I am so proud of you. Each of you has pursued something that you love. Some of you have found a career. Some of you are still searching, but I feel like you are on the right path and that’s the biggest part of the struggle.
Remember when you were growing up and I was doing a pretty crappy job of homeschooling? Sometimes I look back on that and am amazed at how far you’ve gone in spite of me.
Did I check your workbooks? Once in a blue moon.
Did I make sure that you wrote those book reports? Not nearly often enough.
Did I follow through on those papers you were supposed to write? Sometimes. (Epic fail in that department was that time I bet one of you that some contestant would not win on Survivor. “If they win,” I said, “you don’t have to do finish that paper.” What an idiot bet. Of course, they won.)
When you complained that something was too hard or that you couldn’t do it because you thought you weren’t smart enough, did I tell you that it’s not how smart you are, it’s how you’re smart? Yes — often enough that it elicited eye-rolls whenever I said it.
But I truly believe that with all my heart. Each one of you has a unique set of gifts and talents. If you can learn to put those to work, you will feel fulfilled with whatever your career choice is.
The first time I heard the expression “You do you” I didn’t like it. I thought it was said in a condescending way, with a hint of a sneer.
Of course that was years ago and I don’t remember the exact words leading up to that expression, but here’s the gist of what I remember — That thing that you’re talking about doing is the kind of thing I can’t picture any sane or normal person even dreaming about. It’s absolutely nuts. But, you do you.
Yesterday, I sat in the lobby of the gym and was telling someone about you. “I’m so proud of them all,” I told her. You’ve started your own business, pursued higher education, settled in new areas, changed career focus a few times as you hone what you really want to pursue, studied and studied some more, overcome difficult life circumstances, found delight in new areas, and followed your dreams.
I am so very very proud of you. You’ve all done a really good job being you.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?
Advent sidenote: The ultimate you-do-you is seen at Christmas and at Easter. Jesus’ life is bookended with chapters that don’t make sense. I know this didn’t actually happen, but can you picture the eye-rolls in heaven when the plan was revealed — a virgin mother, traveling near her due-date, turned away from the inn, and the Son of God bing born in a stable. That thing that You’re talking about doing is the kind of thing I can’t picture any sane Son of God even dreaming about. It’s absolutely nuts. But, You do You. And He did.
[a momentary pause before I finish my alphabet challenge]
The other day I got a call from a friend that I hadn’t heard from in a while.
“I’m gong to visit my brother and thought I would reach out to some of my friends while I was driving,” she said.
I was so honored. We hadn’t talked in a long time. At one point we were going to try going for walks together wherever we were and talk on the phone, but it only happened once or twice before it fell by the wayside.
Life has a way of pulling us away from the very best of ideas.
The truth is I need more perseverance, more stick-to-itiveness, in my own life.
The other night I was so frustrated with my job that I went for a walk afterwards and mentally drafted my resignation letter. I thought through the commitments I had made there and when would be an appropriate time for me to give as my last day. I came up with a plan and was heading home to write the letter when I made a quick stop at the grocery store.
After I had picked up my bananas and bread, I headed to the checkout. Lately I’ve been using the self-checkout because I am peopled out by the end of the day, but I recognized one of the check-out people and went straight to her line. It was not the shortest or the fastest, but she was someone I knew from my job at the gym.
During the summer, she and her friend had been part of the early morning crowd. I loved the way they spurred each other on, sometimes only coming because the other was expecting them. M and D were both from Cuba and worked in housekeeping at a large hotel in town.
One day in the fall, M didn’t come, but D did. “Where’s M?” I asked.
“She’s packing and repacking her suitcase with food because she’s going to visit her family in Cuba,” D told me. “She wants to fit as much in as she can but she can’t go over the weight limit.”
“When does she leave?” I asked.
“In the middle of next week,” D said, “but she gets very anxious about her trips so that’s why she didn’t come this morning.”
