Category Archives: love

Mind/Body Connection

Our Shih Tzu, Starburst, has an underbite.  Whenever she smiles, her bottom teeth prominently show.  This is what the dog looks like when she is happy:

 

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It makes me laugh to see her smile because, sometimes, I worry that she suffers from depression and anxiety.  There are days when she is completely listless.  She won’t get out of her bed.  Some days, she becomes impatient, angry, and demanding; other days, she is very quiet and remains distant and aloof.

Lately, however, Starburst has been very happy.  She jumps around excitedly whenever I walk in the front door.  She runs around in circles and then stops right in front of me.  She smiles while her tail wags so hard and fast her little backside bounces off the floor.  Then she runs down the hallway and tumbles over with her bottom flipping up over her head.  She prances back into the living room and jumps excitedly up onto the couch and begs for attention until I rub behind her ears.  “Hey, little Fur Face,” I’ll tease her.  But she doesn’t mind my name calling.  She’ll roll over onto her back and wait for her belly to be rubbed.  I usually avoid doing this, though.  Starburst has a very sensitive spot on the right side of her body.  If I accidentally brush over this area, she’ll sit up with a shriek and nip at my hand.  I’ve learned the hard way not to be persuaded to rub her belly, even though she looks up at me with her big, brown puppy dog eyes.  I’ll just shake my head at her, walk into my bedroom, and close the door behind me.

Starburst isn’t finished playing, though.  Her favorite game is “Ding Dong Ditch.”  She likes to scratch at my door while I’m working.  I try to ignore her, but she keeps knocking until I finally get up from my chair and open the door.  I look down the hallway and see the dog’s furry backside bouncing up and down as she runs back to the living room.  I follow her only to find that she has jumped into her small, round bed and pretends to be asleep.

I go back into my bedroom and a few minutes later, the scratching begins again.  I open the door, and Starburst is once more running back to her bed.  She jumps onto the mattress and once more pretends to sleep.  “Stop now, Starburst,” I’ll tell her.  “Your not funny.”

But the situation happens again.  I hear scratching at my door.  I see a small dog racing down the hallway.  I see her little body jerk into bed.  She lays her head down and once more closes her eyes.  This time, however, I just laugh at her.  I walk over and  pick her up. I cuddle her close and carry her back into the bedroom with me where she will fall asleep on my lap while I work on my novel or my poetry book.  Sometimes, she’ll crawl underneath my bed where she snores and sniffs loudly as she enjoys her dreams.

There were some late nights when Starburst would visit my bedroom and become very agitated.  I don’t know what it was, but something inside my closet upset her.  She would stand stiff and straight in the middle of my room, staring intently and growling at something in the corner of my closet.  There were some nights that she really freaked me out, too.  Did she see…or sense…something that I couldn’t comprehend?

But last night, she was suddenly over her fear.  As soon as she entered my bedroom, she went over to the closet and climbed in through the open wooden door.  She then quickly created a small nest out of my shoes and promptly fell asleep.  There was no growling or barking, no fear or agitation.  She snored peacefully. And I slept much easier that night, too.

Starburst is also learning to have better manners and not be so impatient.  Before, whenever she was hungry or thirsty, she would stand in the kitchen with her bowl in her mouth.  She would fling the bowl, hitting me in the ankles with it, whenever I walked into the room.  Oh, yes, I got the message: she needed food or water!

Starburst no longer behaves this way now, though.  The other night, I walked into the kitchen to wash the dishes.  I didn’t notice that her bowl was empty.  Instead of throwing it at me, I suddenly heard a small cough.  Seriously, the dog just started to emit dainty, little coughs.  Ahha! Ahha!  She sounded just like Ben Stiller in Zoolander when he thought he had the black lung.  But she got my attention, and I filled her bowl.  She looked up at me with a grateful smile, sipped slowly, and then gracefully walked out of the kitchen with her tail held high.  She hadn’t been anxious or angry.  She was courteous and kind.  This made me very happy.

Starburst had had some health issues over the last few months.  She had been suffering from digestive illnesses, and her right eye had become infected making it difficult for her to see.  Mary, my sister-in-law, had taken Starburst to a series of vet appointments that include a few shots and several rounds of medication.  The loving efforts of my sister-in-law and the doctor really has made a difference.

