The Bachelor Party

The other day five men came into the sports center together, one of them spinning a shiny new Spalding basketball between his hands.

“Is anyone playing basketball right now?” he asked.

“The gym is available,” I said. “I don’t know if anyone is playing basketball right now though.”

“I think there’s one guy shooting hoops,” my co-worker said.

The guys looked at each other. They looked at what they could see of the facility from the front desk.

Where I work

“You’ve got a rock wall? Can we climb?” one asked.

“Yep,” I said. “It opens in half an hour.”

“How much does it cost?” another asked.

I explained our day pass system and the two different passes they could purchase — $10 for the facility or $15 to include our fitness center.

“Huddle!” one of them said, and they huddled. Right there in the lobby.

“Okay, we’re going to do it,” they said when they broke their huddle.

“Ten dollars or fifteen?” I asked.

“Fifteen. We’re going to do it all,” said the spokesman.

As they stood at the counter filling out the obligatory paperwork — emergency contact information, waiver forms, etc — I learned a little about them. They were all mid-30s. The five of them had lived together in college. This was a bachelor party.

“Let me tell you about what’s available here,” I said as I collected their papers and their money.

I launched into my spiel. “Our fitness center has two levels. The main floor is traditional equipment, free weights, ellipticals, steppers, treadmills. The upper level has things like kettlebells, ropes, those weight bags that people run up and down stairs with, and other machines. We have the rock wall you can see and a bouldering wall in the gym. There are three pools but you probably don’t have your swim suits with you. There’s racquetball, squash –“

One interrupted — “Do you have racquets we can use?”

“Yes, right outside the courts,” I said, and continued, “There are bowling alleys downstairs –“

“Bowling!” I saw a few high fives. “And that’s open?”

“Yes,” I said, laughing. I loved their excitement.

They headed for the gym first and played a little basketball. Over the next few hours, though, we heard shouts, hurrahs, and bursts of uproarious laughter coming from various parts of the building. We watched them try the rock wall before heading into the fitness center.

When they left before closing, I asked how their day had been.

“Great! Best $15 I’ve ever spent one!” one said.

“We did it all,” said another. “Basketball, bowling, ping-pong –“

“Oh! I forgot to tell you about ping-pong!” I said.

“It’s okay. We found it,” he said.

“And had a great time,” another added.

Their delight became my delight. I still smile when I think about that group of men playing, laughing, having fun, enjoying the time spent together.

I’ve reflected back on this many times. Why did I find it so gratifying? I think it’s because the world has become a meaner place over the last few years. Our laughter is usually at someone else’s expense. Camaraderie tends to devolve into bickering. We don’t listen. We don’t enjoy time together. Everything feels like jockeying for position.

So when two Olympic high jumpers agreed to tie for Gold, it’s an anomaly.

And when five guys, from different places and different walks of life, enjoy each other’s company for a full afternoon, it fills my cup.


Leaning Into Me


Fifteen months ago, I started seeing a therapist.

I remember at Hutchmoot, in one of those first years, a musician/artist talked about his therapist and then said, “Everyone needs a therapist.” There was a smattering of laughter, so he said, “I really mean it. It’s one of the best things I ever did.”

Once, when someone told me they had started therapy, I asked, “What’s it like?”

“It’s like having a paid friend. One that you can say anything to,” was the response.

That’s a pretty apt description.

My therapist’s name is Rachel.

I apologize a lot to her. “I’m sorry that I blather so much,” I say.

“It’s okay,” she replies.

“I forgot where I was going with this,” I say. “I ramble too much, don’t I?”

“Tell me more,” she replies.

One day, she said, “What would you say to young Sally?”

I stopped blathering and rambling and tried to think. Later that evening, I wrote a poem — and promptly forgot about it. That’s how I am these days — scattered and forgetful.

But each morning, I get up and try again. I begin the day with reading. It’s funny how the themes circle around. The same thoughts emerge from vastly different places.

I began the year pondering a quote by Howard Thurman:

I see you where you are, striving and struggling,
and in the light of the highest possibility of personality,
I deal with you there.

This morning, I read this in J. Phillip Newell’s Christ of the Celts:

“Alexander Scott, the nineteenth century Celtic teacher, uses the analogy of a plant suffering from blight. If such a plant were shown to botanists, even if the botanists had never seen that type of plant before, they would define it in terms of its essential life features. They would identify the plant with reference to its healthy properties of height and color and scent. They would not define it in terms of its blight. Rather they would say that the blight is foreign to the plant, that it is attacking the plant.”

