Category Archives: fear

No Angel

For the last 25 years, I have celebrated a minimalist Christmas.  I don’t set up a Christmas tree.  I don’t put out any decorations.  I buy a few presents, but don’t expect any in return.  I don’t watch any Christmas specials.  I don’t set up my native scene.  My small plaster figurines of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the angels are safely wrapped up and tucked away in storage.  I usually spend every Christmas alone.

I wasn’t raised this way.  My mother loved Christmas.  It was one of the few holidays she continued to celebrate even after her children were grown.  Mom always decorated a Christmas tree using ornaments she had collected throughout the years.  Most of the decorations consisted of cotton ball snowmen, clothes pin reindeers, and clay handprints Mom’s children made in elementary school.  Mom always loved these awkward, lopsided, misshapen ornaments the most.  Every year, Mom also set up a native scene, though she always had to stop my sisters and me from playing with the Jesus figure as if he was our very own baby doll.  She would put vines of holly around every door and trays of candy on every table.  Mom always said that Christmas is a time for miracles.  That idea is the only tradition of Christmas that I carry with me from my childhood.

While so many people celebrate the holiday with the traditional tinsel and glimmer, Christmas for me is always a time of quiet reflection.  I always spend Christmas day in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and silent worship of Christ.  I want this one special day to be 100% God-focused.  I don’t want presents, or trees, or wreaths to distract me from my communion with Christ.  Even though I celebrate a modest holiday, it is continually filled with peace and elation.  The feeling is so blissful, I always pledge every Christmas that I will make this joy last all year long.  I’m always determined that I will continue to hold Jesus in my soul.  I want to get to know Christ more; I want to carry him within my heart and not let minor things of this world bother me and cause me to lose my focus.  I want to maintain Christmas joy for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, this year, I didn’t even make it a week….

Christmas was on Sunday, December 25th, of course.  For the next few days, I was happy, and peaceful.  I felt grateful and blessed.  All my good intentions, however, crashed down around me by Thursday, December 29.  Yes, Thursday…just four days later!

That morning, I woke up at 2:30 to get to work by 4.  I started the day off well.  I said my daily prayers before I walked out the door.  The drive to work in the morning darkness was enchanting and thought-provoking.  I thought about life and God and everything in the universe.  Twice that morning, on two separate occasions, two of my co-workers talked about God with me.  To my surprise, they just randomly began to discuss God’s graciousness, his goodness, and his love for all of his children.  Their conversation made me smile.  Their words just enhanced the bliss I was already feeling.

A little later that morning, the computer I was using suddenly froze.  I tried everything I could think of to get the computer running again.  I turned it off and on; I punched control-alt-delete several times.  All the quick fixes I could think of failed me.  The computer remained frozen on a bright blue background with the computer logo flashing across the screen.  I told myself not to panic.  I took a deep breath and remembered that Archangel Michael was the angel to call on to fix appliances.  So I placed both of my hands on the monitor and started to pray:’

“Archangel Michael, please help me.  I have a lot of work I need to complete and the computer won’t work.  I need your help to fix my computer so I can finish my assignments.”

Suddenly, I heard a beep and saw a flash out of the corner of my eye.  In the midst of my prayer, the computer came flickering back to life.  I thanked Archangel Michael for us assistance and was able to get all of my work done on time.

So, the day was going well with many opportunities to remain God-focused even during my hectic working day.

So why did I suddenly lose my faith that afternoon?

I had been working hard.  I had multiple assignments and was doing my best to complete additional jobs for a few people who had called in sick.  I thought I had followed all assignments correctly.  I thought I was doing very well and remained in a state of grace…for a while…

Only when I believed I was being unfairly criticized by my supervisor for a miscommunication did my faith and my peace desert me.  When I felt unnecessarily attacked in front of my peers, my focus suddenly shifted away from God.  I had given into my ego.  I had given into my fears.  Why didn’t I just continue to trust in God and know that this moment would pass, too?  Why didn’t I remind myself that God still loved me and he would not forsake me even when I felt humiliated and disrespected?  Instead of just nodding my head and correcting the situation, I argued back that the directions I had been given were not clear.  I demonstrated to my supervisor that I had done the work according to her plan.  I continued defending myself by reminding her that I had checked in an hour ago to explain what I was doing with the assignment and my supervisor had told me I was correct.

But as I argued my point, I didn’t feel vindicated or victorious.  I felt horrified, sad, and embarrassed by my behavior.  I was ashamed of myself for not just letting the perceived injustice go.  I responded to the stress of the moment with more stress.  I responded to negativity with negativity.  I made a bad situation worse.

For just that moment that Thursday afternoon after Christmas, I had slipped away from God.  I remind myself that I am only human; I am by no means an angel.  I am here on earth now to learn and to grow and to change and to better my soul the same way I must do in every lifetime.  I just have to accept that there will be times when I will fall from grace, and I must keep the faith that God is still there for me even in those moments.  I have to remember that God will always be by my side even when I am far from perfect.

I still feel angry with myself now that, for a brief moment, I lost sight of what was really important in this world.  Now, I search for God once more.  I open my heart and my soul again to accept Lord Jesus Christ.  And I must remember even when I have my bad moments, I am still one of God’s children.  I am one of his lesser angels…and he still loves me all the same…He will guide me to heaven even in those moments when I do not think I am worth the effort.  He has come to save my soul from my own ego and insecurities….

In Christ, I am continually reborn….

And maybe, just maybe, that is the true meaning of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Compassion

I needed a break.  I felt absolutely exhausted today.  Though I have been working hard all week, I didn’t feel physically tired.  No, I was instead emotionally stressed and overwhelmed.  The events of the past 72 hours have been difficult for everyone.  Because of the fallout from the election of November 8, 2016, I just felt the need to escape from all of the hatred and anger, the chaos and noise, the endless arguments and rhetoric.  Though I had kept myself personally out of the fray, the constant barrage of angry Facebook posts, disturbing news images, and self-righteous online articles has proven somewhat upsetting to my inner sense of peace and balance.  I wanted to be alone; I wanted to place my feet up and escape into a good book.  I decided to spend an hour or two this afternoon just relaxing in a fast food restaurant with a cup of tea and my own peaceful thoughts.  I had the foolish notion that I would be hidden and safe here away from all the turmoil of the outside world.  I was wrong.

