Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day

December has been aggravating. I've been desperately swatting at it but it's kept right on buzzing relentlessly in my ear..... tipping me off balance and hoping I'll give in and melt down.

It started with little things...... the nail that broke to the quick just as I was praying, "Thank you, God, that my nails are long and strong for the Salvation Army fingerpickin' gig." What's with that?

Then there was the dreadful root canal episode. Does it get any worse than this? You're sitting there in the chair with that rubbery thingy holding your mouth open,  you're trying to think happy thoughts (like no root canals in heaven), when, over the penetrating din of the drill, you hear someone burst into the front office and shout, "Wow! Some old lady just side swiped a car in your parking lot!"  How do you instinctively know it's your car? Because it's December, that's why. And you know December is on your tail. And there's nowhere to run. (and then that night when you think you can finally relax, you feel your crown swirling around your mouth in the meat loaf).

My dear friend, Laurie, has been extremely sick these last two months. Two surgeries, then a nasty infection...  bed ridden throughout the holidays. It seems December is creeping up on her, too.  I've warned her.

December started taunting me many years ago when my dad died on December 3. We packed up the kids, kissed our lovely new tree and decorations goodbye, and made the road trip from FL to GA to mourn. Then many years later Greg was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December. We went straight from the neurologist to a Christmas party, hoping to siphon a little merriment from the season before having to process that horrific news. And you may remember two years later, he went to Hospice on the last day of November and died January 2. That December was so..... well you can imagine and I don't have the words. December has been stalking me ever since.

And each one tries to assert its own tyranny, present its own challenges and, of course, lend itself to my spiritual formation and ultimate triumph over the evil that pervades this world.  I find that when I get tired of running, I turn around and face it and, like Gandalf to the terrifying Balrog in the Mines of Moria, I lift up my magical staff and scream out, "You... Shall... Not... Pass!"  December, unlike the Balrog, has a way of cowering. When I get my courage on, I can turn it into a wee mouse and send it scurrying for the nearest hole.

And there stands joy in it's place!  Like when the superglue held my nail back on through hours of performing (and it's still holding). Like when the collision in the parking lot of the dentist miraculously resulted in only a few superficial scratches to the paint (and I DIDN'T swallow my crown that night).

And Laurie and I have spent countless hours together, just being together and having time to talk, talk, talk, and do some serious girlfriend bonding. Some friendships outlast even superglue.

And today. Another Christmas Day finds me back in Hospice...this time with Morris. He suffered a massive stroke on Monday. The nurse just said she thinks this will be his final day on this earth. His adopted family (us) will be gathered by his bedside to send him on his final journey.  Sorry, December, you're not even close to wreaking havoc this time. I got here just in time Tuesday to have him look me in the eye, smile, raise his hand to stroke my cheek and feel my hair, and squeeze my hand.  He's been unconscious ever since. It's just the way he wanted to go, and we were all so worried that the cancer would drag him through the mire before releasing him to the sweet hereafter.

So we are grateful that CHRISTMAS comes in December. And the power of the babe in the manger overwhelms and overcomes the darkness, and lights the way for each of us as we walk this beautifully unpredictable path we call life. From small, silly things to the most profound issues we face, He is our refuge, our strength and our assurance that Love always wins!

Merry Christmas! God bless us every one!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Firsts and Lasts

I was in my hometown, Roswell, again recently and witnessed my great-nephew, Beau,  boldly mastering his first steps. You could tell from the twinkle in his eye that there will be trouble ahead, for the next 18 years or so.  Nevertheless, there was joyous clapping and cheering as he toddled back and forth between the outstretched hands of his beaming mom and dad.  This first year of life has been full of milestones and I was so happy to be there to share in the pride and celebration of my family.

