Tag Archives: people

August 21, 2017

I had asked my family and friends not to have any celebrations on Monday, August 21, 2017.  Because everyone had listened to me and honored my request, I woke up that morning suddenly realizing that it was now completely up to me to make it a great day.  So to begin with, I decided to take myself out to breakfast.  I quickly got up and dressed and left my home.

As I drove to the local Taco Bell (okay, yes…I’m a fast food/diner kind of girl!), I was abruptly stopped by a traffic light on State Avenue.  As I waited for the light to change, a sudden movement to my right caught my attention.  I now focused on a large, chunky, young boy walking down the street.  The boy was about 13- or 14-years-old and dressed in blue jeans with a black t-shirt.  The long bangs of his black, curly hair brushed against the silver wire frames of his glasses.  A tattered, brown backpack was strapped across his broad shoulders.  I watched as the young teen pumped his right arm wildly into the air.  I couldn’t hear any music, but the punching of the boy’s fist and the quick banging of his head gave the impression that he was listening to rock or heavy metal music.  Oh, my gosh, I thought, this was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen!  This young boy was dancing down the sidewalk next to the busy avenue without any care of who was watching or what anyone might think!  I knew then that that kid had a lot more courage than I ever had.  And I prayed that someday I would be that free, too.

I carried the image of the boy in my mind as I parked my car and walked across the lot to the entrance of Taco Bell.  Suddenly, the glass door pushed open and a middle-aged man in a torn white t-shirt and glasses walked out.  His sparse dark strands of hair were tousled across the bald areas of his head as he stepped to the side and held the door open for me.  “Thank you,” I told him to which he quickly responded, “You’re welcome.”  Then he enthusiastically shouted, “God bless you!  God bless you!”  I stopped for a moment and smiled.  I don’t know who the man was or what special powers he may possess but I suddenly felt immensely blessed as I ate my breakfast and contemplated the rest of my day.

And the day just kept getting better.  I returned home to find that the neighbors across the street from our house were out in their front yard.  The three-year-old son was joyfully running around the lawn with his hands raised up in the air as his voice emitted loud shrieks.  The child would run up to his father and then spin around.  He would walk slowly away while screaming, “Monster!  Monster!”  That was the father’s cue to chase after the boy who ran around the yard in wild circles.  Finally, the man grabbed the child and threw him up in the air as both father and son giggled loudly.  Then, the boy was placed on the ground and the whole sequence would start all over again.  I covertly watched the neighbors play for a few minutes before climbing out of my car and walking inside the house.

I spent the majority of the afternoon cleaning my room and tossing away my old files of class notes, bank statements, and receipts.  Today, I felt a compelling need to clean out the old and anticipate the new.  I compulsively worked on this project until it suddenly became too dark to see what I was doing.  I didn’t turn on any lights.  Instead, I got up from my desk and walked into the living room.  I opened the front door and looked outside.  The sky was growing steadily darker and the streetlights all began to glow.  I stepped out onto the porch and looked at all of the neighbors who were standing in their front yards looking up at the sky with plastic and cardboard glasses strapped to their faces.  I didn’t look up.  I knew not to stare at the sun without protection.  I didn’t purchase any glasses and I hadn’t planned to participate in watching the moon cross in front of the sun.  I just wanted to experience the sudden darkness creeping over the Midwest and witness the changes it created in nature.

I just sat on the front porch in the dusk and listened to the crickets beginning to chirp at the early night, even though it was only 1:08 pm on Monday afternoon.  A solid peace overcame me as I contemplated my fascination with the dark heavens.  Some of my best memories are the moments of seeing shooting or falling stars.  I always felt a solid thrill race through me at this phenomenon.  I have seen many shooting stars over the years and they have never failed to elicit an unusual excitement within me.  It’s the unexpectedness of the heavens suddenly moving and displaying an immense, living essence that thrills me.

And that’s how I wanted to experience the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.  I didn’t want to pay for glasses and “plan” to watch.  I wanted the eclipse to ease over me, taking me by surprise as it engulfed me in its unusual occurrence.  I wanted the eclipse to unexpectedly thrill me as if I had just seen a thousand shooting stars.

So, now, I sat in the darkness while taking deep breaths and contemplating the universe.

And then, something unusual happened.  After sitting in the darkness for a few minutes, there was a sudden snap as if a switch had been flicked and light suddenly began to shoot through the black afternoon.  The darkness had been gradual but the light seemed quick.

It made me think of the days when I would sink into a deep depression, an emotion that had the power to weigh me down and pull me under.  The feeling would come over me slowly until I felt trapped and could not find a way back out.  And then, when least expected, hope suddenly surges through me and immediately pushes me back to life in one swift breathless movement.  That’s what the eclipse was like for me.

I sat for a few more minutes as sunlight continued to chase away the night before I finally got up from the front porch and walked back inside the house.  And not a moment too soon.  Suddenly, with the eclipse passed, thunder echoed through the sky and a hard rain fell to the ground.  As lightning sliced the gray clouds, I walked back to my room with our three small dogs running along behind me.  The dogs made me laugh as they tripped over each other as they raced into my room and under the bed.  They pushed and shoved at each other as they battled for safety from the clashing storm.  I snuggled and played with the dogs for a while before shooing them back out of the room.  Only Starburst refused to leave.  She made me feel unconditionally loved as she cuddled up on my lap as I worked at the computer for the rest of the afternoon.

Later that day, dinner consisted of Chinese food and cake with my brother, Tony, and sister-in-law, Mary, when they came home for work.  As we easily talked and laughed together, I couldn’t help contemplating what a great day this had been.  And I realized then that as I get older I didn’t need big celebrations or expensive presents or huge crowds of people around me.  I just need peaceful moments, times that enhance my spirit and enliven my soul.  Without a doubt, this day, Monday, August 21, 2017, was one of the best birthdays I have ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Human Chain

Last Monday, during a two-hour break between my classes, I decided to drive over to Clark’s, the local health food store and grab some healthy snacks.  I really enjoy shopping through all of the bulk bins that are at the front of the store.  I grabbed several plastic bags and began to fill them up with sesame sticks, blueberry granola, and unsalted peanuts.  Once I had chosen my snacks, I walked over to the registers and got in line.  A few minutes later, the clerk was scanning my purchases while I searched in my wallet for my credit card.  Suddenly, I heard a voice loudly saying to me, “What are you going to do with all of these peanuts?”