I had had just a few minutes of peace before my attention was suddenly captured by an older man who walked directly in front of me.  I watched as the man slowly moved over to a table in the middle of the room.  The short, heavy-set man was dressed in gray slacks and a yellow plaid shirt.  Upon his gray, balding head were thick, wire-framed glasses, and a halo.  Though I have never had to wear one of these contraptions myself, I am familiar with halos.  I have had several friends who have had to use them.  Basically, a halo is a medical device designed to hold a patient’s head straight after a neck or spine injury.  It is constructed of short, steel rods that rise up from the patient’s shoulders and connect to a round piece of metal that surrounds the head.  The halo is secured in place by several small screws that are placed through the metal and directly into the patient’s skull.  The apparatus is lightweight but can be a little awkward for some patients who struggle with balance and stability.

I smiled at the man and said a silent prayer for him as he carefully sat down on a tall, brown stool next to a high, white table.  Though I found the man fascinating, I didn’t want to stare at him, of course, so I turned my attention back to my book.  After a moment, though, I looked up again when I heard him holler out, “Ketchup.  I want ketchup for my fries.”  His comment made me smile because he sounded just like a little boy.  I don’t know if it was his demeanor, his tone, or his words that made him sound so young.  I just grinned, though, as the man jumped up and down in his seat for a moment in happy anticipation of his meal.

A few minutes later, a thin, middle-aged woman with dark, shoulder-length hair and black-framed glasses walked over and sat down across from the man in the halo.  She placed a tray of food down on the table between them and the two began to eat their meal.

I returned to reading my book and enjoying my peace of mind when all of a sudden I heard the woman yell.  “Goddamn it!”  I looked up in surprise at the sound of the woman’s deep, strained voice as she pushed the angry words out through gritted teeth.  “Goddamn it!  Watch what you’re doing!”  The woman then sighed heavily as she threw the food she was holding down on the table.  “Look at you!  You have ketchup all over yourself now.”  The woman shouted as she got up from her seat and walked around the table.  She grabbed a napkin and started swiping at the man’s shirt.  “Goddamn it!” she snarled again.  “Look at this mess!”

I was horrified by her words and actions as she furiously swiped at the man’s sticky, stained shirt with the tattered, paper napkin.  I had no idea what the relationship was between the man and woman, but that didn’t matter.  I didn’t care if they were father and daughter or husband and wife.  What mattered was the way they related to each other and I was shocked as I heard the woman talk to the man as if he was a ten-year-old child.  How could she treat another human being like that, especially a person who was already dealing with a medical condition?  This woman actually had some nerve to…

And then suddenly she turned around and looked at me…

And I was surprised to see in her dark eyes a reflection of pain and heartache.

Our eyes met for just the briefest of moments before she looked away.  She quickly walked back over to her chair and sat down.  She looked at me one last time and I surprised myself by smiling at her.  She stared at me for a moment as an agonized look clouded her face before she looked away.  Though I hadn’t been happy with the way she had treated the man in the halo, when I looked into the woman’s eyes, I suddenly understood.

This wasn’t an evil woman.  This wasn’t a cruel woman.  This was a woman who must have been struggling to take care of this man for a very long time.  Oh, my God, she must be so tired!  Her stress and exhaustion must be completely overwhelming her.

And haven’t we all been guilty of doing the very same thing?  Haven’t we all screamed and yelled and cursed and been sarcastic and impatient and hateful when we have been tired or hungry or overwhelmed?  What possible right did I have to hate or criticize this woman when I have behaved the very same way at times myself?

If I witnessed the man being horribly abused, I would have definitely intervened.  But what I had witnessed was a kind woman caring for a sickly man and having a momentary loss of composure.  I don’t know this woman; I don’t know the situation.  But I do know I saw hurt, and pain, and exhaustion within the woman’s dark eyes during her sudden outburst.  A singular moment of being human, a flash of angry emotion, could not erase all of the time and effort and sacrifices she must be making on a daily basis for another human being.

Hoping I hadn’t embarrassed the woman, I turned my attention back to my book but I couldn’t focus on the words that were floating around on the page.  Instead, I prayed, “Dear God, thank you so much for letting me be compassionate in this moment.  Thank you for allowing me to understand this situation instead of being disrespectful and jumping to awful conclusions about this woman’s life and intentions.  Please let this man heal and please give this woman the strength and courage to take care of her family and help this man’s medical needs with a kind heart.”

As I finished my prayers, the couple stood up from their table and threw away their trash.  Slowly, they made their way to the exit door.  As the woman pushed and held the door open for the man, she looked back at me one more time.  I smiled at her and she smiled back at me with a shake of her head before stepping outside and letting the door close softly behind her.

I wanted to go back to my book then but I couldn’t focus.  Instead, I just sat my book aside and thought about the times I had misjudged and been unnecessarily critical of someone else’s life.  It is really true: you never really know what another person has been through.  You never really know the path another person is forced to walk and the cross he or she must carry.

And maybe even with all of the turmoil from the election, we can learn to really see each other, to understand what another soul may be suffering.  Maybe the only think that can make a difference now, while facing an unsure future, is how we treat each other, how we can show understanding, support, and love to each other.  Maybe in our own way we can learn to show compassion in such hard times.  It starts with us.  We have to make the difference.  It starts with our own understanding and ends with unconditional love.  It’s the only way we can maintain our humanity amidst such incredible chaos.

All Lives Matter…Even Furry Ones!