Life has a way of being volleyed back and forth between firsts and lasts, joys and sorrows. I found out this week that the beautiful young Irish fiddler who reluctantly agreed to give me lessons in Anchorage and then became my friend, had decided that "enough is enough" (per her note) and followed Ross in a final act of extreme desperation (Why is it so hard for me to simply say "suicide"?)  She was just 36 years old. Again, I was shocked, disillusioned and enraged. Really? And if you add Robin Williams to the mix, I wonder if we need to call the CDC. What's happening?

I cried on and off for a little while, then got up and determined that I was NOT going to be manipulated by the prophets of the dark side. It's sometimes easy for us middle-agers to struggle with self-worth and the belief that the best years are past. But I have my life and, whiny as I sometimes am, I LOVE IT and wouldn't trade it in for yours and certainly wouldn't throw it in the dumpster. I know where you and I belong and it's right here, right now.

I humbly admit that I have been spared the horrendous suffering that drove my friends to do what they did. Having realized that, I feel more motivated than ever to get out there, take more risks and live my life with renewed purpose, making each second count  (well, we all know that won't last for long, but at least this week I'm not going to be a couch potato).

In my conquer-your-fears-and-just-do-it state of mind, I did something rather impulsive ( may have seen that coming). I was browsing online to start planning my Irish vacation next summer (I know, it was supposed to be this summer, but I was too scared), when I came across an Irish dating site. My thinking was altered, okay? because of my grief. I thought, "How romantic would it be to meet a handsome, roguish laddie online, exchange pictures and emails, then meet when I actually get to Ireland?" I'm telling you it sounded like a good idea at the time.

So I signed up with the user name Florida Girl. That should let them know where I was and what they were getting into. But after the first step of choosing a name and password, I either came to my senses or lost my nerve and logged out before creating a profile or uploading pictures. I thought it was over,  but nay... 'twasn't meant to be that easy. Apparently my membership was initiated and, profile or no, I started receiving mail from Ireland.  Only I guess my user name was rejected and the administrators chose another one for me........."Hello Animal 889"!!! I can only imagine what was on the other side of the messages I received.

Not to worry, I went back in and figured out how to cancel. I should stay away from such things I know nothing least for a while. But I'm feeling that life is just too precious to not peep out of the box now and then and breathe in the fresh scent of adventure.   And sometimes I may need to just lean to one side far enough to tip the box over and feel myself tumbling out. This has always been so hard for me to do. But I'm going to work on it more, because I owe it to my friends who gave up way too soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thoughts On My Birthday

Had I known my 60th birthday would be so grand, I'd have had it sooner. I have been deluged with attention, affection and affirmation. And you thought AAA was an auto club! Nothing was spared nor overlooked.......presents presented, surprises sprung, traditions honored, new ones initiated ....... I've been anticipating this milestone with mixed feelings, as we all do on those "special" birthdays. But my family and friends have made it seem great fun to become old.

I'd never been one of those neurotic people who fret over the passage of time. I'd been more intrigued than disturbed.  In earlier days, every season of life seemed richer and more fulfilling, forming me into the mature, gracious woman I thought I would eventually become.

Then came the ridiculous 50's, the decade from.......well, not exactly Hell, but close.....maybe Alabama. Sorrow upon sorrow, then regrouping, forging and trying to reimagine; an uphill climb I would have thought I was prepared for but, like so many Everest hopefuls, I found the elements severe and spent much of the decade shivering and just wishing for a warm fire.

Not only losing my husband, but losing my favorite hormones and all the little perks they provided, like smooth skin and sanity. My greatest comfort comes from hearing my peers shamefully confide that they, too,  left the stove on when they went to Publix or found their car keys in the fridge.  Every post- menopausal woman knows what I'm talking about. And you men aren't much better. Just the other day my brother told me.........nah, I'd better not say.

