Category Archives: beautiful

Float

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with water.  Maybe it’s because I am not a strong swimmer.  Okay, to be honest, I’m not a swimmer at all.  However, over the last few years, I have found myself exploring various bodies of water.  There was the journey across the channel from England to Belguim and then to France, the cruise around Lake Mead, the voyage down the Colorado River, the expedition to view glaciers in Alaska, the whale watching adventure in Hawaii (which unfortunately, didn’t produce a single view of the large mammals), and even the gentle drift around the lake on a duck boat in Branson, Missouri.

So even though I have experienced a variety of watery journeys, I have to admit that I still feel a tense anxiety starting in my chest and rising up in my throat every time I board a boat.  Stress grips my heart and tightens my rib cage.  I find myself holding my breath as the boat begins to pull away from the dock. I silently begin to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink.  Please, don’t let me fall overboard.  Please, I can’t swim and this lake (or ocean or sea or creek) is so deep…please, God, please, don’t let this boat go down…please…”

And then, I sigh an audible “…aaahhhh….” as the boat settles into the water and begins to roll back and forth on the waves.  At that moment, an amazing sense of peace and gratitude overwhelms me.  Like second nature, my soul just gives over to the need to be part of something larger than myself.  I look out at the water and feel amazed by the vastness of the universe.  My anxiety always gives way to the most luxurious feeling of peace once I find myself sailing along with the currents.  As the saying goes, “When I stop struggling, I float.”

So that’s why on August 30th, 2017, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I stood in front of the Hotel Pacific in Cairns, Australia.  I was waiting for the tour bus that was going to take me to the port where I would be getting on a boat that would be carrying me out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Though I was already praying for a safe journey, I still couldn’t shake the exhilaration that was pounding through me.  I was about to experience one of the best attractions in Australia.  After ten minutes of prayer and stress, I was finally aboard the Western Winds bus, which was expertly driven by a friendly, older man who looked like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  The heavyset, incredibly kind man had gray wispy strands of hair straining around the sides of his head.  His blue captain’s hat tilting to the left and his crooked smile leaning to the right may not have inspired a lot of confidence, but felt immensely welcomed and respected by this driver as I settled into a seat near the front of the bus.

The drive to the harbor was going to take about an hour with a few stops along the way to pick up additional passengers.  I thought that this would be a great time to catch up on my journal entries. I held my pen over a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted to stare out the window and see as much of Australia as I possibly could through the large, slightly grimy, thick windows.  I wanted to climb every tree, smell every flower, and count every blade of grass.  I had even stared at all of the hotels and tried to count all of the doors and windows as I tried to commit everything I saw to memory.  But, of course, the bus was moving too fast to experience Australia in this way, so instead I was content for a few minutes to relax back in my seat and watch the two lovely bees buzzing around the front window on the opposite side of the bus.

Finally, we arrived at the pier and the bus driver, who would be traveling to the reef with us, pointed in the direction of the dock where our boat was waiting.  I was glad he was there to direct us; the harbor was full of a multitude of ships of various styles and colors.

Once aboard, crewmembers greeted the passengers in the cabin with coffee, tea, cookies, and an interesting presentation on coral and sea life by a marine biologist.  Twenty minutes later, as the boat revved up and started to move out into the ocean, I once more started to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink…”

But within a few short minutes, the sense of awe overcame me and I started to relax as the boat rocked back and forth on the water.  Aaaaahhhh.  I couldn’t help the deep sigh of serenity that escaped my lips as the boat moved further away from the dock.  With the majority of the other tourists, I climbed the white metal stairway to the top of the boat.  My sudden sense of peace had compelled me to sit where I could observe the water, the sun, the fluffy clouds, the pure blue sky, and the other boats that sailed along beside us.

I settled down on one of the red vinyl benches that bordered the top tier of the boat.  I closed my eyes and let my body relax with the swaying of the ship as I breathed in the smooth, warm air….at first.

Within a few minutes, however, my eyes popped open and I sat up straight.  The strong currents were pushing the boat sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that the red canopy covering the boat began to snap loudly as it flapped up and down.  I put my hands down on the bench to grip the edge of my seat.  I felt my body beginning to roll as the boat rocked violently back and forth.  I glanced at all of the people sitting on the other benches around me.  Though everyone seemed to be gripping onto their seats or trying to push the widely blown hair out of their faces, I grew concerned that I was going to embarrass myself by getting sick.  I had never been on a wilder ride out on the water.  I was now mentally kicking myself for not accepting one of the seasick pills that the crewmembers had passed around before the ship left the dock.  I’m not a believer in taking any sort of pills unless absolutely necessary and I had never gotten sick on a boat before.  Anxiety and stress, yes, but never physically sick.

I decided then that my best course of action would be to go downstairs to the cabin and see if I could still get one of those little blue pills.  I pushed myself up from the bench and started to walk across the white wooden planks that made up the floor of the upper tier of the boat.  Oh, my gosh…what was happening!?  I couldn’t get my footing with the crazy rocking of the ship.  I hadn’t had any of the wine or champagne that the crew had offered earlier and yet I couldn’t walk a straight line no matter how hard I tried!  And I did try hard.

My goal was to walk over to the steps leading down to the galley.  However, as I tried to walk towards the stairs, I moved my legs straight and yet found myself high stepping to the left!  I tried to walk to the right and got my legs all tangled up and almost tripped myself.  I straightened my legs and found myself suddenly lurching to the left again.  I was suddenly aware, even with the noise of the wind whipping through the canopy, the flags, and various clothing items, that no one was talking or laughing anymore.  Everyone had suddenly grown still as they watched me walking (?) rubber legged across the upper deck.  Oh, my gosh, was my only thought now, these people must think I’m stinkin’ drunk.  I tried to force myself to straighten my back and hips and walk forward, but I was still all wobbly legged and continued moving right in order to go left!  I swear I was walking like a drunken sailor back from a three-day leave!  I struggled to get my footing and found myself sliding backwards two steps for every one-step I moved forward.

