Sunday, September 30, 2018

What Color is Love?

The excitement in my daughter's voice danced through the phone when she called me a few weeks ago to tell me she and my son-in-law had received a call ... a call they had been waiting on for months. There were children in need of a place to call home ... children needing to be fostered by parents who had the intent to formally adopt them. Four children, to be exact ... four siblings ranging in age from 2 to 13, three boys and one girl. Four children... yes, four children. Not one, not two, not three ... four. Four siblings who were on the verge of being sent to separate homes because … well … because it's difficult to find foster parents who want to adopt a group of four kids. Without ever having met the children or even seeing a photo of them, my daughter and son-in-law said yes and within a few short days, they were picking up the children and bringing them home. Even though it's only been several weeks since they joined our crew, these four precious children are already teaching our entire family a whole new way of loving.

As you may have guessed from the title of tonight's post, the four new additions to our family don't have the same skin color as the rest of us. They are of Sudanese descent, which means their skin color is dark … a rich, flawless, beautiful dark color. They are tall and slender, another trait possessed by many Sudanese people, and all four have quite gorgeous dark brown eyes. It will be obvious to people who may see my daughter and son-in-law out and about with all their kids in tow that they are not their biological children. Without a doubt, there will be times when my kids will be questioned about how the six of them became a family, and I know that they will happily provide the answer ... faith and lots and lots of love.

In the midst of the deep joy I feel about these four beautiful little humans joining our family, I am also keenly aware that we live in a world where traits such as integrity, honesty, depth of character, respect, compassion and love often seem to be the exception rather than the rule. A world in which what is considered to be acceptable behavior is judged based on the level of depravity, anger, deceit, greed, abuse or hate rather than how much integrity, kindness, honesty, generosity, compassion or love a person possesses. When I consider what the future may hold for each of my six grandchildren, that is without question a fear that permeates the very depth of my soul. The fear that we're becoming immune … that we're growing numb … that we're embracing complacency … that we're accepting that the new standard of measurement for right and wrong is coming from the mentality of choosing the lessor of evils. You bet that keeps me awake at night ... it keeps me awake and it terrifies me for my grandchildren and the world they are growing up in.

I truly believe that the only hope we have for the future is love. It is imperative that we find a way to love and respect one another, friends. No matter the color of our skin or what gender we are or whether we are rich or poor or what political party we choose to support or what our sexuality is or any of the plethora of other things we use every single day to create division among us, we must love and respect one another. The only way to overcome a world filled with depravity, anger, deceit, greed, abuse and hate is to do band together in the commitment to love one another more than we love ourselves. That's a tough ask, I know, especially in the times we live in, but deep down in my gut I know it's what we have to do if we want things to change. I know it, and my guess is that many of you know it as well.

I'm sure by now you're on the edge of your chair waiting with bated breath to know my answer to the question posed in the title of my post, so here it is ... love isn't any color. I don't believe that love ... true, deep, abiding, selfless, unconditional love ... is any color. It's not black or white or any other color in between, or at least it shouldn't be anyway. The kind of true, deep, abiding, selfless love I'm talking about doesn't give a dinosaur's behind about the color of people's skin or if they're male or female or how much money they do or don't make or whether they're straight or gay. Wait ... maybe I was wrong to say that love isn't any color. Maybe, just maybe, love is actually a million different colors.

Colors like listening when someone needs to talk ... buying lunch for a friend who's struggling financially ... puppy sitting for the people you love (even though you know that puppy will pee on your carpet) ... reading to an elderly man who is losing his eyesight ... telling someone who is lonely and depressed that she matters to you … baking cookies for the new neighbors ... wiping a friend's tears ... giving a coat to a kid who doesn't have one ... forgiving the person who hurt you, again and again and again … cheering your kid on at the game ... saying please and thank you and opening doors for old women like me ... caring, really and truly caring, that what you say and do affects others in ways, both good and bad, that you can never imagine or see coming.

What color is love, friends? It's saying yes to four children who need your love and a place to call home. Welcome to the family, kids ... we're so glad you're here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Before and After

If you know me at all, or if you've read my posts during springtime weather season in Kansas, you know that I have a perfectly normal, healthy, realistic, not-in-the-slightest-bit-debilitating fear of tornadoes. I also won a gazillion billion dollars in the lottery and bought myself the original Magnum P.I. red Ferrari I've always dreamed of owning. Not. There's not a shred of truth in the words you just read … not one itsy bitsy shred of truth. I most definitely, beyond the shadow of any doubt, did not win the lottery or buy the sweet red sports car driven by Mr. Selleck himself all those years ago on the famous TV show. And, though it pains me to admit it, my fear of tornadoes remains completely, totally, unequivocally, over-the-top irrational in every way.

While I know exactly from whence my desire to win the lottery and own a red Ferrari comes, I cannot definitively say what prompted my overwhelming fear of being sucked up into a tornado and whirled to death. I suppose I could attribute at least a portion of my irrational tornadic fear to the classic film "The Wizard of Oz," which I first viewed on a Sunday evening when I faked being sick so I could stay home from church and watch it. After all, directing partial blame for my current over-the-top fear of the massive swirling storms toward a movie I played hooky from church to watch 50-some-odd years ago does quite appeal to my Southern Baptist upbringing regarding the consequences of lying. I do find it difficult, however, to justify in my adult mind that a loving God would consider instilling such a debilitating fear of tornadoes within me for all time as just punishment for lying to my dad about being sick so I could miss church and watch TV. But alas, I digress.