Last Friday, I decided to read through a few recent articles before I started to work on my writing assignments.  Unfortunately, once more nothing but bad news appeared on my computer screen.  I read about cop-involved shootings, protests, natural disasters, and other sad events.  After a while, I finally pushed myself away from the computer with a sigh.  I stood up, stretched, and walked into the bathroom as I thought about…

“OH, DOGS!”  I cried out as I saw the mess that was left on the cool, tiled floor.  We have a huge, fenced-in, lush backyard and puppy training pads laid out in the front room, and yet the dogs still choose to make their messes right in front of the bathtub.  With a groan, I quickly cleaned up the bathroom and then thoroughly scrubbed my hands.

After drying off and hanging the towel back on the rack, I left the bathroom and walked into the living room where two of our three dogs, Friskie and Cowboy, were comfortably snuggled down into the big, soft, cushiony pillows that make up the back of the sofa.  They like to climb up on top of the couch and then plunge their little bodies down into the pillows as if they are falling into quicksand.  Only their sweet, round, dark eyes and cold, wet noses are visible.  The third dog, Starburst, was cuddled up in a little, round, furry ball on the big, brown puppy pillow by the television.

“Alright, dogs,” I call out to them as I clapped my hands together to get their interest.  Starburst lazily raised up her head and scootched her furry, white and brown body forward.  Friskie and Cowboy slowly and clumsily pulled their bodies up from the cushions like lazy, little swamp monsters.  Once I had their full attention, I pointedly asked, “Who made the mess in the bathroom?”

Of course, none of the dogs would confess, even though Starburst and Cowboy looked directly at Friskie, who had lowered her head back down into the pillows.  Otherwise, Friskie refused to admit any wrongdoing.  “Alright, fine,” I answered, surprising myself by how much I sounded like my own mother.  “None of you did it.  The mess just made itself.  No, no, don’t get up.  I got it all cleaned up.  Just go back to sleep…”

And that’s when I suddenly noticed a large, nasty, runny, orangey, thick fluid on the carpet just a mere two inches away from the puppy pads.  I stared at this new mess in shock for a few seconds wondering which dog had been sick.  I was suddenly spurred into action, however, when little Starburst suddenly moved forward from her comfortable position on the puppy pillow and prepared to clean up the chunky fluid by licking at it.  (I know that’s really disgusting—but that’s the way it happened!)  Once again, feeling absolutely revolted, I quickly cleaned up this new mess as the dogs once more settled back down to sleep.  I was sincerely and totally grossed out.  I never had children, so I never had to deal with projectile vomit, gross diapers, and disgusting messes.  Fate sure was catching up with me now.

Finally, after the orange mess was cleaned up, I walked around the room and checked on all three dogs to make sure they were not sick.  When they seemed to be all right, I walked back to the bathroom to thoroughly scrub my hands clean once more.

A few minutes later, I decided to go to the kitchen to get some iced tea.  I walked through the living room…

…and that’s when I heard it…

I stopped for a moment and looked around the room.  What was that noise?

And then I heard it again…

UUUUHHHHH!

What was that?

UUUUUUUHHHHHHHH!

Oh, my gosh.  The noise was a very loud, low, deep sound with a scratchy-throated screech at the end.  It sounded just like a person gagging for breath as he or she was choking.  Choking?

I looked around and that’s when I noticed little Starburst.  She had now moved off of the puppy pillow and was lying on the hardwood floor of the dining room.  The deep, guttural noise she was making continued to get louder.

UUUUUUUHHHHHHH!  UUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHH!

Oh, my gosh, Starburst was choking!  The dog was choking!

“Star?” I called out as I ran over and knelt down beside her.  I reached out my hand and gently touched her side.  But before I could say or do anything more, she yanked away from me as if my touch had hurt her.  She moved away and crawled underneath the table.  Even though she was further away from me, her gags had gotten louder.  I crawled underneath the table after her.  Now, when she saw me, Starburst suddenly lifted her right paw out as if she was reaching for a lifeline.  But her paw quivered twice before the rest of her body began to shiver violently.  Oh, my gosh, the little dog was starting to convulse!  Her whole tiny body was now shaking as she continued to gasp for air!

In a panic, I got up and grabbed my phone off the table.  I quickly pushed the touch-screen buttons to call my sister-in-law, Mary, who is the actual owner of the dogs.

“Hello,” Mary answered her phone sweetly and I felt horrible to have to give her such bad news.

“Mary, it’s Jamie,” I screeched.  I didn’t wait for her to respond.  “Starburst…”  I stuttered, “Starburst is sick.  She’s choking.  She can’t breathe and she started convulsing now.  What should I do?  Where are you?”

“Oh, my God,” Mary gasped.  “I’m nowhere near home right now.  I’m babysitting the grandkids.  I can’t leave them.  But I’m going to call someone to come help you, okay?  I’ll get someone over to the house really fast.”

“Okay, okay,” I answered as we hung up.  God, I had studied and taught abdominal thrust, CPR, and first aid for years, but would those techniques work on a little dog?  Could I possibly call 911?  I crawled back under the table.  Starburst now let me touch her, but I think it was just because she didn’t have the strength to pull away.  “Starburst,” I whispered to her.  “Little Starry…Baby…it’s going to be okay.”

UUUUUUHHHHH, Starburst replied to me.  She was still gagging and her little body was convulsing terribly.  I reached out and pulled her gently towards me.  I raised her head and stared down into her little face.  Oh, my God…Starry’s beautiful, soulful, brown eyes were completely unfocused now!

Oh, my God…  Her left eye stared lifelessly ahead while her right eye had rolled off to the far side.  Then both eyes suddenly began to roll to the back of her head.

That was it!  I pulled the dog out from under the table and held her tightly.  I got up from the floor with little Starburst in my arms and grabbed my keys off the table.  I was going to take the dog up to the vet’s office that was just a few blocks away on State Avenue and 78th street.  It was after 5 o’clock already, though.  I didn’t know if the office was still open but I hoped they would have some kind of emergency information posted somewhere by the front door.  I had to do something to help this tiny dog.  I love this dog so much.  “God, please,” I prayed as I ran into the living room.  “Please, God, please let this little dog be okay.  Please, God, don’t take this dog.”

