Keeping It Simple

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I hit a milestone the other day. I received my fourth Prolia injection since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. I get the shots every six months, so doing the math tells me that it has been exactly a year and a half since I first became aware of that we had a big problem in early March of 2020. I remember wearing a mask to the infusion center on that day and sensing the tension at the in the clinic where I get the medication. At the time I had no idea how many innocent souls would eventually die from this virus, nor did I truly understand how much my life and those of the entire world would change. I suppose that I believed that we would all isolate for a brief time, flatten the curve, and somehow quickly stop Covid-19 in its tracks. In the beginning helping the cause was kind of an adventure, a challenge to remain safe and well.

So much has happened since that first of my four Prolia shots during a pandemic. Like almost everyone I have been touched personally by the illnesses and even tragic deaths of loved ones who contracted the virus. I have watched our nation devolve into a kind of civil war of wills, dividing us between masked and unmasked, vaccinated and unvaccinated. I have witnessed a weariness that does not appear to be going away anytime soon. I have had to adjust to a hermit-like lifestyle punctuated by a calendar almost devoid of social appointments. I have reverted to the simplicity of my youth when my mother’s financial condition forced her to find joy in the most ordinary things. That early training has served me so well during the past eighteen months. I have been able to adapt to my new normal, and for that I am so very thankful. 

Each morning is much the same for now. I arise fairly early and open all of the blinds in my windows to the rays of the rising sun. I prepare a small breakfast and take it to my front room where I see the children gathering for the school bus on the corner of my street. They invariably bring a smile to may face with their chatter and laughter. They literally set the tone for my daily mood. 

I check the news on my laptop and then make certain that my blog is properly posted on Facebook and Twitter. I no longer have the hundreds of readers who once regularly perused my offerings, but that is alright. I used to have a rather large contingent of people who followed me religiously, but I suspect that some of my views have driven them away. Now I mostly write for the sheer joy of doing so. I suppose that it is a selfish endeavor, a daily challenge that reminds me that I am still very much alive in a world that has lost so many. The couple of hours that I take creating my sentences, paragraphs and general themes make me happy. I balance my writing with listening to the sounds of my neighbors, and it is always comforting to realize that we are all still doing well. 

I teach or tutor ten students a couple of days each week. I suppose old educators never really retire. I like being able to help my kids understand mathematics. I work with them on everything from fourth grade algorithms to the more intricate nuances of functions in Algebra II. On days when I am not teaching them directly I inspect their homework to determine whether or not they have understood the processes that I have taught them. I plan for the next sessions. My hours are filled with meaning when the school year is in session. I don’t have time to fret over staying at home without an end to my self imposed isolation in sight. Being with my students is so delightful that I hardly miss cavorting around town.

My mother used to take us for short rides as a form of entertainment. My husband and I have followed her example and done a great deal of exploring around the area with our car. Since I am an inveterate people watcher I truly enjoy watching the world from the windows of our truck. There is a quirkiness about the people and places around me that is fascinating. Laughing and talking with my husband as we take our little treks is as enjoyable now as it was when we first met over fifty five years ago. 

Several times we have taken longer journeys. It has been wonderful to experience sunrises and sunsets in different places. We’ve learned how to see the smiles in people’s eyes even as masks cover their mouths. We laugh at children who seem to have taken to wearing masks so much more easily than so many adults. We feel a stronger kinship with the people around us than ever before. We have been reminded of how precious each person is. We have so much more patience and understanding of them. We value everyone in a more intense way than ever before.

Dinner time has become an almost sacred ritual in my home, just as my mother made it be when I was a child. Now my husband and I prepare dinner together, often turning the process into a time for learning new recipes or cooking techniques. Sometimes we pour some wine and toast the good fortune of our day. We share conversation and laughter, and when the days are not so hot we gather in our backyard to enjoy the feasts we have prepared. We hear the children playing, the adults coming home from work, and watch the birds and butterflies that flit around our garden. Life is still very much around us and it is beautiful. 

