Home

Gratitude in Adversity

Leave a comment

GRATITUDE IN ADVERSITY:

In the room — it doesn’t much matter which room — there is pain.

There is the woman whose middle child died four months ago today. She doesn’t say boy or girl, adolescent or adult, just that her “middle child” has died.

“Thanks for sharing,” we say. Thanks for sharing your pain.

“The good thing is,” she says, “my husband and I are finally seeing a counselor, something he’s been promising to do for years.”

“My child has died . . . the good thing is” — who says that?

A younger woman flushes ruby-red with emotion as she tells us that her ‘tween daughter has been in and out of the hospital for two years since a virus invaded her heart and caused brain damage. “I just got fired from my job for missing too much work,” she says. “But I have my priorities.” She straightens her back. “I’m grateful to have so much extra time with her while I’m job hunting,” she says. “It’s a gift.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we say.

A man holds his wife’s veiny hand and says he’s proud of himself for not giving in to obsessive worrying about her newly diagnosed immunodeficiency disorder that might cause permanent blindness or stroke. “I’m just grateful she finally got properly diagnosed and is home from the hospital where I can take care of her,” he says.

His wife gently retrieves her hand and places it on her heart, her other hand on her throat. (Later she tells me that she was doing Reiki on herself. I didn’t even know that was possible.) “I’m grateful that B put up a hummingbird feeder on the porch with the little overhang so I can sit out there on rainy mornings and do my meditation and watch the birds.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we all say.

A woman who was almost killed when she was hit by a car three years ago says the accident put her on “an emotional and spiritual healing path to joy I never dreamed of.” Then she laughs and says how appropriate it was that our group leader randomly chose the discussion topic of “gratitude in the face of adversity.”

We all laugh with her.

“We are survivors,” she says.

♥♥♥

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

— Rev. John Watson (pen name Ian Maclaren)

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day

3 Comments

A reprise from Mother’s Day, 2016:

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day:

I miss my mom. I hated Mother’s Day for a couple of years after she passed in 2008 — all the advertising and cards and balloons felt like salt in a wound. “Some of us don’t have mothers!” I felt like screaming.

Eight years later, I’m mostly rational again. My grief is gentler now, so I don’t mind being reminded of how blessed I was to have Lorna B. Griffin as my mom. I appreciate the special recognition for the role of mother, and I admire the dedication of my friends and family who are mothers and step-mothers and grandmothers. 

Think Before You Speak

I don’t like it, though, when people wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” without thinking. I want to make up index cards of statistics for these well-intentioned folks, reminding them that nearly one in five women end their childbearing years never having had children. One in five.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am child-free by choice. Others, not so much — for many, their childless state feels  like a tragedy.

Personally, I’m not too bent out of shape by these misdirected greetings. I know people mean well, and life is too short to make up grievances where none are intended. It’s just a slight annoyance. Still, I know that for some, hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” directed at them is like a knife in the heart. Especially rote, impersonal regards from a stranger.

Try This Instead

I recommend that if you do not know someone’s maternal state, say something like, “Enjoy your day!” If they are a mom, they will hear, “Happy Mother’s Day.” If not, they will just enjoy their day.

Here’s another idea. While everyone is different, I love it when someone intentionally wishes *me* a Happy Mother’s Day, followed by a comment like, “You are a mother to so many people,” or “You are a mother to our church family,” or even (what an honor!) “You are a second mother to me.”

This recognizes and honors me as an individual. There’s no assumption that since I’m female, I must have given birth. There’s no awkward silence or imagined shame that I am somehow deprived because I did not give birth or adopt. There’s no sense of being “less than.” I just feel appreciated.

My Girls

My Kids, Eliza Bean and Mayasika

So: to all my loved ones who are mothers or step-mothers, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the females I love who are not mothers, I honor the woman in you. Thank you for being who you are, for nurturing the people who God brings into your orbit, and for spreading love in the world in ways that are uniquely yours.  Enjoy your day, everyone!

Happy Day, Mom!

Happy Day, Mom!

Fear of Frying

Leave a comment

FEAR OF FRYING

Sometimes I can’t help but think about all of us frying. The world is a terrifying place these days.

I check the news only twice a day now, and try not to do so right before bed. I wean myself more and more from social media, because that’s where I hear the sizzling most loudly: a conflagration of dreadful news, trauma-inducing pictures, and total strangers calling me “moron” and “libtard” and “fat hag.”

I know I’m not the only one who fears frying. People all around the world watch the childish nyah-nyah games between two unstable presidents and wait for the air raid sirens. (Do we even have air raid sirens anymore? I’m reminded of the “walk-run” home we used to practice when I was in elementary school in Miami waiting for the Cuban missile strike — the walk-run made about as much sense as the get-under-your-desk-and-cover-your-head posture.)

On a positive note, we might not have a thermonuclear exchange this year. Instead, the elimination of federal efforts to curb climate change and cut local programs for climate adaptation might allow us to fry more slowly over time, our food shriveling in the drought. Unless we go more quickly in a climate change-induced wildfire. Here in the D.C. area, it’s more likely to be floods or severe hurricanes and tornadoes.