I glanced over to see my bag of peanuts suddenly dangling in front of my face as I heard a deep rumble of laughter.  At first, I was a little aggravated.  I don’t like to have my grocery selections questioned or my food touched.  I don’t always like strangers shouting at me, mocking me, or teasing me.  I never know how to respond.  So, yes, I could feel myself becoming irritated.  I looked up from my wallet and suddenly found myself looking into the face of a young man with the most dazzling, happy smile I had ever seen.  The smile was so kind and endearing, I couldn’t be upset.  I stared at the man whose eyes behind his thick glasses were slightly crossed and the look of Down’s syndrome graced his face.  The young man was wearing a green Clark’s apron.  The nametag on the apron had the word “Volunteer” stamped on it.  How cool!

Suddenly, I heard the female clerk’s voice laugh as she said, “Well, she is going to eat them.  What did you think she was going to do with all those peanuts?”

I started to laugh now.  “Do you like peanuts?” I asked the volunteer.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I like them.”

“I do, too,” I answered.   “I think they’re really good.”

“Yeah,” the volunteer answered, “that’s why you have a whole bag of them.”

“Yeah,” I laughed at his observation, “you’re right.  I guess that’s why.”

The clerk interrupted us then as she ran my credit card and asked if I wanted paper or plastic.  I told her I didn’t need a bag at all.  The clerk turned to the volunteer then and smiled, “She doesn’t want a bag, Mike.  Just hand her the items.”

But the volunteer still seemed fascinated with the bag of peanuts.  Suddenly, his face lit up.  “Hey,” he said then, “I know what you can do with all these peanuts!”

“What?”  I asked him as the clerk listened in on his suggestion.  “What should I do with all these peanuts?”

“You can make peanut butter!” he said triumphantly.

The clerk and I laughed then, “Yes,” I told him.  “That’s a great idea!  I just might do that!”

The volunteer handed me the plastic bags of peanuts and sesame sticks as I told him thank you and have a good day.  He smiled at me and wished me the same.  I walked out of the store and started walking over to my vehicle.

As I reached my car, I suddenly noticed a middle aged, blond woman in a silky short black dress and high black heels walking across the parking lot.  The woman was taking very small tentative steps as she pulled at her dress.  She continued to fret with the skirt of her dress, awkwardly pulling it down her legs to her knees as her fingers slipped and tangled in the loose flowing material.  I watched her for just a moment.  The woman walked a little sideways on the balls of her feet as if she was afraid she was going to fall.

As the woman approached me, I smiled and called out to her.  “You look really nice.”

The woman stopped and stared at me for a moment.  Then she smiled as she blinked several times as if to block tears.  “Oh, thank you so much,” she said.  “You look so nice, too.”

I smiled and blushed a little at her words.  I was wearing what I normally wear when I teach my classes.  I want to be comfortable so I wear a long skirt, simple shirt, and flat sandals.  And though I do think the woman was only trying to be nice to me, there was a hint of sincerity and kindness in her words that I don’t usually hear from a lot of people.

I smiled at the woman and said “Thank you.”  I was grateful for her kindness.  The woman stopped walking for a moment as I stood by my car door.  She hesitated as if she was going to say something more to me.  I waited, but she just stood awkwardly still, looking at me with a shy smile as her fingers tugged at the hem of her skirt.  We smiled at each other for a moment more before I said, “You have a great day!”

“Oh, thank you so much,” the woman said as she began to take awkward steps again.  “You, too.  You have a great day.”

I got into my car then and watched as the woman shuffled her way across the parking lot and then stepped inside of the sliding front doors of Clark’s.  As I watched the doors close behind her, I smiled as I thought of all the unusual, amazing people God had brought into my life that day.  I had the greatest feeling that the people I had encountered were in my life for a reason.  Just these brief encounters made me feel incredibly blessed.  I hoped that I had been an inspiration and blessing to other people as well, too.

I drove back to the campus feeling incredibly connected to the Oneness that bonds all souls.  I thanked God for allowing me, in some brief way, to be a link in His amazing human chain.  I don’t want to be the weak link in this chain!  I want to love and be kind to people.  It is always return to me. It comes back around.  For I love myself the most when I love other people.

True Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was Casey upset?” someone asked.

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

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

Spot on the Sun–A Short Story

Something strange happened to me last week.  I don’t know why or exactly how it happened.  All I know is that it did.  It all started this way.  It was Monday, just a Monday, like any other Monday ever since time began.  This Monday was behaving the same as any Monday would.  I am used to it, but, I have to admit, I wish that Mondays would behave like other days of the week.  I would like Monday to become more like a Sunday, reverent, quiet, and lazy.  Or maybe Monday could become more Friday-like, with wild, carefree fun.  But Monday can’t be anything other than a Monday.  And I can’t be anything more than what I am.  I am Stephanie, a quiet woman, a philosopher, a poet, an explorer…the one who looks underneath while everyone else is over the top.  I see things most people don’t see…and that’s exactly what happened last Monday.

It was a typical, sad, lonely Monday, a day of little energy and, even worse, little emotion.  Nobody cares about anything on a Monday.  Everything felt off balance like it normally does on a Monday.  So, this particular morning of hazy sunlight and visible rain didn’t really make an impression on me.  I would expect a Monday to be like that.  I wasn’t really happy about it.  But again, what am I gonna do?  Mondays are going to come around again whether I want them to or not.  They are just always there like an unwelcomed relative.  At least, Mondays know when they have overstayed their welcome and leave after 24 hours.

That certainly isn’t like my cousin John who came to visit me one afternoon, and now, two months later, is still sleeping on my living room couch.  I could hear him snoring as I got out of bed and walked down the hallway to the bathroom.  I could usually hear him snoring anywhere I was in the apartment.  The noise never ends.  He is loud and obnoxious and I wish he would stop.  But he doesn’t.  I almost prefer to hear him snore because then, at least, I know where he is and what he is doing.  It’s when he’s quiet that I panic.  He likes to sneak up on me.  I don’t know why he does that and I really wish he would stop.  Sometimes, I don’t think he realizes that he is doing it.  John just seems to exist wherever John is.  He doesn’t think about anything.

