Tag Archives: reflections

The Magic of Uluru

Oh my gosh!  It was so cold!  I stood in the early morning air and pulled my old, comfortable, black sweater tighter around me.  I was, needless to say, completely unprepared and underdressed for this experience.  But then again, that just seems to be the way I operate.  I usually get so excited about an event, I don’t always think things through or plan as effectively as I should.  This morning was no exception.  I was freezing…and yet at the same time, I couldn’t stop smiling!  This moment…this dark, bone-chilling moment…was the culmination of a dream come true.

I had arrived in Alice Springs, Australia, on Friday, September 02, 2017.  I had dreamed for years of seeing Ayers Rock.  I have always been an earth person.  I know that some people (some people?) may think I’m a little crazy, but I swear I can look at mountains, hills, and boulders, and actually see them moving.  I don’t just mean blades of grass ruffled by wind or leaves on trees tussling with the breeze.  I can sit for hours and watch the earth breath as it inhales and exhales in slow modulations.  There is a pulse to the earth that seems to vibrate with my own soul.  I can find absolute beauty in rock formations and believe I am glimpsing the universe when I stare into the fissures  and fractures of stone.  Maybe that’s why I love crystals and keep a collection of amethyst, quartz, jasper, and pyrite with me at all times.  When I can touch the crystals, I can feel the vibration of the earth even when I am trapped in my home or at work.  I can find God in a small pebble, in a grain of sand.  So, of course, Ayer’s Rock was always a place that I fantasized about visiting someday, and now that dream was being fulfilled.

I woke up on Saturday, September 03, at 4 am feeling very excited and very alive even though I had only four hours of sleep the night before.  Although, I knew I was going to be out late on Friday night, I still couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the sunrise over Ayer’s Rock this morning.  I quickly showered, dressed, and then left my hotel room.  My room just happened to be in the back of a resort of small, well-space-out cabins.  I stepped through my doorway into completely obscurity.  I was surprised that the resort didn’t have a lot of outdoor lighting.  In the dark, I made several wrong turns as I tried to navigate the many different paths that lead to theaters, museums, and restaurants.  Eventually, I found my way to the front lobby as several people were already boarding our tour bus.  I don’t know if people were excited or cold but either way everyone was moving around and talking enthusiastically as we climbed aboard the vehicle.  Once we were underway, the driver, a large, sweet, young man, told us the history and legends of Ayer’s Rock, the Maori people, and the outback.  I really loved hearing that the Australian parliament had voted to change the names of treasured monuments back to the original names that were created by the Maori, the native people of Australia.  Ayer’s Rock now only refers to the general area.  The rock itself is known by the native name of Uluru.

Once we arrived at the site, all of the passengers gathered around tables that held large hot water urns, coffee, tea, and cookies.  In the freezing morning air, it felt good to hold a cup of coffee in my cold hands.  I sipped at the hot liquid as our guides encouraged us to fill our pockets with packages of cookies in case we got hungry throughout the day.  Once I refilled my foam cup with coffee and stuffed my pockets with treats, a young female tour guide walked over to me.  “If you are ready, you can go on up to the viewing area.  Just follow the path,” she said.  I stared in the direction the woman pointed.  It was still completely dark!  I couldn’t see anything beyond the generated glow around the snack tables.  The tour guide then pointed as she said, “There…just follow the lights.”  I looked again in the direction she was pointing and noticed small twinkling red and green fairy lights that were positioned on the ground just a few feet apart.  The lights were so small, so subtle, and placed so far apart, I hadn’t noticed them at first.

Now, while the majority of the tour group stayed gathered around the snack table,  I took a deep breath to calm down my racing heart.  I nodded my head, thanked the guide, and then sat off in the darkness, following the blinking lights.  Even though I was stumbling forward on rocky ground in the pitch darkness, I couldn’t help feeling the magic all around me.  I was on sacred ground according to the Maori.  And even though I lost track of the lights and wandered off the trail several times, there was an energy that kept pulling me back in the correct direction again.  It was a long hike up to the viewing area, but with the gentle help of the fairy lights and the energy of the outback, I finally found myself at the bottom of a flight of steps.