All week I would ask D how M was doing. She was anxious. The next week, the day before she was to leave, when I asked D, she said, “Everything has changed. M heard from immigration and can apply to bring her children back with her.”
To make a long story short, M came back to Cooperstown with her children several weeks later. Despite hurricanes and glitches with visas, they made their way through the process incredibly quickly. I met her daughter in October, a beautiful girl who didn’t yet know any English.
That night that I was ready to quit my job and had stopped at the store, I saw M working the checkout line, her second job to make ends meet. She looked exhausted, but she brightened when she saw me.
“How are you?” I asked as she was scanning the groceries of the person ahead of me.
“So tired,” she replied.
“How are the kids doing?” I asked.
“We went to the gym Saturday and went ….” I could see her searching for the word. She paused and made an arm movement to show me.
“Pickleball? Racquetball?” I guessed. Pickleball is so popular these days that my mind immediately went there.
She shook her head and did the gesture again.
“I think it’s bowling,” said the woman ahead me.
M nodded vigorously. “Yes! We had so much fun. We want to do it again!”
When it was my turn, we talked a few minutes. It was so nice to hear her enthusiasm for having her family together. “Next week I take my citizenship exam,” she said. “That would be so wonderful to be a citizen.”
I wished her well and went home with a lighter spirit.
My petty complaints about my job seemed just that — petty — in comparison with all that M had gone through and was still going through.
I told a co-worker the next day, “M saved my job. Seeing her last night put everything in perspective.”
I’ve made a list of people that I see at work for whom I am thankful. M is near the top of that list.
She’s teaching me about perseverance, hard work, and joy.
(I feel like I’m cheating for the letter “X” by using a word that really begins with E. Please forgive me. I had a scathingly brilliant idea for a new series of posts. Okay, maybe not scathingly brilliant — I had an idea for something I wanted to write about, but I want to finish what I started first — An A-to-Z of things I like and don’t like.)
X is for eXamination — something I both like and dislike.
Let me start with the dislike part. I don’t really like going to the dentist or the doctor or the optometrist –anyone who is going to examine me physically. Even haircuts are a thing I put off until it’s an absolute necessity and I’m at the point of seriously considering asking the woman to shave my head so I can go longer without another visit. Weigh myself? I think not.
My youngest daughter is in her first semester of dental hygiene school. Next semester she begins working on real patients.
“Will you be my first patient?” she asked me.
I didn’t even hesitate. “Of course, I will,” I said.
Some things outweigh my dislikes — like the love I have for my child.
I brush my teeth at least twice a day, floss regularly, and generally attend to my oral health. Yet, as January draws nearer, I’m more and more anxious about what she will see when she looks in my mouth. Will I have bad breath? Are there places I’ve missed with my brushing? Is she going to find something terrible that will require another visit?
Pitiful, isn’t it?
I have a strong family history of breast cancer. Do I do breast self-examination? Partly — but that standing shirtless in front of a mirror part, nope.
When I reached colonoscopy age, I dragged my feet and bargained with my primary care provider. I managed to put it off for a good 6 years until she played a better card than I did.
Reading the eye chart at the optometrist is one thing, but when they invade my personal space to peer deeply into my actual eyeball — I hate it.
Gosh, I’m telling you all my quirks here. Why is this so much easier than that way-too-close one-on-one?
Exams I like are knowledge based. I’ve always been a fairly good test-taker. I think it has to do with being factual and logical.
Logical, that is, until it comes to something like the physician palpating my abdomen. Logically, I know why she needs to do it. I just don’t like it.
Whew! The home stretch is in sight — 6 letters left, 5 after today.
U is for Uniform, as in the one I wear to work.
I don’t think that I ever imagined myself saying this, but I like wearing a uniform to work. It saves me time.
