Love Does Not End With Death

Life was not without its  challenges or sorrows when we lived on Anacortes Street and my daughters were still little girls, but it felt so simple and joyful. Our days revolved around helping our children to grow in wisdom and grace. It was a neighborhood effort with parents watching over our young ones and helping each other through both good times and bad. We were one great big extended family that lived in different houses that were open to one another even in the middle of the night if need be. 

Our next door neighbors were a bit older than Mike and I. They had teenage children as well as a couple of daughters who were already grown and living on their own. Dave and Betty always had a house full of love and laughter that included visits from their two granddaughters, Kim and Tisha, who happened to be in the same age group as my own little girls. It was quite natural for the youngsters to gravitate toward one another and spend time together during those times. 

I remember how joyful it was to watch the four girls playing in our backyard. Just as all children do they talked and laughed and created ways of having fun together. I mostly recall how much they enjoyed singing. One of their favorite tunes was something about a baby bumble bee that made us all smile each time they repeated its silly stanzas. I marveled at how quickly they were able to become so comfortable with one another and always looked forward to the times when Kim and Tisha came to town to see their grandparents. My daughters felt the same way. 

Of course over time they all grew up and since Kim and Tisha lived in west Texas their visits were often infrequent. Once they were on their own, as were my own daughters, we only heard about them from our dear friend Betty, their grandmother. It was not until Facebook that we were able to reconnect with them and follow the stories of their lives. By then they were juggling their own families and I had moved from the old neighborhood. 

During the last couple of years I followed the health issues of Kim who was closest in age to my eldest daughter Maryellen. Kim endured quite a bit of pain and loss but somehow she kept that same smiling and optimistic outlook that had defined her as a child. Through surgeries and long hospital stays she inspired those of us who knew her as we rooted for her recovery and cheered every positive step.

Things appeared to be going better for Kim but she and her family had only months ago endured the loss of her beloved grandmother, Betty. I think all of us wondered how we might move forward without the anchor that Betty always was. Kim missed her especially and only days ago mentioned to her sister Tisha that she longed to see Betty, whom she called “Maw Maw,” once again. Who knew that her wish would be granted so soon? Kim died quite suddenly and peacefully this week. 

I cried at the news of Kim’s passing. I always think of her as such a sweet and giving soul so much like her Maw Maw. My heart weeps for Kim’s mother Sandy because I cannot even imagine how horrible it must be for her to lose her little girl, especially given that Sandy’s mom, Betty, died only months ago. The loss of such special people leaves a void that is never again filled. 

I remember overhearing a discussion between my mother and grandmother when my father died. Both my mom and grandma were totally devastated by his death. In fact neither woman was ever quite the same after he was gone. My grandmother spoke of losing her parents, and a spouse and then her only son. She said that it felt so wrong, so out of sync to lose a child. I suppose that is how I felt when I learned of Kim’s passing. Somehow in the grand scheme of things we want to protect our children from all sorrow and harm but know that sometimes all of our efforts are not quite strong enough to prevent the inevitable ups and downs of life and death.

Kim is no doubt hugging and loving her grandmother even as I write these words. They are laughing and telling stories and just enjoying the fact that all of the pain of their illnesses are gone. I suppose that they will now be angels who watch over their family members for all time. 

Love does not end with death. It continues through eternity. It is an endless thread that binds us to one another. Kim was the essence of love. The beautiful generosity and innocence that I saw in her as a child was still very much who she was as a grown woman. We have all been blessed to have known her and the love that she gave the world will remain in our hearts. 

I pray that Kim’s mother Sandy and sister Tisha will be filled with her love and that it will sustain them in the times to come. For me I suppose I will always remember the sweet little girl who sang and laughed in my backyard and made me smile. Rest in peace, Kim. 

The Lure of Technology

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There was a time when students had no phones, no tablets, no laptops. If they needed to call a parent they went to the office. I they wanted to find information they went to the library. Then came the dawn of a revolution when a few young people carried cell phones that did nothing more than send and receive calls. Mostly they were for contacting parents although a few enterprising and sneaky kids found ways to hide and use them in the middle of the school day. Mostly in the beginning teachers had control over the use of phones during school hours with only a few exceptions. Then the smartphone boom began and young people started bringing their tablets and laptops to school in their backpacks. There was no turning back from the insurgence that took classrooms by storm no matter how many rules the adults attempted to make. 