On the Saturday before my birthday, Leah took me to Cirque Du Soleil in Orlando. You probably know that it was amazing. The aerial Red Ribbon Man was my favorite, with muscles so pronounced I'm sure he could stay aloft just by flapping them.  I know he was looking for me in the audience as he sailed angelically heavenward, reaching out to me with a pointed index finger like that guy Michelangelo painted inside the Sistine Chapel.  I'm anticipating one of those flying dreams sometime soon and in it, I'm going to levitate off my seat at the circus and float into the arms of Red Ribbon Man. I'll look down at myself and see that I'm in my underwear (because this kind of dream demands it) yet covered in dozens of red ribbons binding me for life with my soaring prince.  Bring on the Ambien!

I believe there's a longing in each of us to be attached to someone else ("no man is an island" and all that). Sometimes I feel the romantic side of that longing (like when I see the RRM in all his "lust"erous glory), and I feel left out of the mainstream of coupled-up love. It's easy to give in to self-pity and wish for what I don't have. There are times when lonely feels....just too lonely.

Then comes Trapeze Man to save the day! Flying through the air with the greatest of ease, he triple somersaulted with some twisty bravado followed by "where are the hands that are supposed to catch me" and then ................he fell. You could hear the collective gasp of horror and disbelief.  It seemed like slow motion...down, down into nothingness....and then....the net. Big net. Everyone exhaled.

Christians believe there is no oblivion, there is no hard thump at the end of life, only a soft bounce or two and then.....on to the next thing. For Ross, it's a new level of existence hidden in mystery from us earth dwellers. He has been gently lifted from the net and carried quietly to a place of ultimate compassion and healing.  For me and Trapeze Man, it's another awkward climb out of the net and back up the ladder, another chance to practice the craft of living that so often foils us and leaves us looping in the air, disoriented and out of breath. 

Trapeze Man made another go of it and this time found his mark and swung triumphantly back to base. And I also am making my go, swinging into a new decade, sometimes a little frantic (like last night when water started pouring from my ceiling from the AC unit), sometimes pissed off that there are apparently no arms strong enough to grab me (or you) out of this season of quasi-dementia and wrinkling.

But knowing I am not alone.  We are all trapezing together, young and old, soaring gallantly through the years, some wearing flashy red ribbons, some....just underwear. But all together.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Away Down The River

"Away down the river, a hundred miles or more
Crossing over Jordan, to the other shore.
I'll be standing, waiting, with all who've gone before,
I'm just away down the river a hundred miles or more."

We played that song by Alison Krauss at Greg's memorial over six years ago. Sometimes it seems like he's far more than a hundred miles away...... but sometimes I feel he's so close I can hear him whisper a smile to me.

I went to another memorial this weekend. My friend, Ross, who grew up just a few miles down the road from me in Georgia, was an Imagineer at Disney World. His colleagues said he touched the lives of millions of strangers by making dinosaurs laugh and presidents dance.  But he also touched the lives of his friends and family by being uproariously funny, thoughtful, and kind.  He once spent all day getting a virus off my computer and I painted the Vermeer Milkmaid with Lobster Claw Hand in appreciation. It's been hanging in his house ever since. I have a copy on my wall if you ever want to see it. I think about Ross now when I look at it......and when I drink my coffee from the enormous Pixar mug he brought me from Disneyland.

I started not to go to the service since it was in Orlando. We have no mutual friends (we met online) so I wouldn't be missed. Only Ross and I would know I wasn't there.  But I knew we would both be disappointed if I didn't show, so off I went. I was anxious about getting there at the right time and finding the right building and all. Why do I worry so much about the logistics? But I do.

After I got in my car, I had to go back in the house twice because I forgot things (a CD and something else I can't remember). I started to go back a third time for my rings but decided I would probably be okay unaccessorized, just this once. Then of course I went by Starbucks so I could have a latte lunch on I-4 where, predictably, there was a major crash and back-up. Almost to the church and I made a pit stop because of.....well, you know, the latte. (btw, NEVER go to a McDonalds in Orlando unless you have a carload of wild and crazy kids and are looking to spend the day. I needed my GPS to find my way out of that place).