UUUUUUUUHHHHHH!

I squeezed little Starry close to m y chest as I ran and prayed.  “Please, God…please, I love this dog.”

Just as I yanked open the front door, Starburst’s body suddenly stopped shaking.  There was one more hard UUUUUUUUHHHHHHH…

….and then silence.

No more movement…no more noise…

…just stillness… and silence…

And then the dog coughed.  She coughed.

“Starry?” I called to her as I held her away from me to look at her face.  I stared down at the little dog and suddenly saw her small mouth move.  She suddenly worked her furry jaw up and down in a chewing motion

…. and then she swallowed.

She swallowed

And then Starburst opened up her eyes and looked directly up at me.  I stood very still and stared down into Star’s sweet, funny face.  We just stared at each other for a moment.

And then Starry took a deep breath and whimpered.  “Ummmmmm  ummmmm”

It was so different from the loud choking sounds of a few seconds before.  This sound was soft and tender and heartbreaking.  Starburst now feel limply against my chest as she started to whimper uncontrollably now that her horrible, scary ordeal was finally over.  I held her tight to me and cried right along with her as I gave thanks that she was now miraculously okay.  I sat down slowly on the couch and tried to sit Starburst on the floor but the little dog wouldn’t leave my arms.  We cuddled together for a while until her cries finally calmed down.  I placed Starburst carefully down on the floor.  “Oh, Star!”  I sighed as she ran over to the dog dish and began to eat.  “Seriously?”

After her near fatal choking crisis, she was now snacking on dry dog food.  I don’t know if the whole ordeal had just made her hungry or maybe she just wanted to show me that she wasn’t afraid to eat again.  Yes, she had been through a bad choking experience but she showed no lingering fear as she chomped on the food.  I just shook my head at her and laughed.  Then, once she was satisfied, she crawled back up into my lap.  For the rest of the evening, little Starry  followed me around the house and wouldn’t leave my side until we both exhaustively fell into our own beds and went to sleep.

The next day, I came home from work and checked on the dogs to make sure they were okay and there were no messes to take me by surprise.  I went into my room and turned on the computer to catch up on the news.  More deaths, more disasters…

And suddenly there was a knock on my door.  I got up and opened my door to find Starburst waiting patiently in the hallway.  Now as she saw me, she jumped up and down, daintily dancing on her tiny, white, hairy paws.  Starry would run towards me and as I stepped forward she would joyfully jump up and back and spin around before prancing back towards me once more.  I laughed as I playfully chased her back into the living room where Mary was cuddling with Friskie and Cowboy on the couch.

“Starburst wanted you to come out and play with her,” Mary informed me.  “You don’t’ have to if she’s bothering you.”

“She’s not bothering me at all,” I told Mary.  “I’m just so relieved she’s all right.”

“Yeah, I am, too,” Mary sighed.  “I think you are her best friend now.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “We are very bonded.  We’re best buds now.”  I got down on the floor as Starburst rolled over onto her back so that I could rub her pale belly.

I had told Mary the details of what had happened the day before.  Now my sister-in-law stated, “I think when you picked her up yesterday from under the table and held her tight, you probably dislodged whatever was in her throat so she could start breathing again.”

“Probably,” I answered, “but I don’t really know what happened.  I just remember holding her and praying…”

I stopped talking and Mary and I just smiled at each other.  Mary got up from the couch then and called, “Come on, dogs.  Time for dinner.”  I think all three dogs understand the word “dinner.”  They all trotted after Mary into the kitchen as I walked back into my room and sat down at my computer once more.  After a few minutes, there was a knock at my door again.

I got up and opened the door.  Starburst walked into the room and over to my chair.  I knew what she wanted.  I picked her up and placed her on my lap after I sat back down in my chair.  I rocked her back and forth as I looked at the articles appearing on my computer screen.  Nothing but bad news.  I clicked off the computer and pulled Starburst close to me as I realized that it really doesn’t matter how much money we have or what job we do or what kind of cars we drive.  When it’s all over, the only thing God will want to know is how much compassion we displayed and I how much love we gave.  Because all life, no matter how small and furry, is precious in the eyes of God.  In God’s glory, all lives matter, I thought as I cuddled tiny furry Starburst close to me and once more gave thanks for God’s sweet mercy.

 

 

 

 

History Lesson

In the end, it is not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.–Abraham Lincoln

I have always found history fascinating.  I enjoy watching documentaries, reading textbooks, visiting historical sites, and looking at old, black-and-white photographs.  I don’t really know why I am fascinated with the past.  Maybe I just like the idea that there was life before I was born and there will be life after I leave.  History reminds me that time is never ending.  Maybe I like the idea that everything we say and do now will become the memories we turn to in the future for guidance or comfort.  Maybe our history is proof that our time hasn’t been wasted, and maybe, just maybe, there was a purpose to our collective lives and consciousness.  History demonstrates a solid cause and effect that can be mapped out as life progresses and our drama continues to unfold.  History reminds us who we are, where we came from, and the connection we all share to life.

So, if I truly honor past events that have created life as we know it today, why, every year, do I always dread August 21?  I don’t enjoy celebrating my birthday for several different reasons.  I don’t always like all of the attention.  Sometimes, I prefer to go unnoticed.  I also don’t feel comfortable accepting presents.  I don’t want people to spend their money on me when I know they may be financially struggling.  Or maybe…

Okay, to be honest…

I hate celebrating my birthday because I don’t like turning a year older.

There I said it.  I hate getting older.  It bothers me because I don’t see myself the way other people have started to view me.  In my heart, in my soul, I still see myself as a spritely, physically strong, highly capable, intelligent, attractive, young woman.

I’m amazed how many people disagree with me.