So this particular Monday, I woke up around seven in the morning, rolled out of bed, and walked into the bathroom.  I needed to get ready for work.  I used the toilet and then quickly showered.  After drying myself off with the one good clean towel, I got dressed.  Getting ready on a Monday doesn’t take much thought.  I just put on the same clothes I wear every Monday.  Life is easier that way.  Why complicate a Monday with concerns about what to wear?  Monday will always be Monday regardless of whether I wear pants or a skirt.  Why do people stress over what to wear or what day it is?  Very simply, it was Monday, so I would wear my comfortable black pants, white short-sleeved blouse, and black pumps.  I sighed as I looked at myself in the mirror.  Monday was a cruel manipulator.  It always dictated what I wore and how I felt.

So, even though, it appears that I was off to a great start, it honestly takes me a little longer to get going on Mondays.  I’m always late for work every Monday.  It’s not that I’m lazy or hate to work.  No, it’s just hard for me to get focused after the weekend.  I have a hard time getting in the mindset to go to work on Mondays.  I get easily distracted.

For instance, last Monday, I was twenty minutes late because I stopped to watch a leaf floating in an inch of water in the storm drain down the street.  I can’t tell you why this actually caught my attention but it did.  I just stood there on the sidewalk and watched the leaf swirling around in the dirty water until it was finally swept down into the storm drain with the excess fluid.  Though my body moved on, my mind was still stuck.  I walked to work contemplating how the leaf had fallen so far from the tree and ended up in the storm drain never to return.  So, that’s what happened.  I was twenty minutes late to work last Monday because I was watching a leaf.  The week before I was counting the cracks in the sidewalk and before then I was noticing how much the grass had grown in the courtyard outside my apartment.  So, yes, I’m always late on Mondays.  I usually am not completely focused until Wednesdays.  Then I’m usually fifteen minutes early to work for the rest of the week.  But come Monday, I am late again, and people in the office are beginning to notice.

That Monday, Linda, who works at the desk next to mine suddenly looked at me when I walked into the office and commented, “Well, I guess some of us need extra time to recover from the weekend.”

I hate Linda.

I wish I didn’t have to work next to her.  She is very mean to me.  She constantly makes rude comments to me since I became the Administrative Assistant to Mr. Davis at the law office a year ago.  Maybe she’s afraid I’m going to take her place as Senior Administrative Assistant, as if that is something I really aspire to be.  Maybe she thinks I’m not smart enough for my job.  But whatever the reason, she is always making rude comments.  The data entry clerks in the office are always laughing at the comments Linda makes at me.  I don’t know why the two clerks always laugh at Linda’s remarks.  The comments are never funny.  I think the women are just terrified of Linda.  She can be really scary…

And she loves to eat.  There are always snacks at her desk.  Linda especially loves to eat corn chips.  I can hear her crunching throughout the day.  The smell is disgusting.  I never know what to say to Linda about the food or her rude comments.  One day, I’m going to tell her to stop and leave me alone, but for now, I just prefer to keep my distance.

I pulled my long blond hair back in a loose ponytail and put on a few splotches of make-up before picking up my wide red plastic-framed glasses and sliding them onto my face.  When I was ready, I opened up the bathroom door.  I walked back to my room and grabbed my purse and keys.  I guess I was ready to go.  Maybe I could make it to work on time today.  But it was Monday, and it had been raining since early this morning.  Who knows what manifestations may distract me on my walk to the bus stop today?  Anything can happen, though, I guess.  Maybe that’s what makes life so interesting.  I sighed deeply as I walked out of my room, down the hallway, and…

“AAAHH!”  I suddenly screamed jumping back.  I took several deep breaths and stared at John who stood directly in front of me.  God, I was so caught up in my thoughts about Monday and Linda, I hadn’t noticed that the snoring from the living room sofa had stopped.  John was standing quietly in front of me.

“Geez, Sis,” he stated, tossing back the long, straggly, blond hair that was hanging in his face.  “You need to calm down.  What’s wrong with you, Sis?  You need to relax.  You’re always screamin’.”

I stared at John for a moment.  He always says he doesn’t purposely try to scare me.  He claims he only startles me so easily because I’m never paying attention…

He may have a point…

It’s not fair though…I do pay attention…just not to the things other people think are important.

But I didn’t want a lecture on the art of relaxation from John right now, even though I know he is an expert on doing nothing.  I didn’t want John to tell me about relaxing when I am the one working hard to support both of us.

And I wish he would stop calling me Sis!  I don’t know why he does that.  I am not his sister.  I am his cousin.  Yet, he always says Sis no matter how much it irritates me.  It sounds dismissive to me as if he is just patting me on the head and pushing me away.  I’m beginning to think that he says it on purpose, just to upset me.  One of these days, I will demand that he calls me by my real name—Stephanie Ann Davis.  And then, I’m going to tell him he has to leave.  And then, I’m going to ask for the hundred dollars he owes me…

Just not right now.

I needed to get to work.  Besides, I didn’t want to talk to John about my life or my job or money or anything really.  Talking to John was like talking to a parrot.  He just repeats back what he hears but doesn’t contemplate anything.  It’s amusing for a while, but ultimately pointless.  I push past John and walk into the living room.

“Not even a good morning today,” John called out sarcastically from behind me.  “You can at least say good morning.”  But I was too shocked at the mess I saw as I entered the living room to say anything to him.  Clothes were all over the floor, and a few paper plates of food and several cans of coke were sitting next to the couch.  The place was a disaster.

“John, why did you make such a mess?”  I asked as I pointed to his clutter in the living room.  John stared at me for just a moment as if he thought I was somewhat ridiculous.  I didn’t care about that, though.  I was past the point of worrying what John thought about anything.  I just sighed dramatically.  I had to admit that I was a little irritated when John just chuckled and shrugged his shoulders at my question.  I knew that the mess would wait until I had time to clean it up when I got home from work.

“Yeah, yeah,” John was saying to placate me.  “I’ll get it cleaned up.”  He said the words in a lazy monotone without much commitment.  “But I got stuff to do today.”

I stared at him in shock for a moment.  “What could you possibly have to do today?  You don’t have a job.  You don’t go to school.  How can you be too busy to clean up today?”  I turned away, and walked to the door, but John followed closely behind me.  “Leave me alone, John,” I said to him even though my words didn’t sound threatening at all.  Instead, my voice came out of my dry throat as a bit of a squeak.  So, of course, it didn’t stop John from following me to the front door.

