The Simple Things

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.

Because simple pleasures are the best.

Image Credit: ©kieferpix – stock.adobe.com

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Misunderstood

For several months now I’ve been avoiding a man I used to work with.

These days he’s the manager of the grocery store I frequent, and I refuse to drive an additional five miles to the next store just to keep from seeing him. Why have I been so reluctant to so much as say “hi”?

Because I assumed I knew why he was avoiding me.

The reasons for this awkwardness aren’t important, except to say, it has nothing to do with a failed romance (or any matter of the heart). We got along well when we worked together, but events transpired and each of us made an uncomfortable departure from that company.

Finally, I decided yesterday, enough is enough. The opportunity was right, so I started the conversation.

Turns out, he had no idea what had happened in my life. He thought I didn’t remember him, or worse. His discomfort had more to do with what he believed I thought of him than vice versa.

I’d seen him once shopping with his son, who’s adopted, and interracial. I asked if that was his son I’d seen him with, and he said yes, his eyes lighting up.

“He’s tall, like you,” I said.

He agreed, and smiled. Then I remembered what a friend had told me years ago: adoptive parents like hearing about nothing more than connections with their children, no matter how small.

Later I sent a text message to a friend who also had worked at the same company. “I completely misread his reaction,” I wrote.

My assumptions about what he was thinking were logical and consistent with what had happened with others, yet, they were completely wrong. How often do we assume we know what’s going on, even go so far as to say, “what else could it be?”

We don’t even have all the puzzle pieces of our own life, let alone others.

It could be plenty of other things.

You don’t know what you don’t know.


Image Credit: © Dashk — stock.adobe.com

 

Finding Home

The other day I was getting my hair cut, and I commented on the casual Friday attire of the stylists.

In the past, they always wore black, and the color was more important than style. There’s a new owner now, and she believes given the nature of the salon — creating an image — the individuals responsible for the changes for their clients should be able to express their own style.

I have to agree, and I liked the change.

The new owner is a long-time employee of the salon, who started out as a receptionist, and worked long, hard hours to get to where she is today. She can be abrupt, but you get used to that, because she cares about both her employees and her clients.

She’s been cutting my hair for the last seven years, and does a damn good job. She also colors it (too much grey for my comfort) and — lucky for me — charges me a small portion of the typical cost for color. That’s not something she does for too many people, and I’m not sure what motivated her to do it for me. I don’t question it.

The longer you live somewhere, the more roots you establish, the more small benefits accrue. You know the back routes to beat traffic, you’ve discovered the quiet groups of people who share your interests. You’re in on the local secrets.

I’ve lived in my current location for 14 years, which is nearly as long as I’ve lived anywhere in my life. Granted, I haven’t been in the same home the whole time, but most of it’s been spent in the same city.

I like it here.

I’ve lived in cities where, despite all my efforts, I never felt at home. I’ve lived in places I once loved, but now find to be uncomfortable. The pace here suits me.

There are things I don’t like. The job opportunities in my field are exceptionally limited. The political and justice systems are somewhat backwoods. Yet despite those issues, I’ve found a community of supportive people of like mind.

Including my stylist. Okay, her political views are diametrically opposed to mine, so we don’t discuss the current state of affairs in our government. But we share many of the same values.

When she leaned in and whispered how much it cost the parents of one 17-year-old to have extensions put in her hair, I was shocked. This girl had gone to a cut-rate salon that had fried her hair with bad color and an equally pathetic cut. Her long, beautiful blonde tresses had to be trimmed to a short bob. After one weekend, her parents gave in to her sobs, and shelled out the $4,000 it cost to have extensions.

You read that right. Four. Thousand. Dollars. That’s before the tip.

I told my stylist my parents would never have done that, even if they could have afforded it. Your hair will grow out, they would have said. She agreed, and she has four children, so she knows the pressures.

It takes awhile for even the most verbose of reputable stylists to tell that kind of story to a client. I like being one of the favored, someone whose responses she can predict, someone she can trust.

I like being a long-time client, long-time patient, long-time resident. I’m not moving any time soon.


 

Images © Graphic Stock

Black

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!

