the strength of character I seek

In my life, I seek to be like my late great-aunt Vi, who never stopped in her practice of her faith.

I have unending respect for Vi. She was a teacher who, in the 60s, taught her fourth-graders lessons about human rights and dignity, issues people were dying for daily in those years.

My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996
My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996

She did more than teach those children. She sent money to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as evidenced by a letter now in the archives of The King Center, dated April 20, 1967.

“You have been in our fourth grade Hall of Fame for many years,” she wrote to this great leader, “but never have I held you in such high esteem as since your strong statement against the war in Vietnam.”

She went on to refer to a slide show she’d seen of children affected by napalm. She was appalled.. In response, she sent a check to Dr. King “for (his) peace efforts,” and told him she prayed for him daily.

If she said she prayed for him daily, that’s what she did. There was never a truer Christian than Violet Panzram. Her faith led her to action and compassion, and a kindness that shown like a beacon.

In her 86 years no doubt she faced trials that tested her strength, character and faith, but I have no idea what they were. A few years ago, I found myself wishing I knew more about how she worked through her dark days as I faced my own.

I’d been betrayed by someone I trusted to a point where I’d lost my career, my home and my trusting nature.

I’d been betrayed by someone I trusted to a point where I’d lost my career, my home and my trusting nature. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my friends, nor did those who knew me best stop believing in me, and never did they believe the horrible lies that spread through our community.

I realize that because of mental health issues, I’m limited in some of the ways I can change in my behavior. There are times when the beast within me takes control, and I struggle to fight without fully realizing what’s happening.  I’ve sought changes in my life, but some won’t come until I learn other hidden truths & solutions, or until I die and shed the constraints I’m bound by in this life.

Me
Me

Yet thankfully there are changes no amount of depression, anxiety or the multitude of issues I deal with can halt. Some of those changes include the excellence of character my great-aunt demonstrated, so I pursue that through the choices I make every day.

Surely Vi had her good days and bad, perhaps not in the same manner I experience them, but with their own restrictive features.

I move forward, and trust I’ll be a better person tomorrow, and even better the day after. I’ll always have my faults and my failures that anger and frustrate those around me, but I pray the good in me will be what’s remembered when I’m gone.

Featured image credit: (candles) © 9comeback — fotolia.com; (background) © lpopba — Dreamstime.com; (background) © Leksustuss — Dreamstime.com.

Keep the Beasts Away

As a senior in college, my journalism classes were peppered with visits from real-life reporters.

One of them was a top crime reporter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, whose name I’ve long forgotten. He showed up for our 9:00 class with rumpled hair, wrinkled shirt and unshaven face, holding a cup of coffee and looking too sleepy to be nervous. We weren’t shy about asking him questions, but it was when we allowed him to talk freely about his career that the most interesting information poured forth.

An earlier reporting job had been for the major daily paper in Chicago, where he worked the overnight shift. Most of the time he covered accidents and drunken brawls; if he was lucky, someone with some degree of fame was involved. One night, while playing cards with a colleague, he heard a call come over the police scanner. A woman had reported a foul odor emanating from her next-door neighbor’s home.

This kind of report was common and rarely went anywhere, but the two men figured since nothing else was going on, they might as well see what was up. Not expecting anything serious, they were intrigued by the growing number of emergency vehicles surrounding the house in question. Police weren’t talking and had roped off any access to the premises, so the reporters checked in on the neighbor who’d made the call.

A kind woman who’d lived in the same home for decades, she poured them some coffee and began talking about the man next door. Pleasant and polite, she said, but there was one strange thing. Young men, boys, really, would show up at his place on a regular basis. She’d seen plenty of them going in, but none ever came out.

That caught the attention of these reporters. They called their editor, and continued to investigate this increasingly harrowing story.

They broke the news to the world about John Wayne Gacy.

For those of you who don’t know, Gacy was one of the most notorious American serial killers of the 20th century.  Convicted in 1980 of the rape and murder of 33 young men he’d lured to his home and buried in the crawl space, he eventually was put to death by lethal injection.