Last weekend, I traveled with my son Brad to the town of Greensburg, Kansas, to attend the funeral of my son-in-law Barrett's father. I had never been to Greensburg before and it was every much as small-town America as I had imagined it would be. The people were friendly and eager to help us in any way they could, and the shopping opportunities were quite limited. Brad ventured out to the town liquor store shortly after we arrived in search of beer, and upon returning with a case of Bud Light, my beer-loving son sadly recounted that there was only one cooler for beer at the town's sole alcoholic beverage retailer and that his choices were substantially less than what my city boy is accustomed to. But, as I said, the townspeople were very kind and helpful, and they welcomed us with open arms. Which, in my opinion anyway, matters far more than Bud Light being the town's king of beers. 

Some of you may remember seeing images on the national news of the town of Greensburg, Kansas, after it was basically destroyed by an EF5 tornado a little more than 11 years ago. The tornado leveled 95 percent of the town, and 11 people lost their lives. The massive funnel was estimated to be 1.7 miles in width, wider than the town of Greensburg itself, with wind speeds approaching 265 miles per hour, traveling for nearly 22 miles. Miraculously, my son-in-law's parents' home was one of only a handful that sustained no damage whatsoever, and both Barrett's mom and dad survived the storm without injury ... really and truly a miracle on both counts.

I've never seen or experienced tornado damage up close and personal, but my son Brad has. He traveled as part of a film crew to Joplin, Missouri, just a couple of weeks after an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado struck the city in 2011. I well remember the multiple phone calls I received from Brad during the time he spent in Joplin ... some in which he cried as he tried to recount to me what he was seeing. My young son had never seen or experienced such tremendous loss or devastation as the people of Joplin, and the magnitude of it all was at times completely overwhelming to him. I also well remember the moment I received the photo below from Brad ... I sat at my desk and wept as I realized the danger my boy was in. His note that accompanied the photo said, "We had to tie our shirts around our faces because they ran out of masks, Mom. They said it wasn't safe to breathe the air in directly." The closer we got to Greensburg last weekend, the more I thought of how Brad would most certainly see the town through an entirely different set of eyes than I would.

As we neared the town of Greensburg last weekend, I couldn't help but notice the change in the terrain ... there were fewer trees and the ones that were there were much smaller than the ones we had seen 20 miles or so out of town. People often talk about how flat Kansas is, but there's a vast difference between land being flat and land being barren. Even though the people of Greensburg have rebuilt the town as the first "green" town in the nation, you don't have to look far to see reminders of the storm that tried its best to wipe the little town off the map more than a decade ago. Trees without limbs or bark still stand as guardians over the small town, beacons as to what the people of the town survived on the stormy night of May 4, 2007.

The barren and broken trees aren't the only reminders you'll find in Greensburg of the EF5 tornado that tore through the town. I quickly discovered that many of the residents who chose to remain in the small Kansas town following the massive storm (more than half of the population moved away) mark the passage of time as before and after the night the tornado touched down. Several times while I was there, I heard people say, "That was before the tornado," or "That was after the tornado," and those words have been pulsing in my mind all week. And generally when I get something stuck in my brain like that, it means there's something I'm supposed to learn from it. Or there's something someone else is supposed to learn. Or I'm just crazy and no one, including myself, is supposed to learn anything. Nah ... that last one can't be it ... there's a big lesson in those words for me, and maybe for you as well.

In thinking about those words from the people of Greensburg, I've been thinking about the tornadoes of life by which many of us measure our lives in terms of befores and afters. Tornadoes like getting divorced or getting fired from our job or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or experiencing the death of a loved one or being betrayed by someone we trusted or losing a furry friend or a plethora of other storms that come along. Storms that often threaten to destroy us ... to devastate our faith in ourselves, our faith in others, and even our faith in God.

It's so hard at times not to define ourselves by the befores and afters in life, at least it is for me anyway. And I think that maybe sometimes that's not such a bad thing, you know? Maybe recognizing the befores and afters in ourselves can serve to make us better people in the long run. Maybe it can cause us to seek shelter when we need to ... maybe it can encourage us to ask for help when we need it ... maybe it can spur us into action when we see others in danger. Maybe, just maybe, it can help us help each other ... care more about each other ... be kinder to each other. Maybe, just maybe, the befores and afters can make us better people if we let them. Maybe they can indeed, my friends ... maybe they can indeed. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

No Time Like the Present

If anyone would have told me when I was fresh out of college that I would spend the golden years of my career working in the advertising business, I most likely would have said that he or she was completely off his or her rocker. Not because working in the ad biz is a bad thing, mind you, but because my dream was to move to a little town in Colorado and be a reporter for a small-town newspaper, perhaps writing a weekly "from the heart" column that was dearly loved by all the townspeople. But life, however, led me down a different path than the one of my youthful dreams and I have thus spent the last 25ish years working as an editor in the fast-paced world of advertising … which I imagine is pretty far removed from what life as a writer in a little mountain town would have been. 

I often wish I would have thought to keep a list of all the young people I've worked with over the years and where their journeys have taken them since they moved on. I'm blessed that quite a few of them still keep in touch with me ... some, believe it or not, for more than 20 years ... and I always love it when I hear from them. From landing a gig in California as a screenwriter to going back to school to study nursing to deciding to be a stay-at-home parent to teaching English in China to taking six months off from the daily grind to travel the country in an old refurbished Chevy van, so many of those young folks have gone on to not only chase their dreams but to find them. Even though I know my part in their journeys was only miniscule, I still feel much like a proud mom every time they fill me in on where they are and what they're doing. 