We’ve gained the requisite Covid twenty pounds like so many that we know from indulging in Oreo cookies and ice cream as a substitute for a life on the town. We promise to begin exercising in earnest once again lest we have to purchase all new clothing, but for now our chubbiness does not seem to matter as much as it once might have. We are just happy to be alive and well. We don’t really miss all of the extra frills of consumption that seemed so integral to our lives only eighteen months ago. It takes very little to make us joyful these days and somehow that seems to be a very good thing.  

The Butterflies Are Talking To Us

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I get butterflies in my stomach whenever life becomes uncertain. That jittery feeling seems to affect my entire being whenever I have to speak before an audience or enter a room filled with strangers that I must impress. The butterflies descend upon me when my observational skills and anxieties combine to warn me of impending tragedy. I felt the full force of such fluttering as rain fell relentlessly in my city for days and nights during hurricane Harvey. Those butterflies were rather indelicate with me each time my mother retreated into a cycle of psychosis and paranoia from her bipolar disorder. In those moments I felt as though I was suffocating under the weight of fear for the for life and spirit of my mom, but they also prepared me for the battles that ensued. 

I love butterflies. They are beautiful and peaceful most of the time. The bring out my smiles and seem to brighten the world. Somehow using them to describe the jittery feeling that comes and goes with the worries of the world seems to be a kind of oxymoron, a ridiculous metaphor for the anxieties that we all feel. It underplays the pain that fear wreaks on our bodies and minds as we navigate through the ups and downs of life. It is one thing to get butterflies in our stomachs on a roller coaster where the outcome is fairly certain, but quite another to apply it to real life. We’ve all experienced or at least witnessed how horrific situations can come in the blink of an eye. The extent to which the butterflies invade our well-being depends greatly on what kinds of tragedies we have endured. 

Someone who has battled cancer gets those butterflies each time he/she returns for tests to determine whether or not the offending disease has returned. A victim of violence is forever searching for signs of danger. I find myself feeling uncomfortable anytime my loved ones are traveling in a car. If I could encase them all in tanks rather than ordinary automobiles, I would. I become an eight year old child whose father died in a car wreck over and over again. Those butterflies overtake me and make it impossible to even breathe when I think too long and hard about the possibility that someone I love may be harmed just as my daddy was. I have had to learn how to use every aspect of my mind and body to chase the butterflies away when their warnings overwhelm me.. 

Right now the butterflies are gathering in my stomach with regard to the state of the world. I hear of earthquakes in Pakistan, floods in Italy, fires in the western United States and the nervous flicking of wings tickles my concerns. I observe the disunity and anger in my own country and the roar of flapping wings shouts warnings in my ears. I see suffering across the globe and those tiny creatures cause me to lose my balance, to stumble as I try to determine what I might do to help. I don’t want to simply surrender to those feelings that make me feel so uncomfortable, but I also flounder under the realization that I do not even know how I, as one person, may make any kind of difference when there is so much to be done. 

I hate those butterflies, but I also love them. Their warnings are real. They tell me to be alert, to take a deep breath, to proceed with caution but to move forward nonetheless. They prepare me for what may come. They let me know that I do not have to be ambushed by unexpected surprises. I have learned how to overcome my own reluctance again and again. I know that I can make it through pain and sorrow. The butterflies simply allow me to be forewarned that tough times may be ahead. Perhaps I should simply surrender to them rather than fighting them as though their intent is to harm me. It really is okay to be engulfed now and again. Each of us will have those moments. We don’t have to be soldiers clad in armor. Admitting to our fears  while also doing our duties can sometimes be the most productive way to face horror. 

Perhaps we too often lose sight that the butterflies in our stomachs are a mechanism that helps us through the toughest of times. They warn us to be vigilant. They are a sign that we care. They are an alert system that measures how we are responding to the dangers in life. They are not an enemy, but rather a most remarkable form of protection for our well being. We would do well to heed the flapping of butterfly wings in our souls. We can use that energy to propel ourselves forward with more courage and stamina than we may have ever thought we possess. 