Every morning a series of alarms keep me on track — the first to make sure I’m awake, then to give me time to journal, to read, to ponder, and to get ready for work. I report to work at 5 AM — so my first alarm goes off at 3:30 AM. [I just did some extensive research (i.e. – a quick google) to find out what time dairy farmers get up in the morning. 4 AM. Yes, I’m up before the dairy farmer.]
The least amount of time each morning goes to getting ready for work. It’s a done deal — a black shirt and stone-colored pants. I spend a minute or so trying to mask the circles under my eyes and less than 30 seconds “fixing” my hair. (My hair is hopeless. It can’t be fixed.)
It was cold yesterday morning. I wore my black hoodie that is embroidered with my organization’s logo.
And my stone-colored pants.
Usually I wear a black polo (embroidered with my organization’s logo) and stone-colored pants.
The other day I went for a walk on my break — wearing my black polo and stone-colored pants — and caught my toe on the uneven sidewalk. I fell all the way down.
Alllllll the waaaaay dooooooown. I could see the whole thing happening in slow motion.
I broke the fall with my hands (which are still bruised and painful) and skidded my right side into the soft grass and dirt beside the sidewalk. The mud ground in to the pants. Fortunately, the scrapes on my knees didn’t bleed through. Stone-colored pants don’t hide blood very well.
I turned around and walked the mile or so back to the gym.
Because we wear uniforms, we have a bag in the back room full of black shirts and stone-colored pants from employees who have moved on. I dug through it and found a pair of pants that would work.
Not my style, of course. A wide-leg pant. A little too long. But, hey, no mud from a fall.
So, I like uniforms.
I like not having to put too much brain power into the what-should-I-wear question.
I like that we (co-workers) share with each other.
I really like my black hoodie.
I don’t like feeling used — but that’s probably not a story for a blog.
You know what I mean, though. The insincerity of being stepped on by another person.
To say that I like tidying might not be totally true, but I definitely get some satisfaction from it.
I’m a cluttered person. I have a hard time throwing things away — especially things that may someday be useful — which is pretty much everything. I mean, I may need that receipt to return something. I may sometime be looking for that random screw that I picked up on the kitchen floor because I finally figured out what it went to.
I may need a black pen that barely writes because that’s better than a pen that doesn’t write. I guess I could throw away the pen that doesn’t write anymore.
And that free temporary tattoo that I picked up somewhere? Surely someone will want that.
What about candles in glass jars? Is that recycling? Or garbage? Or is there one last light and fragrance I can get from it?
You see my problem.
I tidied yesterday. I threw away so many old shopping lists and store receipts. I gathered the loose change from all the different places I had emptied my pockets and put it into a jar. I threw away a bunch of random notes from work and other reminders for myself.
I shelved books. All my Thomas Merton books are in a row, as well as Howard Thurman, Brian Doyle, and John Steinbeck. The Gaelic books and the books on Scotland have their own corner. I have somehow ended up with three copies of 100 Selected Poems by e.e.cummings. I suppose I could get rid of two, but I love that book so much that I would want them to go to good homes.
I found so many quotes I had written down on slips of paper. Here are a few:
Henry Nouwen: In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. — from a counseling session. My counselor told me to write this one down.
Face the worst. Discover the best.
Montaigne: The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.
Thomas Merton: Every moment is rich in happiness.
I saved all the quotes. I even had quotes from television shows. Seriously. What kind of person does that?
I suppose I like tidying after all.
I just don’t like throwing things away. What if someday I need that thing?
On a side note, two Gaelic words that I keep getting mixed up are the word for tidying (sgioblachadh) and the word for writing (sgrìobhadh). It’s the “sg” at the beginning and “dh” at the end and the rest of the too-many-letters in the middle.
For me, writing is a way of tidying my mind, so I kind of like the similarity between the two words. Funny, isn’t it?
First, I saw The Sound of Music, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is musical theater, not opera. It was amazing.
Next I saw their Double Bill, two one-act operas: Taking Up Serpents and Holy Ground. I’ll get back to this one.