I grabbed the rough plank rail and started to climb up to a large wooden platform.  I soon stood on the platform and turned around slowly.  I was surprised to find that Australia was just as beautiful in the dark as it is in the light.  Then, to the south, I noticed a large dark formation rising up in front of me.  Uluru, I sighed as I sensed where the rock resided even though I still couldn’t see it.

Soon, the top of the wooden viewing area grew crowded with other pilgrims.  I smiled as I listened to their excited voices and laughter.  I heard Asian, English, French, Australian, and American accents all around me but I couldn’t see faces, but surprisingly I still felt the companionship and security of being with other people from all over the world.  The darkness, the energy, the stars, the moon, and all of the many people around me made me feel completely connected to the universe in a way I had never imagined before.

I stood there, shivering in the cold air, but did not feel uncomfortable.  Surprisingly, I have never felt more contented anywhere I have ever been, even though I wished I had paid more attention to the environment.  I should have thought more about the weather.  I knew when I planned my Australian trip for late August/early September, the continent would be transitioning from winter into spring.  Also, areas located further north or further south of the equator were cold .  The time of the year and location should have made me aware that there would be a chill in the early mornings,  even though the days would be warm.  But in my excitement of coming to Australia, my sense of direction and knowledge of geography had completely deserted me.  I have always been the type of person who jumped into an experience without planning or thinking it completely through first.

And suddenly I realized I wasn’t the only one…

As I stood in the dark, freezing but happy, a young man approached me.  Out of the shadows, I heard his deep, English accent as he said, “I see you didn’t know it would be cold either.”  I glanced around us and compared all of the bulky, parka-heavy shadows compared to our two lean forms.  I suddenly realized the man was dressed in shorts and a thin t-shirt.  As we watched all of the people moving around us in heavy coats, we laughed and talked for a moment about how unprepared we were for this moment.  Then, slowly, over his right shoulder, I suddenly began to see a soft glow breaking up the darkness.  I stared in the direction of Uluru and watched excitedly as the shadow of the sun slowly began to kiss the huge rock formation.   Uluru began to grow and stood out against the dark sky like a shadow of God.  As the sunrise grew stronger, the rock began to change colors, from black to light brown to golden to red.  I was fascinated by all of the colors that suddenly began to glimmer and sparkle across the surface of the monument.  Uluru continued to shimmer as it breathed slowly in and out.  I could feel the soul of the rock as energy waves radiated out and the formation glowed and change shape in the approaching sunlight.  The visible energy of Uluru resembled ocean waves; it looked like heat rising up off the land; it portrayed an upcoming dream sequence in a movie.  Uluru was natural magic.

As the sun now shined across the outback, I walked down off the platform and followed a trail that lead to a fenced viewing area situated closer to the rock.  I leaned against the fence and stared at Uluru as I watched it breathe, alive and well.  And I knew that despite the cold, despite stumbling around in the dark, I too was alive and well.  And as I watched the energy filling the air around Uluru, I realized that I had been blessed with a dream come true.

And it didn’t matter that I was dressed in a black sweater while most people were wearing parkas.  And I didn’t care that I had tripped and stumbled up the dark path.  It didn’t matter that I was there alone while other people were with friends and family.  Looking at Uluru I realized I had been fortunate to experience a dream come true.  I took a deep breath in and captured the energy of Uluru in my heart and soul and knew that no matter what happened I would be forever bonded to this magnificent land.

And it would be forever a part of me.

 

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Float

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with water.  Maybe it’s because I am not a strong swimmer.  Okay, to be honest, I’m not a swimmer at all.  However, over the last few years, I have found myself exploring various bodies of water.  There was the journey across the channel from England to Belguim and then to France, the cruise around Lake Mead, the voyage down the Colorado River, the expedition to view glaciers in Alaska, the whale watching adventure in Hawaii (which unfortunately, didn’t produce a single view of the large mammals), and even the gentle drift around the lake on a duck boat in Branson, Missouri.

