A Grown-Up Fairy Tale or Two, Please

No one had greater belief he could slay dragons than my late cat Montero when he was a mere six weeks old.

Mighty Montero
No one was braver than Mighty Montero — he was pretty mighty, and mighty pretty.

So brave was he I gave him the nickname “Mighty Montero.” It stuck, even when he mellowed with age and stopped facing obstacles seemingly too big to overcome. At some point, his greatest concern was getting prime position on the sofa. No dragons there.

Anyone who’s spent much time with kittens will tell you they’re fearless. Their little tails fly high, until they think all humans are out of sight, when they relax and let down their guard. But they never doubt they’re in charge. And thus they are.

Fearless in the Face of a Dragon
Now, if you think the dragon is going to win this showdown, you don’t know kitties.

Of course harm can come to kittens, and so we protect them. Harm can come to children as well, and we do the same there. In centuries past part of protecting your child included telling stories of danger in the woods such as Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel & Gretel. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what those tales were really about.

I still take that kind of danger to heart, but now I’m responsible for protecting myself. I’m cautious, perhaps overly cautious, in some areas. Unfortunately, in other areas, I don’t always know when it’s safe to take risks, when the dragons can be slain without chance of them rising again and quenching me with their fire.

I weary, at times, of getting hurt, of making the same damn mistakes over and over again. I tire of gathering the courage to do what I need to do, only to have it whip me back into solitude. I need an old-fashioned grown-up fairy tale, one that tells me dragons can be vanquished, to believe in happy endings again.

dragon fire extinguisher sm
Well, why didn’t I think of this before?

I need to know I have the power to do it and make it work.

Tomorrow, I know, I’ll be back on my feet again. I’ll get past the pain and I’ll start to see the good.

Damn dragons.


Image Credit: (lady and dragon) © wickerwood — Fotolia (cat and dragon) © ya_mayka – Fotolia

Fearless

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Simple Song of Freedom

 

Thank you, Bobby Darin.

Knowing your time on this earth might be short, you decided early on to give it all you’ve got, and share what God had given you with multitudes you would never meet.

That included this wonderful Simple Song of Freedom, your voice against the war waging in Vietnam.

You were right, by the way. Those boys sent over there 50 years ago, the ones still with us, are fighting that war even today. It rages in the dark of night, hides behind every corner of their lives, and waits to overtake them.

I pray for peace, and I pray for leaders who know the price our young men and women in combat pay. A friend of mine, a Marine who served in Vietnam, told me he believed the first President Bush wouldn’t have sent troops into battle unless he had to, because he’d fought in World War II, and he knew the cost. I don’t think presidents have to have served in combat to gain a sufficient amount of that understanding, but they need to see that war isn’t a game.

Our world is always on the verge of another battle, the soldiers are, in essence, simply seeking a new battlefield. Let the fight for measured decisions be the strongest.

And sing for me a Simple Song of Freedom.

Photo Credit: (hand & butterflies) © digitalista — Bigstock

Drive Me Batty and Keep Me Sane

So often when I’m writing I’m joined by one of two 11-pound lumps of fur and purr, sitting on my lap, shifting, kneading and finally settling in while I lean over him or her to the keyboard.

They’re a sister and brother team who came into my life sometime back, when they were just kittens and in need of safety and shelter. Mimi is my princess, or perhaps pharaohess would be the better term given her sleek appearance. She’s not the best at staying put, in fact, she’s more likely to wander around the apartment, crying and annoying the heck out of me while I write. But when I turn to yap at her, she looks at me and comes running, and I stop before the words come out. She just wants some loving.

uh-oh slrWalter, on the other hand, is adept at snuggling in, melting in, really. He’s the scene-stealer and has been from the beginning. Cute, charming and a little shy, Walter, too, just wants to be loved.

On occasion I read aloud what I’ve written and take into consideration their most likely unrelated reactions: burrowing further in, leaping from my lap, a tiny “mew?” I take as a request for clarification. Sometimes Walter will hold a paw out as if to say, “that’s enough, you don’t need to share anymore, I’m here to nap.”