Last I saw Carmen. Their live orchestra playing that prelude?! Amazing. I was in love — until the story started. Then I was confused, irritated, more confused, and, like, what-the-heck-is-going-on. At intermission, I asked my daughter who was working at the opera if it was supposed to be a comedy. She laughed and said, no, that it’s supposed to be a tragedy. The tragic part was how shallow and insipid the characters were. I wanted Don Josè to get a backbone and show a little moral fortitude. I wanted Escamillo to be more than a pretty boy who strutted across the stage in his bullfighter outfit. Maybe I’m not an opera person.
But maybe I am.
I saw Serpents twice. The first time I was quite taken aback but also awed. The second time, I took copious notes. The lyrics were full of imagery that drew me in — singing about moths being attracted to the light in the opening song. My scribbled notes won’t do it justice, but here’s part of what Kayla sang:
This parking lot’s a graveyard… Same moths are drunk again on lamplight… They know not what they do, Lord… They keep going round and round and round… A calling to be drawn like that to something you can never touch… They’re longing for the light.
Kayla’s longing became a theme.
Light. Mystery. Brokenness. All were themes in a heavy opera that spoke volumes to me.
I like love Serpents.
In case you’re wondering about Holy Ground, I think it was meant to be a counterpoint to Serpents. I can’t really comment much on it. The music was amazing. The costumes were amazing. The story was, hmm, I don’t know. I closed my eyes to enjoy the music and fell asleep the first time I went to the show. The second time, I didn’t even stay.
On to what I don’t like that begins with S. I don’t like being sick. See paragraph #1.
Helen’s bouquet was lovely, wasn’t it? I don’t know the names of all the flowers in it — roses (obviously), lily-of-the-valley (a nod to my mother — that was what she carried in her bridal bouquet), and ranunculus (that peachy-colored one that is dead center). I feel like I should know the names of the purple ones and the white ones but I don’t. (Anyone?)
Ranunculus is one of my favorite flowers. I first remember buying a few stems at the Farmers’ Market for my ikebana pot and delighting as they opened from small round balls to those amazing delicate layers-upon-layers of petals.
I bought fresh stems on every visit to the Farmers’ Market in my year of ranunculus-discovery. Until they ran out.
“Not even one last bud?” I asked, trying not sound whiny.
“No. Their season is past,” replied the woman at the stand, and I went away sad.
The next year I purchased them early and often.
Ranunculus. What an ugly name for such a lovely flower. It sounds clunky and awkward, not delicate and beautiful. The name derives from Latin for “little frog.” I don’t see the similarity.
One of the things I’ve learned in recent years is that I like people. I genuinely like people.
I like the varieties they come in. I like the get-my-ducks-in-a-row variety and I like the deadline?-what-deadline? variety. I like the spreadsheet variety, the clutter variety, the same-routine-every-day variety, and the but-we-did-that-yesterday variety. I’ll admit that I struggle more and more with the black-and-white-thinking variety, but I also can’t wrap my mind fully the there-is-no-right-or-wrong-everything-is-on-a-spectrum variety.
One of my sons has been working as a caretaker at a small village park this summer. I’ve been going out to help him occasionally, especially when he has school-related Zoom meetings, but sometimes just to give him a break.
The other day was a Zoom day. I was sitting in front on the Caretaker’s cabin while he was inside discussing philosophy or some such thing. A dad and a little girl came up from the beach and wandered past me a few times.
Finally the dad approached me. “Do you work here?” he asked.
I”m never sure how to answer that. “Um.. kind of?” I said. “I’m the caretaker’s mom.”
“My daughter cut her foot and she needs a bandaid,” he said.
I had her sit at the picnic table so I could take a look. When she took off her pink croc, I couldn’t really see the cut because of all the blood.
“Hold on,” I said, and ran into the cabin to get bandaids, alcohol wipes, and paper towels. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I called to my son as I zoomed in and out, interrupting his Zoom.