One of my daughters was reluctant to get her children on the technology train at an early age but she soon realized that without cell phones and laptops they were unable to keep up with the rest of their classmates. Teachers were sending assignments electronically and communicating about due dates and projects via texts. In class much of the research and testing took place on tablets and laptops. Long before Covid-19 came along much teaching was already being distributed remotely. Without the same tools that the other students had my daughter’s children were struggling and so she had to cave in to pressure and purchase smartphones and laptops for them. She was shocked by how quickly they adapted to using the technology that still somewhat befuddled her. 

In today’s world we see toddlers walking around with phones whose apps they know how to use. Babies get trimmed down versions of tablets with games and stories that teach them early childhood skills. Even the youngest among us are adapting to technology with ease. Ours is a world in which great knowledge is just a few keystrokes away. It’s possible to learn about any subject even in a remote area as long as there is some form of access to the Internet or a cell phone tower. The question is whether or not our children are actually taking full advantage of this remarkable technology or if they only use it as a social distraction. 

We have documented cases of bullying taking place with both anonymity and ease via technology. We see a cesspool of misinformation roaring across our screens and sometimes the sources of such lies are our elected leaders. If our young are to use the phones and tablets wisely they will need to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction, history and hoax. They will also need coping skills for moments when they are attacked by words. The ugly underbelly of our advances is dark and dangerous and as parents, teachers and concerned adults we must all be aware of the pitfalls of giving our youngsters free reign with their very powerful tools. Sadly instruction in how to deal with information and ideas is lacking and we have yet to learn how to convey it without sounding like nagging, lecturing old people who have lost touch with the world as it now is. Nonetheless it is important that we make those efforts lest the very devices that we gave our children for their protection and education become their doom,

As an educator one of the most frequent concerns of parents that I heard about was that their young ones spent too much time on computers and phones. Sadly they were not doing lessons but rather playing games or chatting, often with people that they had never even met. They sat in their rooms for hours away from the families engrossed in a world that their moms and dads feared. The parents wanted to take control but were unsure how to maintain a balance between allowing the kids to use the technology to do their lessons but not for spending hours in a world filled with questionable people and information. 

Technology is a blessing and a curse all at once. I am a big fan of the advances that have been made. Technology has made my life incredibly better than at any other time. I have used it for a full year now during the pandemic to teach students, visit with family and friends, order groceries, purchase and deliver all of my Christmas gifts. I have visited with a doctor without leaving my home and attended mass at my church from my living room. I applied for a mail in ballot and then sent back my vote with stamps that I purchased without going to a post office. I have watched first run movies and Broadway plays and special performances of musicians. My world is whirring with technology and I enjoy its advantages.

Then there is the dark side of it all. The use of technology to spread lies, rumors and false information has run amok. We are continually bombarded with falsehoods and then we begin arguing with one another over their veracity. Technology is reuniting friends but it is also tearing old relationships apart. It can be bone chillingly ugly and difficult even for well adjusted adults. Our children do not have the skills they need to navigate through the muck and the mud so we have to be vigilant for them. That may mean being watchful when they are using their phones and other devices and even locking them away for certain times of the day and night. Parents have always set limits and that habit is even more important now. It’s also crucial that we demonstrate to our youth how to differentiate between good information and bad. Finally we must provide them with the tools and armor they may need if they become victims of abusive bullying. In other words we must communicate, communicate, communicate with them. 

We can’t run away from the technology boom but we can use it to our benefit and that of our children. As with anything else we have to work to prevent it from becoming a dangerous addiction. Old fashioned conversations and walks in nature are still as grand a diversion as they have ever been. Having responsibilities as part of a family builds character. Some of the old fashioned ways never go out of style or importance and they are good ways to begin balancing the lure of technology. 

The Best Lessons of Our Lives

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We have erasers because we make mistakes. I doubt that there is a human anywhere on earth who has not made a variety of missteps during a lifetime. Such moments often haunt us and if we are lucky they teach us. No matter how cautious we try to be there are times when we seem to be bumbling and stumbling through life. We choose the wrong answers in the multiple choice tests that we face. 

I suppose that if I had to pick one incident that I most regret it would be not following my instincts and my heart in the care of my mother when she first presented symptoms of mental illness. I knew that she was not going to get well without medical help from a professional but I had no idea where to turn for such things. I was after all just shy of my twenty first birthday and had never before seen someone in a deep state of psychotic paranoia. As my mother’s condition devolved day by day I was frightened by the state of her mind so I turned to our family doctor for help. He gave me the names of two psychiatrists that he trusted noting that they were equally talented. In the end I just randomly chose one and made a phone call that would forever change my life. 