Finally, a young man  wearing a yellow t-shirt and multi-colored, striped shorts stood up and took a few steps towards me.  He started to reach out his right hand to grab my arm, but he was too late.  I tumbled away from him just as he made a grab for me.  The man tried one more time, but we missed each other again as he stumbled in one direction and my body was thrown the opposite way.  At that point, the man basically gave up as he threw up his arms and backed away, leaving me completely to my own devices.  Trying to regain some sense of balance, we both walked wide-legged towards the stairs as the ship rolled back and forth.

And then…success!  I did it!  I got to the steps first but I don’t think the man had put up much of a fight.  I suddenly realized that he had let me win so I would go down the stairs first and avoid falling on top of him if I fell.  So, now I was anxious to prove that his assessment of my awkward movements was completely wrong.  I was determined to get down the stairs without a stumble.  I gripped the white metal railing and carefully lowered myself down one-step at a time as the man followed cautiously behind me.

I now walked across the lower deck and entered the galley.  It wasn’t until I was on the carpeted floors of the cabin that I was finally able to walk straight.  Thankfully, the crewmembers had placed numerous little blister packets of the seasick pills in a large, plastic, blue bowl on a wooden counter by the door.  I still grabbed two of the packets and placed them in the pocket of my jeans as one of the male attendants reminded me that the pills only really work if taken before leaving port.  Oh, well…I would save them for the journey back.

After leaving the galley, I decided not to even try going back to the upper deck.  Instead, I carefully edged my way across the lower level and sat down on a bench.  Now, I felt more relaxed and calm as I sat by myself watching the tall waves as they splashed up against the boat.

About 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see a tall lighthouse situated on a small island come into view and the boat slowly began to drift to a gentle stop.  Our ship didn’t dock on the island.  Instead, like all of the other boats in the area, our vessel dropped anchor and we continued to bop up and down on the waves, the island still 100 feet away from us.  To get to the island, all passengers were transferred on to large sailboats.  Now, maybe from sheer relieve that I had survived the journey to the Great Barrier Reef, I joyfully and gracefully stepped across the gap between the two boats and settled myself into a seat.  I was now on a glass bottom boat and eagerly leaned forward to view the reef as the marine biologist pointed out various varieties of coral, fish, turtles, and clams.  I was so fascinated by the view that I completely forgot for a moment that I was still on a boat that was rocking with the currents.  I felt as if I was peering into an alien world, an advanced civilization that I could only see from the outside looking in.  I really wanted to be a part of that world but decided not to go scuba diving.  Again, I am not a strong swimmer (okay, honestly, once again, I’m not a swimmer at all!) and was afraid I would hold back the group that would be following along on a guided tour led by the biologist.

Instead, I carefully exited the boat and sunk my feet into the warm deep sand of the island.  I roamed around by myself for a while as I waded in the cool Pacific water, took long deep breaths, played in the sand, and snapped a lot of pictures, filling up a single memory card.  I probably overdid it with the pictures , but the scene was far too beautiful to trust it just to my memory.  I didn’t trust my jumbled and scattered brain to take it all in or remember the amazing sights.  After a while of roaming aimlessly and purposely, I sat with one of my fellow passengers in the shade and discussed our various travels.  The elderly gentleman was from Sydney, and joyfully informed me of all of the main attractions I had to visit when I explored that area of Australia the following week.

After a tour around the island with the marine biologist, the passengers and crew explored the lighthouse and the small grave that held the remains of the first woman to be the caretaker of the lighthouse.   I stood for a few moments over the grave and imagined what life must have been like for this woman, who had lived in solitude while her husband was away on the continent for the majority of their lives.  She had lived on this island, fighting the elements, surviving alone while making sure the lighthouse would always be bright to save the many ships from harm.  So many years ago, what had life been like for this strong, courageous woman?

All too soon, the sailboat arrived to take my group back to our boat.  Once again, everyone was settled into the gallery with cups of tea or coffee and cookies.  I sat in a booth with the elderly Sydney man and his wife as we talked about our homes and travels and waited for the boat to rev up again and carry us back to port.  Not taking any chances, I covertly swallowed one of the seasick pills and prepared myself for the journey.  I was hoping that the ride back would be much smoother.  We would be going with the currents this time since we were traveling in the opposite direction now, right?  But then, the Sydney man informed me.  “The journey to and from the island is always rough because we never go with the currents.  The distance between the dock and the island is always going across the currents.”  I just smiled and nodded as if I had expected this, but in my head, I had started to pray again.  “Oh, God, please, don’t let this ship sink…”

After a few minutes, I decided to be courageous and step outside onto the lower deck.  I took a seat on one of the benches as a middle-aged couple settled into seats to the right of me.  And this time, as the ship moved across the water, I couldn’t stop laughing!  Instead of rocking back and forth on this journey, the boat was literally bouncing up off the water!  The waves were so high that our ship would sail up into the air and then flop back down onto the water with a loud smack.  I had to jump up and change my seat several times as heavy waves splashed up over the white railings of the boat and flooded the lower deck.  A few times, I clung to my seat as the boat sunk down below the surface of the waves and then shot straight up in the air again.  Many times, my hands lost their grip on the edge of the seat and my body was basically airborne, with my little skinny legs kicking helplessly in the air, as I flew up over the deck and then smacked back down on my bottom on the bench again.