I opened the door and stepped outside into a usual Monday morning.  The sun was just beginning to break through a few of the lingering dark gray clouds.  Large, dirty puddles covered the steps and sidewalks.  I found myself leaping widely in an effort not to splash through the puddles as I made my way down the four wide concrete steps to the sidewalk.  Well, this is different, I mused.  This wasn’t like any other Monday or most rainstorms.  I wasn’t jumping into the puddles and enjoying them like I usually do.  This morning, I was sidestepping the puddles and fighting to keep my thoughts focused on just moving forward.  I didn’t want to get distracted right now.  Any place I stopped to contemplate life, I would have John right beside me.  I wanted to him to leave me alone, but he continued to follow me.  I hoped that the wet morning would deter John, but it didn’t.  He continued to tag along behind me as I walked out the door, down the steps, and onto the sidewalk.

A nasty little thought occurred to me then.  Did I lock the apartment door?  I don’t remember if I had turned the little button on the knob before it swung shut behind us.  I wickedly hoped that I had locked John out of the apartment!  Here was John following me outside while he was wearing the soft flannel blue shorts and white t-shirt that he usually wore to bed.

…And he always tells me that I am oblivious.

Didn’t he realize that he was walking outside in his pajamas?  I hoped we got further from the apartment before John realized that there could be a problem.  I wondered how many people would see John in his pjs.  The thought made me laugh and I was momentarily happy before I began to feel a little bit guilty.  John is not a bad person, I tried to tell myself.  He’s just very misguided and a little selfish.

Hey, maybe I could be a role model for him…

My brilliant idea dissolved into dread as John followed me across the apartment complex parking lot.  Oh, man, he was asking me for money again!  “Just twenty dollars,” he was saying.  “Could you just give me twenty dollars to see me through the week?  I’ll pay you back.”

“You’ll pay me back,” I laughed.  “You already owe me a hundred dollars.”  I glanced back at John who looked rather hurt that I had the nerve to keep track of the money he had borrowed from me over the last few weeks.  I just shook my head at him.  He had no right to feel insulted after he was has been living on my sofa for two months now.  “When are you going to pay me back, John?”  I asked.  “How are you going to pay me back?  You don’t even have a job.”

I didn’t want to give John any more money.  I know how John operates.  He’ll stay with me for a while, bleed me dry, and then move on.  I tell him things like “I’m short on cash right now” or “I haven’t gotten paid from work yet this week.”  I don’t think he believes me.  I’m not an effective liar.

Why don’t I just tell him what I think?  Why can’t I just be honest with him?  John, I should say, just get your crap and move!  I don’t want you sleeping on my couch anymore.  I don’t want you eating all of my food.  You need to contribute.  But instead, I keep my mouth shut and just hope that he will somehow realize that he is no longer welcomed in my home.  But John seems just as oblivious to the things happening around him as I am.  We are family.  Neither one of us really pays attention to anything other people think is important.

John continued to follow me across the parking lot to the opposite sidewalk.  I don’t have a car right now.  That is a bit of a relief.  I know John would ask to borrow it if I had one.  He wouldn’t think anything of taking my car for the day and leaving me stranded, without a way to get to and from work.  I actually take the bus every day.  It’s kind of a hassle…but, at least, John doesn’t get to use my car…if I had one, that is.  The plan backfires sometimes, though…

Two or three times, I had to stay late at work and I missed the bus.  I had to humble myself and ask Linda to give me a ride home.  She was mad, but she eventually did it.  She drove me three blocks and asked me for ten dollars in gas money!  She even lives in my apartment complex!  It wasn’t as if she had to go out of her way to take me somewhere different.  I gave her the money, though.  I didn’t know how to say no.  I was scared to say no, but, honestly, what would she have done?  Driven me back to the office and left me over night?  I don’t know.

I hate Linda.

Now here was John trailing after me down the sidewalk and still asking me if I could please give him twenty dollars…twenty dollars, he claims, is all he needs.  I only had 30 dollars to get me through this week.  That was just for my lunches and bus fare.  I tried to walk a little faster but John was right on my heels.  I could hear his voice behind me.  “C’mon, Sis.  I really need the money, Sis!”  I could feel tears of frustration burning my eyes.  I couldn’t argue with John any more.  I just needed to get away from him.  Now, I hoped I hadn’t accidentally locked the door.  I would have preferred it if John just went back inside the apartment and left me alone.  But, no, matter how fast I walked, he was still there stalking along behind me.  Finally, as I approached the bus stop, I irritably reached down into my purse, pulled out a few dollars, and turned around to face John.

I turned around angrily and probably with more energy than I had intended.  I spun around…and walked right smack into him!  I hadn’t realized that he had been quite that close.  My face collided with his left shoulder.  I felt a sudden whoosh as air spilled out of my lungs and my glasses were knocked off my face.  I caught my breath as I heard my glasses fall onto the sidewalk with a scrapping thud sound.  Oh, man, I hope I didn’t break my glasses…

As I bent down to retrieve my glasses, John did the same thing, and we suddenly cracked our heads together with a hard, loud thump.  The head bump was so hard it caused me to stumble backwards for just a moment.  Before I fell back on my butt, though, I suddenly felt myself being pulled in the opposite direction and back up on to my feet.  I righted myself and then noticed that John was standing in front of me, holding on to my left elbow to prevent me from following over.  I didn’t want to thank him for his help.  I would have preferred to fall on my butt than to feel obligated to John.

Once I had my feet back under me, I yanked my elbow out of his grasp.  John looked at me for a moment as if he expected a reward for his help, maybe like twenty dollars.  When I didn’t respond, John bent down and picked up my glasses from the sidewalk.

“I’m sorry, Sis,” he was saying as he held my glasses out to me.  I bit my lip because I didn’t want to cry and I didn’t want to scream at him.  “Sis,” John was saying.  “I really am sorry…uh, can I have the 20 bucks now?  It’s cold out here.  I want to go back inside my apartment.”  I glared at him for just a moment.  The fact that I had to squint to see him put more menace into the look I shot at him.  “I mean your apartment,” he mumbled.