After the doctor had heard my description of my mother’s behavior he insisted that I get her to the emergency room of the hospital where he worked as quickly as possible. She had deteriorated to the point of taking to her bed and living in a state of darkness caused by both her depression and the fact that she had shut out the light of the sun with blinds and drapes pulled tightly shut. It was late July in Houston when the heat was unbearable and her home was not air conditioned, so keeping all of the windows tightly closed made the rooms feel like furnaces. No amount of cajoling convinced her that she needed some fresh air because she was so afraid of what she thought lurked just outside. In her mind forces were conspiring to falsely accuse her and her family of vile acts and every passing car was loaded with spies. She even believed that her sisters were attempting to poison her. I knew that we were losing her to some vile disease that was more frightening than anything I had ever before witnessed. 

Thanks to the love and kindness of my mother’s best friend, Edith, we tricked her into going to the hospital and she even agreed to sign the admission paperwork. I felt relieved thinking that my work and responsibilities were done, but I was so wrong. Within a few days the doctor called me in for a consultation. Some of my mother’s siblings agreed to attend the meeting with me. There we learned that the doctor wanted to use electroshock therapy to treat her. My instantaneous reaction was to refuse but he appealed to my love for my mother and the guilt I had for letting her condition deteriorate so much before seeking help. Somehow I felt pressured into doing something that felt was so wrong and instead of having the courage to insist that he try other measures I folded. It was a decision that would taint the loving relationship that I had always had with my mother and would furthermore cause her to distrust me from that day until the end of her life. 

By the time I found the courage to attempt to call off the therapy it was too late. The doctor did not return my calls until after he had administered the first shocks to her brain. He insisted that turning back at that point would be dangerous to her and so we saw it through and I vowed to never again ignore the whisperings of my heart. In the next four decades my mother would express her feelings of betrayal and her fear that I would force her into treatments that she saw as barbaric and hurtful. No matter how I attempted to apologize and protect her the damage had been done. 

Eventually I had to learn to forgive myself because I was never going to get to a point of reconciliation with my mother. I tried to put myself inside her shoes and understand how I had played into her greatest fears. It would be up to my brothers to convince her of the need for any future treatments of her bipolar disorder and I would have to accept that she no longer trusted me as she once had. I knew that I had been very young and inexperienced with mental illness and had questioned myself when confronted by the doctor. That would never happen again. I would have the confidence to ask questions and insist on therapies that were more in keeping with my mother’s needs. I became her advocate by becoming unafraid. I knew that I had grown. I was able to accept that I had done my best in the moment and I understood that stewing over how I might have done things differently was of no merit. The time came to move forward and I did.

Our mistakes do not define us. We have opportunity after opportunity to learn from them and change. We really can erase a wrong answer and try again. Our paper may appear to be a bit messy with signs of working and reworking of a problem but the idea is to overcome the errors we have made and then move forward. Life is rarely perfect and each of us will make both small and life changing missteps in our journey. We become better versions of ourselves when we face our mistakes, admit to our errors, determine how to do better in the future, apologize to anyone we have hurt and finally forgive ourselves for being human. No one should become stuck in a pit of guilt. Instead we must attempt to grow and change. Our mistakes will never be completely erased but they might become the best lessons of our lives.

Unprecedented

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I suppose that we all believed at the end of February, 2020, that we would work to contain the coronavirus for a couple of months and then life would become normal and we would tuck all thoughts of illness and strange happenings into our memory books along with photos of our travels and fun times with friends and families. One year later we are not just exhausted. We are shellshocked. The word “unprecedented” has become common to our lexicon as we attempt to describe each new event that flies in the face of any attempts at complacency. As we look at five hundred thousand deaths from COVID 19 in the United States we mourn the loss of so many beautiful souls and of our own innocence. When we add all of the other unbelievable events that have occurred during the space of only a year we wonder if we will ever again be able to take anything for granted. We have fallen down into Alice’s rabbit hole and no matter how hard we try it feels as though we will never again escape to the way of life we once enjoyed. 

My husband Mike and I spent our last typical day on February 28, 2020. We had lunch with my brothers and sisters-in-law and then played games with them for the remainder of the afternoon. From there we went to the Houston Rodeo Barbecue Cook off and met up with friends. We left that event feeling so happy and filled with plans for the coming months that included a trip to Scotland, an Aggie ring ceremony for two of my grandsons and an Easter Sunday celebration with the extended family. Of course none of that came to pass and we spent the next many months mostly hunkered down in our home and finding ways to stay entertained and in touch with those we love from afar. We became Zoom fanatics and even took a continuing education course from Rice University from the comfort of our living room. 