So even though I have experienced a variety of watery journeys, I have to admit that I still feel a tense anxiety starting in my chest and rising up in my throat every time I board a boat.  Stress grips my heart and tightens my rib cage.  I find myself holding my breath as the boat begins to pull away from the dock. I silently begin to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink.  Please, don’t let me fall overboard.  Please, I can’t swim and this lake (or ocean or sea or creek) is so deep…please, God, please, don’t let this boat go down…please…”

And then, I sigh an audible “…aaahhhh….” as the boat settles into the water and begins to roll back and forth on the waves.  At that moment, an amazing sense of peace and gratitude overwhelms me.  Like second nature, my soul just gives over to the need to be part of something larger than myself.  I look out at the water and feel amazed by the vastness of the universe.  My anxiety always gives way to the most luxurious feeling of peace once I find myself sailing along with the currents.  As the saying goes, “When I stop struggling, I float.”

So that’s why on August 30th, 2017, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I stood in front of the Hotel Pacific in Cairns, Australia.  I was waiting for the tour bus that was going to take me to the port where I would be getting on a boat that would be carrying me out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Though I was already praying for a safe journey, I still couldn’t shake the exhilaration that was pounding through me.  I was about to experience one of the best attractions in Australia.  After ten minutes of prayer and stress, I was finally aboard the Western Winds bus, which was expertly driven by a friendly, older man who looked like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  The heavyset, incredibly kind man had gray wispy strands of hair straining around the sides of his head.  His blue captain’s hat tilting to the left and his crooked smile leaning to the right may not have inspired a lot of confidence, but felt immensely welcomed and respected by this driver as I settled into a seat near the front of the bus.

The drive to the harbor was going to take about an hour with a few stops along the way to pick up additional passengers.  I thought that this would be a great time to catch up on my journal entries. I held my pen over a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted to stare out the window and see as much of Australia as I possibly could through the large, slightly grimy, thick windows.  I wanted to climb every tree, smell every flower, and count every blade of grass.  I had even stared at all of the hotels and tried to count all of the doors and windows as I tried to commit everything I saw to memory.  But, of course, the bus was moving too fast to experience Australia in this way, so instead I was content for a few minutes to relax back in my seat and watch the two lovely bees buzzing around the front window on the opposite side of the bus.

Finally, we arrived at the pier and the bus driver, who would be traveling to the reef with us, pointed in the direction of the dock where our boat was waiting.  I was glad he was there to direct us; the harbor was full of a multitude of ships of various styles and colors.

Once aboard, crewmembers greeted the passengers in the cabin with coffee, tea, cookies, and an interesting presentation on coral and sea life by a marine biologist.  Twenty minutes later, as the boat revved up and started to move out into the ocean, I once more started to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink…”

But within a few short minutes, the sense of awe overcame me and I started to relax as the boat rocked back and forth on the water.  Aaaaahhhh.  I couldn’t help the deep sigh of serenity that escaped my lips as the boat moved further away from the dock.  With the majority of the other tourists, I climbed the white metal stairway to the top of the boat.  My sudden sense of peace had compelled me to sit where I could observe the water, the sun, the fluffy clouds, the pure blue sky, and the other boats that sailed along beside us.

I settled down on one of the red vinyl benches that bordered the top tier of the boat.  I closed my eyes and let my body relax with the swaying of the ship as I breathed in the smooth, warm air….at first.

Within a few minutes, however, my eyes popped open and I sat up straight.  The strong currents were pushing the boat sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that the red canopy covering the boat began to snap loudly as it flapped up and down.  I put my hands down on the bench to grip the edge of my seat.  I felt my body beginning to roll as the boat rocked violently back and forth.  I glanced at all of the people sitting on the other benches around me.  Though everyone seemed to be gripping onto their seats or trying to push the widely blown hair out of their faces, I grew concerned that I was going to embarrass myself by getting sick.  I had never been on a wilder ride out on the water.  I was now mentally kicking myself for not accepting one of the seasick pills that the crewmembers had passed around before the ship left the dock.  I’m not a believer in taking any sort of pills unless absolutely necessary and I had never gotten sick on a boat before.  Anxiety and stress, yes, but never physically sick.