Starburst is returning to good health, and her personality has been affected in very positive ways. She is a perfect example of the mind/body connection.  It is true for every living thing.  When we are in good health, we are loving and kind.  When we feel good about ourselves and practice love, our phsyical bodies heal.  I smile now as Starburst comes into my room.  And as she cuddles up on my lap and falls asleep, I wish good health and loving blessings on everyone of God’s precious creatures.  God Bless You and Good Health!

 

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Katie

Katie had the biggest eyes I had ever seen.  But maybe that was because the world was still so fresh and new to her.  She was only 18 when she left her family home for the first time to attend the University of Hull in Kingston-Upon-Hull, England.  Her love and compassion were so great, she still felt connected to her family and fiancé even though they were now a hundred miles away.  Katie didn’t seem stressed by the change in her life, though.  Instead, she seemed endlessly excited to face every new challenge with a bright smile and a determined fearlessness normally inherent in most young people.

Though she was embracing a new life with strength and determination, Katie was still not ready to give up some of her young girl ways.  She moved into her student house with a suitcase full of clothes, books, and a menagerie of cuddly friends.  A trunkload of furry, stuffed animals lived underneath a large array of photos of family and friends that were tacked up in random order on her yellow bedroom wall.  The glassy-eyed bunnies, dogs, and ducks sat on her narrow hard bed all year and sometimes Katie would tuck them snugly under her heavy quilt before leaving for classes in the morning.  Her long dark hair would be wrapped up in a high bun or bouncing in curls down her back as she ran for the bus or walked in the cool English wind to campus.  Katie was studying fashion and set design for the theater.  She loved going to the cinema and enjoyed live theater.  She was a talented actress who loved music and had no fear of a dance floor.

I thought I knew Katie very well.  We were roommates at the University of Hull.  I was the exchange student from America.  I was the older, weird foreigner that Katie randomly got stuck with during her first year.  Katie, however, didn’t seem to mind.  She embraced me as a member of her family.  I was her older, gypsy sister from the very first day we meet.  I remember Katie’s excitement in meeting her “first, real live American!”  I remember the warmth and kindness she extended to me the night it was my turn to cook the student meal for my house and I burnt the food so badly we all went to bed hungry that night.  Katie had wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close as I cried from embarrassment, shame, and guilt for starving everyone.  Though Katie and I would go shopping and to the cinema together, though we would relax together over endless cups of tea, though we would lie in our separate beds, together in the dark, talking into the night, there were times when Katie would be the bratty kid sister to my worldly older sibling mindset.  At times, I would push her away while demanding my space.  I would become annoyed when she would read my newspaper directly over my right shoulder.  I would complain when she opened my mail before I got home or wanted to hang out with my dates and me.  I cringed when she went through my luggage and criticized my fashion sense or lack thereof.

Katie always seemed to understand, though, when I became frustrated.  She would slowly and sorrowfully back away from me.  But  then like most younger sisters, she would be right by my side again the next morning; she would once more laugh, play, and lift me up whenever I felt like I was falling down.  For that year, we were family, at times close and loving; at others annoyed and upset with each other.  But sisters all the same.

A year later, Katie and I hugged good-bye as we shared whispered promises to stay in touch and write often.  Katie would be continuing her studies at the University of Hull, while I returned to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, America.

But the years sped so quickly by and life got in the way, and Katie and I started to travel in separate directions.  Over the years, we lost touch, which is something I continue to regret.

I thought of Katie over the years and wondered if she married her fiancé and what kind of wedding they had.  I wondered how many children Katie raised or if she had decided to dedicate her life to the arts.  Knowing Katie’s exuberant personality, she probably was superwoman, putting tremendous effort into motherhood and career and was exceptional at both.

Now, after many months of escaping from my thoughts, Katie’s sweet smile, big eyes, long hair, and enthusiastic personality have been on mind since Monday, May 22, 2017.  Around 4 pm that day, I learned that there had once more been a suicide bomber who killed himself along with 22 innocent young people.  Over 100 people were injured and fifty-nine of those people were in the hospital.  The bombing occurred directly after an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Katie and her family lived in Manchester, England.

I don’t know yet if Katie and her family are safe.  I don’t know if she was even at the concert.  I wish now more than ever that I had never lost contact with her.