They drive me batty and keep me sane, wake me in the middle of the night just to play and sit in the window waiting for me to come home. If I’m sick or weary they’re there beside me, and if I’m agitated they keep their distance…for awhile.

I need them and they need me, so we’re together for the long haul. I hope it’s a long haul.

Walter and Mimi in the fresh laundry
Walter and Mimi, settled onto my fresh laundry, moments after I’ve taken it out of the dryer.

If Only By Example

One of the legacies that has carried from my great-grandparents to me was a respect for all people. All people.

My mom’s cousin, my great-aunt’s son, was as white as I am, a heritage that traces back, some of it, to New York in the 1790s, and from there we aren’t sure which European country our ancestors emigrated from in their search for a new life.

Anyway, he was raised without prejudice, meaning, it didn’t exist in his world.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterThen he married a Hawaiian woman. By this point, Hawaii was a state in our nation, and had been for more than a decade. She was as American as he was. But they weren’t allowed in some restaurants because she was Hawaiian. That was how they worded it, even. Now I don’t know anything more specific about her ethnic background; I’m guessing it may have been Filipino. I was a little young, so to me, she was Lena, she crocheted beautiful purple vests for me and my sister, and she served us 7-Up when we visited.

It was a shock to my mom’s cousin to see his wife treated in such a humiliating manner. He was an intelligent, educated man, not generally naive, but this was foreign to him. I’m proud to be related to someone for whom prejudice was that unknown, and I hope the heart of that nature can be found in me.

I know the people who follow my blog by and large are people who respect others, who empathize with anyone in pain, and who ache for the hurt of those who are persecuted, even in our country, by those who should know better. So I’m preaching to the choir and saying thank you at the same time.

I don’t know what it’s like to be black, Mexican or Muslim, or any of the other minorities treated so poorly by so many these days. I stumble and fumble in my efforts to understand the humiliation and anger, and every once in awhile something gets through.

A few years ago I was listening to a woman speak at a conference for those who worked with people with disabilities, as I did at the time. She has disabilities herself, is black, and was a prominent figure in Washington D.C. some time back. I apologize I don’t remember her name. At the end of her speech, I was surprised to hear her say when she’s asked how she wants to be identified, as an African-American, a woman, or a person with disabilities,  it’s African-American first.

It put something into perspective for me. When you’re white, you don’t identify yourself by race. It isn’t an issue. When you’re black, it’s an issue every single day. Of course race is first. I’m embarrassed now it surprised me then.

young swallows sitting on a branchA friend of mine, who’s black, bought a very nice camera, and was struggling to get the settings right so he could take decent pictures of his family. Why? The default settings are for caucasian skin. It says that right in the manual.

I live in an apartment complex with a large Hispanic population, and many of my neighbors speak little English. For my part, I speak little Spanish, but I do know these two words: los gatos. The cats. One of my neighbor ladies was delighted at my response when I caught her once speaking, in Spanish, to my two cats as they sat in the windowsill. Embarrassed, she stopped, but I said, “It’s okay. Los gatos hablamos espanol.” I have no idea if that’s grammatically correct Spanish, but she understood me.

She’s probably my age, maybe a little older, and who knows when she moved to this country. Likely it was as an adult, and likely she’ll never know a lot of English. I had ancestors like that who came over from Poland, and they faced their share of prejudice. Even my dad experienced the mockery and disdainful attitudes a notable amount, and I grew up hearing Poles and Italians were invariably less intelligent. You’ve all heard that sort of thing before, and you get my point.

To my black friends, Hispanic friends, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, and any ethnic group I’m forgetting friends, I see your race, religion, ethnicity, and anything else that clearly identifies you as you. I don’t always know what it means. I don’t live it. But I respect it as part of you, and I will do what I can to teach others to do so as well. If only by example.

three titmouse birds in winter

 

Photo Credits:  bee-eaters © : panuruangjan — Fotolia; young swallows sitting on a branch © nataba — Fotolia; three titmouse birds in winter © Vera Kuttelvaserova — Fotolia

 

Different than I Expected

I’ve found life isn’t getting harder, or more challenging, or more difficult than I expect it to be. But it’s getting more difficult in ways different than I expect.