“Just give me my glasses,” I screeched at him as I reached out my right hand towards him.  I am practically blind without my glasses and feel very vulnerable without them.  At first, John held my glasses away from me.  I heard him laugh once or twice as he yanked them further out of my reach.  “That’s not funny, John!”  I shouted at him.

“Geez, alright, Sis,” John stated.  “I was just playing.  You really needed to relax, Sis.  Why are you always so uptight?”  I continued to stagger around, slashing and sliding through puddles as I batted blindly at the air around me.  I heard a grunt of laughter from John.  I had this strange feeling he was going to hold my glasses hostage for a twenty-dollar ransom.  But, instead, I suddenly saw his blurred image up close as he stood directly in front of me and dropped the glasses right down onto my face.  I jumped back for a moment at the sudden sensation.  As John put the glasses on me, I felt a little cold sliminess settle across the bridge of my nose.  Oh, man, the glasses must have fallen directly into a puddle and John didn’t care enough to wipe them off.  “I’m sorry, Sis.  I really am,” John was saying.  He was quiet for a moment and then added, “I really need the 20 bucks…”

I blinked several times trying to adjust my vision.  Something didn’t seem right here.  I staggered around and then looked up….and that’s when I saw it!  I had glanced up at the sky just as the sun began to shine through a few of the dark clouds.  But the sun wasn’t complete and perfect as it usually was.  Instead, the brilliant golden orb now had a round dark spot right in the center.  Why was this happening?  Oh, my gosh, was this an eclipse or something?  No, no, it couldn’t be that.  The sun wasn’t a solid circle this morning.  Instead, the dark spot on the orb was a small blip with jagged uneven edges.  Could this morning’s storm have washed away the center of the sun?  While John continued to beg for money, I just stood there in front of him, staring up at the sky, and contemplating the sun.  I couldn’t believe that John continued to talk and other people just continued walking down the sidewalk while such a phenomenon was taking place.

And everyone thought I was oblivious…

Why didn’t these people look at the sun?  Why didn’t they notice that the sun was slowly dissolving into a black icky mess?  I wanted to grab people’s arms and yank them over.  I wanted to point up at the sky and demand that they look at the sun.  I wanted everyone to see what I was seeing.  I wanted to share this spectacle with the rest of the world.  This wasn’t just a leaf caught in a storm drain or grass growing in the courtyard.  This was a happening, a miracle!  Why was everyone else ignoring it?

I didn’t reach out to anyone though.  I just continued to stand there, quietly staring up at the sky and studying the sun.

And suddenly, I realized that John had stopped talking.  He was no longer begging me for money.  Instead, he was suddenly standing by my left side.  His gaze had followed mine until he, too, was staring at the sun.  I suddenly felt myself filled with so much joy.  I had never felt so close to John in my life.  My cousin John and I were standing together on the sidewalk just a few feet from the bus stop staring up at the phenomenon of a black spot on the sun.  It felt for a moment like the planet had stood still as John and I stood together in silent communion staring into a far-off world.  I had suddenly slipped into my contemplative mood as I wondered what would happen to the world if the sun dissolved.

And then suddenly, I heard someone shuffle up to stand just to my right side.  I didn’t turn around to look.  I was scared that if I took my eyes off the sun I would miss something.  I just had the sense that there was a person standing beside me.  I didn’t know who it was or what he or she looked like.  I didn’t know if the person was male or female, short or tall, heavy or thin.  I didn’t know if he or she was black or white or Asian.  I didn’t know if he or she was Muslim or Christian or Jewish.  I didn’t know if his or her hair was black, or brown, or blonde.  I didn’t know if the person was gay or straight.  I didn’t know if he or she was college educated or a high school dropout.  I didn’t know if he or she was rich or poor.  All I knew was that the person stood beside me as we stood together staring up at the sun.

Then I felt someone else standing to my left directly behind John.  And again, I didn’t know who it was.  I still couldn’t turn my face away from that spot on the sun, so I didn’t turn to look at the person.  I didn’t see his or her face.  I didn’t know if this person was male or female, short or tall, heavy or thin.  I didn’t know if he or she was black or white or Asian.  I didn’t know if he or she was rich or poor.  I could just feel the person standing to my right staring up at the sun.

Then I could feel someone standing directly behind me but I didn’t turn away from the sun to look.  I could just feel warm breath on the back of my neck and the heat of a body warming me in the chilly Monday morning air.  I didn’t know if this person was male or female, heavy or thin, tall or short, rich or poor…and I really didn’t care.  I was just so happy to be spending this moment with these people.  I hadn’t had anyone share my contemplations with me before and this moment now made me smile.  For the first time, people were seeing the world the way I was!  What an extraordinary and exhilarating moment!

I could feel someone now standing in front of me, but with my eyes turned up to the sun, I was looking right over the top of his or her head.  I could just see a soft fuzziness below my face.  It could be a hat, scarf, or hair.  I couldn’t tell if he or she was heavy or thin, rich or poor.  It didn’t matter.

I could feel the heat of a hundred souls around me.  The sensation warmed me and made me feel safe and loved.  I had never before felt so connected to other people.

Like a magnet, our quiet, calm moment caused more people to gather around John and me.  There were so many of us that we filled the sidewalk and drifted into the street.  There were so many people I couldn’t tell where I stopped, and they began.  I could feel a variety of people on my right and on my left.  There were people in front of me and behind me.  I didn’t know who they were.  I didn’t know if they were male or female, tall or short, rich or poor.  I didn’t know their race, religion, or culture.  It didn’t matter.  Everyone was looking up, staring in one direction.  All of us united in one common goal: to contemplate the phenomenon of the dark spot on the sun.

And I felt so much love for the people around me.  I could feel John standing a little forward on my right side.  My sweet cousin.  I loved him so much.  My heart swelled as we stood together contemplating this occurrence.  We stood together, sharing a phenomenal moment of witnessing something so unique and original.

As I stood there, basking in the warmth of the human experience, I suddenly heard a child’s voice break the silence as he loudly asked, “Mommy, what are we looking at?”

“We’re looking at the storm clouds,” his mother answered.

Though a multitude of voices began to sound all at once, each one rang out as a separate solo in our unique symphony.

“Clouds?” a male voice suddenly echoed.  “I thought we were staring up at the trees.”

“No, no, no,” another female answered, “there is nothing in the trees.  We’re looking at the roof of the building across the street.”

