No Greater Love

my love forever

I have known great love. I have witnessed great love. I have wondered why some people appear to find their soulmates and others struggle to discover that thing that we call true love. I am a reader of fairy tales but I learned when I was still quite young that life is almost always more complicated than stories with happy endings. I thought my mother and father were madly in love and I am rather sure that they were, but I also know that they fought with one another from time to time. I watched an aunt and uncle divorce and then remarry as though they could not quite decide if being together was right for them. I have cradled a friend whose heart was broken by someone that she believed would love her forever. I have only recently felt the pain of a cousin who lost his first and only love of over sixty years. Love is wonderful until it hurts.

Young people ask me how one knows if love is real. That’s a question almost impossible to answer. I usually tell them to consider how being with a certain person generally makes them feel. If they time with another leave them happy they are on the right track. If that individual makes them relax and laugh the signs are good. If it seems as though they have finally found their best friend, they may be in for a promising future, but they have to think about the words of the wedding vows very carefully because it is almost certain the there will be better and worse, richer and poorer, health and sickness in a long term commitment.

Sometimes we just don’t know how the person with whom we want to spend our lives will react to difficulties. I will never forget what my grandfather taught me about love when my grandmother was dying of cancer. He never left her side. He depleted his savings. He fulfilled her every need until she drew her last breath. He was patient and kind. He pretended to be stronger than he actually felt. Sadly I have also observed people who were torn apart by an extended illness. I knew a woman whose husband told her that he had to leave because her mental problems were too hard to watch. I find myself wondering if such weakness is there all along but goes unnoticed until problems arise.

I enjoy a good love story but I hate the ones based on superficiality. We do first notice someone based more on appearances that anything deep, but true love can’t stay that way. We all grow older and frankly less attractive than we once were. We should be able to become ever closer because we are able to see the true beauty inside the person that we have promised to love not just for a time, but forever. Sometimes we have to work a bit to keep that spark alive.

One of my dearest friends had a weekly date night, For years she and her husband went out together every Thursday evening. They hired a babysitter to watch their children, they dressed up, they had dinner and talked about things other than the kids, their jobs, the family finances. They made their outing a top priority of each week and sometimes added weekend getaways to their celebration of life together. They were still flirting with each other decades after they had married.

I have learned how to love from observing and listening to those who seemed to have the meaning of commitment figured out. I suppose I’ll never forget Mike’s Aunt Elise coming to check on on her husband when he was doing some work at our house. She was concerned about his heart so she asked us to “take care of her Bobby.” I’ll always remember that the very last thing that Mike’s mother did before she had a stroke that led to her death was hug Mike’s dad and declare her love for him. Even after decades together these women still made their feelings known. We would be wise to follow their example. Love is something to be celebrated and declared often.

People don’t always agree about everything, not even those who are madly in love. It’s critical to the health of the relationship that no one person dominates the other. Whether it be politics or religion or philosophies each one should have the freedom to believe as they wish. Respect is a needed factor in forging a long term partnership. I suppose that I treasure my independence more than anything else and my husband has always honored my thoughts even when he disagreed with them. It has meant everything to me to know that our love is not dependent on either one of us bowing to the other. We are a team but we are still individual.

So what is the bottom line? Love is wonderful and worth the hard work needed to keep it alive. It requires not just trust but trustworthiness. It flourishes best when each partner supports the other with understanding but not at the expense of quashing individual dreams. It may be painful at times so it’s a good idea to create fun to balance the duties that arise. It is about regularly honoring the promises made to one another.

One of the most beautiful love stories that I have ever heard is about a classmate of mine who seemed to actually be living a fairytale existence with his wife. He was handsome and she was gorgeous. When they danced together it was magical. Their life together was like sunshine and roses until one day when she was injured in a horrible car accident that left her brain injured and her body confined to a wheelchair. She would never completely recover and her care would require that she live in a nursing home. All the while he never abandoned her, instead visiting regularly and devoting himself to her well-being. There is no love greater love than this. If we want the real thing we have to be willing to be like him. 

