Growing Pains

 

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I was under five feet tall all the way until the end of my sophomore year of high school. During the summer of that year I grew to a height of five foot six and a half inches. I went from being a short girl to a tall girl in only three months. To say that I had growing pains would be an understatement. I recall taking a hot water bottle to bed with me each night to help ease the discomfort that racked my legs. It was a disagreeable experience, but I was quite happy with my new height even if it stole away my identity as a very small girl with the last name of “Little.”

Growing pains come in the form of psychological changes as well as the physical. At the same time that my body was stretching out, I was also undergoing the angst of maturing and becoming a woman. There were so many changes inside my head that I was hardly able to keep up with them. I remember being my own worst critic. Somehow it seemed to me that I was perhaps the gawkiest, least attractive most socially backward human to ever walk on the planet. It would take me many years to learn that just about all of my classmates were feeling the same about themselves. The teen years are not all fun and games. They are a time of downright hormonal confusion. It’s a wonder that we somehow manage to muddle through those stressful moments of zits, mean girls/guys and emotions that zip from highs to lows in nanoseconds.

Ultimately I came out just fine. I have to admit that I was probably in my mid-twenties before I actually looked in the mirror and liked the person that I saw. It was quite a relief to move beyond the years of wondering who I was and settling into a loving relationship with myself. It’s really too bad that growing up involves so much learning that hurts. We have to find out the hard way who are friends really are and which risks are worthy as opposed to those that harm us. We would probably be just fine if only we listened to our elders, but most of us choose trial and error as our preferred way of becoming wise.

It’s funny how each decade of our lives involves growing pains of a sort. We have to mature into the role of spouse. It takes practice to be a good parent. We find ourselves battling with our teenagers just as we always swore we never would. When the nest is empty we must learn how to be supportive of our adult children without interfering in their own journey of growth. We assume roles of caretakers for our aging parents, walking a fine line between seeing to their comfort and safety without becoming overbearing control freaks. Our life roles move here and there, and with each new experience we find ourselves feeling those growing pains that come with change.

Perhaps one of the most difficult transitions occurs when our peers die or become seriously ill. That is when we are forced to consider our own mortality without becoming fearful or morbid. We realize that we might well have been the person who is facing one of life’s most difficult challenges. We begin to ponder the limits on our time and feel a sense of urgency in fulfilling all of the dreams that we carry in our hearts. Each moment of each day becomes a bit more precious to us as we realize that we must embrace the world and its people with the enthusiasm and curiosity of a child. In some ways growing older is much like growing younger again because the world suddenly becomes a more wonderful place. We appreciate even the smallest joys far more than we might have when we felt almost immortal.

For some reason of late I have been thinking of a childhood visit to the home of my father’s best friend. I could not have been more than five or six years old when we spent a long ago Saturday afternoon at his house listening to a Texas A&M football came on the radio. We sat in a semicircle around the big upright appliance from whence came the play by play accounts of the happenings on the field. Everyone was quite happy. There were lots of smiles and a great deal of laughter. I can’t remember the details of the game, but I do have a vivid picture of the warmth that we felt for one another. I can still smell the aroma of cinnamon toast baking in the hostess’s oven, and how delicious the hot buttery slices of heaven seemed to be. It was one of those perfect days when all seemed right with the world. With the exception of my two brothers every person who was present then has now gone to a heavenly reward, and I miss each and every one of them. Mostly though I miss that incredible feeling of pure unadulterated childhood pleasure that consumed me back then. It’s one of those feelings that I do my best to emulate whenever I can these days.

It doesn’t really take all that much to simply linger in the moment with the people that we love, but we all too often get so busy that we don’t relax enough to just be. We are thinking about those chores that we need to do, or we are worrying about what we might say next in a conversation. When we are children none of those kinds of things matter. We allow laughter and happiness to fill our beings with sheer ecstasy. As we grow older we begin to allow and appreciate the same sort of surrender.

I have actually shrunk a full two inches in height as a result of osteoporosis. My legs ache at night and I often wrap them in a heating pad. It’s as though I am somehow going back in time. I now relive my past with a whole new attitude. I like almost every single aspect of myself and the person I have been. I’ve made mistakes here and there, but they don’t seem to matter. I’m getting second chances to truly embrace who I am by forgetting myself and looking outward to the people around me. I am finding a world that is far more wonderful than I ever might have imagined. I”m going in a whole new direction and the serenity that I feel is glorious and profound. I suppose that without the pains that endured as part of my own very human experience I would not be in the place of contentment that envelops me today, so I have to be thankful for the growing that I have done, and I look forward to the rest that is to come.

Truly Madly Deeply

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One of the most fascinating books that I have ever read is Isaac’s Storm by Eric Larson, a story that details the horrific events of the 1900 hurricane that virtually decimated Galveston, Texas. I have always found the randomness of the destruction that took place in that epic event to be rather profound. With no rhyme or reason some structures were totally destroyed while others that stood right next to them exist even to this very day. Thus it seems to be when nature’s fury strikes. The fact that I still have my home in the midst of all of the misery caused by Hurricane Harvey is little more than the luck of the draw because not more than a mile away there are homes that filled with water.