The point of sharing his experience with a wide-eyed audience of journalism students was to remind us you never knew when or in what form opportunity would present itself. This horrifying story catapulted the career of these two reporters. Always seeking  information the hordes of other reporters missed, they helped fill out the tale of a gruesome tragedy.

They weren’t voyeurs, nor were the opportunists playing on the despair of others. This crime changed them in ways they were reluctant to discuss. As reporters, however, they called upon their training, formal and informal, to relay the full story. Much of what they reported is long forgotten, but a significant portion of it informed the world of the danger that could lurk in their neighborhood. If one boy heeded the lesson from their reports and saved himself from degradation and death, their work yielded the desired results.

Doctors prepare for the disaster they pray never happens; schools practice for the terror they never want to see. In our own way, preparing ourselves personally and professionally for the darkest parts of our society helps make our lives and the lives of those we care about safer.

No, we can’t live with a fatalistic attitude, nor can we worry ceaselessly about unseen events. We prepare, and go on with the joys and expectations of our lives. No better preparation can be made than that of cultivating a compassionate and caring heart, one that is grieved by tragedy but never hardened.

May you never face the worst of man or nature, and for those who do or will, may God carry you through it. And may all of us do what we can to keep the beasts away.


Image Credit:  ©Algol — stock.adobe.com

 

the art of being my mother

Centered on the living room wall when I was growing up was a drawing that tore at me. It was of a woman, clearly weary, her head in one hand looking off to her left, a sleeping child draped over the other arm.

Not sure what was going  on here, but it was clearly important.
Not sure what was going on here, but it was clearly important.

While I now see the beauty in this art, as a child I believed my mother identified with it because of her own weariness with her lot in life, namely, me, and I felt a great deal of guilt over what I’d done to her.

We didn’t get along, my mother and me, until after my stepfather died when I was 28. By her own admission, her focus then changed from wife to mother.  It took us years to work through all the barriers. Issues remain today, but they aren’t the structure of our relationship.

I see her getting older and I’m constantly mindful of the fact she’s only a few years away from the age her parents were when they died. She’s on a fixed income and can barely afford her own needs month to month, yet she still jumps at the chance to give to me.

That’s what moms do, I guess, at least it’s what my mom does. I resisted it inside myself until I realized how important it was to her. I turn around and send her money when I can to help her in any small way.

A few years ago I went through terrible times, and it left its mark on me long after that. I was so deep in the pain of it myself I didn’t fully realize what my mom went through each day, wondering what I was undergoing and imagining the worst.

I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

I hold back on telling her everything because it is too difficult to express. I don’t know that she should know all the details. I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

Perhaps she did identify with the woman in that drawing, for reasons I’ll never really know. As one of the few pieces of art she’s kept through the years, it seemingly has meant something to her. Just as I don’t fully involve her in my experience, certainly she hasn’t fully involved me in hers.

I told her once, in a moment of reflection, what it had made me feel, and she simply said, “Really? I never knew.” Then smiled a little. “I always loved that picture.”

sibling revelry

Today I called my brother with some upsetting news. Once again, factors beyond my control were thwarting my plans to move forward.

He was the only one who would fully understand how challenging it would be for me, because he’d been with me from the start of the events that led to the distress of today.

My brother was there for me before I even knew I needed him.

belinda-thom-1962

Growing up, we weren’t close. It was my brother and sister who were allies, often, it felt, against me. Certainly I was on the outside.

Yet we share a history, sometimes a laughable yet now bonding one. Once, he asked if I remembered the cookie-eating bear from the Andy Williams Show, a popular variety program in our childhood.

I didn’t, and he was legitimately shocked, because I have a tremendous memory. He calls it memory for useless trivia, which is a little hurtful, because my memory includes much more than that.

Some months later there was a two-hour A&E biography about Andy Williams that I watched start to finish, just to see if this cookie-eating bear would be mentioned. He was, almost as an afterthought, in the last 30 seconds.

I sat through two hours of a biography I didn’t give a rip about just for my brother. I’d do an incomparable amount more if I could.

