon.

My husband and I are deep in the middle at twelve years in, at times enjoying the ride but at other times believing that getting out of the boat is the only option. A little time after we pushed away from shore and discovered we had only us – tired us, hungry us, selfish us, needy us – it didn’t seem like enough. I began to wonder if we could sail across the tossing waves.

Together, he and I are writing a story, this narrative we began, but it isn’t a fairy tale. He isn’t the dashing prince who places his princess on a pedestal; I’m not the ageless princess who bats her eyelashes and rubs his bulging biceps. One of the working definitions of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result; thus we find ourselves repeatedly in conflict and acting in every way not sane, or loving. We want what we want.

Is a happy ending possible? I doubted it after a recent week of turmoil and raised voices. Our story was fraught with too much conflict and opposition. Our boat is destined to sink, I thought. After what felt like endless days of strife I sat down, exhausted, and tried to read the newspaper. He walked into the room, settled onto the couch beside me, leaned against my arm and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

I could only nod, but it seemed in that moment a plank had been thrown over a surging leak and it was just strong enough to keep us from sinking below the waves. We stopped bailing and rested, content in that moment just to be with each other, weary and wordless.

I took his hand in mine and closed my eyes.

Soon, we would again take up our posts, raise our patched sail, and steer our damp boat toward the elusive and distant beach.

The story would continue.

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mom

MJ_birdby Mary Jane Jones

You were in college before you knew about the damage to your mother’s brain.

Of course, growing up, as you made friends and got invited to sleepovers and watched Family Ties and The Cosby Show, you got the idea that your mom was different. Other people’s homes were tidy; yours was the aftermath of an act of God. It wasn’t only cluttered, it was dirty. Used dishes were stacked up all over the kitchen. The telephone table was buried in paper: expired coupons, mimeographs of weekly school cafeteria lunch menus, bulletins from church, phone messages. Sometimes you and your brother would burrow to the bottom, a suburban archeological competition to see who could unearth the oldest artifact.

Around the house, corners were softened by cobwebs. The streaks that spanned the short length of carpeted hallway leading to the bedrooms looked like tire marks on a Delta tarmac. You have no memory of her running a vacuum, or dabbing at the dark wood end tables (they looked like props from Camelot) with Pledge. You have no memory of her ever teaching you to help with the housework, or of anyone in the family making any effort to find a broom.

You have odd memories. Once a jar of Vienna sausages slipped out of the cupboard and shattered into her crock pot. At dinner your dad bit glass and squelched down the tarmac to the bathroom, blood and obscenities spouting from his mouth.You and your brother sat wide-eyed, spoons of chili halted in their paths. Once she arrived in your high school carpool line absolutely green with a bug that had developed during the day. When she opened the car door to puke at a stop sign, you were more confused and embarrassed than compassionate. (Mom, if you were sick, you should have just called Mrs. Saunders, she would have picked us up.) But all of the girls were embarrassed by their moms.

This was your normal until, at her father’s funeral, you stood talking to her sister-in-law. Although she lived nearby, you knew Aunt Betty’s face only from a box of shiny black and white photos in which all of the ladies’ lips were dark, even when they were camping. She asked about you, about college, about your plans, polite questions between strangers. During a pause in the conversation her expression became more authentic and she asked, leaning in, How are you really, dear? It’s awful, what the accident did to your mom.

You brushed off the question and Aunt Betty, but her words had hooks.

The accident was legend. You were only two when it happened, but grew up hearing the stories, seeing strange bits of those days and years projected onto a collapsable screen in your uncle’s living room: a funeral, hospital visits, your mom returning home on crutches, a recovery trip to California. You’ll never know if your memories were real, or conjured by re-telling and super-8 home movies.

Your infant brother’s adoption had been finalized only a few days before the accident, which almost orphaned the both of you a second time. It was a head-on collision with a drunk driver, your parents in the back, your father’s brother at the wheel. His wife Bea went through the windshield and was killed, leaving four boys and a girl—your cousins—without their mother.