In the aftermath of a storm that will surely go down in history as one for the ages, I am pensive as I listen to the sounds of life slowly coming back into the world that has been my home since my birth. This time of year the school buses should be stopping at my corner to take children to and fro. I enjoy the  laughter and the excitement of the voices that filter through my window each morning and afternoon. For now there is only the wind blowing through my trees and the hum of a generator in the distance. It’s good to hear the rumble of cars moving down the road, and now again there is a siren breaking the silence with a scream. I worry what might be happening to someone, but I also smile that it is once again possible for aid to reach whomever is in need without moving precariously through a wall of water. Even as the natural routine of things has been set askew, there is the tiniest whisper of hope assuring me that in spite of the enormity of the challenges that lie ahead, we will eventually heal and recover.

I rejoice at the messages of good news coming from friends and family about whom I had worried during the deluges that fell over my city. So many, like me, seem to have weathered the storm relatively unscathed. Given the extent of the damage to Houston it is almost impossible to believe that we indeed have a foundation of intact homes from which we might reach out to the others who were not as fortunate. As I number the dozens who will soon be assessing the damage to their houses and possessions I am truly humbled. But for chance it might just as easily been among them.

I have expressed my love for my city so many times. She is a tough girl with a heart of pure gold. She is hurting now and I know we must all show her our love by being very good to one another. She would expect nothing less from us. In the past few days we have demonstrated just how good we are at doing that. There have been so many favors performed both large and small, all designed to ease the fear and the pain that our neighbors are experiencing. We are not strangers in Houston. We are family. We understand that now more than ever.

The heat here can be brutal and the landscape is as flat as a pancake, but the real beauty of this place has always been in its people. It has historically been a town where souls come to find new opportunities just as my grandfather did when he traveled from Austria Hungary more than a hundred years ago or like my husband’s great grandfather who arrived from Georgia penniless. Houston has always been filled with promises from which individuals with little more than the clothes on their backs might find the kind of lives that would not be possible anywhere else. It is a warm hearted and forgiving place as was so dramatically demonstrated in countless ways during the last few days.

We have watched our hometown newscasters dissolve into tears as they reported the human stories that have been so difficult to hear. We have seen ordinary people brave the waters with boats and trucks so that people they have never met might be saved from the raging waters. Our mayor has stood toe to toe with all of us to keep us safe and to calm our fears. Our neighbors have walked hand in hand never even noticing any of the diverse demographics that seem to be so dividing the rest of our country. We have jumped into the task of saving ourselves and saving our city without worrying about what anyone else might eventually do for us. We understand that there is no time to wait for outside help. We are Houstonians. We take care of our own. Still we are gracious and thankful for the help that is offered because we understand that this task will surely be more than we might handle alone.

I feel a sense of pride when my grandchildren and former students check on my welfare and weather the storm to bring me items that I needed to be comfortable during the long wait for the rains to end. I smile as I see them taking charge in the aftermath by immediately volunteering at shelters and gathering truckloads of donations and supplies. How wonderful they have turned out to be. I hear that little whisper that tells me we will survive when I see how considerate and generous they are. They are the face of the future of Houston. They assure me that tomorrow will be sunny and bright.

I can’t wait to hear the incessant singing of the cicadas at night. I don’t think I will mind at all when the sun is so bright that sweat rolls down my neck. i want to see the Friday night lights of high school football and watch my grandson march with his band. I long to cheer for the Texans, and Astros and Rockets and Houston Cougars once again. I want to laugh at the antics of the Rice MOB. I long for the time when I might drive on water free roads to the Farmer’s Market on Airline or to the shops in Highland Village on Westheimer. I want to have dinner at Gringo’s or Niko Niko’s and stand in line for barbecue at Killen’s. I dream of walking the aisles of HEB and munching on a burger from Whatburger or a donut from Shipley’s. I look forward to the Nutcracker Market and Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. I can’t wait to see the Christmas lights in December and the azaleas in March. I pray with all of my heart that together we Houstonians will have the means to keep our traditions alive, because they will be more important than ever as we work our way out of the pain and the loss that is all around us. 

We are not completely out of danger just yet. As the rivers rise there may be more flooding in places that have done fairly well up to now. More heartache may ensue. More need will arise. We will be tested as a city again and again. Our marathon will be long and difficult, but I know that we have the grit that we need to see the process through.

I have cried and cried for my beautiful often misunderstood city and its people. The tragedy of it all has sometimes been almost too much to bear, but I know in my heart that we live in one of the most special places on earth. I have understood this for all of my life. I am truly, madly, deeply in love with Houston, Texas and I promise not to let her down in her hour of need