I decided then that my best course of action would be to go downstairs to the cabin and see if I could still get one of those little blue pills.  I pushed myself up from the bench and started to walk across the white wooden planks that made up the floor of the upper tier of the boat.  Oh, my gosh…what was happening!?  I couldn’t get my footing with the crazy rocking of the ship.  I hadn’t had any of the wine or champagne that the crew had offered earlier and yet I couldn’t walk a straight line no matter how hard I tried!  And I did try hard.

My goal was to walk over to the steps leading down to the galley.  However, as I tried to walk towards the stairs, I moved my legs straight and yet found myself high stepping to the left!  I tried to walk to the right and got my legs all tangled up and almost tripped myself.  I straightened my legs and found myself suddenly lurching to the left again.  I was suddenly aware, even with the noise of the wind whipping through the canopy, the flags, and various clothing items, that no one was talking or laughing anymore.  Everyone had suddenly grown still as they watched me walking (?) rubber legged across the upper deck.  Oh, my gosh, was my only thought now, these people must think I’m stinkin’ drunk.  I tried to force myself to straighten my back and hips and walk forward, but I was still all wobbly legged and continued moving right in order to go left!  I swear I was walking like a drunken sailor back from a three-day leave!  I struggled to get my footing and found myself sliding backwards two steps for every one-step I moved forward.

Finally, a young man  wearing a yellow t-shirt and multi-colored, striped shorts stood up and took a few steps towards me.  He started to reach out his right hand to grab my arm, but he was too late.  I tumbled away from him just as he made a grab for me.  The man tried one more time, but we missed each other again as he stumbled in one direction and my body was thrown the opposite way.  At that point, the man basically gave up as he threw up his arms and backed away, leaving me completely to my own devices.  Trying to regain some sense of balance, we both walked wide-legged towards the stairs as the ship rolled back and forth.

And then…success!  I did it!  I got to the steps first but I don’t think the man had put up much of a fight.  I suddenly realized that he had let me win so I would go down the stairs first and avoid falling on top of him if I fell.  So, now I was anxious to prove that his assessment of my awkward movements was completely wrong.  I was determined to get down the stairs without a stumble.  I gripped the white metal railing and carefully lowered myself down one-step at a time as the man followed cautiously behind me.

I now walked across the lower deck and entered the galley.  It wasn’t until I was on the carpeted floors of the cabin that I was finally able to walk straight.  Thankfully, the crewmembers had placed numerous little blister packets of the seasick pills in a large, plastic, blue bowl on a wooden counter by the door.  I still grabbed two of the packets and placed them in the pocket of my jeans as one of the male attendants reminded me that the pills only really work if taken before leaving port.  Oh, well…I would save them for the journey back.

After leaving the galley, I decided not to even try going back to the upper deck.  Instead, I carefully edged my way across the lower level and sat down on a bench.  Now, I felt more relaxed and calm as I sat by myself watching the tall waves as they splashed up against the boat.

About 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see a tall lighthouse situated on a small island come into view and the boat slowly began to drift to a gentle stop.  Our ship didn’t dock on the island.  Instead, like all of the other boats in the area, our vessel dropped anchor and we continued to bop up and down on the waves, the island still 100 feet away from us.  To get to the island, all passengers were transferred on to large sailboats.  Now, maybe from sheer relieve that I had survived the journey to the Great Barrier Reef, I joyfully and gracefully stepped across the gap between the two boats and settled myself into a seat.  I was now on a glass bottom boat and eagerly leaned forward to view the reef as the marine biologist pointed out various varieties of coral, fish, turtles, and clams.  I was so fascinated by the view that I completely forgot for a moment that I was still on a boat that was rocking with the currents.  I felt as if I was peering into an alien world, an advanced civilization that I could only see from the outside looking in.  I really wanted to be a part of that world but decided not to go scuba diving.  Again, I am not a strong swimmer (okay, honestly, once again, I’m not a swimmer at all!) and was afraid I would hold back the group that would be following along on a guided tour led by the biologist.

