Life’s simple pleasures are the best, the ditty goes, and this is a time when I agree. I’ve been following the Facebook posts of a college friend — who lives 2,000 miles from me but is close in my heart — about her husband’s battle with ALS.
First let me say, Sue is just about the nicest person you could ever meet. I loved her spirit and humor in college, and she was a loyal friend. When she met her husband, he was a widower with a small son. She ultimately adopted that little boy and they have a healthy, supportive relationship today as he seeks the answers we all sought in our 20s.
It hurts that a friend has to watch her husband deteriorate, knowing the worst is to come. Sue has been very honest about her feelings, and one post tugged at my heart. In it she told us the hardest part was the little things, like holding hands when they take a walk. Jerry has to work so hard to walk that that simple show of affection is now lost to him.
So I say, think about the simple pleasures in your life and treasure them, for they may be lost to you tomorrow. Appreciate all that you have without fearing losing it, just recognizing that we can take nothing for granted.
Years ago I thought I had the key to all the answers of my faith. It was to be found by listening to the teachings of my conservative Bible professors. Funny enough, I realized later they themselves would freely admit they had more questions than answers, and the more they pursued the answers the greater the number of questions.
I’m not completely dismissing the education I got at that Bible college, nor would I wish for anything to replace the time I spent there. I made friends then who are still among the strongest influences in my life — and whose support I depend upon.
But I do take issue with the idea that all of life’s questions can be answered by the Bible. I don’t think the Bible makes that claim, nor do I believe that any of the writers of either the Old or New Testament intended for us to seek all the answers from scripture.
It’s designed to tell us about God, and again, there are more questions than answers to be found when dedicating oneself to reading any or all of it. God is bigger than all of us put together. Infinitely bigger.
I’ve adopted a very Jewish way of thinking — it isn’t the answers to the questions but the questions themselves that are important. I’m comfortable with that way of thinking and believe it to be a more honest way of finding my faith.
So my faith has been redefined over the years, as has just about every other area of my life. The more we live, the more we grow, and the stronger we become. Well, on the inside. I would definitely have to say the outside is weakening.
In the past week, several women I work with were facing illnesses, some serious, some not. They all had their concerns and found it difficult to work, but plugged away, at least one to her detriment.
She was frightened of losing her job because she’d taken too much time off. It’s not that she doesn’t believe she could find another; she knows she could. But she likes her job, is content with the environment and culture, and most particularly, really likes her supervisor. She knows that doesn’t always happen and she doesn’t want to lose it.
I listened to her, and I listened to another woman with serious back problems who is optimistic there are viable options to relieve her pain. While in the ladies’ room, I talked to a woman who spoke little English, but understood it well, about her family in Mexico, some of whom were hit by the earthquake last month. They are all alive, with only minor injuries, but are facing challenges.
Talking to these ladies makes my job better.
We talk about small acts of kindness, and each of us has our own personality and ways of reaching out to others. In the area I live, drivers are respectful of each other, paying attention when someone signals they want to change lanes and allowing drivers to pull into traffic from side roads and parking lots.
I’ve never seen this anywhere else. It’s not as if I live in a small town. Traffic can be heavy. It’s courtesy, small acts of kindness. Unique to my corner of the world in many ways, part of the personality of this area.
I’m lucky to have a dedicated group of blog followers who, I sense, are prone to giving, each in their own way. I’ve gotten to know some of you fairly well through your writing, and I know many of you have distinctly different personalities than mine. Your kindness is perhaps shown in a way I couldn’t fathom doing myself.
I’m inviting you to share the ways you spread kindness on your blog, and I will happily re-blog anyone who lets me know of a post inspired by what I’ve written here. And since writing and blogging are also unique to the individual, anything you write that you tell me was inspired by this post, I will re-blog (okay, there are limits, but I will let you know if you’ve reached one, and I don’t think it’s likely to happen).
Some of you have things to say I believe some of my followers might relate to, so I’m going to re-blog some posts I see during the week or have seen recently that I found inspiring.
I look forward, as always, to seeing what you’ll write.
I got a surprise call from an old friend today. Surprise, because he called, and surprise, why he called.