When I finally heard the "destination is on the right", I pulled in the first driveway (huge campus) and saw cars. In perfect animatronic synch,  my car and another car drove up side-by-side in the parking lot. The other driver and I slammed our doors at the exact same time and started walking in the same direction. We naturally spoke and I found out he was Ross's cousin from home. His mother taught business at Roswell High School when I was there. Instant affinity. Later, in the reception line, he was first and introduced me to the rest of Ross's family. I thought of all those annoying delays that put me right there in his path at the right time. Think Ross was behind that?

I am extremely angry with Ross. He could have had a stroke or taken a fall from Cinderella's castle. But some anguish deep inside drove him to make a dreadful he couldn't reverse.  I am looking for words that don't sound like cliches but I'm blanking out. I'm thinking...."at least he's at peace now", "he's in a better place", "no more pain", yada, yada, yada.  They say survivors often feel betrayed. I think that's what I'm feeling. We are a close-knit little band, we middle age Christian singles.  We have sworn an oath to be there for each other and hold on to each other and not let each other fall. Ross let go of the rope. God, I hope I didn't let it slip out of my hand.

A few weeks ago I started training as a bereavement volunteer for Hospice. I've been learning what NOT to say to those who are hurting and heartbroken. What should I NOT say to myself? What should we all not be saying to ourselves when life acts up.

"Away down the river, a hundred miles or more......." My odometer read 99.4 miles from my house to the church.......from my personal sorrow to the healing synergism that grows from shared sympathies.....from my lack of understanding to the place where that just doesn't matter.

"Away down the river ......." I'm standing on the bank gazing in wonder.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Olympics

My friends haven't seen much of me the last two weeks. It's the Olympics! Since I was a little child I have been mesmerized by all the jumping, gliding, flying, tripping and floating of the winter events.  I swear I could hum the Russian national anthem by the time I was ten. I thought it was the most majestic melody I'd ever heard.  Go figure.

I still love it all, especially the figure skating. If you read my blog while I was in Alaska, you'll recall that I found a frozen lake under a mountain (actually, everything in Alaska is under or on top of a mountain), and skated my little heart out, pretending to be Peggy Fleming ( What was fantasy to me, is real for these competitors this week. And I was able to watch it live in the mornings when there were few interruptions, and I could be among the first to see it all unfold in real time. Thanks for understanding, all of you friends who watched some of it with me and all of you who didn't try to drag me away. Believe me, it was spiritual!

So I had this strange anxiety dream last night (Don't start yawning until you hear it). I was teaching school again, just coming in on a Monday morning. I guess it had been a busy weekend because I had absolutely no idea what the lessons were for the week. In real life, this could only happen if you had just awakened from amnesia ("Oh, am I the teacher?") or discovered you had the winning lottery ticket and were only there to say goodbye. A day without lesson plans lasts ten years, and you are not well at the end of it (Don't ask me how I know).

But in my dream it didn't seem like a big deal. I was getting the children settled when in walks my former principal, the one I had when I taught in St. Pete years ago. She smiled and, with clipboard in hand, took a seat and said she was there to observe for half an hour or so. If you are a teacher, you get it!  Observation equals evaluation. There are only one or two a year (or there used to be) and you'd better be on for this. Your career could ride on it.

I distinctly recall the feelings I was having in my dream. The "OH NO!!!, ARE YOU KIDDING ME????" kind of aggravated panic, but also a "Hey, I can handle this!" kind of  in-your-face optimism. I quickly perused the reading guide to see what story I was supposed to be teaching. With an air of confidence and calmness I picked up my book and took my seat with all the children around me in a circle. The principal was still smiling expectantly, her pen in hand.

For just that moment, I think, in my subconscious mind anyway, I was on the Olympic stage. It had all come down to this one performance. All the college classes, the staff development, the meetings, trainings, experience.......all rested on this reading lesson that I had not a clue about. I knew I was about to experience "the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat" in my own realm. The world stopped turning for that few seconds as I took the, I mean.... opened the book.