Being stoic and resolute has a limited effect on bettering a situation. If we humans are to survive we need to be willing to speak of the butterflies in our stomachs. We will find in such admissions a commonality that spans the world. The woman in India whose home is so hot that her family cannot sleep knows of those butterflies. The young black man who is innocent of wrongdoing has felt those butterflies rising into his chest when he is stopped by police for some unknown reason. The refugee from a desolate country is overwhelmed by butterflies as he attempts to sneak his family across the border to a nation of greater freedom. If we begin to listen to the stories of butterflies rather than automatically judging those telling the tales, perhaps we will begin the process of making the world a place where the butterflies have to land less and less frequently in our stomachs. The butterflies are talking to us with each flap of their wings. I think it is time we listen. 

When the Shoe Fits It Is Magical

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My father often read fairytales to me. He even purchased a beautiful pair of books for me that are filled with stories from the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen. I outgrew those tales long ago, but I still have silly dreams of living an almost magical existence. I no longer believe that anybody has a perfectly happily ever after life. Instead I know that we each endure heartbreak and tragedy as well as times of wonder. Fairytales tempt us to wish to be someone other than we actually are. Real life forces us to make the best of our circumstances and find a way toward happiness without depending on a fairy godmother or handsome prince. 

We all have heroes that we would like to emulate, but in the end we are better off being our best selves. Trying to be someone else can be frustrating at best and horribly wrong at worst. None of us should spend a lifetime wishing and hoping and comparing ourselves to some ideal. Instead our goal should be to find our talents and passions and then cultivate them with persistence. If we figure out who we are the journey turns out to be a happy one. If we only dream of being someone else, we are bound to feel mostly frustration and even sorrow. 

I worked with young people for all of my career. I still have students even in retirement. I find that our young remain mostly optimistic and hopeful as long as they have opportunities to be free to be themselves. That may mean following a career path that seems uncertain or even disappointing to adults. It might involve admitting to different ways of viewing the world. In any case the ultimate decisions have to be right for each person. We older folk might provide guidance and support, but it would be very wrong to force the younger generation to follow paths that do not feel right or to disrespect them simply because they do not totally agree with the way we chose to approach life. 

I have found a lovely earnestness in each of the young people whom I have encountered. They may make some mistakes along the way, some quite profound, but ultimately their search leads them to places that they were meant to be. They are not lazy, ignorant, or lost as far too many adults seem to believe they are. I get quite angry when I hear comments tearing down teens and those in their twenties. I find myself wondering how people misunderstand the journey of discovery that our youth must travel in the process of finding themselves. 

There was a time when I was a disappointment to the adults around me. They had so many ideas about what kind of person I was meant to become. Many of their thoughts were lovely for someone else, but not for me. I did not want to be a doctor or an engineer. I could not imagine working in the world of business. Making mountains of money was not something that excited me. I suppose that I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, and it took me a long time to get there because I tried very hard to please everyone else but myself. When I finally asserted my independence and began living the way that made me happy and fulfilled, my life began an upward trajectory. Many years later, even the naysayers marvel at what I accomplished. They no longer wonder why I chose the life of an educator when my talents may have led me in many other directions. They now understand that by living out my passion, I became great in my chosen career. 

We often hear a child saying, “ I want to be … when I grow up.” Our response to that little one should always be, “Just be yourself when you grow up.” Our role is to guide children and encourage them to follow their hearts while letting them know that all goals require hard work. There is no magic in building a wonderful life other than the delight of feeling good about whatever one is hoping to accomplish. When the fit is right there are fireworks in the sky and all of the efforts to reach a certain place seem worthwhile. 

We should be mentors to your youth. Our role is not to bludgeon them with negativity or demands, but to nurture their talents and their ideas. That does not mean lying to them about how difficult their choices may be, but respecting what they hope to accomplish with honesty. There are many goals in life that seem to be impossible, but we never know if we might reach them until we try. By the same token, pursuing something that we abhor simply because it is a sure thing or a means to money or fame can be soul crushing. We must be careful not to guide our youth based on superficial ideas that mean nothing to them. 

We may not want our child to choose a dangerous career but that may be the very place where he/she is the happiest. We may doubt the possibility of of a son or daughter becoming a famous highly paid actor, but why would we force that person to give up before even trying? Those decisions are not up to us. They only work if they are made by the person who will have to live and learn from that lifestyle. 