I am so blighted. So very blighted.

Who am I in the light of the highest possibility of my personality? Who am I in my healthiest sense of my existence?

I went back and re-read that poem I wrote.

What would I say to young Sally? I would tell her that she is seen — and that even the blights can shape us.

Here’s my poem. Sorry for my blathering. I forgot where I was going with this.

I see you.
I see the dreams you’ve set aside
Over and over
For better dreams
No — for better realities

Because who could have imagined
You would be happy spending
So many years of

And singing silly songs
Not just With Larry
But with Philipowensamhelenjacobkarlmary
(I don’t think Laurel liked to sing
Or read, for that matter)

Of listening
And probing
For children’s dreams
So they might become the realities
That I missed

Once upon a time
I wanted to be a veterinarian
Because dogs and horses
Were so much safer
Than people

Then I wanted to make music
-al instruments
Because everyone knows
You can’t make a living making music

And linguistics –
To study languages
And understand their structures
“Anatomy of Language”
Sounds fascinating to me

But is that even a class?
Human anatomy is a much easier
Class to find
And I would have taken it
In my last dream of being
A physical therapist

But I married
And became a mom

I see that young woman
Who couldn’t stand on her own
And didn’t have someone to say,

Instead I had someone who said, “Come.”

And I went

I see you, and the dreams you’ve set aside
I see the rich reality you’ve lived
I see it all and, yes, I feel some pride —
For what is Christ but to give and give

Up dreams for something better, something good


Twilight Zone

“According to the Bible, God created the heavens and the Earth. It is man’s prerogative – and woman’s – to create their own particular and private hell.”

Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone: Complete Stories

I feel like I’m in a terrifying episode of The Twilight Zone.

This happened to me once before when I was first coming to terms with my mother’s dementia. That episode involved time travel — lots of it. I wrote about it ten years ago.

My current episode involves two groups of people occupying the same physical space but living in two entirely different realities.

They see each other.

They bump up against each other.

They argue and fight and are frustrated with each other, because each group sees a different danger that the other group seems to be ignoring. No amount of yelling or cajoling or pushing or pulling or name-calling or out-and-out violence will make the other group see what does not exist in the other’s reality.

It’s a rather terrifying premise, don’t you think?

This is why I’m a back-of-the-book reader. I need to know how things turn out so that I can navigate them and breathe at the same time.

How would this story resolve on The Twilight Zone? How would it resolve in real life?



I wrote this back in November 2013. I had been sorely disappointed with a concert I had gone to with Mary. Too much glitz, not enough real.

To be honest, I had forgotten a lot of the details of that evening until I reread this post.

Spoiler alert: The bottom line is that expectation sometimes leads to disappointment, and disappointment sometimes leads to ice cream — so in the end, it’s all good, right?

From November 2013 —

The fact that Sonic was already closed on the way home was the icing on the cake of disappointments.  Or, should I say – the ice cream.  I was so sure that a one dollar vanilla cone from Sonic would ease my pain.

Then, when Wendy’s didn’t have a vanilla Frosty milkshake, I was, like, “What do you mean you don’t have it? I’m looking at it on the sign!”

The polite night-shift server at Wendy’s explained. “Nobody ever ordered those, so they took it off the menu.”

“Well, they need to take it off their drive-thru menu as well,” I grumbled to myself.

So I drove across a four lane highway to get to Burger King.  Good thing it was 11:17 PM, and nobody else was on the road.

And at least they were open and had a Hershey’s Sundae Pie.

The things we do for our comfort foods.

It wasn’t the ice cream, though, that brought me back to reality.  It was riding home in the car with my dear, sweet 13-year old daughter, and thinking how precious it was that I could spend an evening with her.

Waiting in line. It was cold.
Waiting in line. It was cold.

It was remembering our laughter as we waited in line in the cold and sang Smothers Brothers songs to each other.

It was reflecting on the fact that she didn’t seem disappointed with the evening.  My own expectations had probably been too high.

I know people who try not to get excited over upcoming events.  “That way I won’t be disappointed,” they say.

Would I trade all the anticipation, all the eagerness, the thrill of imagining what was to come for a blasé attitude?

No, I think I’d rather ride the roller coaster.

And then treat myself to ice cream.

elderly · Faith · family


Below is a(nother) dusted-off post from 2011. In 2011 my mother was still alive and living at home. She clearly had dementia and her body was slowly failing on her.  My father was her main care-provider, but that summer was hard on him, too. With all that was going on, I helped out as best I could.