On an even more positive note, it’s possible that humans might fry but leave the planet and other species more or less intact. In America, the gradual ascension of hubris, greed, and contempt for the poor that I’ve watched over my lifetime is now complete. The deal with the devil was clinched November 8, 2016. So if I believed in hell, I’d be waiting expectantly for the frying of certain deserving souls.

Driven By Fear

But that, dear readers, would make me just like them, wouldn’t it? Vengefully judging “the other” and living from a place of fear. Because let’s face it, mental and emotional imbalance aside, it is fear that is driving what’s happening in this country.

The man-child representing the U.S. is a bottomless abyss of fear, driven to run after more and more and more money — what an awful reason to live! What unspeakable insecurity. Same with his power lust. The lying and manipulation and bullying — it’s all a control thing, a terror of losing control. He trusts no one.

And that’s how he won the election. His pathological fear tapped into the real and imagined fears of millions of Americans.

America is frying in fear, from the Tweeter in Chief right on down.

The white people who are afraid of the “other” people who “don’t belong here.” The African-American boys who are afraid of the cops, and the cops who are afraid of the African-American boys. The straight people who are afraid that gay marriage will somehow threaten their straight marriage or turn their children into “perverts.” The people who fear refugee families are going to blow up their neighborhoods or Mexicans are going to take their jobs and rape their daughters. Coal miners with black lung disease and no jobs, local business owners still struggling after the Bush economic meltdown, seniors who can’t afford their prescriptions. On and on.

#Resist

I use the hashtag #resist a lot. It means I pledge to resist the mean-spirited, greed-driven policies of the new administration. But for me, it means more than that: it means I pledge to resist the fear that drives those policies and the supporters of those policies.

There’s a lot to fear. It’s not a safe time in America. So let’s talk about it, let’s take action, let’s get involved, let’s nurture compassion and stand with the most vulnerable. 

Let’s be part of the solution. But let’s not be part of the fear, OK?

I pledge not to let the fear move from my head to my heart. Because fear turns to hate, and hate fries souls.

Syria Sadness

3 Comments

SYRIA SADNESS

I would like to write, but we are bombing Syria. So it’s probably best that I leave it alone for now. My heart hurts too much, and I had dreadful nightmares last night.

If only I had gotten off Twitter thirty minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have known about President Tweet’s latest misadventure and I could have gone to bed and read my silly fantasy novel until I drifted into oblivious, dreamless sleep.

In my pre-dawn rush to get to work this morning, I wouldn’t have had time to listen to the news. I would have spent my day in blissful ignorance. Instead, I woke up twenty minutes early to catch the latest news. Maybe we had bombed North Korea, too? Oh no, we are just having a crisis with Russia. 

So today I watched my second graders with a certain amount of sadness. What is going to happen to them and their bright eyes and fresh skin and boundless energy?

What in the hell are we doing?

I will write when I can.

Dear Prudence: Meet My Hidden Personality

Leave a comment

DEAR PRUDENCE: MEET MY HIDDEN PERSONALITY

You haven’t met Prudence. A few years ago, I introduced you to my multiple personalities — the confused and frightened kids who live inside me and with whom I have largely made peace. Occasionally, their fears still knock me off-center and cause me to lose my inner calm. My therapist has taught me to ask myself, “What part of me is afraid?” and then I can soothe that particular aspect of my being.

I won’t tell you all of my coping skills because I suspect you already think I’m flaky enough, but for instance, if “Sport” is afraid, I can work in the garden. She likes to be outside and get dirty. She likes earthworms and roly-poly bugs. She’s seven.

If “Whisper” is afraid, I can play the piano or sit down and listen to classical music. She learned to play the piano loud when dysfunctional family chaos upset my eleven year-old self.

My teenage self, “Cat,” is the hardest to soothe because she is tough and she’d rather die than admit she is afraid and you can’t teach her anything anyway. Driving really fast makes her feel better, but this is not ideal. She likes banging on the drum.

Careful of the cat

At the time I revealed my inner children to you, I was not aware of Prudence. That’s the thing about her. She is secretive. She is mistrustful and extraordinarily protective of “ourselves.” I think that she directs some of the other kids, though I’m not certain. She’s very strong.

I’ll never forget when I discovered Prudence. I was with my therapist, who asked,

“What part of you is driving that behavior?”

That’s usually fairly simple to figure out, but after a long while, I was still baffled. “I’m not sure who it is. It’s different energy.”

And she said, “Is there another one?” I nodded. She said, “Does she have secrets?” I nodded again. “What’s her name?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

But the moment I walked out of the office and into the flowering courtyard, the song “Dear Prudence” came to me in its entirety, and I knew that was her name.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play

Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day

The sun is up, the sky is blue

It’s beautiful and so are you

Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

♥ ♥ ♥ 

Dear Prudence open up your eyes

Dear Prudence see the sunny skies

The wind is low the birds will sing

That you are part of everything

Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?