I seem to be able to divide my life today into several parts:

making the same mistakes with the same predictable results; facing the same problems but with new challenges; blazing new, hopefully more productive trails; and dealing with the unimagined, some of it wonderful, some of it sad.

Dad, me, Beth
My Dad, me and my sister

Then there’s always the predictable, of course. My parents are aging; both will turn 80 this year. On my dad’s side of the family, that’s nothing. On my mom’s, it’s a little more meaningful. While today they’re healthy, the reality is, it doesn’t matter what you might reasonably anticipate, they are at an age when death might be unexpected, but you can never truly say it’s shocking.

I don’t worry about them dying, but I’m acutely aware they will someday, and I’m not looking forward to it. From time to time I’m made aware of the possibility that something I never thought of could happen, and one of them would be gone, just like that. I can’t dwell on those thoughts. Awareness it could happen is enough.

My friend Sandy, looking at family history, had no reason to believe her mother would live past her early 70s.

Now her mama is 90, and in reasonably good health, but little by little, her memory is diminishing. Sandy didn’t anticipate facing all the problems of finding care for her mother, who’s become increasingly incapable of caring for herself.

Fortunately, she found a good assisted living residence, and that will greatly take the burden off her shoulders. Believe me, she’s happy to have these problems, thrilled to have her mother with her. When she gets a chance to put it in that perspective. So often, she’s so tired.

She’s also dealing with the declining health of her husband, who’s doing well at this point but could turn at any moment. Or, live for years. That man is stubborn. In the back of my mind (okay, I have said it out loud once or twice) is the thought maybe we should worry a little more about Sandy’s health. She’s almost 70, but you forget it to look at her. If she died, a lot of things would fall apart for her husband and mother. Quickly.

That’s the sort of twist life seems good at turning. We expect her mom to go, we’ve been preparing, mentally, at least, for her husband to leave us, but one day she could just be gone without warning.

Many years ago my then-boyfriend’s childhood friend Dan had a rare form of cancer and was given months to live.

Because of his prognosis, he was asked if he’d be willing to take part in an experimental drug treatment. He did, and it extended his life long enough for another experimental drug program to come along…and then another. Eventually, Dan was cancer-free.

Dan had been prepared to die. He was left instead struggling with how to live, and floundered while adjusting his thinking.

Some days the little things throw me for a loop.
Mimi looking out the window
Mimi looking out the window

Today I reached over to scratch my cat Mimi behind the ears, and she cowered, terror in her eyes. I had no idea what was wrong. I held out my hand so she could sniff it, but she would have none of it. She walked away and sat five feet from me, staring in apparent deep contemplation.

That was three or four hours ago. Just now I got up from my desk and walked over to her, and she was fine. I have no idea what was wrong before, and I likely never will know. It upsets me. It’s never happened before.

If my cat is terrified of something, that’s not a little thing. Certainly not to her, therefore not to me.

I didn’t expect my life to be the way it is today,

and sometimes I’m at a loss with how to deal with the sense of sadness that surrounds me when I think of what I did expect and did want from life. Those moments don’t last, however, or dominate my thinking.

I’m proud of the skills I’ve developed in dealing with the pain and sorrow I’ve felt over the years, in the unexpected as well as absolutely foreseeable events that have transpired.

So now I’m going to cuddle with my cat. If she’ll let me.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: (Winding Path) © PetarPaunchev — Fotolia

Fear, the Future and Moving Forward

When I was just under two years old, I feared nothing. Okay, not true. The only way I’d go down the slide was on my tummy, feet first, so apparently my fear of heights started early. But feeding ducks? Couldn’t get me to do that today (what if they bit me?) but as a toddler, if Grandpa told me it was okay, I was a trusting soul.