Last week, I had a conversation with a young man who decided it was time for him to leave the company and walk a different path. Knowing how smart and talented this guy is, I assumed that he'd been offered another job that would further his career quest and had chosen to take it. His answer to my, "So where are you heading?" question, however, wasn't at all the answer I was expecting. The young man told me he was going back to his hometown so that he could be close to his family, in particular, his parents. He said there had recently been a death in his family and that losing that person had made him do some serious soul searching about what was really most important to him. In searching his soul, a truth that some of us never glean became quickly apparent to my young friend ... there is nothing in life that matters more than the time we have with the people we love.

I heard someone say recently that death makes us think more about living, and I think that's very true. Tonight, my son-in-law is sitting by the bedside of his dad who's in the last days, and possibly even the last hours, of his life. Both of my siblings are in their 70s, and they're fighting serious health issues. My 34-year-old great nephew has ALS and spends most of his days in a wheelchair. I've already attended more funerals in the first half of this year than I have in the last decade, and I come home from each one with a stronger determination to do a better job of living. I tell myself that I will do things, go places, meet people ... I tell myself to remember how very short life is and that I need to make the very most of the time I have left. I tell myself I'm going to change, be more in the moment and savor what precious time I have left on this planet.

I too often forget that I don't have forever ... I always think I can do it tomorrow. I can apologize tomorrow. Tomorrow, I can forgive those who have wronged me. Tomorrow, I can reach out to someone I know who is lonely. Tomorrow, I can stop allowing the people who don't value me to crush my spirit. But tomorrow isn't guaranteed, friends. Heck, not even my next breath is guaranteed. The truth is that I, probably along with many of you, need to realize that there's no time like the present. I need to embrace with everything in my being that there's no better day than today to start living. I simply must find a way to live every single moment of every single day with the understanding that I may not get another chance. I need to let that truth soak into the crevices of my soul and I need to pour it into every area of my life ...  work, home, relationships, even playing with my little 11-year-old wiener dog. I need to fully and completely comprehend that today may be my only shot to be kind, to be forgiving, to be loyal … that today may be my only shot to genuinely, deep-down to the bottom of my tiny little heart love and care about other people. It's way past time that I get it … way past time that I get that there really, unequivocally, beyond the shadow of any doubt is no time like the present.

There really is no time like the present to rid myself of the hurt and pain that others have caused me ... no time like the present to make things right with someone I've wronged or someone who's wronged me … no time like the present to do the right thing ... no time like the present to set out on a new adventure … no time like the present to build others up … no time like the present to invest every ounce of love that I have into the people I care about … not time like the present to write from my heart … no time like the present to listen … no time like the present to care … no time like the present to live.

My son Brad posted a beautiful photo recently of the sun rising over Kansas City. I'm stealing that photo along with the words he wrote to accompany it to close this post. My boy gets it … he really gets that there's no time like the present to live.

"Good morning, Kansas City. Remember our world is beautiful, and be good to each other out there."

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Shush No More

There are some childhood experiences you never forget, and one of those unforgettable experiences for me took place during a Sunday morning church service at Alpine Baptist Church. I don't remember how old I was, but I do remember I was old enough to know that when my dad told me to do something, I needed to do it ... and do it pronto. All these years later, I still feel the need to apologize to whichever preacher was preaching on that auspicious Sunday ... sorry, sir, for wrecking your sermon with my belligerent and obnoxious behavior. And I might as well go ahead and apologize for what I'm about to say next, but whatever you were preaching about that day must have been incredibly boring to a young kid. So boring, in fact, that it made me willfully disobey my father when he told me to shush my whining and complaining and saying I wanted to go home. I don't remember how many times Daddy told me to shush, but I do well remember what happened when he decided he'd said it enough. He hefted me out of the pew and hauled me down the center aisle and out the back door of the church with me kicking and screaming all the way.

On Tuesday, I posted these words on my Ears Wide Open? Facebook page:

"She was only 55. She was wealthy. She was successful. She was a wife and mother. Her name was known the world over. Today, Kate Spade committed suicide by hanging herself in her apartment on Park Avenue. Today, everyone is asking why. Why did she kill herself? Why didn't someone see her pain or know that she was hurting? Why didn't she ask for help? Those haunting questions that are so often asked after someone takes his or her life. Help make those questions obsolete. Care. Reach out. Be there. Listen. See. Understand. Love. Again and again and again."

The death of Kate Spade is without question a tragedy, but it is also a devastatingly stark reminder that depression is no respecter of persons. Depression doesn't care if you are young or middle aged or old. It doesn't care if you are rich or poor. It doesn't care about your sexual orientation or your gender. It doesn't care what your job is or how many degrees you have. It doesn't care how smart you are, how likable you are, how many things you have to be happy about, how many people love you or anything else about you. Depression is an insidious disease that attacks your mind, your body and your soul, and it's a disease that scares the living hell out of those of us who fight it every single day of our lives. Even on our "good" days, weeks, months or even years, we live knowing that the wolf is always just outside the window ... we live knowing that at any moment, without warning or reason, the growling, snarling, hungry beast can shatter the glass and rip us apart before we can even blink.