Todd* came into my life about 15 years ago when he began dating a friend of mine, Dani.* The two of them were inseparable for several years, seeming to bring out the best in each other and destined for a happy future. As time went by, however, I began to see some cracks in the glossy surface, and when they eventually broke up, I wasn’t surprised.
But it was a shock for Todd, who was inconsolable for years after Dani called it off. In an effort to get over her, he moved back to his former home town, and I hadn’t heard from him, save the occasional Facebook post, for nearly four years.
He’s not over her. He’s moved back to win her heart all over again.
It seems Dani knows nothing of this; in fact, she’s engaged to another man. As Todd points out, they’ve been engaged for more than three years, and she’s well into her thirties. I admit that does seem a bit strange, but I don’t think it’s enough of a sign for Todd to believe she’s still in love with him.
He’s asked for my support as he pursues her. I know Todd. He’s going to believe until the wall tumbles down and buries him. I told him I wouldn’t support anything illegal, unethical or just plain stupid, and Dani is my friend, too (although I’ve been out of contact with her since they broke up).
Right after I hung up from my call with Todd, I heard from Sandy, a mutual friend.
“I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW STUPID HE’S BEING,” she fumed. Apparently, he called her first.
I made my decision right then. Todd has my support.
I don’t believe he’s going to win Dani back, but I believe he’s going to need friends.
I called him once again, told him (sort of) what Sandy said, and promised I’d be there for him. I also told him I had no reason to believe Dani still cared for him, but that wasn’t what was important to me. What did matter was he knew I get it, I know how his mind works, and I believe he’s going to need someone to bounce thoughts off of from time to time.
Like, before he drives by her house at midnight on a Saturday night to see if she’s home or not. He’s 38 years old, for crying out loud. If he’s going to pursue her, he’s going to do it legit.
So we’ll see. I see heartbreak ahead…but until the break is complete, he can’t heal.
Once, in junior high, in that typical, foolish, heartbreaking way we all seem to have of discovering the truth about our true love’s feelings, my best friend asked the boy of my dreams if he liked me.
“Well, kind of,” he said, “but she’s kind of, you know, different?”
I was crushed. It was, after all, junior high, and I wanted to fit in. Flash forward twenty years, and I’m breaking up with my boyfriend. He’s apparently still in junior high and feels a need to hurt me in as many ways as possibly during our final discussion.
But he’s unsuccessful, in part because he starts out with this: “you’re kind of offbeat, you know? Different?”
Nailed it, possibly for the first time in our relationship. Finally seemed to show some sort of understanding of who I am. A little offbeat, beat of a different drummer, all that.
Except as one wise man once told me, everyone who’s anti-establishment is anti-establishment in the same way, and the same holds true with being offbeat. It’s not as different as all that. It’s just another way of being in this world.
It’s taken me a long time to finally appreciate that with all my quirks, my social faux pas, my awkward moments — and those are bountiful — I’m still at heart someone who offers more than she takes, and that is immensely valuable in today’s world.
My friends like me for all of quirks, qualities and goofy ways. They like me despite my screw ups and because of my kind heart and sense of humor. They are quality people, so I’ve begun to see myself as one, too.
You are known by the company you keep, and you know who your friends are when trouble washes over you. My friends have proven my best qualities, time and again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Thanksgiving I’ll be with four other people who find themselves in much the same position I’m in: living in a city without family nearby to spend the holidays with. I have some cousins, second cousins, actually, living 20 or 30 minutes away, but seeing them would be much like seeing strangers.
I’ve had three invitations from local friends to join their family, and there’s a part of me that would like to have accepted their generosity. But truthfully, there’s a bigger part of me that looks forward to the time after the meal, when I come home and spend the time with my cats, knitting and watching classic movies.
I’ll enjoy my holiday, I have no doubt about it, both the time with friends and the time alone. I know two of the four people who will be sharing a meal with me; I believe I’ve met the other two but have barely spoken to them. Still, the two I do know are fun, and one of them in particular “gets” me. I’m free to be myself, quiet or goofy, whichever side comes out.
Growing up, I don’t really remember much about how we celebrated Thanksgiving. I believe we included friends who, like me today, have no family nearby with whom they can share the traditions and turkey, but I don’t remember any of them in particular.