At the end of my phone call today, I gulped out a thank you for listening to me. He said, with a bit of surprise, “of course!” He’d said the same thing several years ago when I thanked him for flying out, at great expense, to be by my side at a time I can’t conceive of surviving alone.

He took over when I was absolutely lost, and later let go when I’d regained my strength, focus and independence. I’d never known what it was like to have someone value me that much before.

He’s two years younger than me, an age difference that become irrelevant sometime around high school. We started to connect more then.

I remember a sweet, red-haired girl who had, to say the least, a huge crush on him. We had a class together, and she talked about him endlessly to me. I really wanted him to reciprocate her feelings, but I knew full well he did not.

I was, however, proud of the way he treated her. Although he was clear he wasn’t equally interested, he let her know he thought her interest was a high compliment. Of course that just intensified her feelings for a time, but it was the right way to handle it.

me & Thom 1994
circa 1994

Now he has a daughter, sixteen years old, who no doubt brings all the frustrations a girl that age can carry. I hold my breath, then relax, as I watch him value her in the same concrete ways he values me and valued that cute girl in our high school years.

He’s proven there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for me. In a lifetime we may or may not be lucky enough to fully show our love for those who mean the most to us.

I’ve been blessed to be on the receiving end of that love and sacrifice from my brother, a humbling and heartening experience for me. It has changed the core of me, my essential self.


A special thank you to those of you who have been following my blog long enough to remember this post!

The Value of Things

“They’re just things. We’re all okay. Things can be replaced, people can’t. I’m just grateful everyone is alive.”

How many times after a fire, tornado or hurricane have we heard those brave words, sincerely spoken in the moment? Yet we know, sitting in our chairs in the comfort of our safe and secure homes, that sooner or later the woman on the screen will realize some things can’t be replaced.

The stone your daughter brought you because she thought it was so pretty and would bring you good luck. The books you’ve had since childhood, worn a bit, but beautiful. The Christmas decorations your mother and your children made.

The pictures, taken before digital cameras and cloud storage.

Yes, any of us would rather have our children, spouses, siblings, parents, friends and neighbors alive and hugging us close than a household of “things”…but the loss of the material is real, and eventually will hit the people struggling to find a change of clothing and water the day after their home is destroyed.

We say “you can’t take it with you” and as true as that is, you have it here on earth. While often that expression refers to money, here I’m talking about things, objects, what you know is in your house and makes it home for you. You treasure it, at times it sustains you. There’s nothing wrong with valuing those things.

A tragic loss does put all that in perspective, of course, and you can always find new objects to hold close to your heart. But they can’t fully replace what’s been lost.

To those who’ve lost everything, my heart is with you. I know your loss is real. I pray you have the support in your life to get through whatever has brought this loss into your life, all that it represents, and that you will soon find joy again.


Photo Credit : © marima-design – Fotolia

The Gift

Last summer I received an adoption announcement from a friend of mine, Brock. He and his partner, Dan, had a new little girl. Her name was Allison, but they called her Sunny.

I hadn’t heard from Brock in several years. We’d worked together ages ago, before he and Dan had met, but at a time when Brock was anxious to start his own family. It was a challenge, since he’s gay, and at the time, decidedly single.

The picture that came with the notice showed Brock standing next to a beaming Dan, cradling a baby I guessed to be about six months old. While Brock was smiling, there was a sadness in his eyes. Ever curious, I decided to call my one-time close friend. After all, he’d included his phone number in the announcement.

“HELLO!” He cried out when he heard my name. “I was hoping you’d call! I found your address, but couldn’t track down your phone number.”

In the background a baby was crying. “I hear sounds of a family,” I said. “I’ll keep this short.”

That call, however, was destined to be longer. While Dan comforted Sunny, Brock told me how she came into their lives.

Brock, you see, had an identical twin brother, Calvin. Calvin was straight, and like his twin, took his time settling down. Four years earlier he’d married a woman Brock was thrilled with, Anna.
Tiny Baby

Calvin and Anna had wanted children right away, but it took them several years to finally carry a baby to full-term. That baby was Allison, which, it turns out, is Anna’s middle name. As soon as she was born, Brock flew out to meet her, and he was the one who started calling her Sunny.

