Category Archives: Humiliation

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!

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.

New Year’s Resolutions

I almost didn’t go to the gym on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015.  I expected it to be uncomfortably crowded.  I don’t worry about exercising in front of other people.  I don’t care if people are watching me even when I’ve done some really stupid things.  For instance, one day, I accidentally hit the emergency stop instead of the pause button on the treadmill and went flying off of the belt and landed on my bottom on the hard concrete floor.  Another time, I walked right into a large, white rack and cracked my head on a forty-pound weight.  I’ve fallen over while doing squats and dropped barbells on my feet.  Whenever I fall over, run into walls, and drop things, I always try to pretend that it was something I had meant to do and it didn’t hurt a bit.  I don’t think anyone believes me and I seriously doubt anyone has gained work out tips from watching me.  I have been laughed at, mocked, ridiculed, and teased all in an effort to keep myself in shape.

…And it is this effort, this drive, to stay in shape that got me up off my hopefully toned bottom and into the 24-Hour Fitness gym in Shawnee, Kansas, last Thursday.  I had been right; the gym was packed with people.  A crowd at the gym usually makes it difficult to exercise because I can’t always get the machines I need for my workout.  Thursday was “back day” and so I would need all of the machines that would exercise my trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and spinalis muscles.  Unfortunately, all of those machines were already in use.  The machines were occupied by very large men who didn’t look like they were into sharing, especially with a small, older woman dressed in trashy, loose, blue sweatpants and a gray, ragged hoodie sweatshirt.  I always wear my oldest, sloppiest clothes when I go to the gym.  I intend to work out really hard and build up a sweat.  Why would I want to dress up for that?  I am always amazed to see young women in full make-up with their hair and nails done out on the gym floor.  That’s way too much effort.  I’m proud of myself that I am at the gym at least five times a week.  To exercise in full make up seems a little desperate to me.

But who am I to judge as I looked at the people around me.  It takes all kinds of kinds, I thought as I started to make my way over to the one lone exercise bike not in use.  I pushed my steps a little bit faster hoping I could reach the bike before anyone else grabbed it.  I guess all my runs on the treadmill were paying off!  I did it!  I reached the bike first! It was all mine.  I quickly sat down on the seat, placed my diet coke in the water bottle rack (okay, okay, I know), and draped my towel over the handlebars.  I programmed the bike on a manual, medium speed and opened up my book.  I am one of those rare people who read while I exercise.  This practice works great for me.  As long as my mind is active, I can exercise for hours.

I had just started pedaling and focused on my book, when an elderly woman suddenly got my attention.  The woman had to be in her late 60s or early 70s.  She had short, pure white hair and thick, black glasses.  She was dressed in a yellow, long-sleeved t-shirt and Capri-length, black sweatpants.  I watched in amazement as the woman pushed her walker across the gym.  I have seen this woman many times before.  Using a walker doesn’t seem to slow her down.  She very carefully moves over to one of the machines and then grips the side handles of her walker as she carefully lowers herself onto the seat.  Once she is securely seated, she lets go of her walker, and then painstakingly, manually maneuvers her legs into place.  She leans forward and wraps her hands around her right leg and places it into position before she does the same thing to her left.  After she has finished her sets, the woman reverses the procedure with her legs, grabs a hold of her walker, and pulls herself up from the machine.  She stretches for a moment before moving to the next machine.  I always smile when I see her.  I hope I am just like this woman in the years to come.  Though I may have disabilities, I don’t want to be idle.  I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else.  I want to be exercising; I want to be moving, even if I, too, have to adjust my legs and get around with a square, steel walker.

I watched as the woman walked over to the hamstring stretch machine.  I watched as she preformed her usual ritual.   She held onto the walker while she moved her body into place; she sat down slowly on the seat and let go of the walker; she manually moved her legs into place, first the right leg and then the left.  The woman had just gotten herself into position when a large, young man walked up to her.  The man smiled but still informed the woman, “I was using that machine.  I haven’t finished yet.”  I stared in absolute horrified shock as the woman smiled back at the man and then began her slow routine of getting off of the machine without having performed one single movement to stretch her hamstrings.  The young man just stood by as the elderly woman now maneuvered one leg and then the other off of the machine.  She grabbed hold of her walker and pulled herself up out of the seat.  She nodded her head at the man as she slowly began to shuffle away.  The young man did not say another word as he sat down on the machine, shifted his legs into place (without using any manipulation), and began to exercise.

I watched in surprise as the woman shuffled around the gym trying to find a machine that was not in use.  The gym was just too crowded that day for anyone to immediately do their workout unless they were rude enough to chase elderly woman and others off of the machines.  The woman tried to make her way to several exercise machines that suddenly became free only to have younger, more mobile people race ahead of her.  The woman just stood on the side of the room and waited for a moment before finally giving up and walking back to the locker rooms.

I wanted to chase after her and apologize for the rudeness that she had encountered.  I wanted to tell her, “Hey, you know, it’s New Year’s Eve.  Everybody has a resolution to lose 10 to 50 pounds.  I’ve been going to gyms long enough to know…just give it a month or two.  Most people will give up and then the gym will be ours again.”  But I didn’t do anything.  I just watched as the woman shuffled by and I was ashamed that I had said and did nothing.

I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions because, like many people who promise to exercise, I don’t always follow through on them.  But maybe this year I should make a resolution to reach out to people who feel like they don’t belong.  Maybe the world would be better off if instead of making useless resolutions we never keep, this year, 2016, we just try to be a little kinder to each other.