I am older now and so much wiser and I’m beginning to realize a few things.  Over the years, I have regretted the things that I didn’t do more than the things I did.  But I mainly regret the moments when I could have loved another person or maintained a friendship, but didn’t make the effort.  Regretting people is so much harder than regretting events.  Do you ever get the opportunity to say I love you again?  I can change events.  I can alter the course of my life.  But I can’t always go back and rewrite relationships especially when I don’t even know where to find that particular person again.

It’s been hard to hear about the terrorist attacks over the last few years.  Europe (France, Belgium, London) holds incredibly special memories for me, and I suffer horrible heartaches when all of the beautiful places I have loved so much have been destroyed.  But this time, I intimately know someone whose hometown was attacked by terrorism and my heart has been completely broken.

I think about Katie now and pray that she and her family are safe.  And I really pray that it is not too late to say something so incredibly simply.

I’m so grateful, Katie, that you were my special, sweet roommate for my year in England.  Thank you.

I miss you, Katie.

I love you.

Prayers for Manchester

My Perfect Roses

Last Sunday, my thoughts were just as drab and boring as the world I had been walking through.  I felt trapped as I made my way down the main aisle of the backroom of my workplace.  I was surrounded on all sides by dull, concrete floors, light gray steel beams, and plain brown cardboard boxes.  But then just like in the Wizard of Oz when black and white scenes suddenly blossom into brilliant color, I noticed something crimson red shining just to my left side.  I turned around and gasped as I caught my breath.

“Oh, those are beautiful!”  I sighed as I came to a complete dreamlike stop.  I suddenly forgot why I had been in such a hurry as I focused on the long stem roses that were lying in a blue basket.  The black handle of the square basket was resting across Bernard’s left arm.

“Do you want a rose?” the assistant manager asked me.

“Really,” I smiled.  “I can have one?”

“Of course, you can,” he answered as he offered the basket out to me.  I thanked him profusely and grabbed the stem of a large blooming red rose.  I pulled the luscious flower from the basket and held it up to my face to breath in the delicious scent of the petals.  “Okay,” Bernard said after I had been completely intoxicated with the sweet aroma.  “You have to let me take your picture now.”

That’s when I noticed that Bernard was holding a digital camera in his opposite hand.  I’ve always been very uncomfortable in front of cameras.  So, now, I shook my head.  “No, thanks,” I told him.  “I’ll have to give you the rose back.”  I started to place the beautiful, perfect creation back into the basket.  Refusing the picture was actually a graceful way out for me because I had suddenly realized that the roses actually had a special purpose.  The flowers were for Mommas.  I had completely forgotten through the course of my busy workday that it was Mother’s Day.  I don’t have children of my own and my mother had passed on seven years ago.  So, of course, I don’t really have a reason or a right to celebrate Mother’s Day and, honestly, it is a holiday that makes me really sad.  I sighed wistfully as I placed the rose back into the basket.

“No, it’s okay,” Bernard told me.  “You can have a rose.  Go ahead and keep it…and I won’t force you to have your picture taken either.”

I just shook my head no and slowly began to back away.  I didn’t deserve the flower.  “Thank you, Bernard,” I told him.  “I do appreciate it but I’m not a mother.  I don’t have any children.  These roses should go to mothers today.

Bernard just laughed then and said, “It doesn’t matter.  You can have a rose, too, if it makes you happy.  Come on.  Take one.”  He held the basket out to me again.

I couldn’t stop smiling now as I grabbed hold of the stem of the flower I had just returned and pulled it back out of the basket.  “Thank you,” I told him.

“That’s fine,” Bernard answered.  “Just enjoy it.

And I did.  Holding the rose and running my fingers over the red, feather soft petals made my day a little brighter.  I was really missing my mother and the rose made me think of her.  I thought about the rose bush my mother had planted and carefully nurtured in the corner of our backyard when I was a child.  But then, thinking about my mother who had sacrificed so much for me, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty.  I wondered if I had taken a rose away from a woman who was much more deserving than I could ever be.  Did I just steal a rose from one of the many gracious women who went through the pain of childbirth and suffered sleepless nights taking care of sick children?