I was horrified the first time I was offered a senior discount at the movies.  But…but…I’m a young woman!  Why would I be offered the discount?  My brother, Tony, tried to calm my anxiety.  “Jamie, every person who works in retail or fast food thinks anybody over 30 is a senior.”  His explanation didn’t help.  How did I possibly go from being carded to being offered senior discounts?  What happened to the in-between years?

And I almost went over the edge when I received my first offer to become an AARP member.  I stared at the letter and magazine in abstract horror before I manically shoved both pieces of literature into the paper shredder.

I cringed in terror when I tripped the other day at work and one of my colleagues stated, “You have to be careful.  At your age, you could have fallen and broken your hip.”  I was shocked when I was informed by personnel at the school where I was teaching that my health insurance was going up by twenty dollars a month because I had crossed over into the “older age” category.  I’m always surprised when websites and applications ask my birth year and I have to scroll further down now to find the date.  And just how is it possible that people born in the year 2000 are getting their driver’s licenses now?  Why am I looking at the younger generation and saying things like, “Well, when I was growing up, we were taught to show respect…”  Isn’t that what my grandmother used to say?

I have tried desperately through the years to prove to other people that I am still a young woman.  I buy skin products like anti-wrinkle creams believing that each “magic elixir” holds the secret to eternal youth.  I put in hair extensions and dyed all the gray out of my hair.  Each gray strand reminded me of each day ticking off my life.  I go to the gym constantly and try to convince myself that I am in better shape now then when I was a teenager….if only my knees would stop popping.  I exercise and stimulate my mind by reading, writing, and studying…well…history!  Why do other people so quickly point out and joke about my gray hairs, the lines on my face, my momentary memory losses, and my thin, frail body?

For these reasons, I have let several years pass by without celebrating my birthday.  I didn’t plan on celebrating this year either.  I was just going to go to work, go to the gym, and not deviate from my usual day’s routine.

But then…

Ignoring my request to let August 21 just pass by this year, my family surprised me with dinners, sweet gifts, nice compliments, and a visit to the Kansas City Zoo.  And I was shocked how many people posted wonderful birthday greetings and blessings on my Facebook page.  The good wishes were heartwarming and made me feel connected to so many amazing people who had guided and supported me throughout the years.  Today, Tuesday, August 23, I received a twenty-dollar bill tucked inside a birthday card from my aunt Nancy in Florida.  The card and money made me smile as if I was eight-years-old again…and I think I appreciated the gift more now than I did as a child.  I understood the sacrifice my aunt made by sending me the money and I was touched by her generosity.  The money made me smile, too, because it reminded me of my mother who also sent money through the mail regardless of the risk of loss or theft.  My aunt and mother are women of grace; beautiful, trusting souls who saw the simple good in life, an attribute that only comes…

…that only comes with age!

And that’s when I realize that birthdays are a true blessing!  This year, I thoroughly enjoyed the attention I received from my family and friends and loved the birthday celebrations.

I suddenly realized that my birthday really wasn’t about getting older.  It was a commemoration of how far I have come in my life.  It was a reflection of the connections I have made and the friendships I hold dear.  As I went about my day on August 21, I didn’t feel a year older.  Instead, I felt surprisingly blessed.  I was so thankful for every day of my life and all of the amazing experiences I have had over the years.

Now, I have years of experience and knowledge that only comes with age!

And with age comes a carefree sense of self.  I walk around in my pajamas and go out in public without makeup or brushing my hair and I don’t care.  I say what I feel and don’t worry if it’s not the popular opinion.  I hold on to the things that I like and don’t worry if other people think my ideas are stupid.  I sing out loud and dance with spirit even though other people think I have no talent.  I hold on to my beliefs and refuse any pressure to become someone different.  I try to handle my stress and don’t insert myself into other people’s problems.  I’ve learned to live my life free, accepting the person that I am without fear of what other people think of me. I have grown comfortable in the person I have become.

And I know that all of those who offer me the senior discount and fear for creaking knees will not know this until they too have reached the age of “old,” the age of wearing pajamas in public and dancing when there is no music.

I am more of myself today than I have ever been.  I haven’t grown old.  I’ve grown up by growing strong and growing joyful and growing free.  Among the many great presents I have received over the years, I appreciate the gifts of humility and wisdom the most.  And this year, I learned that every day is precious and every moment needs to be celebrated.  My best birthday gift in 2016 was to see every year as one more blessing.

Though I now have my own unique past, I still maintain my childish heart.  I still have dreams and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  But I also have stories to tell and wisdom to share.  I have lived a full life of travel, adventure, successes, failures, heartbreaks, laughter, and tears….

Now, I am older.  I have a history….

I am history.

Those People

What was I thinking!?  I thought to myself as I stood inside one of the stalls in the small bathroom.  Why was I so anxious?  This moment hadn’t been a surprise.  I had spent the last several weeks reading through all of the Facebook posts describing the details, the “what, where, when, who, and why” of this event.  Each post made me feel alternately excited and depressed.  I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do.  I debated continually back and forth.  I couldn’t decide if I really wanted to participate.  Because I was so unclear, I sought advice from many different people to give me some direction.  Unfortunately, I continually received the very same response from everyone without any diversion or counterpoint.  “God, why would you ever want to do something like that?  I never will.  Why would I ever want to see Those People again.”  “I wouldn’t go.  I couldn’t stand Those People.”  “  Well, you know, all of Those People were rude and mean.  They treated me horribly.  I never want to be around Those People again?”  The answer was the same again and again though everyone was talking about a different group of people.  But it was absolutely clear.  Everyone seemed to hate Those People….no matter who they were or where they came from.

And for a while, honestly, that’s how I felt, too.  It had been 35 years now seen I had seen Those People of mine!  Why would I even think about going back?  Well…maybe it was just curiosity…morbid curiosity, at best.  Maybe I just felt a horrible need to belong somewhere.  Maybe I just needed to reconnect with the past in order to move on with my life.  Maybe I just needed some closure.  Maybe I just wanted to show off that I had survived my teenage years…High school hadn’t killed me as I imagined it would at the time.  Had it made me stronger?  I can only hope so, but I do know this:  for good or bad, I have certainly come a long way since my high school days.  So, whatever the reason may have been, I was now standing, (oh, alright, I’ll be honest!), hiding in the bathroom  of St. John’s Catholic Club in Kansas City, Kansas, as I psyched myself up to join my classmates for our 35th high school reunion.

