Rules, Respect, and Giving a Rip

There was a time when, with a carload of friends, I, as the driver, was caught in a stop-and-go situation in a parking ramp after a basketball game.

“Look!” my friend Kathy said, pointing at another car. “They’re going the opposite direction! Let’s do that!”

We should have, and I had a split second to decide. There was no law, no rule really, against it. Nothing would’ve happened other than getting out of that ramp an hour or so earlier. But I couldn’t do it. The signs told us which way to exit. Going the other way was wrong.

I can’t help myself. I’m a rule follower.

I’ll tell myself and everyone else I’m being respectful, but bottom line, I’m scared of getting in trouble.

You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.
You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.

I even make sure I’m going in the “Enter” door when I shop at Walmart, and veer to the other side if I find I’m headed for the “Exit” door by mistake. Keep in mind the automatic doors have sensors on both sides, and no one so much as blinks if you go through the “wrong” door. On your average shopping day, there’s no danger or inconvenience in entering through the exit door (on Black Friday, it is, of course, a different story).

This wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t feel like I was being controlled by these rules. That, I think, is the dividing line for me between what is right and what is compulsive. I do not, for example, compulsively follow traffic laws. I do it for two reasons: safety, and I don’t want to get a ticket.

No, make that three reasons. It’s the law. Following it is what you do.

When I was in college — the first time —

it was a VERY conservative school, and students could receive what were called “minutes” for infractions of a plethora of really stupid rules. I think breathing too loudly on Saturday morning before 10 a.m. was one of them.

You’d get three minutes per infringement, and if you flouted your rebellion to a point of getting 30 minutes, you received what was called a “campus”, and “volunteered” three hours of your time to the school pulling weeds or some such.

In the history of the school, only a handful of students had made it until graduation without any minutes. I could’ve been one of them, except for two things: 1) I didn’t graduate, and 2) one Saturday morning I slipped up and talked to another student in the bathroom before 10 a.m. (I almost wasn’t kidding above).

She talked to me first, but no matter. And she was an RA, so I was screwed.

It would’ve been good for me to blast my radio

after hours a night or two, or (really bad) show up after curfew (there may have been more serious consequences for that. And, oh yes, curfew). It would’ve been really good for me to kiss a guy on campus (again, I’m serious, a violation of school policy), but that rarely was an option anyway.

I say it would have been a good thing for me because I might have understood what I only now am fully grasping: breaking certain rules doesn’t make you a bad person, or even untrustworthy. There are boundaries and I probably held mine closer than was healthy.

Certainly I didn’t need to trap me and my friends in that parking garage for more than an hour. If I’d gone the wrong way, worst case scenario half the other cars might have followed me. As it was, my decision cast a pall on the evening; that’s what we always remembered about an otherwise fun night.

Who's in Charge smStill, old dogs, new tricks. Forget dogs — I should be like my cats. They (reluctantly) follow the few rules I absolutely enforce and don’t give a rip about much of anything I else I ask of them. Somehow they know what really matters. I rarely reprimand them, or think any less of them for their indifference.


Photo credit (stoplight): © Graphic Stock; (Kitty and Candy) © geosap — stock.adobe.com

 

Consequences

Today I heard a story that is breaking my heart. I need to emphasize no charges have been filed, and therefore I’m using no names.

A little background: years ago, I became friends with a co-worker and ultimately, even better friends with his wife. When I was struggling, they opened their doors to me. I held their two youngest daughters when they were hours old. They were good friends.

Then, sadly, they got a divorce, and since sides are inevitably taken, I took hers. Without going into details, he betrayed her in a terrible manner.

currency-no-bkgd-smHe started dating a woman who looked eerily like her. She (the girlfriend) moved into his home, formerly their home, and began spending lavish amounts of money renovating the house, buying vehicles for him and the two oldest girls, and numerous extravagant vacations. Since both worked for the government, it was a mystery where all this money was coming from.

Which brings us up to recent events. Three weeks ago, FBI and IRS agents showed up at the offices of the girlfriend, requesting certain records in search of the answers for some accounting irregularities. After allegedly confessing to the crime of embezzling an unspecified amount of money over the last eight years, she was fired.

Whether or not he still has his job with that same organization is unclear. What is certain is that federal agents are continuing their investigation, and any charges will be federal. Which means federal prison. Not a pretty thing to anticipate happening in your life.

upside-down-turtleI’ve never met this woman, the girlfriend, but I want to scream, WHY? Why did you do this to yourself, your boyfriend, HIS DAUGHTERS, the citizens in your community?  I refuse to judge her as harshly as some, but my heart is first with those four young girls whose world is about to be turned upside-down once again.

If you are committing a crime, eventually you will be caught. Your family, friends, co-workers, cats, dogs, and hamsters will all be affected. You may be getting away with it now, but the story is not finished. The future is uncertain, and bleak.