Honestly, I would have loved to have been one of those women.  But certain life situations and health problems such as ovarian cysts and uterine tumors prevented me from feeling worthy of a rose.  But I also had to admit that the flower and Bernard’s kindness, the way he included me in this simple tribute, made me smile and brightened my day.

A week later, Sunday, May 20, 2017, I was back at work and having a rather bad day.  I kept repeating to myself New Age affirmations to help me make it through my work hours.  “A good or bad day is just my perception.”  “I can use my power of positive thinking to make this a better day.”  But nothing seemed to help.  I spent the day struggling with even the most minor tasks.  I just couldn’t seem to adjust to the stress of the day and my frustration was pushing me to the point of tears.

As I struggled to pull myself together that afternoon, I suddenly heard someone calling out to me.  I turned around to see  Charles standing behind me.  “Here, this is for you, Jamie,” he said as he held out his hand to me.  “Take this and hold onto it until your day becomes better.”  I stared down at the small, red rose resting in his palm, and my heart suddenly filled with hope and gratitude.  I was so touched by Charles’s sweet gesture.  “Thank you so much,” I answered.  “That’s so sweet of you.”   I reached out and took the rose from his hand.  As Charles walked away , I pinned the rose to my shirt and immediately began to feel much better.  What an amazing blessing that gift was!  And now, after all of the positive thinking I tried to force on myself, that simple rose made me feel so much better.

I thought now about both roses I had received over the last two Sundays and I realized something.  Though I regret not being a mother, though I am ashamed of myself for not handling my frustration better, people still cared about me.  I don’t have to be anything in particular or do anything special for people to think of me.  I had no reason to feel inadequate or ashamed or lacking in my life.  I don’t have to have a great job or a lot of money.  Instead, all I had to do was be kind and have a good heart and there will always be people to support and help me.

My coworker’s kindnesses reminded me of the love Jesus Christ holds for all of us.  He knows our regrets and our failings and yet He continues to love and support us anyway.  He continues to help us grow strong and beautiful and blossom into special spirits….just like my beautiful perfect roses.  I am so blessed!

Thank you so much, Bernard and Charles, for your kindness…and my roses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace for the Living

I decided to spend last Thursday in quiet contemplation.  I wanted to take the day one minute at a time and just breathe.  I didn’t want to worry about anything; I just wanted to be introspective.  So that morning, I woke up slowly and took my time getting out of bed.  I had a leisurely breakfast that consisted of a Powerbar and a diet coke.  That certainly wasn’t an elegant or nutritious breakfast, of course, but I really didn’t care.  I was thinking much deeper thoughts.  I had to admit that I was sad, but not depressed.  I just felt an overall achiness throughout my spirit that stopped me from being energetic.  I finally got myself dressed and pushed myself to get on with my day.  I didn’t have anything on my schedule, but I needed to get out of the house for a while.  I planned just to run a few errands and then go back home.

My first stop was at Wal-mart to get my prescription filled.  After placing my order with the pharmacy technician, I took a seat on the small, iron bench by the pharmacy counter as I waited for my order to be filled.  As soon as I sat down, I suddenly heard a loud voice shouting from behind me.  “What do you mean you don’t have it!” a female voice yelled.  “No, you don’t understand.  I need Holy Basil.  Where is it?”

I tried not to pay attention, but I had nothing to distract me.  I didn’t have my book with me and I didn’t want to search for my phone at the bottom of my purse.  I told myself it was none of my business but as the woman continued screaming for the herbal supplement, I turned around for a quick glance.  My eyes focused on a short, dark haired, older woman in a large trench coat and a brown scarf which was wrapped around her head.  Her lined face was twisted into a hard scowl and her eyes blazed with anger.

Not wanting to catch her eye, I quickly turned back around in my seat.  I didn’t want to stare at the woman.  I didn’t want to listen to her but I couldn’t block out her voice as she continued to rage.  “I can’t believe you don’t have it.  You carry so many other herbal products.  Why don’t you have that one?  I know you have it somewhere.  It helps with stress.  And I have so much stress right now!”

Don’t we all, lady?  I thought rudely.  While I was getting anxious, the sales clerk answered in a calm voice.  “Ma’am, I’m sorry.  We just don’t carry that herb in stock…”

“It is called Holy Basil,” the woman repeated herself.  “It is a common herb used to manage stress.  I need it now.  I swear I just saw it here with the other vitamins and herbs last week.  I can’t believe you don’t have it now.  I know it has to be here.  Look again,” the woman ordered the clerk.