I do remember, in my twenties, my mom and stepdad included a Russian couple and their grown daughter, and, for that matter, her fiancé (both were medical students, as I recall). Lisa, Misha and Olga were Russian Jews who had faced persecution under the Soviet Union, and they emigrated to the United States sometime while Olga was still fairly young. Misha, who had an advanced degree, was forced to take a job delivering pizza. Lisa was also highly educated, and she learned how to do nails to make a living. She did my mom’s nails; that was how they met.
It was appropriate to have immigrants at our Thanksgiving table. The tale we’re told of the first Thanksgiving is similar, with a group of European immigrants breaking bread with the Native Americans.
So as we celebrate with our family, friends, or by ourselves, let our thoughts include all those who face adversity in seeking a better, safer life. We cannot become complacent in the lives we lead. We must remember the sacrifices others made for us to give us what we have today, and be willing to open our doors to others who seek the same for the generations of their family to come.
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.
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.
“A friend is someone whose journey always brings them back to you.”
— Belinda O.
No matter where your life may take you, whether it’s exotic or traditional, sophisticated & cutting-edge or tried & true, a friend can sit down with you and talk for hours, share your pain, add insight to your troubles, and give you something new to laugh about. Thank God for friends!!!
About the Quote Challenge (you’re invited!):
Thank you, Dede, for including me in this challenge. I encourage anyone who’s rebuilding their life to visit her site.
I confess, I’m not good with quote challenges, so this is a bit of a compromise. It’s a three-day challenge, and I’m supposed to nominate three people each day. Choosing those select people is overwhelming to me. So anybody who wants to accept this challenge is welcome to do so!
Three quotes over three days. Thank the person who nominated you, and nominate three new people each day.
And they don’t have to be your own quotes. This one just said what I wanted to say today.
Not long ago, a friend of mine told me he had a tremendous amount of respect for the way I’d handled a challenging situation a few years back. This was someone who, more than just about anybody in my circle, knew what I’d dealt with, and recognized the struggle I faced overcoming the pain and resulting obstacles.
He didn’t presume to know what I’d gone through, but listened and learned, and in that way was able to lend me the support I so desperately needed. It meant a lot to me. What was even more significant was his offer to help me move past my current situation and on to a life more suited to my needs.
When we go through a painful time, friends can either help or hinder us. Not everyone has the same gift of a heart that listens; some help in other ways, perhaps not as profound but ultimately part of what makes us whole again.
There are the friends who believe in you because they know who you are, and the friends who believe in you because the facts add up in your favor. The friends who just met you and say, “I’m sorry,” when there’s a setback, and mean it, but don’t let you wallow in self-pity.
The friends who call others fools for rejecting you because of rumors.
I don’t believe “all things happen for a reason,” because there is no justification for some behavior, some deliberate actions that hurt people for no sound purpose. (In particular, you can’t tell me the horrors of war “happen for a reason,” but that isn’t really what I’m talking about here.) I do, however, believe the character of a person is found not in their success, but how they handle life’s hardships, whether it’s their fault or not.
A young woman I know, about to graduate from college, had her heart set on a high-profile, prestigious career, and she was well on her way to achieving that goal when she was diagnosed with a chronic disease that will prevent her from pursuing that path. I don’t know her that well, but I imagine she felt stunned, confused, angry, perhaps a little lost. No one’s at fault here; illness is part of life. A painful part, sometimes, physically and emotionally.
While I feel for her, at the same time I believe in a way she’s lucky. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that to her now, and it may be years before she reaches that conclusion herself. I believe, however, she’s savvy enough that she will.
To face a setback like this when you’re this young, and to overcome it, which she most certainly will, brings phenomenal strength. It won’t be the last disappointment she encounters (I wouldn’t say that to her now either), although, perhaps being the first of its kind, it may be among the hardest.
I hope those closer to her than I am, those who know her better and know what she needs, are giving her the empathy and support to help direct her onto the right path. No doubt college counselors have seen this sort of thing before, the details different, the results the same, and they have practical advice. Her sister knows her better than anybody, and can put her arm around her and hold her. And so on.