A Double Win

kurt

It’s Sunday morning, my husband has won another prize.  He is the most winningest (is that a real word?) person that I know.  Of course, it helps that he enters into every drawing and contest from around the country.

I can only imagine what the outcome of this announcement will bring to our front porch in the next few weeks.  The poor mailman has dragged packages of all shapes and sizes to our door and amazingly he still waves and smiles when he sees us in passing.

“We only have an hour to claim it, so we have to go right now.”

Blankly, I stare at him.  I am still in my pajamas and sipping a cup of coffee on the couch while he is preparing to collect his latest prize.  This one crummy cup of weak coffee is the only adult pleasure that I am still allowed and I. Need. It.  Sometimes, I wake up early just to get started on my one cup of the bitter nectar of life.

“I cannot go anywhere until I finish this coffee.” I declare firmly.

“Mmmm…..” he whines impatiently without words and waits three seconds.

“Ok, how about now?”

I sigh, there will be no peace until the prize has been claimed.

“Let me brush my hair.”

I change into a clean pair of leggings and t-shirt, my uniform as of late, because regular pants, shirts with buttons and dressing up in general is for regular sized, non-turkey-sized-baby carrying people, and we set off.  After a very long waddle down the road, we finally arrive at a brewery where I collapse into a chair while my beloved makes his way to the counter to collect his much-deserved prize.

He returns to the table with a double win, a Kurt Vonnegut book and an order of a Cuban inspired brunch.  We devour a stack of pancakes infused with guava jelly and topped with freshly whipped cream and a plate of fried eggs with a side of sliced mangos.  What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine, I secretly think and pull the book towards me across the table.

Just like brunch, The Sirens of Titan is exactly what I need to remember to take life less seriously but not for granted, to dream of adventure and travel, and to consider that we might not have any control over our path in life, but we can control our attitude, our sense of wonderment and how we treat those who walk along side of us during our short time on Earth.

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The Roses

roses

Early Friday morning, the office is satisfyingly empty, aside from the constant hum of the air conditioner and occasional ring of my coworker’s phone. There is no chatter or gossip, no questions about the weekend or last night or comments about the weather.  For the first time in months, it seems, I am alone with my thoughts and my computer and thereby the internet, which is far from quiet.

I have started reading the news in the past few months with a morbid curiosity that borders on obsession regarding the offensive movements of the President and his cronies as they work to dismantle the foundation of the country and the protections of its people. Every time I pull up CNN or the Washington Post, there is a new story of bullying and cruelty from the top down.  The new standard of conduct is one rooted in selfishness, fear and ignorance that sets a disturbing example for those watching.

In spite of the destructive actions between big business and workers, rich and the poor, black, brown and white, there is still beauty in the small things and kindness in the everyday interactions that get missed when one is focused only on the big picture. For example, when a massive cockroach broke into the office last week and backed me into a corner,my co-worker snapped into action and smashed the monster with her shoe thus becoming my new hero.  Her courage saved the day and potentially my life.  It was a small thing for her that meant the world to me.

I am intentionally trying to recognize kindness and pay it forward, as well as to ground myself with the sounds of the morning, the smell of freshly cut grass and the intense blue of a cloudless sky. Recently, I took a break from the swamp to follow the amazing international effort to rescue the Thai soccer team and now a further break to watch the World cup.  Go Croatia!

While I am trying to permanently break away from the news and its negativity, it is tempting to slip back into the stories of “fake news” and Russian indictments, and the never ending tiffs between the Donald and the rest of our world leaders, the good ones, the ones who celebrate diversity and human rights, who live by a personal and professional moral code that is stronger than the lure of money and connections. Again, I digress with so many distractions.

By the time I come back to finish this piece, my mind and body are worn out like a cheap t-shirt. I feel threadbare; it is finally the end of the day.  The normal workplace drama has transpired and somehow almost everything got done except for one thing.

I have yet to stop and smell the roses.

So I make a new to-do list, reprioritize and try again tomorrow.

Real Life Monsters

monster

Once a year, we open our door, flip on the light and wait for monsters to visit.  We welcome them, in spite of their threats of tricks and unreasonable demands to smell their feet, with candy.

It’s my husband’s favorite holiday, far surpassing that of Thanksgiving or my birthday.  He prepares in advance by selecting special treats, canceling any plans that don’t involve passing out fun sized candy bars and waiting in excited anticipation. 