The sales clerk’s voice now began to rise in frustration as she stated, “Ma’am, I’ve already checked our stock twice.  We don’t have it.  I can try to order it for you….”

“But I needed it now,” the woman insisted.  “You just don’t get it!  I can’t handle my stress right now!  I read that Holy Basil should help.  You don’t know what my life is like.  I have my elderly parents living with me right now.  It is really stressful taking care of my mom and dad.”

I just shook my head hopelessly.  So this woman is stressed because she has her parents living with her.  God, what I won’t give to have my parents back with me again.  Both my parents had crossed over.  My father died of a brain aneurysm eighteen years ago.

And my mother…

Well, that very day was the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing.  And here I was listening to a woman complain because she had to live with her parents.

I had been living with my mother right before she passed.  Mom had moved out to California from Kansas and lived in my studio apartment with me for the last nine months of her life.  Though small disagreements, like when was the best time to take out the trash, would flare up from time to time, we got along well and I’m very thankful now that we had those last few months together.  So now, I wanted to turn to the raging woman and say, “You don’t know how fortune you are.  You still have your parents.  Every single day, I miss just talking to my mother.”

And it is true.  No matter how successful you are, you still need your parents.  It’s hard to lose a parent no matter how old you are.  I’m fortunate that I had my parents through most of my adulthood, but that didn’t make it any easier when they passed.  Even as an adult, I felt no more prepared for their deaths than if I had been an orphaned child.

But now as I listened to the woman complain on the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I wanted to scream as I heard the woman’s voice continue in an anxious yell, “You just don’t understand.  I can’t handle the stress.”

And then the woman’s voice began to choke with tears.  “I have to take full care of my father while he is recovering from a major stroke.  He has to learn to walk again and he doesn’t talk at all.  And my mother, my mother has Alzheimer’s.  Her dementia is so bad,” the woman suddenly sobbed, “her dementia is so bad, she doesn’t even know who I am.”

Oh, my God, I sighed heavily and tears burned my eye as I listened to the woman’s sobs.  My father passed within two days of his brain aneurysm, and I only had to take care of my mother for five weeks after she had been diagnosed with colon cancer.  I was my mother’s only caregiver, and I was constantly worried and anxious.  How would I get Mom to all of her chemotherapy treatments and take care of all of her needs while working full time so I could continue to support us?  I really tried to take care of my mother to be best of my abilities…but I know that I probably angry and tired, too.  I’m surprised I hadn’t been standing in the middle of a Wal-mart somewhere screaming at the pharmacy clerk to find me something for stress.  I know that in just those five weeks that I had took care of my mother before her death, I wasn’t always patient and kind, either.

I was ashamed now that I had judged this woman so unfairly.  Her situation was none of my business in the first place, and therefore, it was beyond my judgment.  So why did I make it my problem?  Why did I take her behavior so personally?  Now, I realized it was true.  I never really know someone else’s situation or what they are suffering.  I can never really know what another person is going through.  Everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about.

I wanted to get up from my seat and approach the woman.  I wanted to tell her how sorry I was.  But the woman was already walking away.  She had given up on finding the herb she thought she so badly needed when instead maybe she just needed someone to understand what she was going through.  I watched as the woman walked past me with her shoulders down and her head lowered.  But I didn’t approach her.  She was running past me so fast and my thought couldn’t seem to catch up with her.  So instead, I prayed for her and asked God to send his blessings to her family.  I also asked God to help me be more tolerant of other people’s emotions and outburst and to better understand other people’s situations.  I prayed that all of us would find some level of peace that day.

I had no doubt right then that Momma, along with God and His many angels, were smiling down on all of us.  And I smiled as I realized that there was no better way to honor the anniversary of my mother’s passing than to pray for another person seeking some a remedy for her home and family situation.  I miss and love you.  Rest in peace, Momma…

…And may God grant peace to all of us.

 

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!

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.