Instead, I carefully exited the boat and sunk my feet into the warm deep sand of the island.  I roamed around by myself for a while as I waded in the cool Pacific water, took long deep breaths, played in the sand, and snapped a lot of pictures, filling up a single memory card.  I probably overdid it with the pictures , but the scene was far too beautiful to trust it just to my memory.  I didn’t trust my jumbled and scattered brain to take it all in or remember the amazing sights.  After a while of roaming aimlessly and purposely, I sat with one of my fellow passengers in the shade and discussed our various travels.  The elderly gentleman was from Sydney, and joyfully informed me of all of the main attractions I had to visit when I explored that area of Australia the following week.

After a tour around the island with the marine biologist, the passengers and crew explored the lighthouse and the small grave that held the remains of the first woman to be the caretaker of the lighthouse.   I stood for a few moments over the grave and imagined what life must have been like for this woman, who had lived in solitude while her husband was away on the continent for the majority of their lives.  She had lived on this island, fighting the elements, surviving alone while making sure the lighthouse would always be bright to save the many ships from harm.  So many years ago, what had life been like for this strong, courageous woman?

All too soon, the sailboat arrived to take my group back to our boat.  Once again, everyone was settled into the gallery with cups of tea or coffee and cookies.  I sat in a booth with the elderly Sydney man and his wife as we talked about our homes and travels and waited for the boat to rev up again and carry us back to port.  Not taking any chances, I covertly swallowed one of the seasick pills and prepared myself for the journey.  I was hoping that the ride back would be much smoother.  We would be going with the currents this time since we were traveling in the opposite direction now, right?  But then, the Sydney man informed me.  “The journey to and from the island is always rough because we never go with the currents.  The distance between the dock and the island is always going across the currents.”  I just smiled and nodded as if I had expected this, but in my head, I had started to pray again.  “Oh, God, please, don’t let this ship sink…”

After a few minutes, I decided to be courageous and step outside onto the lower deck.  I took a seat on one of the benches as a middle-aged couple settled into seats to the right of me.  And this time, as the ship moved across the water, I couldn’t stop laughing!  Instead of rocking back and forth on this journey, the boat was literally bouncing up off the water!  The waves were so high that our ship would sail up into the air and then flop back down onto the water with a loud smack.  I had to jump up and change my seat several times as heavy waves splashed up over the white railings of the boat and flooded the lower deck.  A few times, I clung to my seat as the boat sunk down below the surface of the waves and then shot straight up in the air again.  Many times, my hands lost their grip on the edge of the seat and my body was basically airborne, with my little skinny legs kicking helplessly in the air, as I flew up over the deck and then smacked back down on my bottom on the bench again.

I don’t know if it was the seasick pills or just the joy of being alive, but I didn’t feel afraid.  Instead the wild ride exhilarated me.  I had never experienced anything like this before and I was excited by the whole adventure.  As a gigantic wave once again chased me out of my seat, I crookedly walked across the deck and stood on the other side as one of the female crew members walked out of the galley.  The young woman stood for a moment and brushed her long, blond hair back out of her face before she suddenly said, “Look!  Look at the whales!”  She pointed excitedly out at the ocean.  I turned quickly just as two large glorious whales leaped out of the water, their white and silver bodies glistening in the sun before they flopped back down into the ocean.   Their movement caused our boat to roll violently to the right side, but I didn’t care.  Oh, my gosh…there were large whales right in front of my eyes!  I carefully crossed the deck again and gripped hold of a thick metal white pole just as the two whales shot straight up out of the water again and this time a small baby whale jumped with the them!  I laughed out loud as I suddenly realized that the boat had been rocking and flying into the air because of the whales frolicking so closely to us.  The whales had been circling around us ever since we had left the island.  Now, all of the passengers were crowded out on the deck as the whales continued to cavort around us and follow our boat back into port.