Where Did I Put Those Glasses?

glassesI am still able to pass my driver’s test without the aid of glasses. When I drive I have no difficulty reading the signs and keeping an eye out for problems on the road. When it comes to reading however I’m as blind as a bat. Without the aid of magnification I’m as blind as a bat. Everything on a written page literally looks like a barcode making me think of that poor fellow in an episode of The Twilight Zone who after becoming the last human on earth consoles himself with the thought that he will just read all of the books in the library until his own demise. He’s actually looking forward to living alone and having unfettered time to enjoy his favorite hobby of reading. He gathers a stack of volumes with the intent of settling down with the company of good stories when he drops his glasses and hears them shatter. The look on his face when he realizes that his situation is hopeless has stayed in my mind since I first saw that heartbreaking story.

Back then my eyes were like those of a hawk. I had no trouble with eyesight and never considered that I might one day require some kind of assistance just to be able to read a label. I first noticed difficulty discerning letters on a page when I was in my forties studying for my masters degree, In between the reading for my job and the additional load for my classes my eyes were in a constant state of fatigue. Before long I realized that I was continually squinting and holding things as far away as my arms were able to reach just to make out the print. I knew I needed to submit to seeing a doctor to find out what was happening.

I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that I had become farsighted. The doctor prescribed the lenses that I would need and I purchased a rather expensive pair of glasses that made all of my problems disappear. Unfortunately I had to remove my eyewear for all of my regular activities save for reading, so I was continually misplacing them. Not having grown up with poor eyesight made it challenging to remember to keep my glasses at hand. Eventually I lost them somewhere and given what I had spent on them I was reluctant to rush out to replace them. Instead I tried on some reading glasses at the drug store until I found a pair that made everything clear again.

I’ve never spent more than twenty dollars on my lenses but I’ve learned from experience that I can’t be foolish enough to depend on a single pair. I’ve noted that they often have a tendency to break so I carry a little repair kit, but my biggest problem is leaving them somewhere and not knowing where it was that I set them down. Now I have additional pairs of glasses stashed everywhere in case of an emergency. I’m not about to be like that poor man who for all intents and purposes became blind because his source of eyesight was destroyed.

I’ve tried a number of remedies for keeping track of those devilish pairs of eyewear that seem intent on hiding from me. I’ve tried to wear them on a chain or a leather tether around my neck but they get in the way and detract from the overall look of my fashion. Besides I suppose that they think they make me look like an old lady as if nobody would otherwise notice that I am seventy one years old. “Vanity thy name is Sharron.”

I once purchased a cute little pin that allowed me to wear my glasses on my lapel whenever they weren’t on my face. That system didn’t look half bad but the critters somehow fell off without my noticing and left me in a real pickle when I needed them. I’ve found the best defense is to always have an heir and a spare at hand so most of the time I have glasses strategically posted in various rooms of the house, in my purse, inside my car and even in our travel trailer. I won’t go on a long trip without having extra pairs just in case. In spite of my best efforts I somehow I still find myself seeking a store where I might replace the ones that have somehow escaped from me. I usually end up paying far more for the new glasses than I would otherwise do because I am desperate and can’t actually see what they cost before I buy them.

I suppose that the day will eventually come when I will need to wear bifocals or some such thing. Then I will have to keep up with my eyewear all of the time. I’m hoping that having to wear them during all of my waking hours will do the trick but I worry that I won’t be as vigilant as my husband who gets by with his single pair of glasses with no trouble whatsoever. When I think of how often I misplace my phone I feel certain that I will somehow find a way to lose even a pair of glasses that I am supposed to wear all day long.

Wrinkles on my skin and aches in my knees are just a couple of reminders that I am growing old. So far I’ve been able to push back on becoming less and less energetic but my eyes remind me that time will take its toll in spite of my denial. Of late I’ve had to wear my glasses when cleaning so that I don’t miss dirt and grime that fades away without benefit of magnification. I worry about becoming like my grandmother who shortly before her death no longer noticed that her milk had curdled or that a foreign object was in her food.

Pride goeth before the fall. I suppose it’s time to make regular appointments with an ophthalmologist and maybe even purchase some bonafide glasses with a spare to be certain that I never lose the remarkable gift of sight. For now though I’m doing quite well with the cheap pairs that have become regular features wherever I go. For the time being I’m trying to remember where I put the brand new ones that I recently purchased. I suppose I should go look for them.     