Hangry

The noise was driving me crazy!  I tried to concentrate on my essay but the dog just wouldn’t stop barking!  Every single one of his yelps just seemed to pierce right through my aching head.  I couldn’t imagine what had set him off.  I had filled the food bowl just a few minutes earlier.  I didn’t hear anyone come to the door.  Maybe the dog just wanted to go outside and chase around the stray kitties and squirrels that roamed into the yard from time to time.  After a few more minutes of listening to the endless barking that dissolved into loud screeching howls that seared into my brain and shattered my equilibrium, I finally pushed myself away from my desk and stomped through the living room into the dining room.

“What is going on?”  I shouted out in general to our three small, hyper dogs.  Cowboy, our brown-and-white, spotted dachshund, was standing underneath the large, wooden dining room table.  He was staring into the kitchen as he continued to bark and howl.

“Cowboy,” I shouted to him, “stop it.  What’s wrong with you?”  I glanced into the kitchen and then started to laugh.  “Ah, Dog,” I sighed, “it’s okay.”  But I don’t think he was listening to me as he glared at Starburst and Friskie and continued to growl.

Yes, as usual, around 6 pm, I had filled the dogs’ double-sided, plastic bowl with their usual hard, dry, crunchy dog food.  Typically, Cowboy, the lone male dog, always had one side of the bowl to himself.  Our two female dogs, Friskie and Starburst, either shared the other side or took turns eating.  This night, however, the females decided to stage a mini, non-violent rebellion.  Friskie and Starburst each took a side of the bowl and refused to let Cowboy in between them.  I’m sure Cowboy was thinking “the little bitches” as he grew more upset and continued to howl and whimper.  “Cowboy, it’s okay,” I tried to soothe him.  “You can eat in just a minute.  Let the girls finish.”

But Cowboy wasn’t used to waiting.  He was hungry now and wanted the females out of his way.  But no matter how fierce Cowboy barked, the females refused to be intimidated.  They just continued to scoop the morsels into their mouths and chew happily, totally ignoring the demands of the only male currently in the house.  In an effort to defuse the situation, I walked over to the large, plastic, red bag in the corner of the kitchen and scooped out a handful of dog food.  I sat down on the floor and called Cowboy over to me as I held the food out to him.  Cowboy suddenly choked back a hearty bark and raced over to me.  He leaped up into my lap and started nibbling the food that I held in the palm of my right hand.  As he chewed, I gently scolded him, “Now, don’t you feel silly causing such a fuss?  I’m not going to let you starve.”  Cowboy continued to eat from my hand until the females had finished their meal.  Then he ran over to the bowl and feasted on the scraps that the female dogs had left for him.  He bobbed his head back and forth between both sides of the bowl as he quickly gobbled up the rest of the food as if he was afraid someone would suddenly take it away from him.

I sat on the floor and sighed as I watched Cowboy begin to lick at the bottom of the bowl.  I never knew before that dogs could get low blood sugar.  Cowboy has a big problem with hypoglycemia.  He gets “HANGRY”!  If the dog isn’t fed by 7 pm, he has a complete meltdown.  Cowboy will bark and cry.  He will run around the living room in circles.  He will jump at me and claw at my legs as I innocently walk by him.  His obnoxious behavior doesn’t stop until he finally gets food into his belly.  Once he has been fed, Cowboy will finally calm down, relax, and return to his normally affectionate self as he lovingly cuddles up on the couch with me or protectively sits under my chair in my room as I work on the computer.  Though Cowboy is the most outrageous, he is not the only one of our dogs that gets “hangry!”

Starburst also gets agitated if she isn’t fed by a certain time.  She doesn’t whine or cry, however.  She has a completely different approach.  Most evenings, I’ll suddenly hear a soft scratch-scratch-scratch on the closed door of my room.  It will stop for a temporary moment and then it will begin again.  Scratch-scratch-scratch.  When I finally have had enough, I will get up from my computer and open the door.  Starburst will be out in the hallway, jumping up and then spinning dizzily around in tiny circles on the hardwood floor.  She will suddenly come to a stop and woozily wobble for a moment before heaving a deep sigh and then running down the hallway.  She knows that this display gets my attention every time and I will follow her as she runs through the living room into the dining room and finally into the kitchen.  When I finally catch up to her, she will pick up the empty plastic food bowl in her mouth and fling it at me striking me on the  lower legs.  Seriously…this tiny, fluffy dog will continue to throw her bowl at my feet and legs until I finally take it away from her, fill it with dog food, and place it back down on the floor for her.