“The roof?  There’s something on the roof over there?  Why would we just stare at a roof?” a different woman shouted.  “No, no, we’re watching for planes.”

“Planes!?” a male voice asked angrily.  “Why would we all just stand around waiting for planes to go by?  That’s stupid.”

“Well, I don’t know what we’re looking at,” a female voice admitted.  “I’m just looking because everyone else is.  What is it?  What are we all looking at anyway?”

Now, to my surprise, most of the people were saying the same thing.  “I don’t know what we’re looking at.”  “Everyone’s just staring.”  “What is everyone looking at?”  “What is it?  Why are we here?”

What was wrong with these people?  I wondered.  Couldn’t they see?  Why didn’t they know?  How could they not see it?  And then I realized something.  We weren’t united in the same experience as I had imagined us to be.  I was alone in my contemplation of life while others just stood around lost and oblivious.

Now, there was a quiet moment as everyone turned to stare at each other.  Everybody was searching for an answer.  Tension began to riffle through the crowd as everyone was trying to figure out why they had just wasted several minutes of their busy Monday morning staring at nothing.

“You were here first,” a couple of people suddenly said as they looked at John and me.  “You started this?  What were you staring at?”

“I don’t know.  I have no idea.  I was just looking because she was,” John said as he casually pointed at me.

“And I was just looking because you were,” another voice answered John.  Several other voices responded in the same way.

Oh, my gosh, I thought, they really didn’t see it!  They didn’t understand.  Nobody else understood the magnitude of the situation.  Before I could think of anything else, John suddenly said, “Yeah, it was you, Sis.  You started all of this, Sis.  What were you looking at?”

Now, I could feel all of the eyes turning away from the sky and focusing on me.  It was completely silent, except for the shallow breathing of the people around me.  “The spot,” I whispered, “the spot on the sun.”  I didn’t turn around yet to face the people gathered around me.  I felt safer staring directly at the sun.  I slowly pointed up and said again, “I was looking at the spot on the sun.

“The what?”  And I suddenly could hear the different voices of the people around me.  I looked away from the sun then and at the people gathered on the sidewalk and in the street.  Where we were all one before, now I could see their race and culture and religion.  Where we were all in silent communion before now there were angry, confused expressions on their faces.

…And, oh my gosh, what was this!?  Every face I saw seemed to be missing a particular feature.  There was one face with a hole where the nose should be.  Another with an eye missing.  As I turned around, I noticed a woman’s face with a hole in her forehead.  Oh, my gosh, what was happening?  Everyone’s face was beginning to dissolve into darkness as the snarky voices continued questioning me.  “What is happening?”  “What do you see?”  “What is it?”  “A spot on the sun?”

My confidence and excitement was beginning to vanish.  I didn’t know what else to say.  I continued to repeat myself.  “It’s the spot on the sun,” I said again, but in a softer voice.  “Right there.”  I pointed up at the sky.  “There’s a black spot on the sun.”

I turned to look at John now, my eyes silently begging him to back me up.  But instead, he looked at me with a really odd expression.  Oh, my gosh, he seemed to have a hole on the left side of his face.  I stared at him, trying harder to focus on his features.  I couldn’t make myself look away.

John was staring at me incredulously.  And then he said, “Oh, for God’s sakes, Sis!  You have something on your glasses!”

Before I could stop him, he reached out and grabbed the glasses off my face.  He glanced at the lenses for just a moment and then started to laugh.  “Sis, look,” he stated.  “Your glasses got dirty when they fell into the puddle.  There’s a small piece of grass or a leaf or something on them.”  John rubbed the lenses on the front of his white flannel shorts.  Before I could protest, he plopped the glasses back on my face again.

“Oh,” I said as I was now able to see clearly.  I glanced up for a moment.  The sky was beginning to clear of the dark clouds and a brilliant, clear, whole sun was shining through.  “Oh,” I whispered, “I guess the sun is fine then.”  I giggled for a moment to hide my discomfort and embarrassment, but no one laughed along with me.  Instead, everyone stood around me in complete awkward silence.

Everyone was quiet for a moment.  And then suddenly one voice shouted out.  “This was a damn waste of my time.”  “Stupid,” another voice called.  “Idiot,” I heard someone else say.  “Damn fool,” was another comment that stuck in my brain as I felt a bright blush rushing up into my face.  My eyes began to burn as I struggled not to show any tears.

“Well, if I’m such an idiot, why were you all following me?” was my weak reply.  Nobody answered.  People were brushing roughly against me, almost knocking me over, as they walked away.  They were waiting to see a miracle, not realizing that they had already created one.  For on that dreary Monday, a miracle had occurred.  For one brief moment, everyone had been united.  People had joined together and contemplated the world.  It did happen.  Why was I the only one to notice?

Why did this happen to me?  Why couldn’t I see the world the way other people do?  Why do I always have to see the earth through my own imperfect eyes?  I had felt so close to these people just a few minutes ago.  It hurt now that they would call me names and laugh at me as they walked away.

In just a few minutes, John and I were the only two people left standing together on the sidewalk.  I struggled to fight back tears as we looked at each other.  “That was really stupid, Sis,” John said as he stared at me.  “You had everybody all confused.  You were an idiot.  How could you not figure out that it was just a spot on your glasses?  Sis, you really embarrassed me,” John said then as he shook his head.  “Why did you do that?  You need to start waking up and paying attention to the real world.”  He paused for just a moment and then said, “Can I have the twenty bucks now?  I want to go back to the apartment.”

I just stood there staring up at John hopelessly.  But we were one, weren’t we, John?  I wanted to ask him.  But John just stood there looking at me like I had lost my mind.  I stared at him quietly for a moment, seeing him clearly now, too.  “No,” I said in a small voice then.

“What?”  John asked as if he didn’t hear me…or didn’t want to hear me.

“No,” I said louder now.  “No, you can’t have twenty dollars, John.  I will not give you any more money.  I want you to pay me back what you already owe me.  A hundred dollars, John.  ”

“Oh, c’mon, Sis…”he started to whine, but I was having none of it.