As is always the case when someone famous commits suicide, the media has been hard at work pumping out story after story about Mrs. Spade since her death on Tuesday. Her death was the top news story around the world ... for a couple of days. Today is Thursday ... only two days after a woman of Kate Spade's status hung herself with a scarf ... today, Kate Spade's suicide has already become just another story. Every time someone famous takes their life, we want to believe that theirs will be the death that changes the world's views on mental illness. We want to believe that this person losing their battle with anxiety and depression will be the final catalyst that sparks a much-needed change in our society regarding mental illness. We want to believe it will end the stigma that causes those who struggle with depression to remain silent ... to be afraid to ask for help ... to fear the judgment that so often comes when we are open, honest, real and transparent about our illness.

Yesterday, a young gal I work with did a very brave and courageous thing ... she posted on Facebook about her own personal battle with depression. I sat at my desk and wept as I read her words ... so honest, so real, so unexpected. Had she not written those words, I would have never known that she, too, works hard every day to keep her own wolf at bay. To do what she did ... to open up and share her story ... took guts. If I haven't learned anything over the last five plus years, I've learned that many people get super uncomfortable when I talk about having major depressive disorder. Just a few weeks ago someone told me it makes people worry about me when I talk about my personal struggle with depression and that I should ... well ... just shush up and not talk about "those kinds of things." Reading this young woman's open, honest, real and transparent confession of her battle just reinforced what I've known to be true for a while now. Knowing that I am expected to remain silent about my struggle with depression ... to say, "I'm good," if someone asks how I am ... to smile on the outside when I'm dying on the inside ... those types of expectations serve only to exacerbate the stigma, isolation and loneliness I, and countless others, have to fight against every single day.

With her permission, I'm closing tonight with some of the words from my young friend's post. We must do whatever it takes to make those questions obsolete, friends. There are lives depending on it ... we need to follow my young friend's example. We have to shush no more ... we absolutely have to shush no more.

"Hi friends, with all of this discussion on mental health recently, I figured it was the perfect time to share my story. I'm depressed. Surprise! 

Depression doesn't discriminate. It floods over you when you least expect and you feel as though you can't shake the constant feeling of sadness. 

I'm sharing this because of the reason that I am on the up and up, and that reason is: I asked for help. 

Mental illness, like many other illnesses, is out of your control. It is nothing to be embarrassed by, and speaking up can literally save a life. 

So please, if you ever feel like you're stuck in a hole and can't climb out, talk to someone! There are so many resources to turn to but never feel like you are alone. You're on this earth for a reason, and sometimes you just need to be reminded what that reason is. #endthisstigma"

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Year Without Ties

"No matter how far you travel, the memories will follow in the baggage car." 
- August Strindberg

When I was a kid in elementary school, my mom worked as a bookkeeper at a furniture store that was just a couple of blocks down the hill from my school, close enough that I walked there every day after school. I got to hang out in Mom's office and "help" her for an hour or so until my dad stopped and picked me up on his way home from work. I remember Mom letting me stamp the backs of checks ... don't laugh ... being a big enough kid to hold the big metal stamper thing and stamp those checks was a big deal to me. I made paper clip necklaces, played with the old metal arm-operated adding machine, separated rubber bands by size and drew pictures for Mom and all of her co-workers.

Having the run of all those office supplies was like a dream come true for me as a little kid, especially on the days when the manager of the store would send me home with a bag of office goodies, including my most favorite office goody in the entire universe ... a giant-sized pink eraser. And when I say giant-sized, I do mean giant-sized ... those suckers were about the size of a modern-day iPhone and as thick as my favorite Nancy Drew mystery. Yep, those erasers were definitely my favorite of all the office goodies for sure. Those giant-sized pink erasers could erase any mistake I made ... on paper anyway.

I'd wager that many of us, perhaps even most of us, have times we wish we could erase ... times when we would give all we have for a giant-sized pink eraser that could magically wipe away the things we don't want on the paper of our lives. Some lucky folks may only have moments they want to get rid of, but my guess is that many people have more than just moments ... many have hours, days, weeks, months or even years they wish they could erase from their lives and remove from their memory. Unfortunately, as much as I was there was, there's not a giant-sized pink eraser for real life. We make mistakes that can't be corrected. We inflict hurt that can't be healed. We say and do things to each other that leave marks and lines and scribbles all over our hearts ... marks and lines and scribbles that stay on our papers forever.

It took five decades for me to finally step out of the closet and tell the truth about who I am. Five decades of trying to be the person other people told me I was supposed to be. Five decades of living in fear of what would happen should I ever slip up and let the people I loved see the real me. Five decades of pretending to be someone I never was. Five decades of hiding. Five decades of worrying that someone would uncover my secret. Five decades of thinking there was something terribly wrong with me. Five decades before I understood that God loves me just the way I am. Five decades before I finally had the courage to be the real me. Five decades before I was able to do something I'd wanted to do for as long as I could remember ... wear ties and suspenders and not be ashamed.

The last time I wore a tie or suspenders was one year ago today ... a day I surely wish I could erase. What happened that day isn't important, nor does it matter to anyone but me. I can wish all I want that I could erase certain events of that day, but my wishing is nothing more than just that ... a wish. I wish I could turn back time or jump into another dimension in which erasing that day last year involved nothing more than snapping my fingers or waving my hand, but I can't. I miss my ties and suspenders a lot, but there's something I miss so very much more than the pieces of fabric or the metal snaps. I miss the real me ... the me who wasn't afraid ... the me who didn't hesitate to reach out ... the me who believed in myself ... the me who believed in others. Where the heck is that giant-sized pink real-life eraser when I need it, eh? Where is it indeed?