Sunny, however, was anything but a happy baby. She cried constantly, and while doctors initially dismissed it as first-time parental concern, a nurse finally took note and convinced Sunny’s pediatrician to run some tests. They discovered a heart defect and immediately took her in for surgery.

The surgery was successful and Sunny’s recovery was complete, but Calvin and Anna had a hard time leaving her side. Finally, when she was four months old (and by this time, a truly sunny baby), they left her in the care of Anna’s sister, who herself has four children.

It was a terribly windy night, and Calvin and Anna cut their evening short, concerned the weather was going to get worse. Three miles from their home, their sporty little Miata swerved or was blown across the median, and was hit by a semi. Both Calvin and Anna were dead at the scene.

Brock got the call, and flew out immediately. He desperately wanted to adopt Sunny, and after all, he was the godfather, but Anna’s sister was the godmother, and he was certain if there were a legal battle, he would lose.

Anna’s sister, however, liked Brock, and told him while she would happily adopt Sunny, she felt strongly he was meant to be her father. Sunny, you see, looks just like Calvin and Brock did at that age.

More than that, Anna’s sister knew this was perhaps the best opportunity for Brock and Dan to become parents. She only asked that she remain Sunny’s godmother. Brock eagerly agreed, and adoption proceedings were nearly immediate.

But there remains sadness in Brock’s eyes. He lost his brother, his closest friend, his twin. He is overjoyed at having a baby, and one who carries his DNA, no less, but is working through the pain.

I told him Sunny is a lucky little girl to have so many people who love her. I told him I was sorry for his loss, and I knew his emotions would be complicated.

Every day is a gift, Brock told me. Growing up, he had Calvin.

Today his gift is Sunny.


Sunny

Image Credit: Header © Bigstock; Baby Feet © Zbyszek Nowak – Fotolia

Crafting a Legacy

In my home, as well as my mom’s, there is evidence of my handiwork everywhere — evidence of me. It is my legacy, I suppose, along with other things I’ll let my family and friends determine on my behalf. But I love to create, and those I love are the recipients of my creative efforts, generally, I hope, because they want to be.

grey-white-nordic-hat
One of my young friends just moved from Arkansas to Wisconsin, and she has this cap to keep her warm!

Long ago I learned only to give to those whom I know, or have reason to believe, will appreciate the gift. Over the years I’ve received many gracious notes, letters, text messages and phone calls saying, “thank you!” The most memorable, I suppose, was the hug from a co-worker when I made him a mohawk cap (it was knitted, then felted, and when he wore it, it resembled a mohawk). He was in a band, and wore it when he played. Later he wanted me to make the same cap for the others in his band, but I didn’t have the time.

I asked him for a picture with him wearing the cap, and he promised me he’d take one and forward it to me, but I never received it. Never mind, he was so excited about the cap, and I hold that memory close.

mimis-waltz99
Some fingerless mitts I designed.

At that same workplace I made fingerless mitts for my friends who worked in receiving. Later, I knitted a second pair for one of them when she lost the first pair. Last year I designed and made another pair of fingerless mitts for a friend when she cat-sat for me while I took cared for my mom after surgery.

But take a look at my mom’s home. Never mind the plethora of sweaters I’ve made her, there’s the shawl, the pillow, the quilts, the dish cloths I embroidered, bookmarks I stenciled, jewelry boxes I decorated, a picture of a wild parakeet I drew and soon, she’ll have curtains in her kitchen (just waiting for the fabric to get that one done).

I come by this passion for creating honestly. My mom sewed while I was growing, everything from my underwear to my dad’s suits. She was incredible. My dad, a computer programmer by profession (which I think of as creative), made and sold pottery when I was in high school. If he’d wanted to, it’s likely he could have quit his job and been a full-time potter, but the timing wasn’t right.

renaissance-dress-double-ii
When my niece was younger, I designed and knit some clothes for her Barbie dolls — and I’m still designing !

Knitting is my primary outlet. I’ve been knitting for more than 38 years, and in recent years have been designing a little here and there. Actually, I’ve always done some design, I just never recorded it.