As with most people, high school had been a traumatic experience for me.  I always felt unattractive, stupid, and awkward.  Gym class certainly didn’t help me gain any confidence.  Instead, the class seemed to reinforce  my negative feelings.  Many times, I was chosen last when deciding teams but, honestly, I can’t blame my classmates for this.  I wouldn’t have wanted anyone as uncoordinated as I was on my team either!  I believe I was the main reason my team always had to run laps around the gym for losing volleyball matches.  I would cower away in terror from any ball that came rolling, spinning, or zooming my way.

I fared no better in the actual classroom environment.  I was extraordinarily shy and quiet.  I never wanted to speak up in class and would continually play dead if the teacher called out my name.  I just could never seem to find my voice in a room full of people.  Giving presentations was torture for me.  I usually pretended to be sick on presentation days.  If that didn’t keep me out of the classroom, I would beg my teachers for any additional assignments to replace the presentation.  Many of them refused; they explained that the experience would be a good confidence builder for me.  It actually didn’t work.  I would stand up in front of the class with my paper shaking and rattling wildly in front of my face as I  mumbled through random information for the allotted five minutes of time.  I didn’t care about the grade; I just wanted to get through the experience without being laughed at or teased by my fellow classmates.

My social experience of high school was routinely painful.  I was the kid who continually seemed to have the runny nose, the drooping socks, and the untied shoelaces no matter how I tried to present myself.  I was overweight and wore thick, heavy glasses.  Every weekday, I just put on my green plaid school uniform, my sagging socks, and my arch-correcting saddle shoes (for my flat feet), and went off to school where I walked around with my head down and my shoulders protectively wrapped around my upper body.

In my senior year, I begged my mother to let me quit high school.  I am relieved and grateful now that my mother rejected all of my arguments for dropping out.  She refused to allow me to leave school until I safely had my diploma in hand.  But for years immediately following graduation, I failed to see the benefit of this at all.  I swore I would never go back to school or see any of those people ever again.

But there is one problem with the word NEVER.  It has a friend named KARMA.  Because no matter how much we hate certain experiences in our lives, they all happen for a reason.  And no matter how often we say NEVER, life has a way of recycling lessons until we learn them.  For example, even though I swore I was finished with my education, after a few years of working minimum wage jobs, I suddenly found myself drifting back to school.  I began attending Johnson County Community College and loved the experience of learning so much,  I transferred to the University of Kansas and found, quite literally, that the whole world slowly began to open up for me.  Over the next several years, I found myself in all kinds of interesting jobs and positions.  I worked as a model, a reporter, and a photographer.  I traveled the world, even waking up one morning to find myself in Thailand and soon I was backpacking by myself across Malaysia.  I lived successfully in New Mexico, Tennessee, and California.  After high school, I went on a 35-year journey to find myself.  I finally stumbled my way back to my hometown in Kansas last year.

I proudly put the information of my return on Facebook and was amazed that a lot of my old high school classmates reached out to me.  That was fine.  I could handle Facebook relationships.  But four months after my return, posts began to appear about our upcoming 35-year reunion.  I was surprised because it seemed a little ironic.  How was it possible that I would return to Kansas the very year a reunion was scheduled?  Maybe…just maybe…it was KARMA challenging my never-ending use of the word NEVER and my reluctance to see Those People again.

I was NEVER going to attend a high school reunion.

For years, I had agreed with Jase Robertson of Duck Dynasty when he said, “Do I go to high school reunions?  No.  If I haven’t talked to you in over 25 years, there’s probably a reason.”  For the 10, 20, and 30 year reunions, thankfully, I continually had the excuse of being “out of town” to avoid the events.  But now, I no longer had any excuse.  So there I was on Saturday night, April 23, 2016, in Kansas City, Kansas, at my 35-year reunion, hiding in the bathroom at St. John’s Catholic Club.  Of course, this brought back even more unusual memories of my high school experience.

Once a month, my school sponsored a mixer for all of the students on a Friday night.  I never wanted to attend these dances with Those People.  My mother forced me to go.  She thought it would be good for me to get out and mingle with my classmates.  I hated it!  I wanted to stay home and watch Donny and Marie.  I had a huge crush on Donny at the time, which I think my mother considered somewhat unhealthy.  It would be a good thing for me to get away from my teen idol for a while.  Mom and I would argue about the mixers before and after the events, but every month, I was expected to attend.  Once I was at the dance party, I would spend the first few minutes standing around the refreshment table before retreating to the bathroom where I would hide in a stall until it was time to go home.  I never danced and I never talked to anyone.  I would just stay in the bathroom and wish that I was at home watching Donny.  Though I have seen him in Vegas, I no longer watch Donny now.  I have traveled all over the world.  I have published.  I have modeled.  I have had my own business.  I have taught struggling students.  I have had an amazing life.  But here I was, at the reunion still huddled in a bathroom stall instead of facing my former classmates.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to leave the bathroom and yet I continued to linger.  I may have stayed in the bathroom all night if I hadn’t thought of Janice and began to feel terribly guilt.  Janice had been a good friend to me during my awkward elementary and high school years.  I was fortunate to  reconnect with her several years ago on Facebook.  Janice had confessed to me that she too had debated about attending the reunion.  But then she said something that really got my attention.  “If I don’t go,” Janice had stated, “I’m afraid I’ll regret it later.”  Her statement made complete sense to me.  What if this was my last chance to make amends?  Janice was right.  We decided then to go together so we would each, at least, have someone to sit with during the event.