Mom and Dad -- summer of 2011
Mom and Dad — summer of 2011

Last Thursday we went for the follow-up visit for my mother’s bladder biopsy.

The baby-faced doctor handed my father the pathology report.  “It’s bladder cancer, just as I suspected,” he said.

He continued speaking, “It’s high-grade papillary urothelial carcinoma.”  I could see the words on the path report in my father’s hands. “The cancer hasn’t spread past the lining of the bladder.  There is no invasion into the muscle or the subepithelial tissue.”

When he began discussing the treatment options, it was truly a discussion.  He listened to our concerns, answered questions, explained, and listened some more.

We finally reached the point in the process that I was anticipating (and dreading).

My mother is now incapable of making decisions, especially decisions like this.  She can decide what she wants for lunch — usually something involving marmalade.  She can decide what she wants to wear — usually the same thing she has been wearing for the past three days.  She can decide when she wants to take a nap — often.  She cannot make an informed decision about her health care.

My father has always shown the utmost respect for people and guarded their dignity.  I knew my father would want to include my mother in the decision-making process. When the moment came, my father turned to my mother and said, “I suppose we need to ask the patient what she would like to do.”

I started to pipe up, “Dad, I think we’re at the point when you need to make these decisions for Mom,” but my mother interrupted.

My mother, with the utmost clarity, said, “I don’t think I understand what’s going on.  I trust whatever you decide.”

Hallelujah!  If the angels weren’t singing in heaven, they were singing in my heart!

I hadn’t known to pray for this, but this was an answer to prayer.

The rest of the visit was a piece of cake.  We made the decision to simply wait.  At 83, any treatment may have been worse than the disease itself….

I had forgotten so much about that time period. The bladder cancer turned out to be a red herring. So many other things made that season hard. Had I know what lay ahead, I would have said that I was not capable of any of it.

But I was.

God makes our path a little windy so we can’t see what’s around the next bend. Perhaps if we knew, we wouldn’t want to go on.

Today, January 13, 2017, I can look back and say, Thank you, God, for getting me through those years. It makes it easier to trust You on the road I’m traveling now.

elderly · Leaning In

At the Post Office

Painting at the Fenimore Art Museum:  Village Post Office, 1873. Thomas Waterman Wood
Painting at the Fenimore Art Museum: Village Post Office, 1873. Thomas Waterman Wood

I stood in a very long line at the Post Office yesterday.

Post Office line definitions for a small town:

  • No line = go directly to the counter
  • Brief wait = someone already at the counter
  • Line = someone waiting, someone at the counter
  • Long line = 2 someones waiting, someone at the counter
  • Very long line = more than 2 people waiting in addition to the person at the counter.

Yesterday, when I first got there, a young couple was at the counter mailing several packages. They held whispered consultations with each other about every package. I think the cost was more than they expected. When the clerk announced, “That’ll be $79.50,” they looked at each other briefly before she swiped a card and they were done.

I still had two people ahead of me, but three or four people now stood behind me in this very, very long line.

The elderly woman at the front of the line approached the counter. She placed two packages on it.

“This one is FedEx,” the clerk said. “I can’t take it here, but you can mail this other one.”

“What?” the woman asked.

The clerk spoke slowly as she repeated in a louder voice, “This package goes to FEDEX. You have to take it down to THE COMMONS. But I can help you with THIS PACKAGE.”

I couldn’t hear what the elderly woman said, but I watched the postal clerk’s face soften.

“Let’s look at this one,” the clerk said, holding the FedEx mailer. “I don’t handle these but I think we can figure it out.”

She read aloud the instructions on the FedEx slip.

The man behind me groaned and left.

The woman ahead of me looked at me, shrugged, and followed him with her eyes out the door.

“You need to sign HERE,” the clerk was saying, “before you put it in the DROP BOX.”

The elderly woman said something.


The woman nodded and asked something.


The door opened and closed several times over the course of this, each time bringing a wintry draft. I could feel the people behind me shuffling their feet and shifting packages between arms.

The clerk was remarkable — so pleasant, so patient, so unperturbed by the growing line. She took care of the package that was being mailed postal service and reminded the woman again where she needed to take her FedEx package, before turning her attention to the next person.

In this year of “Leaning In“, I knew that I needed to be more like the postal clerk. Too often I have been like the man who left, feeling the tick-tick-tick of time slipping away.

I don’t have time for this, I tell myself — but, really, what is so pressing?

Life is too short to rush through it.

Yesterday I learned something from an elderly woman who didn’t understand the difference between FedEx and USPS, and a postal clerk who took the time to help her.