This year, he positioned himself by the door with a bowl of candy.  He cracked his knuckles, stretched his arms, and bent over to touch his toes and stood back up like he was preparing for a half marathon.

“We’re in for a big night, we have to be ready.  I can feel it,” he explained with unexplainable certainty as the clock ticked towards six o’clock.

Sure enough, a steady stream of visitors arrived shortly after the designated start time, one after another.  The first friends of the night were a cluster of superheroes with shiny, plastic masks and capes. 

They stood on the steps outside of the door, while holding orange pumpkin baskets and called out in unison, “Trick or Treat.” 

A group of golden wig wearing princesses followed closely behind the boys.  They gave a respectful thirty seconds to allow the superheroes time to walk down the steps and onto the sidewalk before bounding up to the steps to the door.  Their parents waited at the edge of the sidewalk, close enough to give a pseudo impression of independence or to rush in at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, the giver of candy generously continued to pass out handfuls of candy as the night went on, and the visitors began to arrive by vehicle instead of on foot.  They came from nearby neighborhoods where it’s not safe to knock on a stranger’s door and visitors are not welcomed with smiles and snacks. 

We watched as an old van with a missing tail light and a wide array of dents puttered past our lookout point/house and pulled off to the side of the road to unload what seemed like 10 or 20 kids.  They organized and dispersed as quickly as a group of sugar-crazed and costumed children are able to do under the direction of an over worked and exhausted set of adults.

They came to our house twice, assuming we wouldn’t notice perhaps because they were in disguise.   With each visit, they held out their little bags and baskets, and some said thanks and others simply ran off once they had a few pieces of candy. 

A straggler arrived after the group’s second visit, close to the end of the approved trick or treating hours, a tiny child with an eerie green glow to her face.  She wore a mop on her head, dyed the same color, covered with cotton cobwebs.  It was an elaborate but low-cost costume that was hard to forget.  She was accompanied by her mother, a woman in a black hoodie with a huge purse on her shoulder.

“You can pick what you want,” the Candygiver leaned down and offered the dish of treats to the little girl.

Her brown eyes shone in the night, catching the porch light and reflecting it back like two cosmic stars.  She reached into the dish with a pudgy green hand and grabbed a packet of Runts and Gobstoppers.

“Good choice, those are my favorite.”

The man nodded in encouragement, the green creature smiled up at him for a brief second of human connection.  She glowed a brighter green, invigorated by the praise and strengthened with his kindness.

Then the little girl’s mother swooped in and smacked her hand, “Those are choking hazards.”  

The woman glared at the man with butterfly wings for eyelashes that made their own wind with each flutter.  The little girl dropped the hard candies and stepped back; she stared at the Candyman in anger at his betrayal.  She wasn’t sure what a choking hazard was but her mama’s tone told her all she needed to know.  Candyman was a bad man.      

“Shame on you,” the woman said as she reached into the candy dish extracting no fewer than five bite sized Milky Way candy bars with orange and black striped artificial nails.

She shook her head in disappointment as she dropped the candy into her daughter’s bucket and went back for another handful of candy.  This time, she included the dangerous Runts and feared Gobstoppers in her claw and dropped this loot into her purse.  Grabbing her daughter’s hand, she marched down the steps and sashayed into the darkness of the night. 

Until next year.  Farewell and good luck, little green monster. 

Just a Friday

clogged-gutter

My heart is heavy with the events of the day and the trauma of the people with whom I work. Like a gutter clogged with leaves, the sadness has no place to run off.  The weight threatens to break me in half.  It’s a bit much for a Friday.

A woman came into the office wearing knee-high pleather boots with heels that clacked as she walked across the wooden floor. She plunked herself down into a chair, her body exhausted from the ugly side of life.  She had just spent the last forty days and nights in jail.

“When you cage people, they become animals.”

She witnessed her bunkmates leap from their beds onto a woman for allegedly taking a pack of unattended donuts, “Nobody hits the panic button or they get it,” the leader declared.

As she sobbed from her bed, another bunkie glared up as her and threatened to wrap her head in a towel later that night to give her something to really cry about.

Her toilet paper, toothbrush, and backup pair of underwear were stolen on the first night. Only the toilet paper was restored to her by a guard.

She got tired of saying, “I didn’t do anything,” when the other inmates asked, “What’d you do?”

“Sure,” they laughed. “Me neither, but really, what did you do?”