Oh, one more thing ... I did wear my Ellen/gangster/coolest shoes ever today. Hmmm ... maybe there's still a little of the real me left in there after all.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

If I Should Die Before I Wake

My guess is that most people don't climb into bed each night and think "I wonder if I'll die while I'm sleeping tonight." I'd guess, too, that most people don't wake up and have their first thought of the day be "I wonder if today will my last day to live?" I am convinced that the thing we humans most take for granted is life itself. Rather than appreciating the gift of every single breath we take, every precious moment we have with those we love, every additional night we do indeed not die before we wake, we believe we will always have more time. More breaths. More moments. More nights. More days. More time.

In case you're newer to reading my blog, The Tree House officially turned 10 on February 19, 2018. A special thank you to those of you who messaged to remind me of the significance of reaching that particular milestone, even though my writing has waned greatly over the last year. Those of you who've been following my journey for a while may remember the post "Easier to Die" from January 1, 2013, without question the most difficult post I've written throughout those 10 years. In that post, I came clean about a couple of sort of big things in my life ... at least they're big to me anyway ... one of them being that I had come within minutes of committing suicide back in 2012. I had no idea at the time just how much that one post would change not only my life, but the lives of so many others as well.

I've learned many things in the five plus years since I first openly talked about my battle with depression and my plan to take my own life, not the least of which is that talking about death makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. At first I thought the uneasy feeling I sensed from others when I talked about reaching the point where I no longer wanted to live was because of my inclusion of the "s" word ... suicide. It didn't take me long, however, to understand that the feeling wasn't as much about me talking about my desire to end my life as it was about me talking about death in general. I quickly learned that we humans don't want to talk about death, be it our own or someone else's ... we don't want to talk about it and we really don't want to listen to anyone who does. And yet, despite our avoidance and our belief that we will always have more time ... more breaths, more moments, more nights, more days, more time ... death is inevitable for each one of us. 

Today my children and I attended a celebration of life service for a man who was one of the first people we met when we moved to Kansas City. A man who, along with his wife and two daughters, became our first real friends in a city where we knew no one. A man who welcomed us into his home when our house caught fire only two weeks after we moved in. A man who taught us the word "gadzooks" and who had an infectious laugh and an ever-present smile. A man who stood solidly behind me and my children as my marriage disintegrated. A man who treated us as family. A man who included us. A man who had a kind and gentle and compassionate heart for the marginalized, the weak, the lonely and the discarded people of the world. A man whose life was honored today by the people he impacted so deeply during his short 63 years on earth. A man who left behind a legacy of love ... love for God, love for his family, love for his friends, love for the people he worked with and love for people around the world.

I hugged Brad and Meghann and Barrett a little more tightly when they left to head back to their homes today, and my time on Skype with Matt and his family was a little longer and even more precious to me than usual. And as I end this day and ready myself for bed, one thought pulses through my mind ... if I should die before I wake, I hope and pray the legacy I leave behind will be one of love. A legacy of a love that isn't just heard in the words I say, but one that is seen ... one that is felt ... one that is proven in the life I live.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Man I Met at Walmart

First things first ... to those of you who've written to inquire about how Max dog is recovering following his joyful romp through my fridge a couple of Saturdays ago and helping himself to a full container of delicious bacon-wrapped green bean bundles held together by wooden toothpicks, he's back to his normal no more pooping toothpicks self. I must agree with my son Bradley that Max's latest refrigerator raid does indeed prove that he has a stomach and intestines of steel. Seriously though, thank you for your concern about my big chocolate granddog and rest assured that the next time Maxie comes to stay with me, my fridge will be sporting a new child/Maxproof lock on the door.

I certainly don't consider myself to be rigid when it comes to planning out how I'm going to spend my time on the weekends, but there are certain things I pretty much have to make sure I allow time to do every Saturday or Sunday. You know ... semi-important things like making a trip to the store to buy food. Which, more often than not, ends up being trips plural because I go to different stores to buy different things, depending on which retailer has the best prices for the week. I'm guessing some of you are giving me a nod of affirmation right about now because you do the very same thing ... trot around to different stores to save a few bucks here and there, I mean.

On the Saturday that shall forevermore be known as "Max Dog Does Toothpicks Day," I hadn't exactly factored spending several hours of my day sitting at the emergency animal hospital into my schedule for the weekend. I should pause here and tell you that I do not like going to Walmart on Sundays, and I especially do not like going to Walmart late in the day on Sundays. Why, you ask? Going to Walmart on either day of the weekend is something no one in their right mind should ever even consider doing, you say? Hold the phone ... maybe I should retract that "someone in their right mind" part, especially as it applies to me. We all know I crossed that bridge a long, long time ago. But I digress way too far ... spending a chunk of my Saturday at the animal hospital meant that I put off going to Walmart until late in the day on Sunday, along with what seemed to be most of the population of Kansas City. 

By the time I was finally ready to check out, I was far, far away from happy camper land. I was tired, I was cranky and I just wanted to be done and go home. Of course there weren't enough checkout lanes open, so I chose what I hoped would be the quickest one, got in line and waited not so patiently behind the people ahead of me. It wasn't until I reached for the little divider stick thingy to put on the conveyor belt to separate my groceries from those of the person in front of me that I got a glimpse of the older gentleman in line behind me. I smiled a halfhearted smile and started unloading my groceries.