♥ ♥ ♥

Dear Prudence let me see you smile

Dear Prudence like a little child

The clouds will be a daisy chain

So let me see you smile again

Dear Prudence won’t you let me see you smile?

Prudence doesn’t smile. She doesn’t come out to play. She mistrusts sun and birdsong and daisy chains. She doesn’t want to be “part of everything.” Life is a serious, treacherous business for Prudence because someone has to be the cautious, watchful one. The prudent one.

Prudence knows that at any moment your perfectly loving father can have one too many glasses of brown stuff and turn into a monster. One day your mother will defend you, one day she will not.

Stay hidden. Trust no one.

The election of President Tweet traumatized all of my inner children. It caught the whole world off-guard. But not Prudence. She could have told you. She always knew a mentally unstable, dangerous man might become president and threaten the future of our country and the planet.

Prudence doesn’t want to be comforted. She has work to do.

♦ ♦ ♦

** Please read this disclaimer about Dissociative Personality Disorder (DID) which I do not have.

** Thanks for the writing prompt: prudent.

The Humbling of a Substitute Teacher

6 Comments

The little girl is cute as can be. She has a button of a nose that she wrinkles up when you say it’s time for math, and her coarse black hair is braided into unwieldy pigtails that spring out from the sides of her head. Right now, her mouth is open in a little o and she is looking at you as if you are very dangerous indeed. Perhaps a psychopath.

And you are acting like one. You are bending over and yelling into her little face at the top of your lungs, “I don’t care whose job it is, you are doing it and you are doing it now! I am sick of this!”

Suddenly all the children in the class are busily stacking their chairs as if they do this every afternoon, which they do not. It’s why your back has gone out of whack and you’ve been gobbling Advil for two days and are unable to chase wayward children down the hall when you tell them they can’t go to the water fountain but they go anyway. Because you end every day by stacking twenty chairs and then stooping and stooping and stooping, gathering scissors and crayons and water bottles and abandoned spelling worksheets and all the detritus of the day which other teachers somehow manage to have their children pick up, but you can not.

This is why I am yelling at the cute little girl. I am in pain. The teacher for whom I was supposed to sub two days has shingles and this is day five with her unruly class. (It has been confirmed by several teachers that this is one of the toughest classes in the school, and I am highly relieved to hear this.) It is fifteen minutes before dismissal, the end of the day so close I can smell it, and this little girl has blurted out the last of one too many “nos,” one too many “it’s not my jobs,” and one too many “but our teacher lets us do a, b, or c.”

True, the girl has been acting up and getting worse all week, aligning herself with the constantly trying second grade boys. But she has not been responsible for most of the week’s trouble in this, my first eye-opening week of substitute teaching.

Tomorrow I will apologize to her in front of the class. To show them how grownups who are not psychopaths behave.

I FORGOT

Was This Teaching Thing All a Mistake?

14 Comments

WAS THIS TEACHING THING ALL A MISTAKE?

The closest thing I can liken it to is that feeling you get when you’ve been in a car accident and you step out all wobbly, gingerly testing every part of your body. You think you might be OK, but then again you might be missing a limb and not feeling it because you are in deep shock. Everything seems vivid and clear and surreal. You are glad to be alive.

You take deep gulping breaths and blink back tears, tears that have been lurking since you ate your PB&J sandwich at noon and waited for the kids to come back from recess.

Today you have been sad, mad, and despairing, but mostly just powerless.

Over first and second graders.

My first day as a substitute teacher might have been better without the second grade boys in the mix. In fact, it most definitely would have been. The paper airplanes wouldn’t be stuck on top of the ceiling light fixture and the four-foot-tall stack of plastic tubs would not have careened to the ground and scattered all the regular teacher’s folders and papers all over the floor.

I just thank God that the head of the school did not walk in at that moment. With two boys denying responsibility at higher and higher decibel levels and a third boy sobbing his heart out and the rest of the class staring at me with saucer-sized eyes, wondering if I was going to hit someone.

The girls mostly got into fights with each other over sharing toys and where things such as rocket ships and flags were supposed to be stored. There were raised voices, there were tears, there was one who sat in a corner and sulked for ten minutes. I asked her if she wanted to talk and she shook her head so I left her there. She seemed to bounce back.

I don’t know. Was this whole idea of substitute teaching a massive mistake?

My Facebook friends were so encouraging! “You’ll be amazing . . . you’ll be great . . . you have so much wisdom . . . you’ll change lives!”

Not so much.

There were moments. Helping a little girl learn to read the words “ice cream and cake” was cool, and reading Horton Hears a Who to an exhausted class at the end of the day with one small child cuddled next to me was five minutes of well-earned bliss.

A little red-headed girl who was only with my class for an hour of spelling and writing came running in to give me a hug after school.

And A, despite being in tears several times during the day, presented me with this:

A’s Gift

I don’t know whether that is a TV or a couple of aliens coming in through a window, but it matters not. I will keep this picture as a reminder of my first day as a teacher. Someday I hope to laugh about it all. Right now, my stomach hurts. I have to go back tomorrow.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: