Words in the Wind

Today, while in the ladies room, I heard two co-workers talking. One was crying.

“I told her I got back together with him because I married him,” she sobbed. “I thought maybe he’d changed.”

Well, you can guess the rest of the story. He hasn’t changed.

“I know I’m a good person. I’m doing things I don’t want to do because of him.”

As I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands, I said to her, “you remember who you are and don’t let anyone change that.” She nodded, and opened up about what was happening. I listened.

Then I went on to say, “Sometimes we try so hard to make something work, and it just isn’t working. We try to change things, but there’s often something else going on with the other person, something we don’t know about. If someone else makes you feel bad, you need to walk away. Don’t try to figure it out and fix it. Walk away.”

I could see that had an impact. She heard me. Maybe, just maybe, something it took me a long time to learn can change things for her and make her life better now, while she’s still so young.

I’m not saying give up on marriage at the first struggle, but if there’s abuse, if someone is scared, it’s time to jump ship and swim for your life to safer shores.

We never know when what we’ve said changes someone’s life, or a part of it. Years ago I had lunch with a former colleague. He was struggling with a job he hated, and the weight of his despair was leaving him seriously depressed. I asked him the same thing someone else had asked me, and my answer had changed the course of my life.

“What you be doing if you were doing what you wanted to do?”

He didn’t answer me then, but I saw him a couple of years later. He bubbled over with enthusiasm.

“I thought about what you said, and I knew the answer. It changed the entire direction of my career. I have a job I love!” he told me. “Thank you!”

Really? Wow. Frankly, I didn’t even remember asking him that question, but I’m not surprised I did, knowing how it had affected me. What else have I said or done that has had a positive impact on someone else? (I ask forgiveness for things I’ve said or done that have hurt others.)

I hope my young co-worker makes the right decisions and moves on to greater things. I hope she holds out for a man who treats her right.

I hope my words make a difference.

Image Credit: © sunnychicka — stock.adobe.com


The Giving Tree

I’ve found a way to keep the Christmas spirit all year around — even though the best evidence of that comes in December.

As many of you know, I’m an avid knitter. So avid, in fact, it caused tendonitis a year ago. I’ve been knitting since I was 19, and there are countless pieces out there I’ve created. Some I’ve even designed myself.

Giving Tree sm
The Giving Tree

Over the years I’ve used this gift  (and I truly consider knitting to be a gift) from time to time to make items for charitable giving. My current endeavor is hats for those who come to my church’s food bank. Every year we have the Giving Tree, and people hang cold weather items such as hats, scarves, mittens on it during December.

Those items are available for a group of people in need, some homeless, some struggling to keep a roof over their heads. All struggling to get enough food for themselves and their families.

The year-round aspect of this is easy to figure out. I knit the hats throughout the year, and keep them in a basket until it’s time to give them away. Some of the yarn is leftover from other projects, some is purchased for this purpose and some is donated to me.

Giving Tree Hats
This year’s collection

I take pleasure in knowing a handful of people will have attractive, warm hats for the cold weather. Some say charitable giving is selfish, because you do it to make yourself feel better. I say, I don’t have to do this to feel good about life and myself. I do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Do you have a talent you share with others in need (whatever that need may be)? I know Judy shares her music and her growth from tragedy with others. Lois shared her kind heart and tough spirit with prisoners until health issues prevented her from doing so. And each month Kathy writes about how to keep the Christmas spirit alive year-round.

Most of you who read this have been given so much, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. For those who are struggling, I pray others reach out to you. I was lucky enough when, during my worst hours, kind people gave me a lift out of the abyss.

This is my thank you.


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.

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.  

your smile can light a dark path

Fresh out of high school, I was driving my shiny new Corolla on the freeway when a car passed by with a seemingly friendly honk.

Unsure as to its exact intent, I glanced over at the driver, who saluted me, while his passenger, likely his wife, leaned over and waved. I’d never seen them before, and as far as I know, haven’t met them since.

red car w sunburstThat split-second encounter sustained me for days.  I was struggling with a not-yet diagnosed mental disorder and falling into deep despair on a routine basis. My parents, now in the middle of their divorce and focused on their own lives, were distant and angry when I turned to them for encouragement. I had little in common with my siblings, and we weren’t much of a support system for each other.

So for strangers to reach out to me in that small way, for whatever unknown reason, meant a lot. What made it even more meaningful was the weary look on both faces of this couple, who had two curly-haired children asleep in car seats and luggage piled high in the back of their small out-of-state station wagon. As young as I was, I knew enough to feel for them, and to appreciate a friendly gesture made despite their own obvious fatigue.

I said a quick prayer for those people who would always be strangers to me, and over the years since, when they’ve come to mind, I’ve done the same again.

Happy And Sad Smileys Showing Emotions

I trust their small yet meaningful act of kindness has come back to them at times they needed it most. Who knows what road life has taken them on; mine certainly went nowhere near the path I anticipated.

A gracious word, a flagging but compassionate nod, an unexpected and sincere grin. Never doubt it: little things mean a lot, and your smile can light a dark path.

Image Credits: (outline of car) © GraphicStock.com; (smiling/frowning faces) © Stuart Miles — DollarPhotoClub.com

jaunty…or, my best gifts given, part two. my best gifts received, always.

Ten years ago my friendship with Mary began, and two years ago it ended when she passed away at the age of 53.

Mary had outlived the odds from the day she was born, when her birth mother was told she wouldn’t make it more than six months. Later, her adoptive parents were told the same thing repeatedly throughout her childhood — and as an adult, Mary heard it so often she stopped telling her husband, Mike.

Mary was one of those people who had hundreds of “best friends.” Selbu Modern - pink & gray tamShe would do whatever she could for any of them, including me. She was gutsy and kind. When she went into the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, Mike asked me to make her a “jaunty beret” because her treatment had caused much of her hair to fall out, and she was self-conscious about it.

I immediately set out to find the right pattern and right yarn — something soft for what I imagined might be sensitive skin — and knit up this little hat here.

Actually, this is the second hat I knit in this pattern. I never took a picture of the first one, which went to Mary. When I asked Mike if she liked it, he said she hadn’t had a chance to try it on. After a short time, I caught on. She was too sick for this to matter the least bit.

She maybe never saw the hat at all, or the slippers I included with it. However, I don’t feel anything but gratitude I had a chance to show her my love by knitting this for her, in the off-chance she knew about it.

Last week another Mary in my life died, one month shy of her 41st birthday. It was stunningly sudden. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been entirely surprised, however, for this Mary had lost her eldest son ten years ago to leukemia, and hadn’t been the same since. In many ways she’d moved on beautifully, but her heartache showed itself quietly. It’s possible that pain influenced the way she cared for herself. I don’t know, and it would be wrong for me to assume.

Kims Slippers red rose IIOne day on impulse I gave her a pair of slippers I’d knit from a pattern I designed. She started to cry.

“You don’t know what this means to me,” she said.

They were only slippers, so I really didn’t, but I was touched it meant so much. And oh-so-glad I’d done it. If my one small gesture made even a tiny part of her life better, I only wish I could have done a hundred times more. She was special and deserved to know it.

I’m lucky I have a skill I can use to show my love to others, and far luckier for those I have to receive those gifts. Rest in peace, my friends, your suffering is over. You were a gift and a blessing to me. My life is better because you were in it.

a little less class, a little more kitsch

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, at best 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

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