Weeks and then months passed as we watched the horrific death of George Floyd, a native of Houston, Texas, our own home town, who was eventually buried only a few miles from our house. We witnessed the protests and then a surge in COVID cases all across the world. We saw so many parts of the western United States go up in flames and hurricanes seemed to be breeding like flies. At one point we prepared for a possible storm in our own backyard and felt grateful when it developed further east from us. All the while the deaths kept coming, some from COVID and others from just the natural rhythm of life. We worried over friends and relatives who came down with the virus and had some close calls that kept us praying morning, afternoon, and night. We became accustomed to staying home or making “no human contact” trips in our trailer. 

Every special occasion was different but we celebrated in our own way Zooming from on household to another and texting enough to create entire novels. We watched with an admitted bit of envy as others carried on with their lives with less caution than we did but kept to our routine in the hopes that we might sooner rather than later see an end to all of the suffering that was happening all around us. Then there was our national election which, just as with everything else, was “unprecedented” both in the numbers of people who turned out to vote and in the strange aftermath in which the incumbent president was unwilling to concede defeat. 

We dined with two of our grandsons on Thanksgiving day instead of the extended family affair that we usually enjoyed. Christmas Eve became yet another Zoom gathering as did Christmas Day. We were proud of our resilience and relieved that we had been spared from being part of the horrific number of deaths that grew and grew. Then came news of the vaccine release. Somehow it felt as though we had seen the worst of what we had to endure but as with everything else there were still “unprecedented” events and struggles ahead. 

What should have been a quiet rendering of the electoral votes for president and vice president turned into one of the most dangerous moments of our democracy as supporters of Donald Trump stormed the halls of the capitol determined to prevent what they saw as a steal of their votes. It was for me the most terrifying moment of the entire year and quite possibly my lifetime. I had seen a presidential assassination and the terrorist destruction of the Twin Towers but this threat had come from within the country and it felt like an attempt to overthrow all that was sacred in our Constitution. But for the courage of the men and women of the House and Senate we might have seen the crumbling of our democratic processes. Instead they persisted in certifying the vote even after their own lives had been threatened. 

Like so many across the country I found that getting access to the vaccine was not nearly as easy as I had hoped it would be. With the help of family members and friends I finally secured appointments for myself and my husband but I noted how adept I had to be at finding websites and entering information quickly before the slots filled. My anxieties reached a fever pitch when the scheduling for my second dose seemed uncertain but when I finally felt the prick of the needle sending the final vaccine into my body I felt a flood of emotions and gratitude. Surely, I believed, life would become calm and then maybe even a bit more normal. 

Then came the Senate impeachment hearings which were fascinating but also frightening as we learned even more about events on January 6, when the Capitol became a battleground. The chronological recitation of what had occurred both during the campaigns for the presidency and in its aftermath was chilling and I found it difficult to believe that anyone hearing the testimony would be able to vote any other way than to indict Donald Trump and then make it certain that he would never again be able to run for office. Not so surprisingly only six Republicans were willing to repudiate the former leader of their party and some actually admitted that Trump was guilty of inciting the riot but hid behind an argument that impeaching him was not allowed by the Constitution. They reinforced the lies that somehow the election had been illegitimate and sent a message to the people of the United States and all of the world that worries me beyond words. 

I became very quiet about all that was happening. I focused on puppy dogs, kittens, flowers, happy thoughts. My discouragement and cynicism was unprecedented but I kept it to myself. My Pollyanna ways seemed to have died and I was determined to be the happiness that I wished to see in the world. I was doing a great job of that until Texas froze over last week and with the wintery weather came “unprecedented” suffering all across my state. 

We learned more than we ever wanted to know about ERCOT and power grids and what happens when electricity goes out for days. I have never been so cold in my life as my my home cooled down to forty degrees and maybe even lower when I was sleeping. I managed because I am an old tent camper and I have gear that most people do not possess. I wore layers of clothing and at night slept under a pile of blankets and quilts. Because we had purchased a small generator during the summer in case of a hurricane we kept our refrigerator running and were able to charge our phones and laptops. Our gas stove kept us eating well. Our water continued to come from our faucets and thus far we have had no leaks in the pipes inside our home. Only our irrigation system is showing signs of stress. We were fortunate but the suffering and damage to the people of my state was “unprecedented” and watching it unfold nearly broke me. 