My friends and family keep warm in the winter because of the hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, cowls and the like I’ve made. For that matter, some strangers do, too, as I always make a few things for my church’s Giving Tree each year, where we collect cold-weather clothing of all kinds to give to those who come to the food bank each week.

Yes, it’s my legacy, and it’s a legacy of love.

quilts
A few years ago, I did a lot of quilting, and I may do some more someday. For now, these keep my home cheery and the bannister warm. Plus, the cats like to “hide” under the one on the left!

 

Craft

Treasure the Simple, Value the Complex

As I was unpacking for my second year of dorm life, the wife of one of my professors stopped by and peeked in to see how I was doing. She brought a dozen chocolate chip cookies, which I no doubt quickly devoured, and looked around with a smile.

Cargo Overload
First,  it no longer fits in your car.

“I always get nostalgic when I see you kids unpack,” she said. “It reminds me of a time when life was simpler, and you could pack everything you own in the back of your car. Pretty soon you’ll start gathering necessities and the load will get bigger and bigger.” She paused.  “I miss the simple times.”

I wondered what load she was talking about, the furniture, books, dishes and clothes that filled her home, or the burdens of raising a family, managing a career and keeping the love alive in her marriage.

I’ve been working to clear out as much of what I own as I can, to keep that load as simple as possible. It’s a lot more practical that way, especially when you anticipate another move sometime in the future (I rent, so it’s inevitable). As for the rest of my life, I’m not sure if I’ve missed out by not having a few more complications.

I’ve never been married, never had children. The reasons I’ve stayed away from those commitments aren’t clear to me. Growing up, my parents had a troubled marriage, but plenty of people with a similar childhood have gone on to raise families of their own, some successful, some, not so much.

It gets lonely sometimes without the connections that come from having your own family. On the other hand, I have friendships that go back as far as those college days, including that professor and his wife. Even before social media made it easier, we kept in touch.

Every path has its moments of beauty as well as treacherous turns.

With my mental health issues (I have bipolar disorder, which is well-managed but ever present) a simple lifestyle seems to suit me better. I get overwhelmed easily, and need my space. Don’t get me wrong. In no way, shape or form am I telling others with the same disorder, or anything similar, to stay away from marriage and family. It may be your salvation.

No matter how we try, life isn’t simple, and we need others to be there in both trying times and moments of joy. I thankfully have the support I need in my life, and I’m well aware the loneliest women are those in unhappy marriages. It’s hard to reach out and admit your husband is failing you.

Every path has its moments of beauty as well as treacherous turns. The load gets bigger as we get older, but the simple can be found. Treasure the simple, value the complex.

Life is made up of both, and the balance we have in our lives is often what we’ve sought out, what we’re comfortable with, perhaps how we can be most successbigstock-little-girl-with-umbrella-in-t-86027189-convertedful. Yes, we need to evaluate from time to time if we should challenge ourselves and take on new ventures, whether they involve moving up or down the simple-to-complex scale.

Frankly, however, life has a way of doing that for us most of the time. We make our decisions according to our needs. So for now, I’m taking a deep breath, picking up a good book and having a simply restful evening.

Simple

Image Credits: (Moving “Van”)  © James Group Studios Inc — AdobeStock; (Girl in Rain) © lavitrei — Bigstock

Collecting Memories

It all started with my new job.

We were responsible for the marketing for a wine festival, then the fourth largest in the country. I started that job only days before the event and barely knew what was expected of me, let alone what was the protocol at a wine tasting. One of the agency’s account executives taught me about sipping the wine, swirling it around in my mouth and spitting it back. That’s the proper thing to do at a wine tasting. It’s also a little unseemly.

Each of the guests, and the publicity team members were all guests, was given a hand-painted pewter winestopper and a small bottle of Pinot Grigios. What happened to the wine I’ve long forgotten, but that stopper started my bottlestopper collection, and what a collection it is.

bottlestoppers
The first winestopper I ever got is the one in the front row on the far right — the latest is also in the front row, but on the far left.

There are only ten, but each is a work of art. Or not — a few are very commercial. But the rest are made of finest crystal, hand-spun glass or, like the first, pewter. They are beautiful.

