Misconceptions

I believed in Santa Claus. I loved Santa so much that every time I saw one, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I wrote him letters as soon as I was capable. I dreamt of him, constructed rituals around his visit and was mesmerized by anything related to him.

I maintained my belief into fourth grade when my brother told me that Santa did not exist. I fought him, argued with him, cried tears in frustration over him. I did not suspend my belief in Santa immediately. However, that was my last Christmas filled with wonder.

Misconception destroyed.

From the time I was a little girl my mother told stories about being Native American. She claimed that her high cheekbones, hair that did not gray and her skin that tanned so easily were all because of being “Indian”. So was her love of bread, gravy and corn.

I fell in love with her story and wanted to learn more about my heritage so I began reading every book in the library that had anything to do with Native Americans, both fiction and nonfiction.

I drew maps. I recorded characteristics and beliefs. I drew pictures of their artifacts. I immersed myself so completely into this study that I truly believed I was Shawnee.

When a powwow was being held near my home, I went. The pounding of the drums resonated in me. I wanted to join in the dance even though I didn’t know the steps. I bought fry bread and loved every bite. I also bought a CD of chanting which I played over and over.

I went to two more powwows, loving the romance of the regalia, the procession, the community. I felt one with the people. I belonged. I had history.

And then my daughter had me take one of those DNA tests as she had been unable to unearth any Native Americans in our history. Guess what? I have zero percent Native American blood.

Misconception.

From the time I understood physical beauty and attractiveness I was told that I was unlovable. I was told repeatedly that I was so fat that no one would ever love me. That I was plain. Ugly. Undesirable. I believed it. When one hears such things for all of their life it becomes part of your identity. Your belief system.

When I went away to college I was asked out by numerous young men. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to date me, for I was a nobody. Worthless. I thought maybe they had spurious interests, that there was only one thing they wanted and I wasn’t about to give them that. But I dated. Quite a bit.

Misconception? At that point I still believed all that my family had told me about myself, so I wasn’t ready to let go yet.

In fact, truth be told, I have never fully dispersed with that belief even though I have a husband who loves me dearly and thinks I am beautiful as I am.

Where I grew up in Ohio there were few people of color. When I was about eight my mom took me to a nearby park that had a shallow pool. I was happily playing in it, enjoying the cool water in the hot sun, when other kids arrived. They were beautiful Dark skin, dark eyes, but their palms and the soles of their feet were much lighter. I was intrigued. The little girls had tons of braids and clips. I wanted my hair done like that.

My mother pulled me out of the pool, saying something like those people had ruined out day. I had no idea what she was talking about, but as I grew older, more and more such incidents occurred.

I finally figured out that my parents were prejudiced against anyone that didn’t look like them. It made no sense to me. I didn’t look at the color of a person’s skin but the color of their heart. If they were warm inside, then I loved them back. If they were cold, then I stayed away.

It wasn’t until my teen years that I learned the meaning of prejudice and how it “colored” a person’s view of others. I understood as I was living with people who personified the definition. For this first time I faltered in my belief in who I was.

Misconception.

I could chronicle more incidents in which my belief systems were challenged, but it isn’t necessary. What is important is that throughout life our perceptions are challenged, over and over, forcing us to rethink who we are and what we believe.

Misconceptions are meant to falter, to disappear, to be clarified. It is part of being human. We can take our beliefs, be exposed to new ways of thinking, and reformulate our identity. This is how we grow. Our experiences allow us to alter established patterns, creating new. It is an important process.

That is not a misconception.

 

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Feeling Proud

I have never been an arrogant person.

For much of my life I’ve been shy,

Backward

Afraid to exude confidence.

Pride does not come to me willfully.

It sneaks up like a mouse in the night.

It catches me unaware, surmising me

When it calls my name.

Even though I’ve accomplished much un my life,

I seldom take an opportunity to brag.

Instead, when I do speak, I do so quietly

With an unassuming air

Because even I am surprised when

Something goes well.

There have been times when I wanted to shout out,

To proclaim loudly those things that

Fill me with pride,

But I haven’t.

Until recently.

I realize now, at my age,

That I have much to be proud of.

Every day of life fills me with such joy,

Such a feeling of accomplishment

That I want to brag about simply being here

On this earth.

Today I am bragging, just a little,

Because I am alive.

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Counting Blessings

Every year at this time we stop to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives. I have been blessed in so many ways that it would be impossible to list them all.

Every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed I am grateful to be alive. Not everyone is so lucky. Many senior citizens die in their sleep. Truthfully, that’s how I would like to pass: to go quietly without suffering. I am thrilled to be alive and thank the Lord for every day He gives me.