Let it Shine

Cartoon drawing of two happy kids holding the globe. Copyrighted image.

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.


Image (children holding globe) © lavitrei — Bigstockphoto.com (background) © aerial3 — Bigstockphoto.com

 

Heartbreak ‘Round the Bend

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.


*Names, of course, were changed.

Hidden Truths, Secret Sorrows

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our face is a mask, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent.

Recently a friend of mine was taking an online test about reading emotions, and not doing too well. She was frustrated. I suspect the test was flawed in multiple ways, and even if she did read the emotions correctly, there’s never any way to be certain of the reason for the feelings. We can’t read minds, and we don’t know all that is happening in anyone’s life.

Someone may smile at something we said because it ties in with a conversation they had only a moment before. We’re unaware of what was said, however, and think they’re smiling inappropriately at our tale, and become frustrated. It happens everyday.

That’s a simple misunderstanding. Just as we don’t know what is spoken in the moments before we join a discussion, we most often have no way of fully knowing what’s happening in the lives of those around us. People are discreet enough generally to keep their private lives private, and sometimes they do so almost to a fault.

I have a friend who was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s last year, and I never knew until shortly before her mom died. She and I had been working on a project together and I’d wondered why she’d lost her enthusiasm for it. Was it something I said? Had I been too controlling? I can get stuck in my ways. Now, that could have been the case, but more likely, she simply had other priorities.

She kept up a brave face around me, and maybe wondered why I never asked how her mom was doing. You see, others knew. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have known. We live in a communication age, but our own personal interactions frequently suffer from presumptions and assumptions all around. We rely too much on expectations and, as I alluded to above, expressions of emotion.

How we view our peers and others around us is more than just reading facial expressions, of course.

As well as how they view us. We’re born with a look that defines us, or helps others think they can define us. We grow and mature and that look changes and develops with us, but never truly reflects all that we are. It limits our definition of ourselves to other people.

When I was in high school, I peripherally was friends with a young woman, a year older than I, who to this day I’d have to say was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Another woman in my group described her by saying, “she looks like a cover girl, only she hasn’t been airbrushed.” The only person to come close to matching her beauty (and it may be a tie) was her younger sister.
woman eyes with flower, color pencil drawing, eye contact. Computer collage.
But beauty had its price. Let me add here these were two of the nicest, most sincere women you’d ever meet as well, and their parents were great people. Yet despite all the kindness they’d show to others, they were subject to vicious rumors and gossip simply because of petty jealousy. They faced other problems directly related to their looks, such as expectations from men when they were far too young to handle that sort of thing, and so on. It wasn’t fair.

The older girl, my friend, was often cautious around other people, knowing what they would be saying as soon as she left the room. That in turn led to talk she was “stuck-up” because she’d be reluctant to open up to someone new, or even those she knew well enough already.

We make judgments sometimes to feel in control of a situation. If we understand what’s going on, we can deal with it, so we seek an answer — and run the risk of being horribly wrong.

How do we discern a person’s heart?

Respecting another’s privacy is an important value to many of us, and in doing so, we also must respect we will likely give up some knowledge we may find useful, whether we have a right to it or not. That knowledge includes the ability, at times, to fully understand someone’s painful history and appreciate their distant behavior as a symptom of that aching within themselves.

I do believe we should, in general, live with an attitude every person is far more complex than we can recognize when we first meet them. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, understanding we don’t know what secret sorrows they face, is the gracious thing to do.

Having that open mind and open heart, giving others a chance to reveal themselves, will help teach us the perception and insight we seek. It is immensely rewarding to be the one who discovers the cold and bitter outsider is a warm, kind person waiting to be loved.

Yes, we must always use discretion when reaching out to others to save ourselves from being taken advantage of by manipulative and greedy people. A slow and steady approach of grace with the counsel of others is always wise.

Grace, wisdom, warmth of spirit. Gifts of human kindness that can change the world.

Oil painting nature grass flowers- yellow dandelions

 


Image Credits: (Masks) © tereks — Fotolia; (Face) © jozefklopacka — Fotolia; (Flowers) © nongkran-ch — Fotolia