Since I was still relearning my way around Kansas City and, especially, Strawberry Hill where the event was taking place, Janice offered to drive us to the reunion.  Because sections of the I-70 were closed, we got a little lost on the way to St. John’s and ended up in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  If I had been driving alone, I would have used “getting lost” as an excuse to just go back home.  Janice took it all in stride, though.   She stayed completely calm; methodically and strategically, she  found the way back into Kansas.  She did a great job navigating the one- way streets and the closed roads to find St. John’s Catholic Club.  She never gave up.  She never got upset.  I need to be more like Janice.  Because now I realized that while Janice had gotten us to the reunion, I had suddenly deserted her to go hide in the bathroom.  What a horrible friend I am!

With that thought in mind, I forced myself move out of the stall.  I walked over to the sink and washed my hands while I stared at myself in the mirror.  Oh, God, what have I done?  My make-up didn’t look too bad, but my hair was a stiff, unnatural, badly blended mess.  I usually don’t fuss with my hair.  I tend to just brush it and run, but tonight I wanted to look good for the reunion.  So before I met up with Janice, I had taken the time to carefully curl and style my hair, which is something I never really do.  Once I had my hair in the design I wanted, I had grabbed the hairspray and didn’t stop spraying until I was sure not a single strand of hair would dare to move out of place.  Though I began to choke on the fumes, the spray hadn’t been enough to ease my hair anxiety.  I also had a can of spray-on hair dye to touch up my roots.  (Yes, I dye my hair to cover the gray…what of it!)  I didn’t have time to dye my hair earlier and I didn’t want any of my (gray!) roots to show.  I thought I would just touch up my hair with the red spray.  I had tentatively tried the dye on a thick strand first, and when that looked okay, I went crazy spraying the dye in a solid line down the center of my head.  Oh, my gosh, it wasn’t until I was at the reunion that I realized that the spray-on dye didn’t match my hair color at all.  The color from the can was much darker than my normal (I said normal, not natural) lighter strawberry blond color.  The spray had turned the center of my scalp horribly bright red.  I looked like I had a badly oozing wound on the top of my head.  Seriously, it looked like I had split open the top of my skull and blood was seeping out.  But I couldn’t wash it out now.  I would just have to make sure that no one could stare down at the very top of my head.  Man, I need to stay away from hair products when I’m in the midst of a panic attack.  Hair products are the bane of an anxious woman…well, at least for me.  I always go overboard in order to hide my scars and imperfections.  I try to save myself from ridicule but just tend to make everything worse and much more noticeable.  So, now, I was already at the reunion and had no choice.  But what was I really worried about anyway?  I just needed to get through tonight and then possibly NEVER see those people  again.

I took a deep breath, turned away from the mirror and walked out of the bathroom.  I stepped into the main room of the Catholic Club.  The lights were down low and a soft golden glow filled the room.  Ten tables were lined up parallel on both sides of the room and covered with white tablecloths and black beads.  There were several people standing around in small groups up by the stage.  And suddenly to my surprise, I began to smile…and it felt natural…and it felt good.  My smile did not feel faked or forced or strained.  For some reason, there was an energy about the room that made me feel excited and happy.  I don’t really know what brought on this feeling.  I had expected to find myself standing on the outside of any gathered group and out of my own comfort zone, but that’s not what happened.

Instead, I felt relaxed and happy when Cindy walked up to greet me with a hug.  I felt comfortable in her presence, but in all honesty, Cindy wasn’t a challenge.  She looked radiant and her personality always sparkles and shines as much as her physical appearance does.  She has always been welcoming and charming.  She makes everyone feel like a friend.  Cindy was my very first Facebook friend from high school and continually communicated with me through that medium for the last six years.  We had already met for dinner twice before this reunion, so I already thought of her as a friend.  I was pleased that she was the one of the first people I saw at the reunion that night.  That situation helped set the mood for the rest of the evening.

After a moment, Cindy moved away and I found myself talking to Gregory.  His soft, gentle voice and easy-going manner put me right at ease.  After talking to Cindy and Gregory, the rest of the evening suddenly became easier and, to my shock, I found myself connecting, hugging, and talking to many people I hadn’t seen in over three decades!  The conversations came easily, the hugs were heartfelt, the emotions sincere.    I talked to more people that night than I did in my four years of high school!  It was a surreal and unusual situation to see everyone again.  Most of the people looked just like older versions of their high school selves.  I felt completely disoriented whenever someone’s seventeen-year-old face suddenly superimposed itself over his or her current, older facial features.  Remember, I had never seen the adult version of any of Those People.  I only knew them as teens.  I felt for a moment as if I was in a time-travel movie.  Maybe I was actually traveling forward in time.  I suspected that I would wake up the next day and it would be 1980 once more.  But for now, it was fun to see everyone again after so long.

There was Julie looking as young as she did in high school.  And Mary who always had a great sense of humor.  She was a little more serious now, but still putting out positive, good vibes.  Joan still retained her good heart and sweet smile.  Teri continually displayed enthusiasm and pride in the school and her classmates.  Karen definitely had to be the most honest of all of us.  She confessed that she didn’t remember Janice or me at all.  Her candor made me laugh.  While some of us ran around the room trying to remember everyone, and cheating by deviously reading name tags first (well…I did…),  Karen was refreshingly open and straightforward, which was greatly appreciated.  I couldn’t help but smile when Brian suddenly sat down next to me and talked about his family.  And I was comfortable when Jeff did the same later that evening.

Most of my former classmates gave me sweet compliments on the way I looked that night and congratulated me on publishing my first book.  The most consistent compliment I received from Those People, however, was for my Facebook page.  I was completely stunned to hear people mention this.  After a few months of posting comments and statements about my life, both positive and negative, I decided that I wanted my Facebook page to be encouraging and motivating.  I have posted only positive quotes and stunning artwork on my page for the last five years.  I am not trying to be pretentious.  My Facebook page is my creative attempt to keep myself inspired and focused on the optimistic aspects of life.  I was thrilled that so many of my classmates, especially Therese, Terri,and Melissa, expressed their appreciation for my posts and asked me to keep the positive thoughts coming.  I was pleased that so many people felt inspired by my Facebook page.