I don’t know if it was the seasick pills or just the joy of being alive, but I didn’t feel afraid.  Instead the wild ride exhilarated me.  I had never experienced anything like this before and I was excited by the whole adventure.  As a gigantic wave once again chased me out of my seat, I crookedly walked across the deck and stood on the other side as one of the female crew members walked out of the galley.  The young woman stood for a moment and brushed her long, blond hair back out of her face before she suddenly said, “Look!  Look at the whales!”  She pointed excitedly out at the ocean.  I turned quickly just as two large glorious whales leaped out of the water, their white and silver bodies glistening in the sun before they flopped back down into the ocean.   Their movement caused our boat to roll violently to the right side, but I didn’t care.  Oh, my gosh…there were large whales right in front of my eyes!  I carefully crossed the deck again and gripped hold of a thick metal white pole just as the two whales shot straight up out of the water again and this time a small baby whale jumped with the them!  I laughed out loud as I suddenly realized that the boat had been rocking and flying into the air because of the whales frolicking so closely to us.  The whales had been circling around us ever since we had left the island.  Now, all of the passengers were crowded out on the deck as the whales continued to cavort around us and follow our boat back into port.

After a few more minutes, our ship pulled up to the dock and all of the passengers carefully disembarked as we tried to now walk on solid ground with our legs still rubbery and wobbly.  Everyone  settled back on the bus again as our lovely driver drove back to our various hotels.  I was exhausted but also feeling very alive as I rested my head against the cool glass of the window by my seat.  I was so pleased now to have had such an amazing adventure on the ocean today.  I thought of the fear and stress I had felt as  I get on the boat and it all seemed so silly now.  I love the water!  Once again, the excitement, the beauty, and the basic joy of being alive had overcome my stress and fear.  And that’s exactly the way life should be…

 

 

 

 

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Pennies from Heaven

When my mother was a small child, she always carried coins in her black-and-white saddle shoes for safekeeping.   It became a habit that she continued into her adulthood.  My mother always placed pennies in her shoes before putting them on her feet.  “It brings me good luck,” she would say whenever I questioned her about it.

I never could figure out how Mom’s ritual brought her good fortune, especially when her old shoes had numerous holes.  But my mother truly believed in her superstition and, I guess, there were a few times when it was a true blessing.  When I was a child, I remember watching my mother scrape spare change together from the bottom of her purse to pay for the weekly groceries.  If she was still a few cents short, Mom, standing right there in the check-out line, would step out of her shoes and pick out the coins that she had placed there for providence.  She would hand the coins to the cashier, and then, with her head held high, she would step back into her shoes, gather together her groceries and children and proudly walk out of the store.  Yeah, there were times when those pennies brought her real luck and good fortune.

Though I never put pennies in my shoes, there was another coin tradition Mom taught me that I completely embraced.  Mom believed in “pennies from heaven.”  Every time she randomly found a coin on the ground, Mom would tell me that an angel was watching over her.  Whenever angels are near they leave gifts of coins and feathers.  I have always had a great belief in angels and continually looked for spare change whenever I needed a boost of faith.  I rarely found the reassurance I was looking for.

Well, that was until my mother passed away on March 16 of 2010.  After that day, coins suddenly seemed to appear around me at the most random times and in the most unusual places.  From the very first penny I found after Mom passed, I truly believed it was a sign from heaven that she was still looking out for me.  And whenever I found more valuable coins I felt doubly blessed.  Whenever I find pennies, I always think of Mom and her ritual even though I keep the coins I find in a special glass vase and never in my sneakers.

For some reason, I’m not sure why, I suddenly thought of Mom and the spare change she kept in her shoes while I was at work on Easter Sunday.  I didn’t consciously concentrate on the memory.  It just came and went as a passing thought.

But that afternoon, my right shoes suddenly felt a little funny.  I took a few steps and felt a strange pressure at the bottom of my right toe.  I shook my foot trying to shake away the feeling.  It didn’t help.  Every step I took caused a small achy pressure into my toes.  I tried hard to ignore it.  I was at work and didn’t want to be bothered by something so trivial.  I knew there was something in my shoe but didn’t know what it was.  Finally, when the pressure was too annoying, I took off my right shoe, held it up over my left hand, and shook my sneaker.  To my surprise, a nickel fell out of my shoe and came to rest  in the center of my palm.

I stared at the coin in surprise.  I don’t know how the nickel suddenly got into my shoe that Sunday afternoon.  What an amazing Easter gift.  I whispered a quiet thank you to my mom and my many angels for always looking out for me.  Even though I had to work on this holiday, it was, without a doubt, the best, most blessed Easter I had  ever had.

The Beholder

I tend to agree with the majority of people that Lady Gaga’s Halftime Show during Superbowl 51 on February 5, 2017, was outstanding.  Her dancing was unshakable, and her voice was robust even as she ran and flipped around the stage.  The woman had endless energy and performed at a peak level without hitting pause for one second of her thirteen-minute performance.

I knew that there was going to be a lot of arguments about her presentation afterwards just simply because so many people love to hate.  Some people immediately began to criticize her performance.  Other people praised her.  Many people debated what type of political message she was trying to send or if she even sent one at all.  I had expected to read all of these various comments, and I imagine that Lady Gaga probably did, too.

But there were some comments that actually took me by surprise.  I was shocked that there were people who were body-shaming this lovely woman.  (But then again….why should I be surprised?)  There were many uncalled-for comments about her facial features and her body shape.  I can’t help but wonder why that even mattered.  What does her face and body have to do with her amazing talent?  And when can we stop judging people by how they look and appreciate the amazing gifts they share with us?  Why do we keep taking everything down to the lowest common denominator?

Okay, maybe I am just being overly sensitive to the matter.  Like most people, I have had unusual comments made to me about my appearance, too.   The strangest comment happened several years ago when I first started teaching massage and bodywork at a school in Nashville, Tennessee.  During a break between classes one day, I walked into the front office to speak with the director, Karen, about upcoming classes and events.  I stepped through the open door of her office and found an older man sitting in a chair in front of her desk.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I stated.  “I didn’t realize you were busy.”