I’d love to see more and more posts and comments encouraging our young people rather than tearing them down. They are our future. Why would we want to be so cynical about them? From ancient times one generation after another has found a way to live life successfully. Only when they have been forced to be other than what they wanted to be have people been profoundly unhappy. Let’s become fairy godmothers and godfathers by performing the magic of encouragement. Let’s push our kids to follow their dreams. When the shoe fits it is magical.

When Accidents Happen

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I’ve carried the shock of my father’s car accident in my heart for all of my life from the age of eight. The sudden loss of someone so young and alive tears a hole in the heart that heals in ragged ways. The pain returns at odd moments when some sight or sound or memory tears open a corner of the wound. I have lived on just as I should have, but I know that every aspect of who I am changed on that dreadful day when I awoke to find that my daddy would never return from the evening drive that ended with his heart stopping as his car careened into a ditch at the end of an unmarked dead end road. 

This past summer I have been reminded of just how fragile life is when several of my dearest friends died from diseases that they had valiantly fought. It has been a tough several months receiving notification of the passing of people who had filled my own life with so much joy. Perhaps one of the most distressing pieces of news that came my way regarded a friend with whom I had gone to school from our elementary years all the way through high school and college. On a road trip meant to celebrate the upcoming birth of a grandchild his car was hit by a train and he suffered severe head trauma. While he did not die, I fell apart upon hearing of his accident which proved to hit very close to home for me. 

My friend has always been a joyful person whose optimism and sense of humor regularly made me smile. He has struggled in the past many weeks to heal from his brain injuries, but his determination to become strong again does not surprise me at all. It has been a difficult journey for him and his family, one wrought with setbacks for every step forward. He is blessed to be surrounded by a wife and children who are devoted to him along with many of us who have walked through different phases of life with him. We all feel a sense of impatience in hoping to one day get him back to a state where he seems more like himself. We hold our breaths with every development, good or bad, wanting the day to come when the only news about him is cause for joy.

My friend now resides in an assisted living facility and regularly undergoes rehabilitation. He is still prone to falls and lapses of memory. Recently he even tested positive for Covid. I can imagine how anxious his family members must be. The results of this accident are affecting them as horrifically as my own father’s did with me. The shock of losing the indomitable spirit of someone like my dad or my friend is like a punch in the gut. Most certainly my friend is beloved by so many, just because of who he is, but we all have memories of his wit and wisdom that make this tragedy feel ever so much more difficult to endure. He gave so much to each of us and still does as we watch him fight with everything he has just to walk and talk and be as independent and feisty as he ever was. 

I am relived that my friend is so loved that he has a phenomenal support system. I cheer for his progress every single day. I feel the disappointment of his family whenever he has a fall or seems to forget what has happened to him. I know how suddenly and unexpectedly their lives have changed. I understand how that feels. I realize the unfairness of it. 

When someone we love is in a serious accident we spin in a state of shock. Everything that we had taken for granted is upended. We have to learn how to live in a way that we never expected and would never have chosen. Our mettle is tested. Our strength is challenged. It sometimes feels as though we are in a situation that nobody else in the world is capable of understanding. We experience a whirlwind of emotions that sometimes change from moment to moment. We are hurt, confused, hopeful, hopeless all at the same time. Everything feels topsy turvy so that the smallest things require great effort. It feels as though we are imprisoned inside a pit from which we may never escape. We cling to small signs that our lives will once again get better and we will survive the ordeal that has been so shockingly thrust upon us. The ups and downs of progress and our moods wear us down even as we find ways to continue forward. 

When my father died from his accident there were people and events that kept me and my family going. A little stray dog that wandered to our front porch brought us a tiny bit of joy that might not otherwise have been there. Quiet visits from friends long after most people had returned to their routines assured us that we were not forgotten. I learned then that there would always be someone who makes an extra effort to help when times get tough. Often the people who did such things were a surprise. Somehow we have angels in our lives that we do not even notice until sorrow suddenly knocks at our door. They come in our time of need without fanfare, but with open hearts that remind us that we are not alone.

I have a grandson who is a runner. In a race he is a beautiful sight. He tends to be a winner, someone with the stamina and the skill to outpace the other competitors. One time his body failed him. He fell from the front of the pack to the end. Another runner realized that my grandson was in trouble. He knew that something was very wrong. He gave up his own place in the rankings to walk beside my grandson and to get both of them to the finish line. His act of kindness in a time of need made him the winner of life’s race and a hero to our family. He was an example of the kind of person we should all strive to be.  