True Justice

Sometimes, it can be hard to teach a basic reading class to college students who don’t like to read.  Most of the young students I have in my class are more interested in their cell phones and social media.  They prefer to play video games than to finish the assigned readings from their textbooks.  It’s nothing my students are actually doing wrong.  It’s just the way things are today.  Very few people enjoy opening up a book.

So before the start of the new term, I read through all of the stories in the basic reading textbook and choose the ones that I think the students would find the most interesting.  Most of the students are in the Criminal Justice program, so I concentrate on the stories that reflect their field of study.  I assigned several of the true crime and short story murder mysteries for the students to read.  This strategy worked very well.  The students were reading the stories and coming into every class ready to discuss the information.  I really love it when students are excited to discuss the readings because it provides me with tremendous insight and amazing observations about the work and the students themselves.

So, last Monday, when the students were settled into their seats, we began to discuss the reading assignment for that day.  The essay focused on the true story of Eric Clark, a teenager who is imprisoned for shooting and killing a police officer.  Many people, including Eric’s mother, claim that Eric is schizophrenic.  Eric believed that the city is full of aliens and the only way to stop them is with bullets.  The essay considers if Eric is really troubled or if he is a cold blooded killer.

I was pleased that the students had a lot of different opinions about this situation and the discussion became very exciting as students continued to debate if Eric was mentally ill or guilty of his actions.  This is what really brings me alive as an instructor.  I love and encourage my students to give their opinions.  Many of them are highly intelligent, some of them are hysterically funny, and others…well, just need to go back and read the assignment again.  But as an instructor, I love it when students feel free and safe to share their independent thoughts and opinions.

After discussing Eric Clark for a while, the students began to discuss other cases that had been in the news.  Jody Arias, George Zimmerman, Amanda Knox, even OJ Simpson all came up in the discussion.  The students became very excited about who they thought was guilty or innocent.  The students discussed who they thought should have gotten life or the death penalty and why.

Other than every now and then guiding the discussion and throwing in the few points of law I knew, I refrained from sharing my personal opinion.  I wanted the students to think for themselves without being influenced by their instructor.  Many students believed in the death penalty.  I refrained from telling my thoughts on this.  I don’t agree with the death penalty.  Why not?  Because I think it is too easy.  I think that when people commit a crime, they should live out the rest of their days contemplating the evil act that they did.  I remember hearing about one judge who ordered a convicted killer to write out and send a sympathy card to the family every year on the anniversary of his victim’s death.  The judge believed it was a way to remind the convict of what he did.  I agree.  Instead of the death penalty, criminals who commit crimes should have some reminder every day of the crime that they committed and the people that they hurt.

I was influenced in my thinking by the book The First Man In Rome by Colleen McCullough.  I love this book which details the start of the Roman Senate.  The book stressed the punishments for criminals in ancient Rome.  Instead of going to jail or being put to death, criminals were made outcast in society.  The criminals were shunned.  They lived in society but could not be a part of it.  They could not get married, vote, own any property, hold jobs, have children.  Criminals could not be talked to or acknowledged by the rest of society.  The ancient Romans believed that this was the worst punishment that a citizen could endure.  The enforced isolation caused the criminals to more away from the town or commit suicide.

I was thinking about this situation when one of my students suddenly exclaimed, “Casey Anthony was at the Palm Desert mall a few weeks ago.  Yeah, the woman who got away with killing her kid, she was here in town and she was shopping at the mall.”

Several of the students turned to look at the woman who had spoken and asked her for details.  “How do you know?  Were you there?”

“No,” the first student answered, “but my sister works there.  She suddenly saw this huge crowd of people in front of Charlotte Russe and was wondering what was going on.  She walked over and found that people were circling around Casey Anthony.”

“Well, what happened?” Students all suddenly started talking at once.  “God, what did they do?  Man, she is so evil.  Did your sister talk to her?”

“Oh, no,” the student responded. “It was really bad.  People were gathered all around her, totally blocking her on all sides.  They had her completely surrounded.  Of course, some people were taking pictures.  But the majority of the people were dumping their soft drinks on her and throwing food and other stuff at her.  Everybody was swearing at her and, man, people were spitting on her.  It was really gross.  Just really nasty spit.”

“Was Casey upset?” someone asked.

“No, in fact, she actually stood there just laughing at everyone.  It was a really nasty laugh.  But people wouldn’t let her go.  They kept surrounding her and trapping her.  They were right in her face, screaming at her.  Security finally had to be called to get her out of there.”

As I listened to the student’s story, I suddenly felt a chill go through my body.  I suddenly felt myself in Casey Anthony’s place.  For most of my life, I have been bullied and felt like a real outsider.  It used to be a very painful situation.  Fortunately, I like myself now, but I know many young people commit suicide for being bullied and targeted.   I shivered as I thought of Casey Anthony being held up to public humiliation.  What would it feel like to be trapped in a mob of people who surround you, scream at you, ridicule you, spit on you.  Yes, Casey may have laughed, but we are all social creatures.  Some part of Casey, some human part, has to be slowly dying inside.  I suddenly felt like I was going to be sick.  What could be more devastating than to be publicly hated?  I’m not saying Casey Anthony didn’t deserve it.  No, I’m saying, I think the Roman Senate had it right.