“Oh, Jamie, it’s fine, come in,” the director answered.  Then she nodded towards the man who was sitting in her office and said, “This is John.  John, tell Jamie what you do for a living?”

John pulled his large form a little straighter in his chair and said, “I’m a mortician.”

“Oh,” I answered with a nod of my head, “that’s…that’s really…nice.”  Nice?  Seriously, I actually said that being a mortician is nice.  But I didn’t know what to say.  I was at a loss for words because I wasn’t sure why the director had prompted John to reveal this information to me.

Then John suddenly said, “Yes, I’ve been a mortician for over thirty years and I’ve been watching you.”

At John’s confession to stalking, I shuddered for a moment and choked out, “Really?”

“Yes,” the mortician answered, “I keep looking at you with your long, slender neck and thinking, wow, she would be easy to embalm!”

I stared at the man in surprise as Karen and John both laughed.  Then, I smiled nervously, nodded my head, and slowly backed out of the office.  I ran down the hallway to my classroom, stepped inside, and locked the door.  The whole disturbing situation caused a lot of random ideas to rush through my head.

Man, how is this even fair?  Many women are told they are beautiful.  I am told I would be easy to embalm!  But, maybe I shouldn’t have let the situation upset me.  Maybe I should have pursued a relationship with John.  Here’s a man who would probably appreciate my unusually cold hands and my pure white skin.

It was interesting, though, that instead of being mad at John’s rude words, I was ashamed of myself for not being beautiful.  I cursed myself for having a long scrawny neck, poor circulation, and skin that never tans.  Several years later, now, I wonder why I blamed myself for John’s comments and the laughter of the mortician and school director.

That reminds me of the day my friend, Stacy, told me that she was serving a customer at work.  Suddenly, the man looked at her and commented, “You know, you are way too young to have hands that look that old.”

I was horrified and outraged when Stacy told me about this.  “He actually said that to you?!  How could he say that?!”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Stacy responded.  “Look at my hands.  They are all dry and scaly.  He was right.”

I remember staring at Becky in surprise while wondering, even then, at what point all of these rude comments had become acceptable.  The comments are bad enough but when did we buy into a standard of beauty that ignores the divinity of our spirits?  It’s really sad, but true.  We lose our true sense of beauty when we become adults.

Some of the best compliments I have ever received in my life have come from children.  For example, one day, I had dyed my hair a bright red and put in extension.  The comments I received from adults were not positive.  I heard people murmuring, “God, that’s such a brassy color.”  “I would never go that red.”  “What was she thinking?”

But suddenly there was my co-worker’s 6-year-old daughter dancing around me and screaming excitedly, “Momma, Momma, look…she has Little Mermaid hair!  She has Little Mermaid hair!”  I never worried again what other people thought about my red hair.  And it’s been some shade of red ever since!

And I will never forget a situation that happened when I was in Malaysia.  I had been backpacking around Malaysia for two weeks.  One afternoon, after walking several miles, I climbed onto one of the town buses.  I lugged my backpack over to one of the tattered, stained, green vinyl benches and sat down wearily.  As the bus began to make its slow, rickety progress down the potholed street, I suddenly felt something swat at the back of my head.  I put my hand up and brushed it over my hair.  A few seconds later, it happened again.  Again, I brushed my hair back.  When I felt something pull my hair for the third time, I turned around in my seat to find a beautiful, 2-year-old little girl sitting on her mother’s lap.  Now, as I looked at the child, she reached her hand out to me again, picked up a strand of my hair, and tangled it up in her small fingers while she repeatedly murmured, “OOOOHHHH!  OOOOHHH!”  I smiled at the girl’s mother and suddenly realized that the majority of people in Malaysia are dark-haired and dark-eyed.  And there I was with my green eyes and long reddish blond hair.  It was unusual for this child to see something so different.  But instead of being afraid, instead of shying away, the girl found beauty within our differences.

And it used to be those differences that embarrassed me.  As I was growing up, I tended to focus on my physical flaws and could very easily turn a tiny pimple, scar, vein, or bulge into a major trauma.

It’s too bad we lose our true sense of splendor as we grow older.  Is it conditioning, hormones, cynicism, beauty blindness, or just pure insanity?  There has to be some reason people look for ugliness.  There has to be some reason people think it is their right to humiliate and criticize others just for their appearance.

Or maybe, it just comes down to a choice.

I am choosing to know beauty, to see beauty.  I am choosing to be a BEHOLDER.  And I am choosing to say positive things to other people.  I don’t know of any other way to live.

So, yes, Lady Gaga was talented and beautiful and amazing last night….

But then again, aren’t we all?!

 

Vibrant Red

It all started with a very simple comment.  A co-work looked at me the other day and asked, “When are you going to dye your hair again?”

I was a little surprised by her question.  It was true that I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to my hair lately.  Life has been so busy that I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to my style or color.  Over the last several weeks, I have just been washing my hair in the evenings and then giving it a few quick strokes with a brush before rushing off to work in the morning.  I don’t fuss with my hair for the rest of the day.  This is fine for me.  I have never been an “every hair in place” kind of girl.  I like my hair wild.  I admit though that sometimes it looks a little too wild, a little too untamed.  I don’t think I’m lazy.  I just have more important concerns than the color or cut of my hair.

Yet, I felt myself cringe a little as I looked at my coworker.  Her hair is always creatively styled and her makeup always looks professionally applied.

I hesitated for just a moment before answering her question.  Unfortunately, my reply wasn’t very motivating.  “I don’t know,” I answered.  “I’ll take care of it when I have more time.”

“Well, it doesn’t look bad right now,” she assured me, “but your color is kind of faded.  Your hair is the color of a peach.  I always picture you as a vibrant redhead.”

Her words made me smile. A vibrant redhead.  I had experimented with that color in the past.  I loved it, even though, I reluctantly admit, that years ago, it also made me very uncomfortable.