We live in a very busy world. It feels as though everyone is rushing from one moment to another. When an accident happens our own pace along the the race track of life is suddenly slowed or even stopped completely. When someone stops long enough to check on us or to help us, it is a glorious moment that we never forget. We all need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. Accidents happen to everyone in the blink of an eye. We need to attempt to be that person who carries a wounded soul over the finish line.  

A Not So Boring Ride

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I sometimes feel as though Colorado is my second home. I feel alive when I visit there, but since I usually want to have my car when I arrive so that I might drive around viewing the vistas, I have to travel a very long distance from my home. The trip takes somewhere around eighteen to twenty hours depending on the weather and the traffic, and most of is is through the panhandle of Texas heading a bit north and west. Lots of folks consider the journey to be boring for much of the way, but I find it somehow soothing and even a bit interesting. 

The route traverses through farm and ranch land that has somehow defied the odds of growing things in a difficult climate. Most of the trees are scrubby and there is a desert-like dryness to the general feel of the land. For the most part the elevations are rather flat with a tiny bit of a roll now and again. The highway traverses through tiny towns with no more than two thousand inhabitants and sometimes fewer than three hundred. Most of the places bear names that speak of a history steeped in the old west when the plains were even wilder than they are today. Main streets have the look of dreams that have died. Nonetheless there is a kind of rough hewn beauty to the determination of each place to survive in a world that seems to have forgotten that these places even exist. 

Once in awhile there is a hamlet that not only seems to have survived the modernization of the world, but is also thriving. I always wonder what the difference might have been. Was it an innovative spirit, a community persistence in keeping the town vibrant, or did it simply enjoy the luck of the draw. Such locales are inviting and give a sense that stopping there for a cup or a bite would be an enjoyable experience. 

Railroad lines are ever present along the route. Trains are traveling back and forth picking up and delivering grain, coal, lumber, and products upon which we all depend. They are the lifeline for all of us and often the very reason that each little place exists. It’s fun to watch the cars passing and to guess what might be inside the tanks and containers. There’s a whole world of work happening around us that we all too often ignore or simply take for granted. It becomes impossible to miss on the road.

I’m fascinated by the geography and sociology of such places. It is always apparent to me that the people there march to a drumbeat far different than my own. It is slower, more deliberate, perhaps more enjoyable, and yet I do not envy them because I am a city girl through and through. I enjoy the slow pace and quiet of such places for a time, but then I grow antsy and desirous of returning to the fast pace of my metropolis that is the fourth largest in the United States. I crave the excitement and the sounds and always return home again with a sense of relief.

We have so many versions of the American dream and the American nightmare. It’s difficult to imagine a time or a way by which we might bring all of the disparate voices together in an amicable way that guarantees that everyone will feel that there is a fairness in how things run. We tend to do too much judging of one another without ever taking the time to realize how much our differences determine our needs. Too often the laws and rules that we make focus on one group or another or political leanings rather than a consideration of our uniqueness. Somehow driving through the backroads and seeing places so different from my own makes me more aware of the urgency of finding compromises that will ensure good lives for everyone. 

I spend a great deal of time just thinking during the long drive that can feel brutal at times because of my aging bones. I always feel so much better about the people of our nation but I also worry a bit because I feel certain that we are leaving people behind no matter where I go. I see the run down factories and blighted homes, the misery of hopelessness in the eyes of those who feel unheard and unloved by the rest of us. It tells me that perhaps we should all be willing to bend a bit in our beliefs and our demands. Each of us needs to take such a journey and really attempt to see what is happening across the land. 

It might be boring to drive for such a long time without much change of scenery but instead it is fascinating. I recommend it to everyone. Take the time to really see the variety of our country. Open your eyes and your hearts. It will be a great reward when you do, and you will find yourself suddenly considering points of view that had never before occurred to you. Thinking about your own thinking is an exciting adventure and one that will truly change the way you see the world. Begin in your own backyard and venture outward more and more and more until you finally begin to see.