The second stopper I added to my collection was another hand-painted pewter piece my mom had received as a gift from a man she briefly dated. It’s the only one that’s been used. After that, I went to craft fairs, specialty shops and most recently, Pier One, to find the latest addition.

There’s the Map of the World, bought with a friend visiting me from overseas. The two made of Murano blown glass, given by different friends in the same year. The leaf I bought with my friend Karen.

The Versaci Medusa Head crystal stopper is the showpiece of my collection. My mom gave it to me years ago, and I treasure it. She also gave me the Arkansas Razorbacks souvenir bottle stopper for the other end of the class spectrum (it has none).

For years I searched for a way to display them, and finally my mom found a bottlestopper display rack, which she gave me a few Christmases ago. Or for my birthday. I forget exactly. It took awhile to find the space to set the whole thing up, but finally, I have it.

It reminds me of better times, of lost and lasting friendships, of challenges that seemed overwhelming yet were inevitably overcome. People who might otherwise be forgotten are brought to mind, and I smile at the memory.

The irony, although it will help preserve these pieces, is I rarely, if ever, drink wine, or any other alcohol, for that matter. But I love the stoppers.

Collections tell stories. They are worth more than their pieces. They are our history.

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Sleeper

 

tiny-sleeper
Montero and my mom, August 2000

Mighty Montero came home with me when he was only six weeks old, intended to be a buddy for Paco. Some people thought I picked the name “Montero” to “match” the name Paco, but the Latin nature of both names is sheer coincidence. I’d just finished a scarf with one of my then-favorite yarns, Montera by Classic Elite. ‘Tero was a boy, so I changed the name to suit.

I found him at the local Cat Clinic, and knew immediately he was meant to be mine. They warned me he was a “little whippersnapper,” and he was all of that, but it was an endearing quality. Well, usually it was. When he got older, if he was angry at you, he’d slap you. Hard. It would leave a little red mark.

As a kitten he always strutted with his tail held high, like a flag. Always, that is, when humans were around. If he thought we couldn’t see him, he let down his guard — and his tail — to play or roll on the carpet.

Montero ended up being my mom’s cat (well, judging from the above picture, he started out that way) because as adults, he and Paco didn’t get along so well. Still, he would let me know he loved me too, in his own special way.

Montero watching Law & Order sm
Montero was a big fan of “Law & Order.”

He died a few years ago at the age of twelve due to multiple health problems. We still miss him, but thankfully, have pictures like this to remind us of the special time we had with him.

Tiny

A Little Less Class, A Little More Kitsch

While my hand is healing, I’m re-publishing some favorite posts you may not have seen before. Here’s a piece from June, 2015:

If we’re lucky our homes will never look precisely decorated, because along the way we’ll accumulate campy pieces of kitsch,  treasured objects that speak to our hearts, and we’ll have to display them.

Ah, FranciscoFor me, it was an ashtray given as a joke by some family member, probably my mom or brother. It had a black plastic base with a hand-painted metal flamenco dancer screwed into the middle. Joke was on them. I loved it.

I don’t smoke, and guests in my home aren’t allowed to either, so instead I loaded it with red cinnamon candy and proudly set it on my coffee table.

No one, but no one, saw the beauty in Francisco the Fleet-Footed Flamenco Dancer that I did. It was frequently suggested I replace him with something a bit, shall we say, classier. I really didn’t see how Francisco fell short. (Okay, I did, but love is kind.)

Then I got a roommate. She was appalled, and went as far as trying to enlist my mother’s help to “get rid of that thing.” Mom warned her it was useless. Thus began a minor battle between my roommate and me.

“People will think it’s okay to smoke,” she’d say.

“That’s why there’s candy in there.” I’d reply.

“The colors aren’t right in this room,” she’d try later, standing in the living room as I walked down the hall.

“It’s so small, it’s an accent piece, it doesn’t matter,” I called back.

I never feared for Francisco’s safety, however, until I came home one day while she was on a business trip. He lay on his side on the coffee table, completely twisted off the base.