When I was born, I was completely bald; there was not a single strand of hair on my smooth, tiny head.  As I grew into a toddler, I had just a few wisps of pale blond hair.  My mother always loved to tell the story that when I was three years old, she had pulled the few strands of my hair up to the top of my head and secured them there with a small plastic barrette.  While we were at the grocery store, a man kept staring at me before walking over to the basket I was sitting in and looking down at the top of my head.  “Oh, she does have hair,” the man said to my mother then.  “I thought you had just stuck that clip straight down into the top of that poor baby’s head.”  Mom always thought that was adorable.  The story though haunted and embarrassed me for most of my life until I finally learned to laugh at myself.

But awkward comments were to be expected.  My childhood hair was always very fine and pure platinum blond.  I was very different from my both sisters who had thick hair.  My oldest sister was a dark brunette, while my other sister was a redhead.  We looked like a rainbow when we stood side by side.  The full light spectrum was always reflected off our hair whenever we were together.  I was the lightest, the palest everywhere we went; I was the one who always seemed to fade into the background.  Being a very shy child, I didn’t mind.  I rather liked it that way.

As I grew older, my hair darkened, until one day, when I was about 15, a neighborhood fried commented to me, “You’re going red!  Oh my gosh, you have red hair now!”

I was horrified!  I didn’t want to have red hair!  Red hair was so rare where I was growing up that my sister was continually teased about her coloring.  She was always noticed and the center of attention at any gathering.  I didn’t want that.  I wanted to stay pale and blonde and wallflower-y alone.  But I couldn’t fight it at the time.  Against my will, my platinum blond coloring continued to darken to auburn.

After a few years, as I slowly gained more confidence, I grew into my hair and I was proud of the color.  I wasn’t vain about my appearance.  There was still too much about my body that I hated.  I wasn’t thin; my long feet turned out awkwardly.  But I started to appreciate my red hair color which made me look much different from other people….in a good way.  I liked the idea that my hair was uniquely my own.

My hair wouldn’t stop changing color, though.  It went from a pale blond to a light red to a dark red until gentle gray strands began to shoot out all over my head.  I started to get gray hair at an early age.  I was only 26 when the first few gray strands appeared.  I must have inherited this trait from my maternal grandmother.  Grandma Edie was completely gray by the time she was 27.

Okay, I may have slowly learned to enjoy my red hair but I wasn’t so appreciative of the gray, even if it was premature.  It just made me feel old and I cried every time I was asked at a fast food restaurant if I wanted the senior discount.

It was time to dye my hair.

At first, I decided to relive my childhood and dyed my hair platinum blond like Marilyn Monroe.  But I’m not Marilyn and the color just once more made me look pale and washed out.  My life had changed; I had changed, and I was no longer accepting the wallflower position.  Red is the color of my soul.  But just like figuring out the dosage of prescription drugs, it took several experiments with different products, mixtures, and timing to get the right tint of red that made me feel the most comfortable.  Some reds were just too brassy for me; others made me look like a large carrot; a few dyes turned me into a pumpkin head.  I even tried burgundy once and really liked it until I realized it had faded to pink.  Yes, that’s right, I walked around with pink hair for several weeks before I finally took the time to dye it again.

Several shades later, I finally found the hue I liked the best and thought was the most flattering for my features.  I loved being strawberry blond.  It wasn’t too dark for me and the red shined brightly out in the sun.

This was the shade I had been using when my coworker made her comment to me.  The problem wasn’t with the dye but with the fact that I just hadn’t taken the time to touch it up again.  My gray roots were beginning to show, but I still didn’t really care.  It was true, though.  I was a peach with rotting, gray areas.  I decided to freshen myself up and started shopping through hair dyes that afternoon.  I reached for the box containing my usual strawberry blond formula but then stopped.  A vibrant red?  I had tried that before and many people made comments that my hair was a spark, a fire, a beacon, a siren.  But…vibrant red…Yeah!  That’s me!  Feeling adventurous and frivolous, I bought the red dye and hurried home before I could change my mind.

That afternoon, I mixed up the color and quickly applied it to my hair.  I wasn’t very careful with it.  I wanted to hurry up with the processes.  I’m not girly-girl enough to spend a lot of time on my hair.  I really didn’t want to mess with it.  I put the dye on and waited half an hour before rinsing it off.  I wrapped a towel around my head and squeezed out any additional water.  I took off the towel and didn’t really pay much attention to the color.  My hair is usually dark when it’s wet…no big deal.  I was sure it would be much lighter once it was dry.

Um…wrong!

About an hour later, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.  “Oh, my God, what have I done!?”  My hair was certainly vibrant red, the color of blood, Midwest harvest summer sunsets, cherries, Mars, and measles.  I was horrified…it was horrible.

Too make the situation worse, my sister-in-law, Mary, was very nice as she complimented me on the new hair color…but then kindly pointed out there was a big problem.  Because I had been in such a hurry to complete the process, I hadn’t realized that I had missed applying the mixture to a large chunk of hair in the back of my head.  Peachy strands stuck noticeable out through the red.  I was shocked as I stood with my back to the bathroom mirror holding up a hand mirror in order to stare at the back of my head.  But there was nothing I could do about it now.  I didn’t have any of dye left.  And besides, it was late.  I needed to get some sleep for work the next day.  I went to bed knowing I had no way to fix the situation.  I spent most of the night telling myself all kinds of things: My color doesn’t matter.  I am not my hair.  I cannot be defined by the way I look.  Who cares what other people think or say?  Other peoples’ opinions shouldn’t matter to me.  It’s only hair, just dead protein.  I can change it again.  I could cut it all off and it would grow back again.  No big deal.

But it was no use.  I have to admit that I, who never really fussed over my hair, felt stupid and ugly.  Maybe I was upset because this was absolute proof to me that I am completely klutzy with hair and make-up.  I would never be beautiful.  I can handle that actually.  I know I am a good person.  But I didn’t know if I was ready to face the awkward comments from people concerning the way I looked.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I didn’t know what excuse I could give.  What was I going to do?

