Category Archives: Unconditional love

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.

 

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The Beholder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe, it just comes down to a choice.

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

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

But then again, aren’t we all?!

 

Vibrant Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was time to dye my hair.

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

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

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

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

Um…wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um….someday…

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

I am a vibrant red!

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….

All Lives Matter…Even Furry Ones!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and that’s when I heard it…

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

And then I heard it again…

UUUUHHHHH!

What was that?

UUUUUUUHHHHHHHH!

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

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

UUUUUUUHHHHHHH!  UUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UUUUUUUUHHHHHH!

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

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

….and then silence.

No more movement…no more noise…

…just stillness… and silence…

And then the dog coughed.  She coughed.

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

…. and then she swallowed.

She swallowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

History Lesson

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

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

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

Okay, to be honest…

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

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

I’m amazed how many people disagree with me.

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

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

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

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

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

But then…

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

…that only comes with age!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, I am older.  I have a history….

I am history.