“Ooooh NOOOOO!” I cried. She forever denied it, but all the evidence said that woman had hired a damn assassin to do her dirty work while she was away.

I immediately called my friend Bud and asked if he could solder the pieces together. Within hours, Francisco sat upright in his proper place again. But I was resigned to the fact he needed a new home, somewhere safer in the apartment.

My kitschy little ashtray went into a box and stayed there for I don’t know how many years. He resurfaced every time I moved, but never made it onto the coffee table again. Eventually he disappeared.

I miss Francisco. Everything in my living room now is so…classy. It could use a little lesser art.

Image credit: (shadow image) © adrenalinapura – DollarPhotoClub.com

Bruce Jenner Owes His Life to My Friend Tammy

When I was merely sixteen, my friend Tammy and I were cautiously driving through her neighborhood (specifically, Tammy, who’d just gotten her license, was driving) when, suddenly, out of nowhere, this startlingly handsome, exceptionally well-built man dashed in front of the car. Tammy slammed on the brakes, narrowly missing hitting him straight-on.

She was doing nothing wrong, in fact, she was driving well under the speed limit, which is probably what saved this man from critical injury. Tammy was driving the family car, and it was a hefty vehicle. No such thing as a little bump from its front end.

The man was her neighbor, an Olympic hopeful you’ve all come to know in recent years for very different things, Bruce Jenner. Aka Caitlyn Jenner. Remarkably, I had a hard time finding a copyright-free picture of Bruce from that time, frankly, I had a hard time finding any pictures.  Suffice to say, Bruce Jenner was a phenomenom, a cultural icon.

Hitting him with her car, even when not at fault, would have changed Tammy’s life in oh-so-many ways. Hitting anybody would have been bad, but we were weeks away from the ’76 Summer Olympics.

This isn’t a commentary on anything LGBT. Rather, it’s a look at what could have been. While Tammy and I joked for years “Bruce Jenner owes his life to me/my friend,” the reality is, his own carelessness (as I see it) almost did cost him his Olympic dreams, at the very least. How many of us lesser mortals are alive and walking today in much the same way?

Just two and a half years before this, I’d been out Christmas caroling with a group of friends. This was California, and while it wasn’t summer-like weather, it was warm enough for all of us to pile into the back of a neighbor’s pick-up truck and drive from house to house. Sensibilities about such things were different then.

Thirteen of us were in the back and two were in the cab with the driver when the brakes failed and the truck began to roll backward. The driver and the girls up front managed to get out, and several of the kids in the back jumped to safety as well. I sat there, frozen, not fully aware of what was happening, staring at my friend Susan, who was screaming, “jump out! jump out!”

The truck was heading for a cliff. By the grace of God, when it hit the edge, it flipped over, and those of us remaining in the truck were tossed on the side of a small incline. From there, it was a sheer drop to certain death.

Everyone survived, although the girls who had been in the cab suffered critical injuries. One hit her head on the pavement, the other, Tracy, was run over by the truck. Her mom was the driver. Later, they found the remains of the truck and were able to determine it was not her fault.

It is so easy to imagine the scenario where that would have been a tragic accident, killing up to fifteen teens and pre-teens, many of them siblings, and one adult. The world would be a different place today. How different, I have no way of knowing.

My life has not impacted the public at large, but who’s to say an offhand remark of mine, or one of the others in that truck that day, hasn’t had tremendous influence on someone who is frequently in the news?

Perhaps the injuries Tracy suffered led to medical breakthroughs. It was a once-in-a-lifetime case, doctors frequently said, challenging all they knew of medicine.

What they learned then may have saved the life of someone you know.

The lives of public figures have one sort of value to us, the lives of those in our immediate circle have quite another. Yet they are entwined in ways we don’t even know.

I may owe my life to you, today or sometime in the future, and never know it. Thank you.

Rose


*(Yes, I’m using masculine pronouns here, since I’m talking about Bruce as we knew him them. My apologies if this offends. Grammatically, there is is no consistency from the experts in how to refer to a famous transgender person pre-transition.)