The next morning, I walked into work with the collar of my coat pulled up over the back of my head.  I ran down the back hallway to my locker and yanked it open.  I suddenly sighed with relief as I discovered the answer to my dilemma.  I had forgotten that yesterday my supervisor had handed out Santa hats to everyone.  I never liked wearing the hats which usually were too big for me and put a lot of static into my fine hair.  But now, I grabbed the hat and plucked it down onto my head.  The peachy patch in the back of my head was now covered.  I couldn’t tuck all of my hair underneath the hat so I allowed bright red strands to hang around my face and shoulders.

But then, something really unusual happened.  It was so strange, I still don’t quite understand it.  Almost everyone who saw me that day complimented me on the way I look.  I heard endless comments of “Wow!  Love the hair!”  “  That’s a great red!”  “  What a beautiful shade!”

Now, of course, I didn’t let anyone see the peach patch in the back of my head, which could have easily changed everyone’s opinion.  I also admit that I wasn’t very gracious about the compliments.  I was so taken by surprise by everyone’s comments that I responded by saying, “Th…Thank you…?  I really don’t like it myself.”  Or I said, “Thanks…I’m trying to get used to it myself.” Why did I respond that way?  Why couldn’t I have just said “Thank you” and walked away?  But never feeling very secure with my looks, I felt so ugly and unsure of myself that compliments were hard to accept. I felt the need to apologize for who I was and what I had done.  I had to keep insisting to everyone that I was unattractive.

That evening I bought more hair dye and corrected the error I had made the day before when I colored all but the back of my head.

Now, my hair was completely vibrantly red…and I smiled as I looked at it.  It suddenly felt so right!  Yeah, maybe it was attractive.  Yeah, maybe I did look good.  As I brushed out my hair, I had thought about the compliments I had received that day.  I realized then that opinions didn’t matter.  No one’s thoughts about another person were important.  And hair is such a trivial matter.  But what I responded to now was everyone’s kindness when I was feeling so low and unsure of myself.  I smiled as I thought of everyone’s loving, positive reactions when I was feeling so ugly.  That’s all that really seemed to matter.

So now my hair remains a bright red.  I always loved red but was always worried about people laughing at me or teasing me.  I realized now that the reason I wasn’t comfortable with Mars red was because I was afraid of other people’s opinions.  Even now, there are strangers who walk by me and groan, “God, that’s BRIGHT red!”  Or they call me “beacon.”  But it doesn’t matter now, because I feel good.  It’s funny how I love bright red hair when I love myself.  I need to trust myself and know what I like and not worry about other people’s thoughts.  Hair doesn’t define the person I am inside.  I know who I am so what matters what happens to my body?  I know what my flaws are…I know where my scars are…but it’s strange how they don’t matter if I don’t focus on them.  I am very happy with my hair if I don’t give it too much attention.

I’ll keep my hair red for now.  It is uniquely and personally me.  It defines who I am and is part of my journey.  Maybe someday, I’ll change it again but right now I feel happy.  Besides, I am not my hair…I could dye it purple if that’s the way I feel.

Um….someday…

I smile as I think now of my coworker.  She was right…

I am a vibrant red!

A Special Messenger

In the past, I didn’t always talk or write about the odd occurrences that happened in my life.  I was always concerned that people would think that I was crazy or lying or “different.”  It used to embarrass me, but I don’t really worry about that any more.  I am proud that my life has always been somewhat unusual.  I like having strange things happen.  I love those “out of the blue” moments that make me wonder about life, miracles, and magic.  I have had incredible visions of angels who bring me messages and I have seen random ghosts drifting aimlessly beside me.  But the sudden, strange encounters I have with other people really inspire me.  I experienced another odd occurrence just last Saturday.

Up until that very moment, I hadn’t been feeling very comfortable or proud of myself.   I was feeling ashamed and frustrated.  I know I am not perfect and I certainly make my share of mistakes.  That doesn’t bother me.  I can always correct any errors I make and learn from the experience.  But there are times when it is difficult for me to forgive myself.  For instance, I can be snappish and disagreeable when I am physically not feeling well.  When I am tired or hungry, I admit that I am not the most pleasant person to be around.  I don’t like myself when I behave this way.  And sometimes I have a hard time forgiving myself for basically being human.

Last week, I was just feeling as if I didn’t fit in anywhere.  I felt like an absolute outcast.  I have always felt “different,” but for the last few days, I felt my situation more acutely.  My need to connect with other people was not being satisfied and my aloneness didn’t feel good this time.  I felt as if I was zigging while everyone else was zagging.  I was completely out of synch with the people around me.  I was continually saying the wrong things and being in the wrong place and feeling the wrong emotions and coming to all the wrong conclusions.  I don’t know if it was because of my personality or my attitude or my beliefs.  Instead of embracing my uniqueness like I normal do, this time I just felt lost and worthless.

So by last weekend, I was feeling down and depressed.  Maybe I was just overly exhausted.  My schedule can get crazy.  My main plan for this year was to take a hiatus from teaching and concentrate on writing full time.  But desperately needing health insurance, I took a job at a department store.  I work at the store early in the day, teach a few non-credit classes at the community college, and write late into the night.  I don’t know why but I am most creative at night and can be up until 2 or 3 am finishing up a single piece of work.  This schedule is mandatory but leaves me exhausted and cranky to people when I really want to connect.  It’s a vicious cycle that I know only I can break.  So Saturday, I decided to make a change in my attitude.  It actually wasn’t hard since the store was so busy that day.  It was the last weekend before Thanksgiving and the anticipation of the upcoming holiday made the day a little more exciting.