I handed the girl a paper towel. “I need you to wipe away some of the blood, so we can see,” I said.
“NoooOOOOooooo,” she cried, sounding remarkably like the coyotes I hear at night.
I took a few steps back, trying to think how to tackle the problem, when Frank, the red-tailed hawk man, came over.
Frank is a fascinating person. He’s been coming to the park with his current hawk, Bella. He told me that very few hawks live to adulthood in the wild so he captures young hawks, raises them, and then releases them.
“Do you do this for a living?” I asked him when I first met him.
“No, this is my passion,” he replied.
Back to the howling child — “Do you need help?” Frank asked. He saw the bloody foot and said, “Let me get my first aid kit.”
While he went for his supplies, the little girl sat on the bench and cried, the dad tried unsuccessfully to comfort her, and I tended to some other park visitors who needed easier assistance. When I got back to them, Frank was cleaning the cut. The girl’s wails had subsided to sniffles.
Frank purred his words while he worked. His skill of calming a frightened animal worked with this human child.
I stood back and watched the scene. It was really quite lovely.
Yesterday, when I went to the park, my son had this drawing on his table:
That’s me on the left looking on, and her father on the right doing the same thing. My son had come out of his meeting during the bandaging operation and told her funny stories about how he lost the whole toenail off his big toe at the park when he was a child and the Toenail Fairy (aka my brother) came to visit him, bringing him VHS Muppet shows.
But, you know, people. I remember standing there, watching, and thinking, “I really love people.”
The day before this we had the throw-rocks-at-the-ducks variety of people at the park — and I don’t like that variety.
But Frank makes up for it.
I hope you enjoy the varieties of people in your life today.
Thank you so much for your text the other morning. I know that I haven’t responded, but you have no idea how much I need to hear from people like you. People who love me — warts and all.
I really want to try to finish the alphabet thing I started. As much as I WANT to write, writing just doesn’t seem to come. Maybe, I thought, if I write it in a letter to you — a long overdue letter — I’ll actually be able to put some words to the page.
So, here we go —
I like Magical places. A few weeks ago, Mary and I got permission to explore the grounds of an old estate house that had been razed decades ago. As we walked around, Mary kept saying, “This is magic. This place is magical.”
Here are a few pictures from that day:
I don’t like mean girls. See, I thought Mean Girls was a movie based on my life in high school back in the mid-seventies. It turns out Mean Girls still exist today. And I work with some.
It’s disheartening to know that some women never outgrow the manipulative back-stabbing ugly behavior of their teenage years. However, I decided last weekend that these are the women who will help me grow into a better me. Every morning I thank God that they are part of my life.
Today I worked with one of them and the only thing she said to me all day was “Where’s the stapler?”
I smile when I think about it. How silly we can be!
Okay — N is hard. I was going to say that I like the New Moon because I took this picture when I got to work the other morning. The moon was so crisp and so pointy — all I could think was that it would hurt if I stepped on it. My photo does not do it justice. Plus it was a waning crescent, not a waxing crescent.
I like Neatness — to a point. I also like a certain amount of mess. I’m not sure why that is.
I like my Neighbors. My brother lives right next door! He’s a good neighbor. I know he’s always willing to help — and he calls to check up on me, which is nice. I also like his neighbor, the one on the other side. I see her at the gym often and she is a delight. I like our neighbor in Greene. She still helps with our lawn care. I liked our neighbors on Brooklyn Ave. I still see one of them at church every week. I liked our neighbors in Cheyenne. I guess we’ve been pretty fortunate in the neighbor department.
I don’t like the News. It is depressing. And yet I read it — multiple times a day. What is wrong with me??!?
SInce I wanted to end in the 500 word range, I’ll end now. Next time I’ll go for O and P. Maybe even Q if I can be succinct. It’s not really my strength, but I can always try.