 

Admittedly, it took me a little bit to get into it, but once I did, I was all in.

Not too many people I trust that implicitly any more, I’m afraid. I’ve learned there’s value in counsel from many, and accepting the advice of one person in a life-changing situation, no matter how adamant they may be that they are right, is rarely the wise thing to do.

It takes me time to process things. Sometimes someone will make a suggestion and I’ll dismiss it out of hand. If they push it, I’ll push back, and get angry, defensive. I need time to think it through. Later I may come back and say, “hey, what about…?” and make the same suggestion they did only days before, frustrating the bejeebers out of them.

Other times I know I’m right, and I’ll push back, and that, too, will irritate my friends, who don’t see the difference. Not long ago I had a friend who, in all sincerity, thought I was taking a situation “too seriously” and not looking at things “the way they really are.”

I was living the situation; he wasn’t. I knew just how serious it was. He was frustrated because of my perceived attitude; I was equally perturbed by his stubborn refusal to accept my experience as valuable in evaluating the situation.

me graduation
Me at my college graduation — finally, at the age of 30

I struggle, daily, with important decisions. I seek advice from friends and family, and I look at past decisions, I write blog posts (some published, some not) about what I would or would not like to see happen.

There are aspects of my life I want changed now and things I want to change in the future. I lie awake at night thinking about what I need to do to protect my future, and worrying some things will never change if I don’t take baby steps.

Some days I take the baby steps, then I forget to do so again for months at a time, losing any momentum I may have gained.

Moving forward is an ever-challenging, often exasperating, sometimes exhausting, yet ultimately exhilarating practice. It can happen slowly, then suddenly speed up and leave you spinning.

I never want to stop moving forward, growing and achieving personal freedom as a result. For me, it requires re-evaluation every so often, and I’m doing that now.

And looking forward to the next chapter.

 

 

 

Our Simple Home a Place Divine

Great-Gram's Poetry BookI have few family heirlooms, and none have value outside of my home. Still, what I have, I treasure, and what I treasure most, perhaps, is the book of poetry my great-grandfather gave my great-grandmother on their wedding day in February, 1905.

Inscribed inside from him to her is this verse from one of the poems of Riley’s Love Lyrics, long out-of-print:

And have the shine/of one glad woman’s eyes to make, for my poor sake,/Our simple home a place divine/Just the wee cot–the cricket’s chirr–/Love, and the smiling face of her.

Okay, maybe long out-of-print for a reason.

I would like to say their marriage was a love story for the ages, but it wasn’t. It was as good or bad a union as any of its time, with one exceptional result: all of their children, including all four women, received a college education. (My grandmother, I believe, was the only one who didn’t graduate, but in her day, women going to college was the exception, not the rule, and she was as smart, and ultimately, as educated, as any of them.)

And their children were good people. I speak of them and not my great-grandparents only because they were the people I knew, and I respected them.

I’ve had several friends lose their parents this past week in a somewhat shocking series of losses, and in each case I’ve been struck by this: the legacy they left behind in their children, some despite themselves, others because of a lifetime of sacrifice for their children.

panzram wedding
My great- grandparents on their wedding day.

My great-grandparents clearly started out their marriage with all the hope and anticipation of any newlywed couple, and over the years that youthful belief in each other grew into a deeper knowledge of their spouse’s faults and failings, strengths and unique qualities.

Life is a journey, and not an easy one. We have our benchmark moments, but mostly we have day to day experiences that little by little define us, both to ourselves and others. We look for inspiration in the things around us, but we do the best we can with the power we have at any given moment.

And that’s okay. Our choices evolve, we grow, we’re inspired by others and suddenly we see ourselves in a whole new light. It starts a new path without requiring much thought at that point, because it’s who we want to be.

We want to be better, and we find ourselves seeking that good we know is there inside our souls, to show it to the world. As if the world hadn’t seen it already.

 

Sentimental