Insisting on her innocence did not help her to win any friends, so she started saying, “Murder, I killed a guy,” which turned out to be a much more effective strategy in the jailhouse relationship department.

After she got to know her neighbors, she learned their stories, their pain and regrets.

“They’re just left alone with their rage and frustration and half of them are still coming down from drugs. One woman was shooting up heroin and left her kids in the car.  They died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Can you imagine how she’ll feel when she sobers up and realizes what she did?  Her kids are dead because of her and she has to spend the rest of her live knowing it in jail with nothing to do.”

This is real life and now we have a leader who may or may not make things worse for these people without voices, forgotten and locked away.  Truly, it’s a bit much for more than just a Friday.

At a time of feeling lost, I take comfort from books and reflect on the words of Kurt Vonnegut.  I offer it as my consolation for readers who may be equally as emotional and unsettled, angry and sad.  Its my one guiding principle that continues to make sense in a world that seems otherwise made.

 “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Welcome to Earth

kurt

“Hello babies, welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-:
God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

She’s got those nails

The little woman slipped through the double doors into the restroom.  She passed an older black woman, who was on her hands and knees, scrubbing the grout between the floor tiles.

“How you doing today, sugar?” she asked, as she cheerfully scrubbed.

Meanwhile, the little woman sat on the commode with her bony elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.  Verging on tears, thoughts of the flashing red light on her telephone that another voicemail had come in and the stack of growing paper on her desk swirled through her mind.  It’s too much she thought and tried to calm her racing heart.  Taking just one thing at a time would be an easy if she were a dentist pulling teeth; but instead, she was in a field that required a professional level of constant multitasking.  A woman had been calling all week asking for updates on something that would take weeks to get into place.  In each call, the woman’s voice grew angrier and more desperate.  These calls continued and broke the little woman’s reserve down further and further, until she had to escape to the safety of a bathroom stall.

“You sure you’re ok in there?” the woman cleaning asked after she heard a deep sigh from the little woman’s stall.  “You sound like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders with the way you’re carrying on.”

“Oh, sorry,” the little woman replied.  She wasn’t aware how loudly her worries were escaping from her body despite her best efforts.

Shamefacedly, the little woman emerged from the stall and turned on the faucet to wash her hands. A stranger had heard her sigh and knew more about her current struggle than she knew about herself.  She did feel as though the world was on her frail shoulders, and it was heavy.

“Sugar,” the older woman said and stood up with a groan.  She leaned against the paper towel dispenser and continued, “Just remember why you are working.  Is it for the paycheck or is it to help people?”

The little woman sighed again, this time aware but unable to stop the sound from leaving.  “You’re right,” she conceded.

“Mmm…hmm,” the cleaning lady agreed and looked over the rim of her glasses at the little woman.  “Course I am.”

She held up her index finger to make a point, “You keep in mind that it’s just a job.  It doesn’t define who or what you are in life.  It’s just a part of it.”

Gesturing with her hands as she delivered her bathroom sermon/ therapy session, the little woman grimaced when she noticed the long fingernails that curled two inches or more over the tips of the older woman’s fingers.  They were 100% natural and a light brown, likely from cleaning materials and god-knows-what else.  How she was able to do anything with her hands was a feat and a mystery.  The claw-like nails created a self-imposed type of a disability which seemed a shame when many people with unavoidable disabilities would prefer to live otherwise.

“Thanks,” the little woman said backing out of the bathroom, still staring at her nails in disbelief.  “Really, I mean it, thanks for talking to me.  Sorry to rush out, but I’ve got a call I’ve got to make.”

The little woman held her head higher and felt ready to face the rest of her day as she pushed the doors open to the hallway.  The cleaning lady had put things into perspective for her without knowing anything else about her situation.  Yet, she had known just what the little woman needed to hear to continue.  The little woman mused over these things when she brushed past a co-worker on her way back to her desk.  The co-worker said over her shoulder, “Hey, you’re looking brighter than earlier today.  Good for you.”

The little woman replied, “I just got a pep talk from the cleaning lady in the bathroom.”

Chortling, the co-worker knew exactly whom the little woman referred to, perhaps having had her own pep talk on another day. She asked what they both had wondered about the woman who had done so much and so little at the same time, as the bathrooms were never very clean. “What about those nails?”

Just act demented.