"I--I--I--I l--l--l--like y--y--y--your d--d--d--d--dog, m--m--maam," stuttered the man with the shaggy beard, worn clothing and faded felt hat. "H--h--h--he r--r--reminds m--m--m--m--me of--of--of o--o--o--our J--J--J--Jimmy. I--I--I b--b--b--b--bought h--h--him f--f--for m--m--m--my w--w--w--wife w--w--when sh--sh--she g--got s--s--s--s--sick."

"This little guy is a pretty good boy. He's my pal for sure," I said as I turned back to the task of getting my groceries out of my cart.

"J--J--J--Jimmy d--d--died on--on V--V--Val--Valentine's D--D--Day," the man said softly.

I turned and looked at the old man ... really looked at him ... and said, "I'm sorry for your loss. It's never easy to lose a furry friend."

A faraway look crossed his face as he said, "J--J--J--Jimmy j--ju--just cou--coul--couldn't g--g--go o--on w--w--w--wit--without h--her. H--h--he pa--pa--passed a--a w--w--week af--after my--my--my Cla--Clara."

I don't know if the gentleman could see them, but I sure felt the hot tears that began filling my eyes. As I blinked and blinked with the hope of stopping them, I noticed that the man only had one grocery item ... a frozen pie.

"Come go ahead in front of me," I said. "You only have that pie to pay for ... please go ahead of me."

"A--A--Are y--you s--s--s--sure?" he asked.

"Of course," I replied as I stepped aside so that he could get around my cart. "I'm sorry I didn't notice sooner ... come on up here and go ahead of me."

"Th--th--that's v--v--v--very ki--ki--kind of--of y--y--you, m--m--maam," he said with a gentle smile. "B--B--But I--I--I'll on--on--only g--g--go a--a--ah--ahead of--of y--y--y--you i--i--if y--y--you'll l--let m--m--me pe--pet yo--you--your d--d--dog," he said as his gentle smile broke into a full-on grin.

"Deal!" I said and lifted Ollie out of the shopping cart. Ollie being Ollie, he was more than willing to plant a big old kiss on the old man's chin when he leaned in to pet him. The man then went ahead of me in the line, paid for his frozen pie and stepped off to the side and waited for me to finish my own transaction. At first I thought the old guy was just waiting so that he could thank me again for letting him cut in front of me in line, but when I realized he intended to walk out of the store and toward my car with me ... well ... it creeped me out a little. Which is why I stopped as soon as we got outside and said, "Nice to meet you, sir ... have a good night," and then turned to walk away.

"Ma--ma--maam," the man stuttered. "Th--th--tha--thank y--you f--f--for tal--tal--tal--talking to--to--to m--m--me. I-I'm ta--ta--taking th--this p--p--pie to--to--to m--my f--f--fr--friend Bi--Bil--Bill. Doc--Doc--Doc--Doctors s--s--say h--he dos--dos--doesn't h--ha--have m--m--much t--t--time le--le--le--left a--an--and h--he l--l--l--l--loves p--p--pie. B--B--Bill sa--sa--sa--said h--he'd s-say he--he--he--hello t-to Cla--Cla--Cla--Clara a--a--and Ji--Ji--Jim--Jimmy f--for m--m--me wh--wh--when h--he g--g--g--gets t--to hea--hea--heaven if--if--if I--I--I'd co--co--come g--get h--h--h--him a--a--a p--p--pie."

"Stupid tears," I thought as I took off my glasses and brushed my sleeve across my eyes. It was a very short hop for me to go from being creeped out by the old man with the scraggly beard, worn clothes and faded felt hat to wrapping my arms around him and hugging him. Yep, right there just outside the door of Walmart in front of God and everybody else who saw me ... right there, I stopped and hugged that old man. I thanked him for talking to me. I thanked him for petting my dog. I thanked him for making me see.

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." --- Confucius

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dogs and Wood

Back when he was in college, my son Brad thought it would be hilarious to teach his then newly acquired 2-year-oldish chocolate Labrador retriever Max to open the fridge and bring him a beer. And I'll admit it was pretty darn funny to watch big old Max dog mosey into the kitchen, easily open the refrigerator, secure a cold brew in his mouth and trot it back to Bradley. What my normally quite intelligent son failed to consider when he taught his beloved canine pal this nifty trick, however, was that someday he'd finish college and might actually have more than just beer in his fridge. God only knows how many times Brad's plan to have the coolest beer-fetching dog in town has backfired on him. That crazy brown dog has consumed everything from six-packs of Mountain Dew to entire rotisserie chickens (bones included) to leftover Chipotle burritos (foil included) to birthday cakes (chocolate included) to cheesy potatoes to turkey pot pies to lunch meat to just about any food or drink item you can imagine. Yep, that's right ... over the years, Max dog has come to fully embrace the unmitigated joy that comes from raiding the fridge, and remarkably, the sweet old brown dog has lived to bark about it.

For all the times Max has stayed with Ollie and me, including the three or so months he lived with us when Brad first moved to Maine, he has never once gotten into my fridge ... not the one in my house or the one in my apartment. Until last Saturday, that is. Brad and Shelby had asked if I could watch Max and his totally insane puppy brother Chewbacca while they moved from their apartment into a house, and I readily agreed to a granddoggie sleepover for Friday night. I have never in my life seen a dog love a boy the way Max loves Brad, so I've grown accustomed to the routine of the big dog sitting by the door for an hour or so whining and whimpering after his boy leaves. Such was the case last Friday evening when Brad and Shelby departed, but as he always does, he finally came and laid his head on my knee and let me love on him. And at bedtime, he trotted right into my room with me and Ollie, and went right to sleep. The next morning, old Maxie was just fine ... ate his food, went outside and pooped and peed ... even played chase with Ollie and Chewbacca for a while. If that dog was upset or stressed about his humans being gone or all the packing activity he'd witnessed the day before, he sure as heck didn't act like it. It wasn't until I came home after going to breakfast with my daughter that I discovered just how out of sorts Max truly was. 