My husband is my biggest gift. He is my rock. He is always there to support me in whatever endeavor I take on. He has never held me back, even when it meant nights away at college while he stayed home with the kids. As we have aged together, our love and appreciation has solidified. We are stronger together than we could ever be apart.

I am blessed to have watched my three “kids” grow up to be amazing adults. They are unique in all ways. Each has chosen the path that makes them most comfortable, most happy. They fill me with pride whenever I talk with them or spend time with them or simply think of them. They each chose wonderful people to share their lives with. One a wonderful gift that is! Knowing that they have a special someone to fill their hours and days and weeks.

My faith is solid. It is a constant in my life. It gives me solace when I am weary or worried. I know that the Catholic Church has offered nothing but suffering to survivors, but I believe in the core values of my church. I believe that it will heal. For this I am grateful.

I am lucky to have friends. I don’t see them as often as I would like, but I know they are there. If I needed them, they would come, just as I would go to them. Not everyone is blessed to have good friends. It makes me sad to think of all those who are alone, day after day. I hope that as I age, I don’t become one of them, but one never knows what circumstances lead to loneliness.

I am lucky to have lived in our home for 43 years. I did not have the luxury of living in one place as I grew up. My parents moved quite a bit. Most of the time the moves brought us into bigger and better houses, but not always. We are blessed to live in a good neighborhood, which even though it is changing, is relatively free from crime. I feel safe here, and for that I am grateful.

I have been given a variety of skills that have fulfilled my life over the years. One constant is music. From an early age I was drawn to song. While I sang silently, inside I pictured myself with a microphone belting out the tunes of the day. Now I only sing at church, but it brings me great joy. I hope that I am not too off-tune and that I don’t seriously mess up the words. I am lucky to have my church choir.

Throughout the years I have exercised different skills. For example, as a preschool teacher I led students in song and dance and came up with art and intellectual activities to enrich their lives. Not everyone can do that. It was fun for a while, but as my own kids aged, I grew tired of snotty hands and soggy pants.

As an elementary school teacher I taught eight different subjects, some better than others. I am lousy at science, so I chose those lessons that I understood and “cheated” on those that I didn’t. I hope that my lack of knowledge of how electricity works never damaged a student!

In high school I became an “expert” in working with special needs students. As time passed, I realized that it was a gift I had been given. Every day I gave thanks for being able to help my students access curriculum that they could never have learned on their own.

I have been blessed to have worked with many kids and adults. Each of them gave me something in return. Each of them touched me in a unique way.

My blessings continue. Today I was able to swim, to drive, to walk, to eat, to socialize. To look out the window and see trees and hear birds and dogs barking. To see people talking and feel happy for them.

I hope that my life will continue to be full of things for which to be grateful. I hope that I never become complacent and assume that the blessings will fall my way. For all these things and countless more, I am grateful.

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Fascination with Trees

I can’t recall a time when I was not drawn to trees. They amaze me. Day after day they change. Imagine something that grows taller and wider at such incrementally slow pace that it is invisible to the eye.

They also change with the seasons. Some burst into new life when the sun begins to shine in spring. Tiny green buds sprout forth, signaling the wonders that are to come. Those buds become leaves. All kinds of leaves, in all shapes and sizes and colors.

When I was young I collected leaves. I especially loved the ones that fell from maple trees. Such broad leaves! So green in spring and summer, but when fall arrives they morph into shades from red to orange to brown. I loved them all.

I miss maple trees. They grew in the woods behind our house in Ohio, but not here in California. They had the most amazing seed pods! They were shaped like wings and if you tossed them above your head they would twirl down to the ground. I did this over and over, season after season, never growing tired of the display even into my teen years.

Where we lived in Ohio all trees shed their leaves in the fall and remained bare throughout the cold winters. I understood the winter to be a time of rest, a time to store up energy to be ready to burst into action at the first sign of spring.

So it was for me. In the winter I huddled inside where it was warm, venturing outside only when bundled from head to toe. Even then some days my breath froze on my eyebrows and hair, my teeth chattered and I thought my fingers and toes would crack and fall off.

We moved to California after my ninth grade year. The seasons here are not as differentiated as in Ohio. What we call winter is nothing to people who live in the Midwest, North or East, for there it snows and temps can drop well below freezing. Here I think it’s cold if it is below sixty!

Because our seasons are not as sharply delineated, not all trees go through the autumnal changes. Looking out my window right now, I see some leaves in shades of red, but just as many that are still green. We still have flowers in bloom and low-growing bushes covered with leaves.

In time, all but the fir trees will lose their leaves and be bare. It is a good thing, as even our California trees need to rest, to be still in preparation for the wonderful gifts that are to come.

Trees that produce fruit amaze me. They are so generous, so thoughtful, even when their human caretakers are less then vigilant. Day after day apples and pears and oranges and other wonderful things ripen, all for us. Gifts for us!