A Treasure Trove

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There is no telling what might lie inside the folds of a woman’s purse, particularly when it is a rather large one. In my own case a handbag becomes a repository for all sorts of “just in case” provisions. Of course I carry the usual suspects regularly like wallet, phone, keys, reading glasses. For quick trips I don’t need much more than that, but if I’m going to be away from home for a time I need to include some ibuprofen just in case my knees begin to ache or I feel the threat of a migraine. I almost always need a comb to rearrange my fine hair that blows into a kind of bird’s nest at the slightest provocation from wind. I generally include a pair of sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright rays of the sun and then there’s a tube of lipstick to brighten my countenance after a long day.

In truth I prefer the “less is more” version of packing a purse these days. It’s uncomfortable to lug a heavy load around as I do my errands. I find myself cleaning out extraneous items more and more often but when I was younger my purse was akin to a hardware store. I never left home without a repair kit for my classes and a sewing kit to men loose buttons or an unexpected tear in my clothing. I carried a little notebook for writing down things that I wanted to remember or lists of things that I needed. I toted tiny cans of hairspray and a little pouch filled with first aid items. I’d bring along my checkbook and a supply of pencils and pens. In winter I included gloves and chapstick. If the purse was large enough I might even bring a book or my laptop. Like a girl scout I was ready for virtually anything.

When I was still a fledgling mom I’d have toys and bags of snacks inside my purse, maybe even little bottles of water or milk. I’d bring extra changes of clothing for the little ones just in case of an accident. My bag was like a magician’s prop, holding anything that would feed or entertain my girls. There was no telling what may lie inside.

I used to go to the movies with my mom. She was from the old school when twenty five cents got her a ticket and a little snack. The ever rising prices of things astounded her and so she found ways to save on the cost of entertainment by getting me to hide candy and such in my purse. In between her own handbag and mine we were able to bring in some rather amazing things. On one occasion she asked me to stow away some fried chicken and two cans of Coke in the folds of my handbag while she smuggled in homemade popcorn. I have to admit that there was something rather exciting about the adventure of it all and we no doubt had the best food of anyone in the theater.

After 9/11 it became less and less acceptable or advisable to carry half of a household inside a purse. I’ve lost cans of hairspray, pocket knives, nail clippers and all sorts of things during searches. I’ve learned to carefully check the contents of my purse before leaving home lest I lose something that I value. Some places insist on clear bags or pocketbooks so small that only the most essential items will fit. I don’t grumble too much because it’s all in the name of safety but I sometimes worry that I’ll get caught short in an emergency situation.

I honestly don’t know how men get by with only pockets to hold their essentials. I suppose it works because their clothing is made quite differently. I have few outfits with sewn in pouches large enough to carry even the most basic things that I need whenever I leave home. My keys would take up most of the room and my phone would undoubtedly fall out of my jeans and trousers. My dresses have no compartments at all. To eliminate purses the fashion designers would have to rethink the way they make women’s clothing. It would be revolutionary and perhaps not so popular among the ladies.

I’m a fan of nice purses but I draw the line after a certain price. I’ve been in stores where the handbags cost more than my refrigerator, and while they are lovely I can’t imagine making such an investment in an item that I will probably want to replace within a year. Besides, I don’t want to be lugging something around that makes me a target for thieves.

My favorite purse of all time was one that my husband bought for me in Estes Park, Colorado. We found it in a little shop called Craftsmen in leather. The owner designed and made each handbag with magnificent skill. It was a thing of beauty that I treasured and it lasted far longer than any such item that I have ever owned. Sadly a leaky ink pen did a number on it one day, damaging the color and suppleness of the leather. When I returned to the little shop in hopes of replacing it with a new one, I learned that the man who had so lovingly crafted fine objects had retired and sold the place to new owners. The newer proprietors had kept the name of the store but filled it with horrid manufactured pieces that did not come close to the quality that I longed to find. I still dream of one day finding another purse like that one on ebay.