Thankfully, Friskie is much more patient.  She doesn’t get upset or irritated as she waits to be fed.  However, she is not completely drama free when it comes to food.  I made a horribly mistake with the dogs one night.  Just because I was feeling a little lonely, I decided to keep the dogs company while they were having dinner.  I watched all three dogs huddled around the food bowl and when Friskie was suddenly pushed out of the way by the two hangry dogs, I did the same thing for her that I did for Cowboy previously.  I scooped up a handful of food out of the bag and began to feed Friskie directly out of my hand.  It made me laugh to feel her small, sharp teeth nipping at my hand as she pulled the small tidbits of food from my palm.  Suddenly, I realized that the other two dogs had stopped eating.  They had raised their heads up out of the bowl and noticed that Friskie was getting special treatment.  Now, Cowboy and Starburst ran over and jumped onto my lap as I sat in the middle of the floor.  The bowl had been temporarily forgotten and all three dogs were now feeding out of my hand.  I was completely caught up in the moment.  It was funny and sweet and I couldn’t stop laughing as the dogs climbed all over me to get to the food.  It was a fun, bonding moment for all four of us.

Only there was just one small problem.  Friskie, especially, really enjoyed cuddling up to me and eating out of my hand.  When I put the food out for the dogs the following evening, Friskie refused to eat.  She stood a few feet away from the bowl and cried as she watched Starburst and Cowboy feast.

“Friskie, it’s okay,” I told her.  “Go on, eat.”  I reached over and nudged Starburst and Cowboy off to one side as I made room for Friskie at the bowl.  But the dog still refused to eat.  “Friskie, what’s wrong?”  I whispered to her.  “Aren’t you hungry?”  I reached out my hand to stroke back her long brown-and-white fur.  To my surprise, she suddenly turned her head and gave the palm of my hand a long, sticky lick.  I suddenly realized that Friskie refused to eat out of her bowl because she wanted to be handfed again!  I was a little surprised that the other dogs didn’t nip at my hand as I reached right into their bowl as they continued to feed.  I grabbed a handful of kibbles for Friskie and held it out to her.  Now, the dog danced around the kitchen on her four tiny paws in excitement before eating the food right out of my hand.  Like any nervous, first-time mother, I was relieved that she was at least eating.  I tried several times to discuss the situation with Friskie.  I told her that she was a big doggie now and needed to eat out of the big doggie bowl.  But she continued to refuse any food unless it was first resting in the palm of my hand.  I know that I was giving in to the dog’s demands but I wasn’t sure now how to break her of this dependency.  Okay, and yes, I’ll admit it, maybe I was a little co-dependent.  Now, I had to find a way of breaking us both of this addictive behavior.

Then one night, as Starburst and Cowboy were having dinner and Friskie was once more cuddled up to me, I reached over to the large food bag and pulled out some kibbles for her.  As the dog began to nibble from my hand, I began to think that the food was a little different this time.  The pieces felt smaller and of lighter weight.  I looked down at the morsels in my hand and found that the pieces were all shaped like little, brown fish…and that’s when I suddenly realized that I had accidently reached into the kitty food bag!

I stared at the small dog in my arms for a moment before I started to laugh.  “Friskie,” I screeched to her, “you just ate kitty food.  Oh my gosh, you ate kitty food!”  Friskie looked up at me for a moment with a horrified expression on her little face before she raised her furry paws up and started to rub her mouth and nose.  I stared at her for a moment as she now jumped away from me and began to roll around on the floor.  I leaned forward and began to rub her down as I said, “Oh, Friskie, you ate kitty food!  You are going to have kitty cooties.  You got kitty cooties!”  Friskie actually howled as she rolled around on her back for a little while longer.

Finally, Friskie sat up in front of me with her little tail wagging and her tongue hanging off to the side as she panted.  She looked closely at me as if she was asking “Why?” and then she ran to the round plastic water bowl and buried her face in the cool fluid.  She quickly lapped up the water until the bowl was empty.  Even though she eventually forgave me for “kittygate,”  Friskie never begged to eat out of my hand again.  She now, once more, fights for her place at the food bowl with the other two dogs.