That afternoon, I was trying to complete my stocking work while assisting customers and mainly directing them around the store.  I suddenly noticed an older man wondering around lost in the middle of aisle 10 in the grocery department.  He had short, gray hair and a kind, clean-shaven face.  He wore tattered jeans and a brown leather jacket.

I approached the man and smiled at him.  “Sir, can I help you with something?”

He looked at me with a shy grin and said, “I just need to put this back and I can’t remember where I got it?”  He held out a box of Lean Cuisine to me.

“Oh, that’s fine,” I assured him.  “I’ll take care of it for you.”

I reached out my hand and took the box away from him.  That should have been the end of the encounter but then something strange happened.  The man told me thank you but he didn’t walk away.  He just stood there for a moment and stared at me.  His response caused me to behave in the same way.  I just stood awkwardly for a moment and stared back.  I was waiting to see if he had any other questions or problems.  But was fascinated by the fact that he didn’t move.  He didn’t make a single movement now.  His body stood mannequin still and straight, not a single muscle in his body moved a twitch.  He stood as if paralyzed in the moment.  His expression did not change, but his eyes began to glow.  I was captivated by his unusual eyes that slowly began to fade to a light gray and almost dissolved to a ghostly white.  An unusual spark began to glow behind his irises.  And then the man said to me, “Don’t worry, Jamie.  There are people just like you in heaven.”

My mouth fell open in surprise.  Why would he say that to me?  How could he possibly have known that I had been feeling like an outcast for the past several days?

Then the man turned and started to walk away.  I kind of made a fool of myself then because I suddenly giggled.  Yes, I actually giggled.  It was just a nervous reaction to his words.  Then the statement “God bless you” came tumbling out of my mouth.  I don’t know why I felt compelled to say this.  It just seemed like the appropriate response.  The man turned and looked at me again with his gray/white eyes and said, “And God has blessed you” before he walked behind one of the short, 3-foot wide fixtures that sat in the center of the main aisle.  As I thought about his words, I just stood there watching him as he walked behind the fixture….I waited…and waited…but he never came out the other side.  There was only one way in and out behind this fixture.  There was nowhere else for him to go.  He could only walk around the fixture.  Wondering about this, I walked over and peeked around the metal shelves of the fixture on the far side.  The man wasn’t there!  He wasn’t behind the fixture at all.  He was just gone!

I don’t know what had happened to the man, and sometimes, as I think over the situation, I wonder if he had even been human at all.  My mind sometimes pictures him as an angel, a messenger of God.  For he had brought me a message I needed to hear.  I know now that even if I am an outcast, God has not forsaken me.  I know now that even though I may struggle with my place on earth, there are people who cared about me in heaven.  I am never alone.  God and his many angels will always be with me and all people who believe.

 

 

 

 

My Vegas

About three weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas again.  Yes, again.  It was possibly my twelfth visit to Nevada.  For several years, I lived in Southern California which was just four hours southwest of Las Vegas.  The fantasy city became my weekend get-away destination.  I would make the long, joyful drive through the shockingly beautiful desert on Friday mornings and spend the weekend exploring the strip and surrounding territories.  I would attend concerts and go to special events.  I would sip iced teas while watching all of the colorful people on the streets.  Vegas is the most amazing place to people watch.  Colorful, dressed-up characters, beautiful showgirls, amusing musicians, creative dancers, and aggressive vendors decorate the strip in all kinds of surprisingly bizarre and fascinating manners.  There’s always something to watch, to see, to do, to enjoy in Vegas.

Over the years, I have grown so comfortable with the city, I have no fear of walking the strip by myself at night.  I am careful.  I take precautions.  I do things such as leaving my purse in the hotel room and dressing down so I don’t bring attention to myself.  I walk confidently down the street as if I always know where I’m going and what I’m doing, even though in reality, I’m just roaming around completely dazzled by all of the lights, colors, and designs of the hotels and casinos.  My favorite time to wander is in the early mornings.  I casually stroll down the strip as I watch the sun rising up over the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel and glowing  through the spokes of the High Roller, the large Ferris wheel that is located between the Flamingo and Linq hotels.

I know I am bragging about my Vegas vacations.  I always boast about Vegas.  I happily post many pictures of Nevada on my Facebook page; I share copies of my Vegas travel journals; I talk continually about my adventures in the bright city.  I don’t smoke or drink or gamble, but that doesn’t make any difference.  Filled with amazing attractions and interesting experiences, Vegas is still a wonderland to me.  Not only is the city so interesting, but Vegas is so central to other amazing attractions as well.  My trips to Nevada have also included walking across the Hoover Dam, sailing around Lake Mead, touring the Colorado River, and exploring the red cliffs of St. George, Utah.

Vegas is one of my absolute favorite places on earth.  That revelation surprises a lot of people, though.  I always get questioned about that statement.  I usually get asked by someone, “How can you possibly love Vegas after you have been to so many other beautiful places?”  Other questions have been, “Yuck! How can you stand the kitschiness of Vegas?” “How could you possible enjoy Vegas after you just returned from Alaska (which just happened this year)?”

All right, I will clarify.  First of all, I stated that Las Vegas is ONE of my favorite places.  The city is one of hundreds of favorite places I have seen on this earth.  I have been very fortunate to have traveled so extensively.  I have driven through all fifty states, lived in England, journeyed through Europe, briefly visited Thailand, and backpacked across Malaysia.  I have amazing memories and favorite places through all of my journeys.  Vegas is on my list of favorite places though the ranking constantly changes with each new travel experience I have.