Although the men were banged up, the women bore the brunt. Your mom was in a coma for twenty-eight days. The adoption, arranged through the same agency of the Catholic church that had put you in your parents’ home, was put under investigation. Suddenly your parents’ situation was less than ideal for placement.

Your father had to deal with work, with the hospital, with his grieving brother and the lawsuit, so your God-parents, who lived just down the street, absorbed you and the baby. Their two story brick house was already bursting with eight kids, so what was two more? Your God-mother kept a journal for your mom: Beth stayed in the bath tonight until every bubble popped, giggling the whole time. She loves that rubber duckie. Baby Henry has his days and nights mixed up, but Mort’s on the night shift anyway so it’s perfect! We’re running a round-the-clock operation around here.

The doctors said that if your mother ever woke up she’d never walk again, but she did wake up, and she walked. Her left foot was permanently turned out at a strange angle and she limped, but she learned to get around just fine.

A few months after Aunt Betty tipped you off, when you had your dad alone at your kitchen table, you asked him if it was true: Was mom different, before? He told how vital she used to be, and how funny. She was an athlete, too—she played volleyball and softball on women’s leagues at work, and at church.

When she came back, she got involved at church in other ways. She latched onto it: mass every morning, the Christian Mother’s Club, the Legion of Mary. Her life revolved around these meetings and the duties that the various groups assigned. But Beth, he said, that was all. Church was the only thing she came back to.

He was bent low to the table, leaning toward you cautious and vulnerable. The kitchen could barely hold the honesty, the significance of his brief confession. You sat still, gripping your mug of coffee so as not to be swept away when the walls blew apart. His gaze was too much for either one of you, so you rescued him, changing the subject as you opened a closet door to grab a broom.

parking lots

 

[A memory… a miracle… from 2008.]

I try to grocery shop only once a week. Rylie has reached the age of recognizing boxes and their contents… and the fruit section- well, that’s a whole other beast. I leave with half my groceries already open and bananas with teeth marks in them. You know what I’m sayin’.

A month ago, I unloaded my cart into my trunk, returned the cart, and strapped Rylie in- all while keeping tabs on a woman having an argument on her cell phone in the next row. She was barely 50 years old, pushing a full cart of groceries, and crying. As I got in my steaming car, I turned to reverse and saw her standing 2 rows over with her phone now closed and her head in her hands. Sighing, I got out and yelled a bit abruptly, “Are you ok?”

She turned toward my voice and looked at me with pure panic in her eyes.

“I’m lost,” she said. “I have Alzheimer’s and I can’t find my car. I don’t know where I am.”

I stared at her, shocked. Tears choked my throat as everything around me stopped. The parking lot was silent and I suddenly had nowhere to be. I smiled as big as I could and said, “We can figure this out! Hang on one second.” I unbuckled Rylie and headed over. She handed me a small address book.

“I wrote every person I know down in this book in case this ever happened. It’s their number and how I know them… in case I forget. I’ve just never forgotten before. I’ve never… it’s never been like this before.”

I realized I was looking at a woman whose life was falling apart. This would likely be the last day she drove alone. The last time she went grocery shopping alone. The last time she would do anything- alone. I opened her address book.

“Alright… we’re at the grocery store in Greenville. Do you live in town?”

“Yes.”

“Great. And you’re sure you drove a car today?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. How ’bout Matt here? He’s your mechanic and it says ‘good friend’ next to him.”

“Yes! Matt knows my car!”

“Alright. Let’s call Matt.”

She dialed and I listened as she cried, but with less panic now, and explained the situation. When she got off the phone, she told me Matt was on his way and then described her car to me. We found it a couple rows over, but I walked her to a bench with her cart and left her smiling and calm outside the entrance, waiting for her friend. I was, you see, just the middle man… my job was done.

Honestly, I don’t have a super-great nature. I’m crabby when I’m hot (and sometimes when it’s pleasant outside), and I can’t seem to put laundry away in the same week it comes out of the dryer. I battle the demon of depression daily, I am slow to compliment others, and I’d eat popcorn for dinner every night if left to my own defenses. We all have things like this… I know. But for those short 15 minutes in that parking lot, I was almost good. I could feel it. I was more of the person I want to be… more like the God who made me. I’ve no doubt my actions were in large part because my child was in the backseat and deep down I wanted her to see what I can be when I really try. When I pay attention. When I forget myself. The Big Man continues to make me a better person through her. Thank God for her.