When Meghann and I walked into my apartment, my first thought was, "That's weird ... there are Rubbermaid food containers in the living room. I wonder where those came from." I walked into the kitchen to hang up my keys and immediately knew exactly where those containers had come from ... the refrigerator door was wide open and all of my neatly packaged containers of leftovers were missing. Along with Meghann's leftover jambalaya, a brand-new large-size container of cream cheese and a box of baking soda. I quickly shut the fridge door and walked back into the living room and shouted, "Max you big turd, why did you open my fridge and eat my food? You've never done that before, buddy. What the heck? Bad dog getting into my fridge!" Max's reaction, of course, was to hunker down in the corner and give me the saddest "but I'm scared that Brad and Shelby are never coming back" look ever. Which then, of course, made me feel like the worst granddog Ghee ever because I'd yelled at him. 

I was ready to chalk up Max's raiding of my fridge to just one more time that Max had helped himself to food that he shouldn't have ... until I realized that one of the empty containers on the living room floor had been filled to the brim with a dozen or so bundles of bacon-wrapped green beans. Bundles that were held together by wooden toothpicks ... sharp wooden toothpicks that could easily puncture a dog's stomach or intestines if they happened to turn a certain way or get stuck in a certain position. I'll spare you the details of the several hours that Brad, Shelby and I spent in the veterinary hospital that afternoon, but I will tell you that if I were Ollie the wiener dog, I would still be pissed off about the whole experience. Why? Because Ollie and Max were both out in the apartment together while Meghann and I were gone, which meant I had no way of knowing if Ollie had participated in the toothpick binge-fest or not so my poor little guy had to endure the same not-so-fun stomach pumping ordeal as Max. Not one of his best Saturdays for sure, bless his sweet little wiener dog heart, or stomach, as the case may be. 

One thing that the refrigerator/toothpick-consuming/dash to the vet hospital experience on Saturday served to prove to me, however, was that Ollie really is the best dog in the entire universe. After the canine stomach emptying process was complete, the vet informed us that there wasn't one trace of fridge food in Ollie's stomach. Yep, that means my dog sat and watched another dog chow down on a vast smorgasbord of delightful dishes right in front of him and didn't eat one bite. No chicken livers, no cream cheese, no shrimp- and sausage-laden jambalaya, and thankfully, no green beans, bacon or toothpicks. I was so proud of him for standing strong and not succumbing to temptation that I took him straight to Starbucks when we were done and got him the biggest puppuccino he's ever had. Unfortunately for old Max dog, the contents of his stomach served only to prove his guilt as being the sole perpetrator of the crime. Max is fine now, by the way, following a few days of Brad and Shelby having to search through his poop on the hunt for the missing toothpicks.

I'm sure many of you are wondering why in the world I would choose to break my writing moratorium with a story about a dog opening a fridge and eating a dozen or so toothpicks. Truth be told, I'm sort of wondering the same thing myself. One would think if I were going to cautiously dip my toe into the writing waters again, I'd write something much more profound than a tale about toothpicks, stomach pumping and poop analyzing. But I believe that there are lessons to be learned and truths to be gleaned from every single experience in life. It was far from lost on me last Saturday that the small examination room where Brad, Shelby and I waited to find out if Max and Ollie would be OK was the same small room where I sat and held my beloved J.R. as he breathed his last breath on the morning of November 14, 2010. The lesson of treasuring every moment with those I love, be they human or canine, hung heavily in the tiny room last weekend. The truths I so easily forget ... that life can change in the blink of an eye ... that those I care so deeply for can be gone in an instant ... that in the end, when it's all said and done, the only thing that really matters is the way we take care of and love one another.

It's so easy to get caught up in all the stuff of life and forget what's most important. Sometimes it takes a sweet old chocolate dog gulping down a bunch of wooden toothpicks to make us remember that the most important thing we have in this life ... the very most important thing we can ever hope to have is each other. Appreciate every single moment, friends ... every single moment indeed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Sew in Love

My brother Tommy, my sister Elsie and I did what many adult children do when their parents reach the milestone of 50 years of marriage ... we threw one heck of a party. The festivities were held in the fellowship hall of the Red Bank Baptist Church in, as fate would have it, the same room where my wedding reception took place several years prior. Daddy was already pretty sick with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases by the time his and Mom's anniversary rolled around, so he spent his time at the event sitting in his wheelchair smiling at people he couldn't remember and clapping his hands at a party for which he had no idea that he was one of the two guests of honor. Mom, however, was fully aware of everything that was taking place, and she was happier than a woodpecker in a ginormous forest.

Though I don't remember the circumstances that led us to choose the particular gift we gave Mom and Dad on the day of their 50th anniversary party, it turned out to be the perfect representation of their years together. A gift that 31 years later sits peacefully on a small shelf in my bedroom, quietly reminding me each time I see it that the only thing that really matters in life is how we love. Loving other people isn't always the easiest thing to do; in fact, sometimes loving others is the hardest thing in the world to do. Whether it's your spouse or partner or kids or parents or siblings or friends or co-workers or the mechanic who fixes your car, there are times when loving others feels more like swallowing a bucket of hot coals than slurping down a gallon of cool and refreshing iced tea. I think when it comes to loving other people, it's more than life that's like a box of chocolates. When you make the conscious decision to treat others from a heart of love, you never know what you're gonna get.