Everyone happily conversed and engaged with each other, but sitting in a small group of five women later in the evening was a surreal moment for me.  I never had children and so as my former classmates talked about their families, I had nothing to add to the conversation.  But that didn’t matter to me.  I didn’t care.  I was absolutely fascinated by their words.  Thirty-five years ago, the conversations had been about tests, classes, homework, and teachers.  It was an unusual experience to listen to my classmates talk about their grown children.  “They just don’t get it.”  “I have been encouraging them to move on.”  Every comment was made with a mixture of joy, love, concern, worry, and stress.  There was no doubt that these people absolutely loved their children and wanted the best for them.  It was incredible to hear these same sweet teenage voices discussing grown-up issues.  I just sat there mute and quiet as I usually was in high school.  Only this time, I was fully attentive and could have listened to them all evening.

I also enjoyed seeing Steve, Jeff, Duke, Aldo, Nick, Joe, Chuck, Keith, Michael, and Brian again.  I think I talked to the “boys” more that night than I did through the four years of attending Bishop Ward High School.  This was an extremely bizarre moment.  What happened to all of the boys from my classAnd why was every one of them so tall?  They were not scrawny, little kids any more.  Now, I was surrounded by fully grown, handsome, strong men.  If I had realized that was going to happen, I would never have left Kansas 35 years ago!  I smiled as I looked around at all of these incredibly tall, incredibly attractive, older men.  I just prayed that none of them would suddenly look down on me and notice my “oozing” painted-red scalp.  That became one of my challenges of the evening.  I strutted around and kept moving just to make sure that my wayward vanity would not be discovered.

It had been a real challenge trying to make sure no one could look down on my red scalp.  Maneuvering away from tall men became easier when I got out on the dance floor where I was now  too happy to worry about my “bloody” hair.  Now, I could shimmy and move and turn without looking like I had to go to the bathroom.  Yes, I danced!  I was actually out on the dance floor with several of my classmates as we threw our hands up in the air, spun around, and kicked our legs.  I was not hiding in the stall now as I did at the mixers 35 years ago.  I was wiggling around in the middle of the dance floor.  I was actually dancing!  Look at me, Momma!  Look at me!  And I didn’t care at all what anyone else thought of me.  I didn’t care if I made a fool of myself.

The evening was perfectly summed up by Natalie’s comment about me.  “When we were in school, Jamie, you were so shy and quiet, most people didn’t even know you existed.  But look at you now.  Look at all of the amazing things you’ve done!  It’s incredible!”  I couldn’t help smiling at her statement.  I felt completely different than I did in high school.  And as I looked at my former classmates, I realized that we had all grown into a successful, good-looking, kind-hearted group of people!

And that’s when I suddenly realized something.  I was not the only one who had changed.  All of my classmates had grown up, too.  None of us were the same people we had been in high school.  As much as I have grown and changed, so have they.  How could I ever hold anyone responsible for what they said or did as teenagers?  I wouldn’t want anyone judging me now based on my 16-year-old self and I wasn’t going to do that to anyone else.  Those awful high school years when I felt so battered…well, I suddenly realized now that most of my scars had been self-inflicted.  It was my own reserved heart and negative mindset that had kept me locked up and hidden away in bathroom stalls.  But now, we were all (a little?!) older and a whole lot wiser.  And we were beginning to connect on a whole different level.  We were no longer the jocks, or the brainiacs, or the geeks, or the cheerleaders, or the nerds, or the loners.  Those were just labels we gave each other as we all struggled to find the place where we belong, as we all strived to find our own identities.  Those titles are laughable now and certainly don’t reflect who we have become…

And the strange thing was…I really wanted to keep partying with my former classmates because, on this night of the reunion, I truly loved those people

So, at the end of the evening, I proudly gathered with my classmates for a group picture.  I was a little concerned when my high school crush walked over to me.  Oh, my gosh, he could still make me shiver as if I was sixteen-years-old again.  I quickly maneuvered myself away from him, though, and moved to the other side of Janice.  Well…okay, maybe a few insecurities still remain.  I just didn’t want my old crush to think that I was still clumsy enough to injure myself.  “Help, someone!  Jamie’s bleeding from the top of her head!”  So, yes, I definitely needed to move away from him.  I may never see him again and didn’t want that to be his last impression he had of me.

Hopefully, that will not be the last impression anyone has of me.

So here is my advice.  Do NOT go to your 10th or, even 20th, reunion.  Wait for the 30th or 35th reunion.  Do not see anyone from high school for at least 30 years.  Wait until everyone has had the chance to experience life.  Give everyone the opportunity to grow up.  See everyone again when they are seasoned, when they are weathered.  Become friends with high school classmates after everyone has had the chance to experience life.  Give each other the chance to experience life as God intended.  My classmates are people…real people.  People who are raising their families, working their jobs, and suffering their losses.  People who have cried and laughed and loved and hurt and grieved.  We are all really not that different after all…

Even though we had originally debated about going, now Janice and I really didn’t want to say good-bye.  We finally left the reunion around 10:30 pm because, unfortunately, I had to work early the next morning.  As Janice and I walked out of St. John’s Catholic Club and into the dark night, we turned right to walk down the steep hill to her car.  Suddenly, I gasped and had to catch my breath.  I stared at the scene in front of me.  From the top of the hill, I saw the beautiful, white, round moon shining down on the bright Kansas City skyline.  It was an amazingly beautiful image.  The sight filled me with wonder!  I now suddenly realized I was home.  I knew where I belonged.  I was loved.  I was safe.  The past had been put to rest…well, it had been put into perspective.  And the future, for my classmates and me, seemed even brighter now than it did 35 years ago.  Beautiful days loom ahead of us.  And though I may not always now where I am headed , I certainly now know where I have been, and where I come from…

I feel united and am proud to say I am one of Those People.