 I want to remind you to take your time. To look around. To smile at strangers and to share hurt. To do what you can when you can. I know it’s an impossible task, but we can try. And on those rare days when we succeed, we can celebrate with each other the absolute joy that floats up to the top of our little worlds.

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On Vocation

twiiter photoby Vikki de los Reyes: MD. Epidemiologist. Aspiring Writer.

True story:

In-Flight Seatmate (American): So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a doctor and work in public health. I’m an epidemiologist.

IFS: Oh, like a skin doctor?

o(✿) (✿◡‿◡) o (◡‿◡✿) o (✿◡‿◡) o (◡‿◡✿) o (✿◡‿◡) o (◡‿◡✿) (✿)o

Sometimes, I’m tempted to change my Twitter bio and share what I do for a living instead. My bio has not changed much since I signed up in 2009: “Cherish the moment. We are called human beings, not human doings, after all.” A few followers have Direct Messaged me to commend it. Some found it very Thomas Merton-ish. I did take it from him.

But, I wonder if I want to be defined by what I do and not who I am.

I always seek to find my purpose, value, and vocation in life. Where do I fit best? At 20, fresh out of college, I applied for a mission work overseas. I got the “I regret to inform you” letter back. What I thought was God’s leading did not turn out to be my calling.

As a young girl, I was told I could be whoever I wanted to be. “Take the world and give it your own name!” I take it to heart when I hear people say, “You go, girl!” I’ve grown up and done my best with the opportunities I have had. Isooo went.

Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. The answers we get are doctor, nurse, writer, teacher. (My eight-year-old nephew wants to be a ninja. I fully support him.)

Why do we only get asked what we do and never what kind of person we want to be?

I’ve been thinking about this lately… about discerning God’s calling in my life. I really just want to please Him. I listen to sermons, read books and meditate on God’s will for me. Sometimes, the lack of clarity and the restlessness can be heartbreaking. They say if nothing breaks your heart, you’re not paying attention.

But Scripture says not to be anxious about anything. If I fear the future, I must not be getting it right.

Success is defined by what we do or can do these days. We are wired for performance-oriented goals. Vincent Lombardi measures success not by what you accomplish, but by what you should have accomplished.

We are all designed for a purpose. It is our desire then to discover what it looks like. God in His omniscience intentionally gives us gifts — and does not give us gifts. This is for us to rely on others and grow in our relationships.

Sometimes you get lucky when you find what you love to do and get to do it. Austin Kleon made an illustration of this. It is truly a blessing when you are able to do that which makes you come alive; however, I realize I fail to enjoy life when I keep obsessing about what else I can do. What else I can work on and add to the performance list. Life is more enriched by just being who I am . . . and I cannot know who I am unless I know the One who created me. The One who created me knows me best and loves me most. Solomon spoke of God’s relentless love.

Knowing this helps me stop obsessing about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Instead, I want to work on who I want to be in Him.

Vocation is taken from the Latin word vocare, which means “a calling.” Maybe, then, this is my vocation: I am called to be human and not to do human.

And so, next time, when another in-flight seatmate asks me what I do…

Nah. I will not answer with my personal mission statement, “I am God’s child in the palm of His hand, and I want to share that sense of certainty to others.” He/she will more than likely be a complete stranger, after all. I will still say that I work in public health. But, we shall see how the conversation goes from there. I might even correct the misconception about epidemiologists. (We are not skin doctors.)

It is comforting to know, though, that my personal mission statement will be true no matter how I perform and no matter what I do. And if that’s what I’m here for, I can be secure enough to serve.

o(✿) (✿◡‿◡) o (◡‿◡✿) o (✿◡‿◡) o (◡‿◡✿) o (✿◡‿◡) o (◡‿◡✿) (✿)o

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~ Frederick Buechner