“No, John,” I was all fired up now.  “I may have made a ‘stupid’ mistake.  But, I’m a good person.  I try to help people and I think about life.  I don’t need people standing around telling me that I’m stupid.  I don’t need people in my life to hurt me.”  Maybe I wanted to believe in another world.  Maybe I was looking for a miracle.  And then that’s when I did it.  I turned to John and told him that he had to leave.  “You need to be gone, John.  I want you to leave my apartment…You’ve mooched off of me long enough.  I want you to pack your crap and leave…NOW!  Not tomorrow and not later.  NOW, John.  I want you gone!  Get your things and go.  I want you gone by the time I get home from work tonight.” I stopped for a moment and took a deep breath, before adding,  “You need to go.”

I turned around and walked away from him then.

“Hey, Sis?”  John called out after me, but I wasn’t going to turn around.

“Leave, John,” I said as I walked down the sidewalk.

John still screamed out behind me.  “C’mon, Sis.”

“And stop calling me Sis!”  I demanded.  “My name is Stephanie!”

I continued on my journey without looking back at him again.  I had missed the bus, but that was okay.  I felt like walking anyway.  I walked the three blocks to work.  I splashed through puddles and didn’t care if I arrived late, wet, and dirty to my job.  This is who I am.

This Monday, I walked into the office half an hour late.  Of course, Linda had something to say about it.

I hate Linda.

As I had walked in the door of the law office, Linda looked up from her computer screen.  She started to make a few comments as I walked over to my desk which was right behind hers.

“Well, look who finally decided to show up for work today.  Late again?  It must be Monday,” Linda stated as the two data entry clerks looked up at me from their computer screens.  They didn’t even try to hide their giggles.  They always seemed to get excited when Linda made fun of me.  “My God, what happened to you?  You’re wet.  You look like a drowned cat who…”

“Stop it, Linda!  Just shut up!”  I said.  The data entry clerks suddenly looked away and found something important to do on their computers.  The deep, patient tone of my voice even scared me.  “Leave me alone.  I’m a good person and I do work hard, so just back off!”

Linda stared up at me.  Her eyes were wide and her mouth hung open.  My own words were even a shock to me.  I had never talked back to Linda before.

In the eerie silence that followed I continued.  “Why do you always have to make fun of me?  What have I ever done to you?  I don’t want your job.  I don’t want to hurt you.  I haven’t done anything to you.  Why are always making fun of me?”

Linda just looked at me for a moment.  And when she finally found her voice again, she said, “Would you like a doughnut?”  I stared at her as she picked up a large pink box that was sitting on the corner of her desk and held it out to me.

I wanted to stomp away from her but my hunger won out.  I didn’t get anything to eat before I left the apartment earlier.  This morning’s adventures made me really hungry.  “Yes, Linda,” I said.  “I would really like a doughnut.”

I reached into the box then and picked up a perfectly round, shiny, glazed doughnut.  I looked it over once before I bite into it.  “Thank you,” I whispered to her as I chewed.

Usually, Linda just ignores me throughout the rest of the day.  To my surprise, though, today, she continued to talk to me, asking me if I had any questions or needed any help getting the rest of my work completed.  It was a little uncomfortable at first, but slowly I began to relax into our comfortable truce.  I was surprised how pleasant and friendly Linda could be.

I like Linda.

…Today.  I don’t know about tomorrow yet.  We’ll just have to see.

Our pleasant camaraderie that day made the time pass very quickly.  Soon, five o’clock arrived and another Monday was over.

As Linda and I closed the office, she suddenly looked over at me.  “Do you need a ride home?” she asked.

“No,”  I answered her in a shy whisper, “I’m taking the bus.”  Honestly, I thought that muggers on the bus would be safer than being with Linda in her Toyota Scion.

“It’s no problem,” Linda said.  “I can drive you home.”  She looked at me for a moment and I couldn’t turn away.

And then she smiled at me!  Linda actually smiled at me!  Though at first I tried to fight it, I couldn’t help smiling back at her.  “That would be great, Linda,” I said, as I glanced out the window at the dreary evening.  Though the sun had started to come out that morning, the rest of the day had dissolved into dark clouds and heavy rain.  I couldn’t help but feel that the weather was my fault. Had I embarrassed the sun to the point that it no longer wanted to show its face?  I reminded myself that that was an awful way to think.  I know that the world didn’t revolve around me and that I certainly didn’t possess that kind of power.  But I couldn’t help feeling a little bit guilty for ruining everyone’s day.

But then again, whose choice was that really?

So now, I had a choice to make.  “Yeah, Linda,” I answered.  “I would appreciate a ride home.  But I really don’t have any extra money this week to give you…”

“Money?”  Linda asked as if in shock.  “Forget about it.  It’s not necessary.  The weather is just so bad, I don’t want to see you walking to the bus stop.  Besides, we live in the same apartment complex!  It’s okay.”

I smiled as Linda and I walked out of the office, locked up, and ran in the rain over to her car.

I like Linda.

As Linda drove us home, we just made general small talk about projects in the office…until we came to the corner of Third and Madison.  The atmosphere in the car suddenly seemed to change.  Linda suddenly became very quiet and took a deep breath as she pulled up to the stop sign.  Finally, she said, “This is it.”  She breathed in heavily.  “This is where I lost my son two years ago.”

I turned to look in shock at Linda.  Her revelation took me by surprise and all I could think to do was murmur, “What?”

“It was a motorcycle accident.  It was on a day just like today.  Dreary and dark and rainy.  A Monday just like today.  Mike was on his way home from work on the bike he loved so much.  A car headed the other way didn’t stop and ran right into him, killed him instantly.  I didn’t even get to say good-bye.”  And then she suddenly turned and looked at me.  “He was just about your age.”  Linda was quiet for a moment as she stared out through the windshield.  The atmosphere in the car was grown thicker, so I turned to look out my passenger side window.  I was contemplating the row of houses in the neighborhood and wondering who were the people who lived in these decaying, aging homes.

“He used to have your job,” Linda’s soft voice was strong enough to shock me out of my reverie.  “Yeah,” Linda continued, “He had just turned 21 and needed a job.  He started working with me in the office.  Then one day, he left the office about a half hour earlier than I did.  I was driving home and I saw him there, lying on the side of the road.  The paramedics were already working on him, but it was too late.  The driver of the car took off and left my son lying in the gutter.  I lost my son, and then two months later, you took over his job in the office.”