Think twice, then think again.


Unfinished


Photo Credits: (money) Pixabay; (turtle)  © cagan – Fotolia

where I am, who I am

(c) Belinda Ostrowski

Apparently, by modern definition, I am a cat lady.

I have two, and according to a recent New York Times article, that’s all it takes. Back in the day, it was somewhere in the double digits. Okay, maybe less than that, but having two cats then was called being a pet owner.

Walter Kitty
Walter, the cat who melts in your lap

So now, add “cat lady” to never married and avid knitter. Let’s not forget I lived with my mother for a time. Laughably, I fit a stereotype I can only hope is now as outdated as the former definition of “cat lady.”

If not, so be it. I fit it on paper only. I’m not to be pitied or mocked. Yes, I do get lonely at times. Everybody does. I remind myself then how many people my age are single for one reason or another, or worse yet, in bad marriages. Quite frankly, my situation is better than many, and not worse than most.

It took me years…

…to genuinely realize I’m valued and appreciated by others, and how essential true friendship is to contentment in life, how key it is to have people around me I can relax with and not fret about whether I’ve said or done the wrong thing.

I’ve learned to stay away from people who make me feel bad, whether or not it appears to be their fault. Sometimes I’ve taken the blame for things I’m not responsible for and find myself crashing and burning trying to right a wrong situation when the blame lies elsewhere.

In the past, and to a lingering extent still today, I tended to focus on the negative and be suspicious of sincere offers of friendship. What’s more, I always believed it was impossible for a man of worth to love me. Now, I apologize to any man out there who may have wanted to date me but didn’t because of the wall I put up. I never considered it this way before, but that’s a pretty rude attitude on my part.

I’m a bit offbeat, and happy about it.

There is somewhat of a dichotomy here, a flip side to that deeply held insecurity. On my best days, after a little mirror time, I’m confident in my appearance. I know I’m personable, kind, and empathetic. As one former boyfriend once told me (and although he meant it as a slam, I took it as a high compliment), I’m also a bit offbeat, and happy about it. In other words, I do have a fair amount of confidence in myself when I call on it.

That growth in attitude doesn’t change what I’ve done to get me where I am today. I can walk out the door, spinning on my heels with the belief I’m a brunette heartbreaker with the intellect and wisdom of, well, None Other, and thinking, men, I challenge you to be strong enough to take me on. (I have to clarify – I absolutely do not do that, and if I did, I can guarantee you with my next step I would, characteristically, slip on a banana.)  It wouldn’t instantly bring me what I may desire at that moment.

Here’s the thing:

I like cats, love mine, and I love to knit.  I wouldn’t give them up, the cats or the yarn, just because they might make me look laughable to someone cocky enough to think he or she will never be an object of scorn.

I am where I am because of who I am, along with the choices I’ve made and the choices made for me, twists and turns in life I have no knowledge of because they took place before they could be visible. I’ve made the life I have the way it is in part because that is the life I’ve wanted.

I believe in the power of subtle changes…In the meantime, I’m content.

A few years ago I had a glimpse of what it would be like to have someone in my life to be a support when I needed it most. I’ve handled sad and difficult situations on my own for so long that having someone by my side was new to me. It turned me around in the way I think about relationships, and I started to open up to the whole idea of something permanent.

Of course it doesn’t change the route I’ve taken to get where I am today, the reasons why and the consequences thereof. Being open to something doesn’t mean it will or even should happen, and I’m still not sure what I ultimately want. I have a comfortable lifestyle created from living alone.

Some of my family who have always been there -- and always will be.
Some of my family who have always been there — and always will be.

Yes, there are days when I sink into sad thoughts, but I know enough to realize a little time and maybe a good night’s sleep will bring me back to myself.

I believe in the power of subtle changes. In the meantime, I’m content with what I’ve been given, the friends and family who never fail me.

Just don’t expect me to ever change how I think about my cats. Only two, mind you, only two.

hold your child’s hand, talk a little longer

Last week, our hearts were broken.

In response, my friend Wanda organized this silent vigil in our community for the victims of the Emanual AME Church shooting.

Silent Vigil at Crystal Bridges Museum
Silent Vigil for Victims of Mother Emanuel AME church shooting, June 24, 2015. Photo by Ali Wingood

Wanda has two daughters, ages 12 and 14. They’re learning what it means to be black in America. They’re black, so there’s that, and then there’s the bigger picture Wanda is helping them understand.

More to teach everyday, no doubt. It’s hard to be a parent.

In November of 1960,

Ruby Bridges made history. Many of you know the story. Six-year-old Ruby was one of the first black children to cross the lines at an all-white school in New Orleans to claim her right to an equal education in the public school system.