Usually, when I am asked why I love Vegas, I respond with an answer that lives deep in my soul.  I usually say, “Life is good.  Life is so good!”  There are so many wonderful things in life.  I never understood why anyone would pick to live or to do or  to read or to listen to or to see or  to be just one thing.  I want it all.  I want all that life has to offer.  I don’t want to choose just one type of book or music or movie or religion or drink or food or people to enjoy.  I want to see the sunrise over the High Roller as much as I want to see the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains.  I want to see the lights glittering over Las Vegas in the middle of the night in the same way that I saw the casinos of Monte Carlo glistening in the distant darkness as my friends and I stood on top of a cliff overlooking Monaco.  It doesn’t matter; it’s all life and it’s all beautiful to me.

Though I am currently planning trips to Australia and other countries, I will always return to Vegas.  Yes, there are times when Vegas can get a little rough.  I have seen things like people drunk in the streets and  showgirls who display a little more of their “belongings” than I really care to see.  But it doesn’t matter.  I don’t get involved or worry about the negative.  I know that I will continue to stand mesmerized in front of the dancing waters of the Bellagio and thrill over the dolphins of the Mirage no matter how many times I have already experienced those things in the past.

I think everyone needs to experience Las Vegas at least once in his or her life.  Vegas is one of the most iconic American cities that is consistently depicted in TV shows, movies, books, and magazines.  Media cannot capture the full ambiance and pageantry of the city.  It is a surreal fantasyland that is set in beautiful contrast to the glaciers in Alaska, the mountains in Colorado, and the oceans of California.  It is the quintessential yin and yang of life, which all needs to be experienced and explored.

Since I moved to Kansas last year, getting to Vegas is a little more complicated for me.  The journey now includes a plane ride, but that’s all right.  It’s all part of the adventure.  And that’s exactly what life is…an endless adventure.  Vegas is just one of the many amazing stops I have made on the incredible journey of life.

Alaska

Yugen

  1. Important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics. “Dim,” “Deep,” or “Mysterious”
  2. Awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious for words.

In 1996, Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air, published an amazing, thoughtful book entitled Into the Wild.  This book tells the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless who, after graduating from college, spurned his former affluent life and the bright, comfortable future ahead of him.  Motivated by books he read by Jack London and John Muir, McCandless dedicated himself to a personal vision quest that began in the western and southwestern regions of America.  Changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, McCandless gave his savings of  $25,000 to charity, abandoned all his possessions, left his car in the Mojave Desert, and burned all of his cash to ensure that nothing would hold him back from his journey.  Looking for his own personal paradise on this earth, McCandless even threw away all of his maps and traveled only by his intuition.  In April 1992, McCandless hitchhiked into Alaska and walked into the vast cold wilderness north of Mount McKinley.  For a while, McCandless found shelter in an abandoned old school bus.  Four months later, however, his body was found by a moose hunter.

No one knows what ultimately motivated McCandless’s careless journey.  Questions still remain about a young man’s need to walk away from a rich and promising future to live homeless and starving  in the barren wildness of Alaska.  Some people claim that McCandless had a death wish and a need for self-destruction.    Others just dismiss McCandless’s actions as foolish and innocently reckless.

Well, I guess I am foolish and reckless too….

I don’t claim to know what was in McCandless’s head or why he choose his particular lifestyle, but there is a core element inside of me that feels so connected to his story.  In response to Krakauer’s consistent questions in the book about McCandless’s journey, I think I understand.

There are so many of us on this earth who don’t always feel that we belong in a world that overwhelms us with violent, materialistic, opportunistic situations.  Some of us who struggle to cope, do not medicate ourselves from the stress with alcohol, food, cigarettes, sex, gambling, or prescription drugs, but we do experience a deep and compelling lust all the same.  Wanderlust and the need to move, to travel, to create a universe of our own existence is a hunger that is rarely satisfied.

Restless, never able to settle down, I constantly look for opportunities to escape my existence.  I have no intention of doing this through self-harm.  I just have a relentless need to be lost.  When I travel, I rarely call or text anyone.  I love driving alone down deserted highways  without a single person knowing where I am in that exact moment.  I enjoy the solitude, the drifting away from my reality.  This has been my lifestyle for the last thirty years.

In July, 2016, I finally had the opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.  I spent time this summer exploring Alaska.  This was an amazing turning point for me.  I had made a vow to myself that I would drive through every state in America.  Alaska was the last state I needed to visit in order to satisfy this goal.  However, I refused to celebrate this accomplishment.  I didn’t post notices about it on Facebook.  I didn’t write blogs about my experience.  I just didn’t feel the need.

While I was in Alaska, I felt inspired to go completely off the grid.  I wanted desperately to be lost.  I wanted to cut off all communication to my former life.  I didn’t call or text anyone.  I only posted a few pictures on Facebook when I felt overwhelmed by the incredible scenery of glaciers, waterfalls, mountains, and animals.  But I only posted about 20 of the 350 photos I took.  I haven’t posted any more pictures or information about Alaska since I returned to Kansas.  There is a deep part of me that just needs to keep it quiet and hidden.  To experience so much of God’s amazing wilderness was so profound and awe-inspiring there was no way of putting it into words.  Even the beautiful pictures I have seem bleak when compared to the Alaskan landscape itself.  To this day, two months later, I have no desire to tell people about all of the amazing things that happened to me in Alaska.

However…

I think constantly of running away again to the “last frontier.”  I want to hide in her vast beauty and get lost in her majestic environment.  I want to run with her wilderness and dissolve into her endless splendor.

My life’s purpose was  redefined in Alaska.  I came into contact with who God intended me to be.  I was never meant to have the things of an ordinary life.  I was not meant to have a great job, or a wonderful marriage, or an incredible home.  My only life’s purpose is to grow closer to God.  To know him by his world, by the beauty that surrounds me.  I don’t have to be anything…in Alaska, I can just be…

I don’t care about success, or a home, or money.  Just knowing in my heart and soul that I can move and explore and witness God’s glory is enough for me in this lifetime.

I don’t know Christopher McCandless’s motivation for his journey.

I didn’t travel from this life as far as Christopher did.

But there are times I really wish I had followed him.