This has got to be why I love watching the Olympics. It isn't about them so much as it's about me......the triumphs, the disappointments, the strength, stamina, and determination to git 'er done, no matter what the challenge. I need some Olympic Spirit!  Don't we all!? I am grateful for the chance to tap into that colossal chunk of inspiration,  then personalize it and use it to take my place among my fellow humans.

Want to know how the dream ended? This is hilarious! Just at that moment of truth, when everything was on the line, the door swung open and a teacher's aid announced, "Ice cream for everyone!" Without hesitation,  she proceeded to pass it out to the explosive cheers of the jubilant (if diminutive) crowd.  The principal left the room.

I have only one question......does this mean I won or lost???????????

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Another Move

Beautiful Couple
Back and forth, back and forth.......that seems to be what I'm doing these days. The day after Christmas, my children and I drove to GA to celebrate the season with my family (and to get our presents :  ).  We stayed two days then came home to FL. Then a week later I drove back for a two week stay.

This time I was on a brother and I were getting my mother and Morris (her boyfriend of 20 years that you've read about in earlier posts) moved into Assisted Living......the same ALF that my brother's mother-in-law just moved into. 

Morris is actually doing great. He's on a maintenance chemo schedule of every three weeks. He has been driving, preparing his own meals, paying his bills, creaming his poker buddies, etc. as if he were not 92 years old with stage four colon cancer. He has amazed family and doctors alike.

Remember when he met the guy in the checkout line at Publix (or was it Kroger?) who told him all would be well? We had a feeling that guy was an angel or something, and his prophesy certainly came true.

There is a marker number (ascertained from blood tests) that indicates the level of the disease. This particular marker should be 4 or 5 in a healthy adult.  When Morris was diagnosed, his marker number was 186. YIKES!!!!!!! Morris decided to stop shaving (This is not nice to hear from a man of 92) until his number fell below 10. It's now around 12 and holding.

Morris is looking pretty darn scruffy. But when I hugged him goodbye a few days ago, I noticed how surprisingly soft and fuzzy his whiskers felt, so personal and warm.  I hope he forgets to shave, no matter what. There's a new eccentric air about him that makes me feel cool being seen with him...a cross between Socrates and Santa Claus.....a hint of ancient wisdom cloaked in jolliness (cool-sounding word..."jolliness")

In spite of his progress, Morris is tired and was struggling to care for my mother along with himself. We all knew it was time for her to make the move from an adult apartment complex to AL. Morris graciously agreed to move along with her, making it easier on all of us to keep them together.

This is the third or fourth move I've described in this blog. They all have commonalities.......sorting, packing, losing, finding, losing again, giving away, wishing, regretting, remembering, and above all.....hoping. Hoping all the aforementioned things will be worth it. For my mother and Morris, hoping there is still a future waiting even though you're really old, and you're becoming feeble and dependent and you swore you'd never go to a "home". Hoping that life can still deal you a few good hands, even though the aces have long since disappeared from the deck. Believing it's not always the cards you hold, but your love of the game that makes it worth playing. A win or a's all about how your heart perceives it.

It's good to be back in St. Pete, though it was really cold last week.  I've missed the yellow bungalow and the friends and routines that are defining my own destiny.  More and more I'm realizing it isn't about where I am or what I do, but who I'm becoming, that will bring me into alignment with God's plan for me. The fruit of the Spirit, presented in Paul's letter to the Galatians, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control......are not dependent on anything except my willingness to be molded. . 
I hope, like my mother and Morris, I can stay the course with grace and optimism in these next few unpredictable years.  I know that life has a way of jumping out from behind a bush and scaring the bejeebers out of you.  I hope that doesn't happen to me again, but ya never know. Sometimes it happens in an instant, and sometimes it just happens with the passage of time.