The dogs don’t have perfect manners.  One day, I came home from work and was a little hangry myself.  I decided to snack on a bag of Marshmallow Mateys.  I love eating dry cereal right out of the bag.  I settled down onto the couch in the living room, turned on the TV to watch Judge Judy, and ripped open my bag of cereal.  But as I put the first sugary piece into my mouth, I suddenly felt as if I was being watched.  I looked down and noticed that all three dogs were lined up directly in front of me.  All three dogs stared menacingly up at me as if I was cheating them at a card game.  What was going on?  Why would all three dogs be staring suspiciously at me?  I followed their sight line and realized that the dogs were staring at the red plastic bag that was sitting on my lap.  Oh, my gosh, it looked just like their dog food bag!  Did the dogs honestly think I was stealing their dog food?

“No, no, it’s okay,” I tried to tell them.  “This is not yours.  This is people food.”

But I know that they weren’t listening to me as all three of the dogs started to whine and beg.  This was really unusual.  Our dogs usually let the family eat in peace.  My sister-in-law, Mary, who actually owns the dogs, had trained them not to beg at the table.  But it didn’t help when the dogs assumed I was holding their dog food bag.  Did the dogs honestly think I was helping myself to their food?

“No, dogs,” I tried to tell them, “people food.  It may be in a package that looks like dog food, but it really is people food.  It’s for me, okay?”

But the dogs didn’t trusting me.  They now began to sit up and then jumped up and down.  “No,” I told them as I shook my head at their annoying behavior.  “I’m not going to feed you.  I can’t feed you cereal.”

Now, the dogs started barking loudly as they demanded to be fed, but I didn’t want to share.  I decided just to ignore them and that worked for a little while…

…Until I unexpectedly dropped a golden, round, chunky piece of cereal on the carpet.  I quickly leaned down to pick it up but before I could reach it, Cowboy suddenly sprung forward and grabbed the piece up into his mouth.  He quickly chewed it up and swallowed it down.

Dang!  But there was nothing I could do about it now.  But then the situation became worse.  I suddenly noticed that Friskie and Starburst had grown very quiet as they turned to look at each other.  Then, as they turned to stare back up at me, I knew then exactly what they were thinking.  “Well,” the thought seemed to pass between all of us, “you feed him.”

“It was an accident,” I tried to tell Friskie and Starburst.  “I didn’t mean to feed Cowboy.  I just dropped a piece.”

But that didn’t seem to matter.  It just didn’t seem fair to Friskie and Starburst.  Cowboy got a piece and they didn’t.  I groaned as I listened to them whimper and noticed that they stared at Cowboy with hostility.  Now, to help calm the situation, I took a deep breath and reached into the cereal bag.  “Alright,” I sighed as I held a sugary morsel out to each of them, “just don’t tell your momma.”  Momma, of course, referred to my sister-in-law, who would probably be very unhappy with our self-indulgent behavior this afternoon.  Friskie and Starburst jumped excitedly forward and gobbled up the cereal.  Then they began to swirl excitedly around the room.  They don’t usually get sugar and now it seemed to make them extremely happy.  I started to laugh and all of us were so happy, I couldn’t resist.  I snuck another piece of cereal to each of the dogs.  The dogs went a little crazy as they danced around the living room in excitement.  Oh, great, I thought.  I just sent all of three dogs on a sugar high!  “Okay, okay, dogs,” I sighed now.  “Calm down.  It’s okay.”  They were “sugar giddy” for a few minutes before they finally crashed down on the brown and gold carpeting and drifted off to sleep.

Ever since that moment, I have vowed to never again interfere with the dogs’ eating habits.  Life has returned to normal.  Cowboy still is grouchy when he is hangry; Starburst continued to throw her bowl at my legs; Friskie still wants to be “puppied” but is learning to eat like a grown up dog.

I will admit, though, from time to time, I will still walk into the kitchen while they are eating.  I will grab small pieces of food from their bowl.  They don’t nip at me, I think, because  they know what I have planned.  I hold the food out to them, and the dogs nip the morsels out of my fingertips.  The dogs chew the food, swallow it down, and smile (yes, I swear, they smile) up at me and wag their tails.  It makes me feel needed.  It makes me feel loved.

Gosh, I needed to stop being so co-dependent….