I wonder what I can learn today if I slow down.


A to Z Blogging Challenge


J is for Journey.

The bigger story of our lives is constantly being retold is smaller stories every day.

For example, my journey to Laity Lodge was series of steps which I could break down thus:

  1. Car ride to Binghamton
  2. Bus trip to NYC
    1. First bus to Monticello that broke down
    2. Second bus that safely delivered us to Port Authority
  3. Waiting at LaGuardia
    Waiting at LaGuardia

    Shuttle to LaGuardia

  4. Waiting in LaGuardia
  5. Flight to Charlotte
  6. Hurry through Charlotte airport from one plane directly to the boarding line for the next
  7. Flight to San Antonio
  8. Shuttle to hotel
  9. Night in hotel
  10. Ride to car rental agency
  11. Meeting up with friends
  12. Drive to Laity Lodge
    1. Stop for Texas barbecue
  13. Time at Laity Lodge
    1. Rest
    2. Refreshment
    3. Music
    4. Laughter
    5. Solitude
    6. Fellowship
  14. Drive back to San Antonio
  15. Flight to O’Hare
  16. Traversing the tunnels of O’Hare
  17. Flight to Syracuse
  18. Ride home

Each step has at least one story, complete with plot and interesting characters.

Sometimes I’m running. Sometimes I’m waiting.

Sometimes the bus breaks down or the flight is late.

Sometimes richness surrounds me and I am a partaker in a great feast.

Sometimes desert solitude surrounds me.

Sometimes my companion is a friend who laughs easily and shares their story.

Sometimes my companion is a stranger drinking screwdrivers to soothe the anxiety of flying.

Although I may look back on those four days as one trip, they really were a series of smaller stages, interactions, minutia. High points, low points, tension, and joy.

Peter Guber said it this way:

Every journey that is successful has culs-de-sac and speed bumps. I carry a wisdom gene through my life through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Life is a journey. I’m glad I like traveling.


Maggie and the Rabbit

Maggie bolted out the door this morning when I went to sit on the deck for my quiet time.  She loves laying in the cool morning grass.

When she was a puppy, I had to be vigilant about watching her because she would take off chasing a squirrel and end up three blocks away.  Or worse, she would (re) discover the stream and splash up and down it becoming a muddy mess.

Now, she’s much more mature and self-controlled. She runs out, lays down in the grass, and waits.  I’m never quite sure what she’s waiting for, and I can’t break myself of the habit of being vigilant over her. So I sit on the deck and watch her while she waits in the grass.

I read and pray and watch her. And she waits.

This morning Maggie suddenly perked up her ears, and her head, and her whole body, alert to a visitor in our yard. Off in the distance, under an old apple tree, a wild rabbit hopped, lippity-lippity, along.  It was also enjoying the dewy early morning grass.

Maggie, at the very least, would have loved chasing the rabbit.  The rabbit seemed oblivious to its danger.  It nibbled the grass and hopped around the apple tree.

Maggie, tethered only by her own self control, watched its every move.

And so the little non-drama played out for a good half hour.Aviary Photo_130503424926524578 Maggie was a good dog.  Though she watched, she never made any move to chase.  She showed the same self-control that I’m attempting to exercise around sweets these days.

The rabbit, though, the rabbit fascinated me. Unaware of any danger, so engrossed in its little patch of clover and the few green apples that had fallen, it didn’t seem to see the dog watching its every move.

And I got to thinking, how often am I like that rabbit?  I lippity-lip along in my own little world, unaware of those who want nothing more than to destroy me, or, at the very least, make me run for my life.

But therein lies a bigger truth.

Maggie can run fast.  When our neighbor got a Doberman, we were very happy to discover that Maggie can outrun the Doberman.  Not that we want her to have to do that.  It’s just nice to know that she can.

Still Maggie could not have closed the distance between herself and the rabbit fast enough to catch the rabbit. So, in fact, what looked like a dangerous situation for the rabbit really wasn’t dangerous at all.

And I think that is true for me as well.

Sometimes I see the scary monster and am immobilized by fear.

But God is always watching, and He has equipped me for whatever comes.

Perhaps I misjudged that rabbit, too.  It wasn’t quite as heedless as I thought.  As soon as Maggie rose to her feet to join me in the house, the rabbit scampered to the safety of the brush.

For a good half hour, though, it had enjoyed the coolness of the early morning in spite of the presence of a predator.  It didn’t live in fear.

I, too, have nothing to fear.