I suppose that like most women I enjoy a cute and comfortable pair of shoes and a nicely made purse but these days I find that I am more and more able to fit whatever I think I may need into a smaller and smaller parcel. I’ve lightened the weight on my shoulder and opted more and more for practicality. Still, there is nothing like a truly fine purse. It creates a kind of signature for an outfit and helps to define a woman’s personality. Even better is that looking inside of it can a be a real treasure hunt.

Walking Canvases

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Fashion is an art form, a way of expressing oneself with hair and clothing. There are really no rules when it comes to the way we present ourselves, but we are generally guided by the mores of the times. Fashion often becomes the subject of controversy, particularly in traditional institutions like offices, churches and schools. We tend to be judgmental when it comes to fashion, often preferring more traditional ways of adorning ourselves. As with language there are certain unwritten but widely known and mostly accepted ways of dressing in particular circumstances. Sometimes we demand more formality and other times we allow great variance from the norm. Even in the most casual situations we sometimes cringe at the sight of extremes that are unlike what we are accustomed to seeing. We forget that fashion is ultimately a very personal thing as we attempt to foist our own preferences on others in a critical and sometimes even persecutory way.

There was a time when both men and women regularly wore flowing robes. Even today there are cultures in which even males don what may appear to be a kind of dress. In the seventeenth century kings and potentates wore long curly wigs, makeup, stockings and high heeled pumps. Mankind has always experimented with fashion so why do we find ourselves freaking out whenever someone does not conform to our own thoughts on how to dress?

We’ve heard about the young man from the Barber’s Hill school district who was told that his dreadlocks were too long. He was informed that unless he cut them he would not be allowed to walk with his classmates for graduation. Those who know him admit that he actually looks quite nice and that he is a good and respectful person. Nonetheless the authorities took the stance that rules are rules and he must abide by them or suffer the consequences. My question is why there should even be such a rule? It is highly doubtful that the length of someone’s hair whether male or female would detract from the ceremony in any way. If there is any sort of distraction it has been invented by the powers that be, not this young man.

We get a bit crazy from time to time and create more furor or silly things like appearance than need be. I recall attending an assembly during school hours when I was in high school whose only purpose was to harangue the girls about the volume of their bouffant hair, the length of their skirts, and the need to wear white socks with their shoes. What our teachers did not seem to realize was that the meeting was a total waste of time that we actually appreciated because it allowed us to have a break from our classes. Beyond that we were all joking and laughing about the ridiculousness of it all.

The truth is that the ways in which we choose to adorn ourselves are always superficial. They do not define us nor do they really matter. We may roll our eyes at what we see as the ridiculous of a young man struggling to walk as his oversized pants hang around his knees, but other than demonstrating what we may see as bad taste he actually hurts nobody. We certainly have the right to tell him that such clothing is inappropriate in particular situations but we would do well to consider whether or not our attention to such matters is worth the time and effort that we will have to expend to gain his compliance. In other words, what difference will it make?

I once had a student who insisted on wearing a belt with a skull on the buckle in defiance of a school rule. He never personally gave me a problem. He came to my class ready to work. He was polite, paid attention, and participated in the activities I had planned. He was always a top student, rarely making a grade below a B. Somehow that skull on his belt was no bother at all when it came to his academics and yet it became such a sticking point with one of the administrators of the school that it resulted in his being expelled. While I agreed that the student’s noncompliance was indeed over the top I could not help but wonder if the furor created by the assistant principal was much ado about nothing. Rules should somehow make sense, be meaningful and this one confounded me.

We each have personal preferences for adorning ourselves. Tattoos are all the rage among those younger than I am. While I have no desire whatsoever to ink my skin the younger set sees tattoos as a way of celebrating individuality, relationships, accomplishments. To them adorning their skin with art is as natural as purchasing a piece of jewelry or a new pair of shoes. It’s not my cup of tea, but it does not bother me in the least if someone else decides to adorn his/her body with imagery. I would only tell anyone thinking of getting a tattoo to consider what it may look like when the skin ages and wrinkles. I would suggest that placing permanent art anywhere on the body might lead to regret later on, so a bit of circumspection might be in order. Beyond that there are far more important things to dwell upon.