It was only as I saw the incredible spirit of kindness and compassion that unfolded as neighbor helped neighbor and people came from other states to provide assistance that I saw that in spite of all of the grief, destruction, uncertainty and death of the past year we keep rising to the “unprecedented” challenges. Somewhere somehow we keep finding ways to keep calm and carry on, but we are indeed very tired. 

I do not know what lies ahead but I believe that we will surely keep pushing until we find solutions for the problems of COVID, climate change, and our political systems. Together we will climb out of our rabbit hole and when we do our joy will be “unprecedented.”

The Weight of Waiting

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Way back in my University of Houston days I remember sitting around a conference table hanging on to every utterance of a favorite professor. Like the student who highlights every word of a text I wrote feverishly to jot down every comment that he made. He seemed to be an educator who understood human nature and all of the theories designed to unravel the art of transferring knowledge. I modeled my teaching style on much of what he said and found his wisdom to be timeless. 

One of his most stunning revelations was that patience is perhaps the most important factor in determining success. Intellect helps as do connections and education, but the willingness to simply bide one’s time in order to achieve some goal is the best indicator of who will ultimately triumph. I remember how he laughed and told us to watch for the tortoises in our classroom, not the flashy hares. 

Over the years I have learned that my professor’s commentary was profound, especially in terms of the power of patience. Both classmates and students with extraordinary levels of forbearance have often achieved far more than those with better abilities who grew weary of waiting and moved on from dreams in search of more instant gratification. I have seen that life is rarely linear and those who have a willingness to steadily take their time even in the face of setbacks are generally winners in the end. 

I have witnessed miracles happening for those who are patient. I have watched families dealing demonstrating an unflagging willingness to take as much time as needed to help a prodigal soul. When others might have simply given up they quietly used every means at their disposal to rehabilitate their wayward loved one even if it took years. The results have been beyond amazing.

I have watched people facing rejection, failure, discouragement that would defeat most of us and yet they still carry on until one day their dreams are fulfilled. They were not necessarily the people with the best grades in the class or the most promising futures. They did not always attend Ivy League universities or make stunning scores on an SAT tests. They were seemingly ordinary folks who had ideas that they were determined to pursue no matter how long it took. They remained patient while the rest of us were zooming about.

I am sadly not a particularly patient person. I endure setbacks and put offs but not without anxiety and anger. Lacking in restraint is perhaps one of my greatest flaws. I want what I want as soon as possible and steam over roadblocks that impede my way. Most of my frustrations come from what I see as the incompetence of others, at least that is what I tell myself. Nonetheless I have had to learn to feign patience in order to survive in a world that refuses to work according to my clock rather than its own. In other words I have adapted to situations over which my only control is the willingness to wait. 

Like everyone else dealing with Covid 19 and its ever changing variants has tested my patience and brought me to the brink at times. I once said I was weary of drastically changing my lifestyle in the name of stomping out the virus. Now weary is far too weak a word to use to describe my feelings. I am going through stages of grief over the loss of friends and loved ones and a way of life with those who are still here with us that I long to enjoy again. Right now I am at full blown anger level and I really just want to go into my front yard and let out a primal scream. Instead I force myself to remain patient because I truly believe that those of us who are willing to remain cautious will ultimately be the winners in this dangerous quest of beating back the pandemic. I know I can do this even as I groan under the weight of waiting. 

So much is really messed up right now and I watch as people respond by tossing their masks aside and boasting that they will just take their chances with returning to life on their own terms. I am enormously frustrated that they do not seem to understand that our horror continues not because all of the precautions that we are being asked to take are meaningless but because there are still far to many ignoring them. The virus is looking for places to land and as long as we remain divided in the efforts those microbes will continue to find hosts that allow it to grow and multiply and change. I understand that as much as I long to give up the fight that has guided me for a full year now doing so would be the ultimate surrender to impatience. I refuse to go there even as I dream of how much easier it would be to do so. 

I keep replaying the image of my wonderful professor over and over again in my mind. Anecdotal evidence has proven to me so many times that we should all be tortoises if we want to reach our goals. For someone like me with the mind and DNA of a hare it is so difficult to emulate the very trait I most need but I am determined to do so because I believe in the truth of what I have observed. I have made my own life a success by forcefully remaining patient even when it was excruciatingly difficult to do so. I know and have observed the power of patience. I am determined to see this moment through as I hope I can convince others to do as well. More than ever before the whole world needs a huge dose of patience.