After a few more minutes, our ship pulled up to the dock and all of the passengers carefully disembarked as we tried to now walk on solid ground with our legs still rubbery and wobbly.  Everyone  settled back on the bus again as our lovely driver drove back to our various hotels.  I was exhausted but also feeling very alive as I rested my head against the cool glass of the window by my seat.  I was so pleased now to have had such an amazing adventure on the ocean today.  I thought of the fear and stress I had felt as  I get on the boat and it all seemed so silly now.  I love the water!  Once again, the excitement, the beauty, and the basic joy of being alive had overcome my stress and fear.  And that’s exactly the way life should be…

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie and her family lived in Manchester, England.

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

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

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

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

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

I miss you, Katie.

I love you.

Prayers for Manchester

Highway Lessons

Last Sunday, February 19, was my day off from work.  I had been looking forward to it even though I didn’t have anything planned.  But that’s the way I usually enjoy my days off.  I don’t like having a full schedule or having any place in particular that I need to be.  So, that morning, I woke up slowly and got dressed.  Then I spent an hour or so lingering over a cup of coffee and a mystery novel.  I reveled in the feeling of just lazing around for a while before going to the gym.  I spent an hour exercising my legs and doing some cardio.  I was relaxed and at peace….

Well, at least, until I was driving home after my work out.  I felt a little anxious while I was on the highway.  I was eager to get back home.  I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish that afternoon.  I needed to clean my house and work on my novel.  I needed to file my taxes and pay bills.  I wasn’t feeling stressed; I was just motivated to get on with my day.  I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down.  I smiled as I listened to my stereo and watched the highway unfold in front of me.  The drive home was peaceful…

Until it wasn’t any more.

Wait!  What’s this?  What’s happening?

I came around a bend in the highway and suddenly found that traffic had slowed down before coming to a complete stop.  All three lanes of the northbound 435 were blocked by stranded cars.  I suddenly found myself waiting in a long line of traffic in the far right lane.  I was still too far away to know what was causing the traffic jam, but the cars directly in front of me suddenly began to veer over to the left to get into the middle lane.  I quickly swerved over, too, before traffic could build up too heavily behind me.  Once more, I found myself sitting in the middle of traffic as I watched two police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance, all with sirens blaring, speeding by on the shoulder of the highway.

After a few moments, traffic slowly began to move forward; however, the cars in my lane were once more merging to the left and pushing into the fast lane.  I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed a small gap opening up in the left lane.  A large black SUV was still a few feet away.  I began to maneuver to the left when the SUV suddenly sped forward and closed the gap, shutting me out.  I was a little shocked that the man behind the wheel would not allow me the opportunity to merge.  I glared at him for a moment before pulling back into the middle lane and creeping forward a few feet.  Again, I noticed a gap in the left lane and started to ease over, just to be once more cut off by a woman in a small red Toyota Camry.  I shook my head and then tried again to get in the left lane.  The cars in front of me had already merged over to the left.  Why was I finding it so difficult to get a break in the heavy traffic?  Over and over again, five, six, seven times, vehicles zoomed forward without giving me a break.  I was trapped behind police cars and fire trucks that were now parked directly in front of me in the middle lane.  I was stuck; there was no room for me to move forward.  I had no choice; I had to merge but just couldn’t seem to find a kind-hearted person to have pity on me and allow me a break.

Even though I didn’t know what the problem was, I knew this was a dangerous situation.  I just had to be patient and not cause any further problems.  I reminded myself that someone would be kind enough to give me a break sooner or later.  I told myself to be kind to other people.  I needed to allow other drivers the opportunity to get through the backed up traffic.  So as I waited for a break to merge to the left, I stopped and allowed a few cars from the far right lane in front of me.  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  I was stuck even deeper in the middle of traffic now.  Again, I took another deep breath.  Be cool!  I told myself.  Don’t make a bad situation worse.