U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960
U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960

U.S. Marshalls escorted her & her mother to the classroom that first day amidst rioting protesters, including one woman who put a black baby doll in a makeshift casket and shoved it at Ruby as she walked by.

Ruby was brave, no doubt about it. But when I saw this picture all I could think was how much courage her parents had, how deep their conviction and love must have been.

Her mama probably didn’t sleep much the night before. She likely ironed and starched that dress until it could stand up by itself. There may have been a petticoat, given the same care.

The little white anklets, perhaps with flowers embroidered on them. The patent leather shoes, polished until light bounced off them at every step. The bow pinned firmly in the hair.

When I picture Lucille Bridges, I see a woman who believed in what she and her baby girl were about to do. Ruby was going to shine, inside and out, as she changed history.

And she did change it. Today, countless doors have been opened for children everywhere, and each of us has benefited at one point or the other from the education they’ve earned.

All in my lifetime

Ruby’s story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Abon & Lucille Bridges, her parents. I wouldn’t care so deeply if not for my parents, who raised three children in the turbulent ’60s and taught us about equality and justice as best they could.

We stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

That’s all anybody can expect, to teach the best way — and words — we know. Perhaps down the road we learn our lessons were somehow off the mark. Yet we stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

I’ve kept my heart, mind and eyes open for increasing understanding because of the foundation my parents laid. Whatever mistakes they may have made, at its heart, their message was right. They believed in equal opportunity. They saw people as individuals with value. They recognized the problems and knew the solutions were bigger, but would take time.

It’s hard to be a parent, but you make a difference. May it change your child’s world, and that of those around you, for the better.

Thanks to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, rubybridges.com, for facts on her story.

honda heaven and beyond

Photo credit: top (sky background) © Andrii Salivon - Fotolia.com

My 1996 Honda Accord gave up the ghost, so to speak, and left for Honda Heaven earlier this month.

I bought it six years ago after my 2000 Corolla (which I’d bought brand new in 1999) was totaled. I was oh-so-fortunate back then, the proceeds from my crushed and crumpled Corolla just exactly covered the cost of the Accord, so I haven’t had a car payment in about ten years. Now, at a time when I’m both out of work and out of savings, I needed a new car, and I needed a way to finance it.

I should say, I’m actually underemployed, not unemployed. I work part-time and knew I would barely make enough to scrape by with a car payment and the higher insurance cost. Up to this time I’d been modestly comfortable with my limited income in that I haven’t struggled to pay my bills or purchase food. That would change. The loss of my Accord meant more than just losing a vehicle, I was losing a lifestyle, as modest as it was. Finding a new job has been incredibly difficult for me, and I didn’t expect that tide to turn immediately.

I didn’t relish the thought of going back to where I was before I got this job. There were days, weeks even, when I’d be stuck at home because I didn’t have enough money to put gas in my car to go anywhere. I barely had enough to buy essentials such as toilet paper and laundry soap. I gave up cable TV a long time ago, although right now I can afford Netflix — most months. So now, even though I’m working, my expenses would go up radically (given my limited income to start with) and I’d be back where I was a year ago. Scary, depressing.

Looking into what was out there was exhausting and I proved to be a car salesman’s dream customer, someone who just wants to get the deal done and drive off in her new — or used — car. Fortunately, I had a co-signer with a stake in this who put the brakes on and forced me to ask around to make sure I was getting the best deal possible. I hated every second of it and more than once tried to tell him I just wanted to take the deal and get it over with, but he wouldn’t do it.

It isn’t easy when you know one of your inherent characteristics may lead you to be taken advantage of by someone trained to do just that. I had to tell myself, be thankful there’s someone willing to show you how it’s done by taking the time to do it himself. Sit back and relax. Get a good night’s sleep before you make any decisions. Listen to the wisdom of someone who’s been there before you. I had to set aside doubts such as, his information is outdated, they do things differently these days (turns out they don’t). My anxiety was getting the better of me and making me look for the quickest way out. Problem is, that way out can lead to the wrong path.

PriusRemarkably, my co-signer/fairy godmother found an incredible deal that allowed me to drive off in a brand-new Prius at a price I could afford. So today for the first time in years I found myself driving a car I can take outside the county limits, because I don’t need to be within calling distance of friends or family when (not if) it breaks down. The maintenance agreement even covers oil changes for two years. My costs have gone up and gone down at the same time, although on the balance they do remain higher.

The remarkable end to what seemed like an impossible situation — finding a car when I had no credit and a limited income — has given me the courage to search for a job more appropriate to my education and experience. I’ve been held back by legitimate barriers, too complex to describe here, but the time may have come to knock them down. I’ll wait a few months so I can make at least one trip to see my mom, who lives a day’s drive away. Of course saying that almost certainly guarantees a job opportunity too good to pass up will come my way sooner. I can only hope.

Photo credit: top (sky background) © Andrii Salivon – Fotolia.com