Some fruits require a little work to get inside. Some don’t. I tend to love fruit that you can bite into and have your mouth filled with sweetness, the juice spilling out of your mouth and onto your chin. Every time I eat an apple I am thankful that I am blessed with having such a marvelous thing to eat.

When I go walking around my neighborhood and see fruit growing on trees, I want to reach up, pull off just one and take a bite. But I don’t. I don’t know how needy the owners are. Perhaps that apple is their only sustenance of the day. Perhaps the orange is their only access to vitamin C. I would not want to steal that reassure from them. So I walk on.

In our neighborhood there are not as many trees as when we first moved in. Some have died. Some have been taken down by their owners. Some removed by the city because their roots were intruding into the pipes. I miss all those trees, the once grand, sprawling trees that hung out over the road creating a marvelous canopy! So beautiful. Now gone.

We often get to drive through forest on our way north and east and south into the mountains. I love to look at the trees, how magically they grow out of rock and cling to the sides of mountain as if they were meant to be there. When the sun shines on them they are a wonderfully deep green.  They sing with life! And when you get up close enough you can take in their rich aroma, like sticking your head in a cedar chest from long ago.

When they are covered with snow it is a picture straight from Christmas cards. I imagine myself riding on a horse-drawn sleigh under their boughs and having dollops of snow fall on my head as I lean back laughing. I have never done this, but I can place myself in the scene.

When I was young I did not wear glasses. Trees were nothing to me then. They leaned over me, frightening me. I thought each and every one would fall on my head, killing me. In fourth grade my teachers demanded that I get glasses. I remember the bus ride home, looking out the window and seeing that the leaning trees no longer leaned! It was a miracle.

These are the reasons that I love trees. Not only do they defy the passing of time, but they stand tall as a reminder of all that they offer us. Beautiful colors and tasty food. I hope that I will never lose my ability to appreciate the wonderful gift that each tree is.

 

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First Love

He sat next to me in Kindergarten,

A lovely, blond-haired boy

With tons of freckles on his cheeks.

His blue eyes sparkled

When he spoke to me.

I was so enthralled by him

That I was speechless.

Dumbfounded.

Mute.

But when he took my hand and

Led me outside to the sandbox

I followed with misty eyes.

We played.

He created roads for the plentiful cars and trucks

While I created castles with lopsided spires.

He said words that I did not hear,

But I loved the rhythm of his voice.

The pleasant vibe he created.

He made me smile.

At the end of playtime,

He offered me a red plastic ring.

He told me I was his girlfriend

And then held my hand as we lined up

To go inside.

I glowed.

Not only was he my first boyfriend,

He was my first friend.

His tenderness enchanted me,

A lonely kid who had felt unloved

Until the moment

When he reached out with such unabashed passion

That I could not resist.

He lit my flame, my passion

For love.

Unfortunately when the year ended

We went to different schools.

I never saw my love again,

But I never forgot the yearning I had felt

When so young that I didn’t understand

The meaning of his gestures.

First love.

A momentous feeling.

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Cloud Watching

When I was young

I spent hours lying on my back

Staring at the clouds

And wondering what they were.

Sometimes a rabbit or cow.

Maybe an old man or woman.

Occasionally a car or truck.

Most importantly,

They represented an ability to dream,

An insight into a creative urge

To make sense of the world around me.

 

I still love to look at clouds

Even though I am officially old.

I no longer see shapes.

Instead I see beauty.

The wispy feather-like clouds

That streak across the sky.

Or the piles of cumulus clouds

That signal storms coming.

Or the thin stretches of clouds

That add depth and color to the sky.

They still represent creativity

Because they stir in me

A desire to put words to paper,

To make sense of the world

Through story and song.

 

I hope that I will always be able to see

Wonder in clouds.

That they will continue to speak to me

In verse and narrative

And help me to tell my version

Of what the world means.

 

So I will keep on watching clouds,

Like I did as a kid.

And keep on trying to make sense

Of the world.

 

 

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The Ocean

I know that you are there,

But I cannot see you.

I hear the ever-changing pattern

Of your waves pounding the shore,

Over and over you crash against the sand,

Breaking it into increasingly smaller pieces.

You pull shells and seaweed and dead bird bodies

Out with your current

Adding them to the detritus encased in your deep.

The tide comes and goes

Sometimes with great force and others

With amazing gentleness,

A rhythm that calls me to come look,

Come see.

But I cannot see because the fog is so deep,

So encompassing that all traces of you

Are hidden.

I yearn to walk into your embrace,

But the dark skies remind me of how very cold you are

And so I stand back, listening to your repeated call.

I want to witness your power,

Not just be here, straining to see you.

But like all things, you have your day and time.

You choose when to reveal yourself.

I have to wait until then,

Feeling bereft and alone.

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