I shivered as I looked at Linda with more insight now than I had experienced in all of my moments of contemplation.  I began to understand Linda’s animosity towards me.  It really had nothing to do with me.  Linda’s world did not revolve around me either.  Wow, even though I contemplate life, I guess I’ll never really know what another person has been through until they tell me.  I suddenly found myself reaching over and giving Linda’s hand a quick squeeze.  She just offered a faint smile and slowly drove through the intersection then.

Suddenly, Linda started to talk again, “For a while, I refused to believe it.  For months, afterwards, I still called his cell phone.  I would tell friends that I couldn’t go out because Mike needed me at home…even after he was gone.  I was just crazy then.  It’s a little embarrassing now.”  She gave a small giggle then and shrugged her shoulders.  “I used to…I used to see Mike walking down the hallway of my home late at night even after he was gone.  I saw him.  I know I did.  It sounds so crazy.  But he was there.”  Linda just rolled her eyes then before saying, “I was just…just crazy.”

I let Linda’s words sink in for a moment before I finally said, “Linda, this morning…the reason I was late…I thought there was a spot on the sun.”

Linda turned to look at me briefly before turning her attention back to the road again, “What are you talking about?”

“Well, this morning I was walking to the bus stop and I had gazed up at the sky…and I swore there was a spot on the sun.  I thought the sun was dissolving.  I don’t even know why I would have thought that.  I think I’m always looking for the unusual…I don’t know,” I paused before I told Linda the rest of the story.  “Several people stopped around me and they were looking, too.  But they weren’t seeing what I was seeing.  There was nothing there.  I had just dropped my glasses in a puddle.  My glasses were just dirty.  There wasn’t a spot on the sun.”  I gave a little hurtful laugh then.  “What an idiot, huh?”

I cringed, waiting for Linda to make some snarky comment at me.  Instead, her face glowed with a gentle smile that I had never seen before.  “No,” she answered slowly.  “I would love to see the world the way you do.”  She smiled then as she turned into our apartment complex parking lot.  “My son…he used to see things like that, too.  He used to talk to me about aliens and ghosts.”  Now she cringed a little.  “Not in a crazy way, I mean.  Sam wasn’t crazy.  He just lived in a world of possibilities.  He believed anything could happen.  He always saw the most amazing things in this world.  He thought he would live forever.  He thought he was invincible.”  Linda sighed deeply as she pulled the Toyota Scion into her assigned parking space.  “Miracles hurt sometimes,” she sighed.

We both climbed out of the car.  I walked around to the front and thanked Linda for the ride home.  “It’s okay,” she whispered.  We didn’t say anything more.  It was still raining.  With a quick smile and a “See you tomorrow,” we both headed to our separate apartments.  I was really grateful that Linda didn’t laugh at me when I told her about the spot on the sun.

I like Linda.

I unlocked my apartment door and took a deep breath.  What am I going to say to John if he’s still here?  What am I going to do if he is angry with me?  I nervously pushed open the door and stepped inside the apartment.  “Oh, my gosh,” I breathed slowly as I walked inside and looked around.  I walked through the living room and into the kitchen then back to the bathroom.  The whole place was completely clean, except for a single sheet of paper lying on the dining room table.  I walked over and picked it up.  Underneath the paper was a single hundred-dollar bill.  “Oh, my gosh,” I sighed before I read the note.

“Dear Stephanie,” the note began, “I cleaned up the apartment and packed up my stuff.  Thank you for letting me stay with you for the past two months.  Here is the hundred dollars I owe you.  I will be staying at Rob’s place if you want to contact me.  I have a job interview tomorrow at Von’s grocery store and I’ll start looking for my own place.  Thanks again, Stephanie.  You’re the best!  John.”

I didn’t know where he got the money.  I wasn’t going to ask.  I placed the note and the money back down on the table.  I walked back into the living room and sat down on the couch.  I picked up the remote from the coffee table and turned on the TV.  Oh, my gosh, I sighed as the picture on the screen flickered on and a strange gray light filled the darkening room.  I stretched my arms up over my head and kicked my legs out straight in front of me.  I swung my lower body up on the couch and lay down.  I had my couch back!  It was all mine again!  And I can watch anything I wanted to on TV now.  I didn’t have to watch just John’s favorite shows.  I picked up the remote again and flicked through the channels.  I sighed deeply…

I miss John…

The following Monday, I woke up and stretched as I got out of bed.  I walked down the hallway to the bathroom.  I showered and then went back to my bedroom.  Today, I decided to wear red.  I pulled the bright red, full-skirt dress over my head.  This Monday felt special, as I knew all Mondays would feel from now on.

I walked back into the living room and smiled as I saw John lying on the couch.  He was breathing deeply in his sleep.  John had moved back in with me again.  But this time, I just knew it would be different.  He got the job at Von’s and he had agreed to pay half the rent and buy all his own food.  I’m glad he is living with me now.  I feel safer with John around and it’s nice having help with the rent.

I walked over to the door and quietly opened it up.  I tiptoed outside and pulled the door shut behind me.  What a great morning!  I thought as I took a deep breath.  A cool breeze was blowing over me…and the sun…well, the sun was full and bright and complete.  I ran down the steps and walked across the parking lot.  “Good morning, Linda,” I called cheerfully.  “How are you?”  I approached her car, feeling happy and warm in the glow of our new friendship.  Linda has offered to drive me to and from work while I was saving up to get my own car.  I have already giving Linda a few dollars for gas…and, funny, it felt good this time when I handed the money to her.

I walked over to where Linda stood quietly beside her car.  “Are you okay?”  I asked her as I looked at her with concern.

Linda looked up at me again and smiled, “Ants,” was all she said.  I followed her gaze back down to the asphalt of the parking lot.  In one of the zigzagging cracks of the pavement, a small, brown, sandy anthill had been created.  Now, Linda and I were suddenly squatting down and watching the ants as they worked.  Tiny, black ants were scurrying back and forth, in and out and around the hill.  The ants appeared to be incredibly busy as they ran around in circles.  Their day would be full and they would be as busy as most people I know.  I wondered if they ever stopped to notice the whole large world around them…the ants, I mean.  I already know most people are oblivious.

I thanked God then that I have always been able to see miracles.  My world and the people in it had suddenly grown so precious, all because, one glorious Monday morning I had seen a dark spot on the sun.  After a few minutes, Linda and I looked up and smiled at each other.  I laughed as I realized we were both going to be very late for work on this Miraculous Monday Morning.