Each of us is unique. We like different things. We express ourselves in the way we dress. In some ways we are living art. Some of us emulate the old masters and others trend toward the avant garde. Our appearance all too often becomes the manner in which we are perceived, but in truth it’s what is inside our minds that should matter. It’s how we treat people that should be the metric that determines our fates. Beyond that let each one celebrate individuality however he or she may choose. Our world is made more beautiful by celebrating the canvases known as self.

The Insanity of It All

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So here we are in another election year and I’ve been a fairly good girl in my resolve to stay as neutral with regard to the political race as much as possible. I suppose that I have become numb to the whole situation because the campaigning and sloganeering has never really stopped for several years now. We seem to be trapped in an infinite loop of divisiveness, hyperbole, and propaganda which always reminds me of my seventh grade teacher who taught us all about the methods that people use to influence our thinking. I recall that we argued that only the Soviet Union did such things and she insisted with a sweet and knowing smile that we were constantly being subjected to rhetorical methods designed to persuade us to accept one side over another.

Somehow her lesson stuck with me because it seemed so shocking at the time. Since then I have found myself watching for the methods that people use to bend us to their ways of thinking. Like some paranoid cynic I see them everywhere, and most notably in the political arena. The voices of reason and honor seem to be so small while slogans and soundbites rule the day. I’ve taken refuge from them by avoiding the furor as much as possible, but it has become increasingly difficult to find a source of news without a tinge of political commentary. I’ve had to attempt to ferret out the facts and ignore the hysteria. It has become an ever more difficult task and I have actually grown rather weary of it all, even as I know that one of the tricks of propaganda is to wear people down.

I honestly don’t know how I will endure the political season this time around. I suppose that what worries me most is that it will not end regardless of who is actually elected. The fighting will go on and on and on. It’s like being caught in a middle school food fight that nobody is able to control. We can’t even enjoy a sporting event or a nice night of entertainment without the injection of politics and protests. It has grown so tiresome.

I realize all too well that we have many problems facing our country and the world as a whole. They will only be solved when we begin to address them together which seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. There is so much emotional manipulation on our minds that many of us have become hypnotized into walking in tandem with one political philosophy or another. Actually discussing ideas has become virtually impossible, and being the voice urging caution results in political suicide.

So we just go back and forth, topsy turvy, without a sense of security because we know that whoever wins the elections will undo anything that their opponents accomplished or go all in for their own side even when it is ridiculous to do so. Meanwhile we are stuck on a ferris wheel that never stops, and while it might have been fun for a time, I for one have grown weary of the posing and preening and warfare.

I remember a conversation that I had long ago with a priest who was a dear friend of our family. He told me that every difficult situation required an adult in the room, someone willing to logically and emotionally make reasoned and fair decisions. I spent most of the rest of my life attempting to be that person. When my mother was in the middle of a mental breakdown I had to be the steadying force. Inside my classroom I needed to stay calm and not allow my personal feelings to rule me. I took hope from leaders who demonstrated honor and thoughtfulness in times of chaos. I found diplomacy and compromise to be powerful tools for bringing disparate groups of people together. I accomplished wonderful things by knowing when to be firm and when to bend.

Dividing ourselves into one side or another without respect for our varying opinions, desires, and worries is a zero sum game. It will only lead to an increasingly virulent standoff. It will take great courage for someone to break the loop that has us so entangled in vitriol. If we support such a person when we see him or her we just might be able to signal to all the rest that we are done with their antics. We have to be the ones who push back on the rhetoric. If we become the adults in the room those who long for our approval will follow because their only goal is to win. That means that we cannot praise childish behaviors from anyone regardless of which side he/she represents. Wrong is wrong and we should be able to point to it without being pilloried by any person or group. When our basic rights to an opinion are heckled or degraded by a mob we should always wonder if we are being victimized by propaganda.

I suppose that some may view this blog as a screed given the political environment. They will believe that my remarks reflect only on one party or another. They will not understand the idea that I am looking at all of the arguments and philosophies and sifting the good from the bad. In that process I have seen that nobody has all of the answers or best plans but everyone has a few very good ideas. It’s time for each of us to be more discerning. If we accomplish that, the poisonous partisanship will subside, but sadly I think that we are still a long way from being able to bring ourselves together. For now I will just have to continue to find ways to endure the insanity of it all.