At the end of the visit with “Mama C”, her daughter insisted that we test her Life Alert system.  It’s the grey box with a button that hangs around the neck of fragile white-hairs.  Sometimes, it’s white and strapped onto a person’s wrist.  It’s all the same thing, a personal response system.  However, most often it’s found hung on a hook in a closet, left on kitchen sink or with a dead battery when a granny falls in the bathroom and really needs it.  On the commercial an older woman falls and says the famous line, “Help!  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

On the same page, now? Ok, good.

Mama C’s daughter said, “Hit the button, mom. We need to test it.”  She put the box into Mama C’s hands and encouraged her, “Hit the emergency button, Mom.”

She held it in both hands and looked at it as though it was the first time she had seen the device, even though it had hung around her neck for the last six months.  After being quite unsure of what to do with it, she dropped it back onto her chest and began to watch the muted television.

After impatiently waiting a few seconds of Mama C vacantly watching Ellen dance with her audience on the small television, Mama C’s daughter sighed and reached over to hit the button on the box.  She was as gentle as she could be after two hours of this type of interaction but was losing patience quickly.

“Alert! Alert! Alert!” sounded throughout the wooden paneled walls and over the nubby pink carpet.  An unfriendly female robotic voice came over the speaker, “C, an alert has been triggered in your home.  Can you hear me, C?”

Mama C sat on the couch and continued to watch Ellen who had moved onto a game with a tricycle, a baby pool of pudding and several audience members.  However loud the robot woman yelled, Mama C remained oblivious to the demanding and was struggling to keep her eyes’ open.

“Mom,” Mama C’s daughter said, and patted her mother’s arm.  “She needs to hear you,” she continued to pat her mother’s arm to wake her up.

“What?” Mama C asked, as her eyes flew open.

“C, can you hear me?  Are you ok?” the robot woman continued.

Mama C’s daughter explained, “It’s just a test.  Tell her it’s just a test, Mom.”

“It’s ok,” Mama C smiled and said obediently. “It was just a test, honey.”

“Ok,” the robot woman acquiesced, “I’ll hang up now.  Please remember we are available 24/7 should you need us again in the future.”

Mama C nodded, “That’s just fine, honey.  I love you,” she said to the robot woman.  “Bye now.”

Such a sweet and unassuming person, Mama C was so accustomed to practicing kindness and love that these things have become parts of her very essence.  While not everyone is as lucky with illness and aging, these elements are somehow deeper than the dementia that had caused her to nearly burn her home down a few months earlier when trying to fry an egg and to drive her car while sleeping (unsuccessfully, I might add).

Taking a lesson from Mama C, let’s put emotional unavailability and reserve on hold and replace them with genuine warmth and a desire for real connection with others.

Let’s pretend to be demented in our dealings with strangers, friends and family.  If it means forgetting about past misgivings and grudges, loving unconditionally, removing the filter and saying the truth, what’s the worst that could happen?

Image

Where to sit: The importance of a chair.

Image

Sitting near an elderly and most demented man, I cringed at having to readjust my bottom in the cracked and newspaper lined chair.  While at the same time, I knew the old man’s brother had dragged out their best.  He dropped it off in front of me with a smile and indicated that I was to sit.  There was no shame in his face, just pure generosity.

He was a perfect host, offering me the only chair in the home and then sitting on the edge of the only bed in the small home.  I leaned on the armrest of my chair as the demented old man rambled about his aches and pains through gums and thick lips with occasional interjections from his brother.

I panicked when the arm rest nearly gave way underneath of my elbow.  Shifting from one side to the other, the chair creaked like a limb about to break from a tree.  Naturally, I then sat as still and straight as possible to prevent the chair from completely cracking into a pile of dry sticks.

The three of us laughed when the old man said things that neither his brother nor I could understand.  And the men laughed when I nearly fell out of the chair.   We shook hands as equals and in friendship before I headed out the door.

I left feeling itchy, perhaps from flea bites?  However, I also felt the beauty in living simply and holding unconditional positive regard for others.  The very definition of hospitality was embodied in that stuffy little house by those men, despite their lack of possessions or faculties and with the sound of rats rooting through the trash in the background.  It doesn’t take much to show kindness in welcoming a stranger into one’s home and it starts with a place to sit.  Hospitality really is as simple as a chair and a warm smile, toothless or not.

hospitality [ˌhɒspɪˈtælɪtɪ]

n pl -ties

1. kindness in welcoming strangers or guests

2. receptiveness

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

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