The truth is that sometimes love really is all roses and sunshine, and you feel as though your heart might explode from the joy and happiness of it all. But sometimes love is messy ... sometimes love isn't pretty ... sometimes love is caring for someone who's fighting a terrible disease ... sometimes love is cleaning up puke or wiping butts ... sometimes love is listening patiently to a story you've heard a million times before ... sometimes love is speaking louder so someone can hear ... sometimes love is lifting a spoon to the mouth of someone who can no longer feed themselves. Yes, there are times when loving other people is just plain old life-sucking hard, but in the end ... in the end, loving other people is always, always, always the right thing to do. I know that my mom had some regrets in her life, but loving my dad ... even in the darkest and most difficult of times ... was never one of them. 

There are some other things I'm reminded of every time I see the small porcelain figurine that my brother, sister and I gave Mom and Dad all those years ago. I'm reminded that we all need to be patched up now and then ... that none of us are without flaws ... that we all get torn or worn or weary. I'm reminded just how very much we need each other ... in the marvelously wonderful good times and the wretchedly painful bad times ... we desperately need each other. We need to stop tearing each other apart and focus on stitching each other back together. We need to sew in love, friends ... with every ounce of strength and heart we have within us, my friends ... we need to sew in love.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Good Questions

Wow. Just wow.

I've been working on this post for a week or longer trying to find adequately meaningful words to convey my feelings regarding the many messages and comments I've received concerning my previous post, "Uncrossing My Fingers." And all I can come up with is wow. Just wow. I'm overwhelmed by your responses, truly and deeply overwhelmed. Thank you so much for your continued support and your steadfast encouragement. So often I feel that the words I pen are disjointed and rambling, and I wonder why in the world anyone would ever read them. And yet so many of you remain not only loyal to reading, but also incredibly faithful to message and tell me to get back to it. Again, all I can say is wow. Just wow.

Ollie and I were joined a few weekends ago by the newest addition to my family of canine grandchildren, Chewbacca, a 9-week-old chocolate labrador puppy, and Brad's longtime dog pal, Max, his 10ish-year-old chocolate lab. Just as you forget how active toddlers are, you forget how busy puppies can be. Suffice it to say that if had only a tiny portion of the energy that Chewy the wild thing has, I could rule the world. Since I couldn't take my eyes off of my new granddog lest he get into mischief, I spent most of that weekend stretched out on my living room floor corralling the non-stop little pup while I read through hundreds of emails. I had a whole list of things I thought I needed to get done those couple of days, but as it turned out, not one of those things was more important than embracing the great big dose of puppy love Chewy so sweetly gave me and reading the inspiring and uplifting words in so many of your messages.

As I read email after email, I noticed that many of them contained questions ... questions that, even though they were worded differently, had an undeniably common theme. It's not unusual for the messages I receive to contain questions ... in fact, it's more unusual when they don't. But these questions ... the similarity of these questions was, well, it was kind of eerie and maybe even a little borderline creepy. Not in a "sleep with a baseball bat under my pillow because someone is going to try to kill me" kind of creepy but in a "whoa, there's obviously some life-changing lesson or soul-searing truth I'm supposed to get from this" kind of creepy. In saying that, I certainly don't mean to imply that the questions were offensive or wrong or bad in any way ... in fact, they were quite the opposite. Your questions forced me to take a very hard, and at times painful, look at my heart and dig way down deeply into the shadows of my soul. They made me admit that uncrossing my fingers when it comes to people is way more complicated than I had guessed it would be.

My intent when I began this post was to write a powerfully eloquent response to your questions, but I quickly realized as I attempted to do so that there are certain sentiments ... certain thoughts ... certain feelings and emotions that really can't be adequately served by mere words. There are times when answers aren't black or white ... times when they aren't concrete ... times when they ebb and flow with the passage of time and the changes that life brings. So my answer to your questions very well may be seen by some of you as me not giving an answer at all. But it's the only answer I have, at least for now anyway. More than an answer, I suppose it's rather a knowledge ... an understanding ... an acceptance of the part of me that many would label as weakness or lack of self-esteem or even a character flaw. It's the part of me that simply cannot turn my back on the people who've hurt me. If they wanted to be a part of my life again, I'd willingly let them. If they needed my help, I'd readily give it. Call me weak, naive, too trusting or even just plain old stupid, but that's who I am. At the very core of my being, that is truly who I am.

While many will say my previous statements indicate that I am wavering from my one and only resolution for this year, I assure you that's not the case at all. I haven't wavered nor have I given up on my quest to uncross my fingers and let go of the hope that certain people will eventually miss me or value me or respect me or care about me like I thought they did before. If anything, I believe, or at least I want to believe, that my resolve to succeed in keeping my resolution is even stronger than it was when the idea first formed in my mind. Since beginning the journey, however, I've learned that uncrossing my fingers doesn't mean I stop caring. That's not what it means now, and it will never mean that to me. I've been told a time or two over the years ... OK, maybe more than a time or two ... that I care too much about other people and not enough about myself. Maybe that's true, and it most likely is, but I'd sure rather care too much about others than to not care enough.

Since I sort of kind of but maybe not really answered your good questions, the dilemma I now have is how to close tonight's post. In my opinion, there's really only one way and that's with a picture of Chewbacca the puppy. OK, OK ... one of Chewy with Ollie, too. Be kind to each other, friends.