Crisis

Keep Going

“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
― Winston S. Churchill

 
It hurts. It gets old. It’s a dull pain one day and a sharp pain the next. Getting through the bad times wears you down and shapes you at the same time. You can’t see your way out and you’re convinced it will never end.

I’ve been there, and it’s hard. There are those saying, get it together. And you think you should have more together than you do.

Several years ago I was the victim of a horrible injustice, the target of powerful people convinced of a truth that did not exist. It ruined my life, no doubt about it. I was in a shambles. There seemingly was no way out of my situation, no way around the binding realities.

Whatever my part had been in the events that led to my despair, it was disproportionate to the result. I didn’t know who my friends were, who I could trust and who trusted me. Who cared for me?

Little by little I came to realize that the people most important to me cared. Yes, I’d lost some friends who bought into the half-truths and manipulated stories, and there was nothing I could do about it. Some of those people were important to me, and I mourn the loss of their friendship to this day. But I had to move forward, and rely on those who proved themselves true and kind of character.

My family saved my life. If nothing else, these events brought me closer to all of them, and for that I am grateful.

As time went on, things changed. I got a job, one I’m good at with people who care about me like family. While I still live in a less than desirable apartment complex, I have a new car (well, it’s a year old now) that has given me the opportunity to visit my mom on several occasions, both for pleasure and to care for her when she needs it.

And the future doesn’t look quite as grim. There appear to be options that will end all of this when the time comes.

Are these good times? Actually, I’ll be disappointed if that turns out to be the truth. These are better times, and hopefully good times, joyous times lie ahead. But I don’t know. I’m content with what I have now.

I fear the return of bad times, likely not the same bad times but something else, before experiencing truly good times again. If that’s the case, so be it. I can only take what I’m given and seek what can be found.

For my friends who are suffering, it can last an eternity, I know. Some of what gets you out of the pain is your own spirit, some is good fortune and some is dumb luck. I have no magic formula. But believe in the future.

Keep going.


Photo Credit: © EcoView — 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

the strength of good words

the kids at Coney Island

Fresh out of college and packed for my dream job in Europe, I took a drive down to visit my great-aunt Vi.

vi
My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996

I was caught off-guard by her enthusiasm for my continental venture. “I can’t believe I’m related to someone who’s doing something as exciting as this,” she exclaimed.

This from someone whose travels and life experience rivaled that of just about anyone I knew or have know since. I didn’t know what to say, but I felt so…significant.

(The dream job ended up being a nightmare, complete with monster. Oh well. A story for another time.)

A few years after that,

I was restless and bored one evening, and found myself, an established critic of soap operas, watching the Daytime Emmy Awards just to see if Susan Lucci would win Best Daytime Actress (this was a big question each year back in the 90s).

I don’t recall if she did or not – probably not – but I clearly remember that year’s Lifetime Achievement Award went to a man I, along with everyone I grew up with, had spent years mocking: Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood fame. I changed my mind about him after hearing his speech that evening. He spoke of his own childhood, and how his grandfather, upon seeing young Fred, would always stop what he was doing to tell his grandson his day was good because he was in it.

Those are good words. They reminded me of my great-aunt Vi, who had since passed away.

Even as I write this, there’s an internal rebuke:

I’ve dished out passive-aggressive criticism to two people already in this short piece, Susan Lucci and Fred Rogers. I’ve never met either of them, and never will (Fred Rogers passed away in 2003), but each has a long-established reputation of kindness and decency.

Who am I to mock others, no matter how lightly, just because it’s the popular thing to do? Simply reporting the truth is one thing, but the intent or manner with which it’s said is another. Look at how I talked about Ms. Lucci a few paragraphs back. It was true, but it really wasn’t very nice.

the kids at Coney Island
Two people who make my day good

The first words anyone should hear me say about another person should be the best words. Realistically, I’m not going to speak well of everyone in my life all the time, but I want people to know who I am and where my heart is, and I want my heart to be in the right place. That place should be respectful and non-judgmental.

I want people to know me for my good words. I want to be remembered for making other people feel significant. And I want it noted both Susan Lucci and Fred Rogers deserve kudos for far more than just their talent and hard work. I’m a fan of them both.