But I was still sitting in the middle of traffic with my blinker clicking and a little green arrow flashing on my dashboard.  I kept inching over to the left only to find my front bumper in danger of being knocked off by speeding cars that were pushing around me and not allowing me access to the fast lane.  Feeling trapped and beginning to think I was going to be in this position for the rest of the day, I now began to get agitated and irritated.  My patience had started to run very thin.  Why was this happening?  I wondered.  Why are all of these people being so rude?  I have to admit then I was getting really impatient and angry.  How is this fair?  I was tired of just sitting on the highway being pushed around by the other drivers.  And I admit I used a few words I hadn’t said in a very long time.  I cussed and swore and said things I would never want to repeat….I’m still surprised that I said them in the first place.  But I was just so aggravated with everyone at this point.  I finally realized that if I wanted to get anywhere that afternoon I would have to be aggressive and demanding.  I finally realized that I would just have to push my way into the left lane.  I stared into the side mirror until I noticed another small gap in the line of traffic.  I took a deep breath and quickly swung my car over to the left.  I just prayed that the person who was driving in the fast lane would stop, especially since I was straddling both lanes.  Then as traffic moved forward, I quickly pulled into the left lane, drove past the fire truck and ambulance….

…And suddenly, my breath caught in my throat.

Now, that I had driven around the fire truck, I could see the situation clearly.  A massive car wreck had taken place just moments earlier.  Two cars were sitting on the left shoulder of the highway and a third car was halfway in a ditch on the right.  I couldn’t see any damage to these cars, but I wasn’t really paying that much attention to them.  Instead, my eyes and mind became focused on a fourth car that was in the right hand lane.  The car was upside down and the roof and windows no longer exited.  The car was lying completely flat.  Oh, my gosh, seeing the way the car was situated, I couldn’t imagine that the driver and passengers had survived.  There was no way anyone in that black, muddy car could have lived through this wreck.  The top of the car was smashed flat down on the highway.

Tears burned in my eyes and I felt myself gasping for breath.  I started saying quick prayers for all the souls involved in this wreck.  But I couldn’t stop on the highway.  I needed to keep moving and that was alright because I just wanted to get away now.  I quickly drove down the highway and away from the damage.  I was really ashamed of myself.  How could I have gotten so upset at the other drivers for not letting me switch lanes?  Why couldn’t I have just remained calm and patient?  People lost their lives just now on this highway and here I was getting upset because I thought people were being rude to me.

The other drivers actually weren’t being rude, I realized now.  It wasn’t anything personal.  Everyone was just stressed and frustrated and just wanted to get on their way.  I had been so bad today.  I had cursed the cars zooming past me and completely forgotten that there were real, vulnerable people inside those other vehicles.  Instead of getting irritated, I should have just said prayers for everyone to be protected and to arrive safely at their destination.  The awful sight of the smashed, overturned car was a perfect reminder that we are all so fragile and need to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect.  We are all only human and so quickly because of one outrageous, silly mistake, life can be gone so quickly

As I drove down the highway, I continued to pray for the people involved in the wreck and for all of the other drivers around me.  I asked that God protect everyone traveling on the highway that day.  I apologized to God for getting so upset and angry.  I then told God that I was just so tired of all of the hatefulness, the death, and the destruction that seemed to be so prominent in the world today.  Make it stop, God, please.

And just then, I drove around a bend and there, by the side of the highway, was a field full of bright beautiful flowers.  Colorful spring flowers were lining the side of the highway on this cold February day.  And there was a small sign right in front that read “Wildflowers in Bloom.”  I smiled then and drove the rest of the way home with a joyful heart and the world suddenly at peace.

 

 

 

 

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?!

 

No Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why did I suddenly lose my faith that afternoon?

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ, I am continually reborn….

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