Spring Awakening

            I am often slow to come to an awareness of things about me. While my eyes are open as I go about my day, I keep personal feelings tucked safely away. Therefore, I miss the obvious.

            For example, I might be so focused on the menu that I fail to register that friends have ordered and what they have ordered. I might not like the appetizers that they’ve chosen, so my mind races ahead trying to figure out if I am going to be expected to share the cost even though I won’t take one bite.

            Did she just order a salad and that friend a complete entrée? Or was I mistaken? I don’t want to choose the chicken parmesan meal if everyone has soup. Or soup if they order the chicken.

            Today was a perfect example of how long it takes me to process where I am and what to do.

            I had a reservation at the gym to swim. It’s a three-lane pool, and since it reopened, we’ve only been using lanes one and three. My slot was lane one, my favorite.

            When I arrived, lane three was occupied with swim lessons! I almost turned around and left. Eighty pounds ago I would have been embarrassed to swim with parents hugging the walls. I knew, sensed, that they’d all be staring at this fat old lady slapping her way across the pool. My huge, baggy arms made a whomp, whomp sound when they hit the water, something so intriguing that no matter how hard those parents might try, they wouldn’t have been able to ignore. On top of that, the sight of my huge body waddling onto the deck might have repulsed them!

            As I stood at the check-in desk contemplating what to do, it dawned on me that I am no longer that fat old lady. The eighty pounds have been gone for two years and the cosmetic surgeries that I had last year removed the excess skin from my arms and waist. I had no reason to be embarrassed, no excuse for not swimming.

            I changed, and before walking out on the deck, stopped and looked in the full-length mirror. The image startled me. Am I really that thin? Is my stomach really that flat? Are my arms really that small?

            I nodded. Yes, yes and yes. I am all those things and more.

            With my head up I strode onto the deck. I put on my cap and rinsed off. I sat on the top step and slid my feet into my fins, then pulled the goggles over my head.

            I took off, counting one, two, three, four, my arms coming up and then plunging back in, no sound except the bubbles escaping my nose. Back and forth I swam, with newfound confidence.

            I was a swimmer. A real, actual swimmer. A woman who looks good in her new body. And it made me proud.

            Now if I can hold on to that awareness, my life will be so much better.

Testimony

     

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m here to testify.

“Amen,” you say, “Amen.”

I cross my hands and cry

The Lord, our God, is here

I see Him in your eyes

with a fire hot to sear

and drown out all your cries

He loves us, don’t you know

He calls us to follow

His straight path and to grow

in love.  He brings a glow

a radiant glow of love

so pure, so strong, so fine

that we look up above

and are blind by His shine

but don’t worry, my friends

for we can easily

cross over, make amends,

climb the heights, dizzily

basking in His wondrous

gift of spiritual life

spreading a bounteous

blessing to man and wife

children, bow down, I pray

I place my hands and sing

calling His love your way

and the joys He will bring

Halleluiah, Amen

Halleluiah, my friend

Halleluiah, again

Halleluiah,  the end.

Misconceptions

            It’s all too easy to formulate theories based on first impressions. I know that I was judged many times over my life, and in most cases, the opinion-formers were probably right.

            My parents dressed me in old-fashioned, homemade clothes. The fabrics and styles weren’t right for the times. They made me where black and white saddle shoes when others had moved on to loafers. With a penny in the slot, no less.

            So here I am, wearing skirts down to my shins, long sleeved blouses with vests on top, and those godawful shoes. Picture me walking the halls of my high school. Add to that, my hair was never in style and I wore wing-tipped blue tinted glasses.

            First impressions? That I was a nerd or poor or both. And they would have been right on all counts. No misconceptions there.

            When I was a teacher, I became aware of what happened when a new student entered the room. One: all heads turned. Two: some students averted their eyes while others gaped. Three: students sitting near an empty desk either looked welcoming or recoiled. Four: once the student was seated, almost everyone stared, trying to determine whether or not those first impressions were correct.

            New students arrived all throughout the school year. I decided to turn first impressions into what I hoped was a valuable lesson. I talked about what goes through a person’s mind when someone new appears. I asked my students to generated ideas. They were extremely adept at doing so, as long as I was the one recording words on the board.

            Once we had covered the board with ideas, I had them write. Something. It could be an original story or something they had witnessed.

            Students are incredibly perceptive. They can also be open to suggestions. Because of our idea-generating discussion, what they wrote touched on how first impressions can not only be wrong, but can also be damaging. Many of my students, who all had learning differences that made reading and writing challenging, had been subjected to negative impressions that colored their school experience.

            In my own life, I have tried not to allow myself to fall into the misconception trap, but it’s hard. A tall, gangly man stumbling down the street? Not a danger to me, right? But why is he stumbling? Could he be drunk or ill? Disabled in need of a cane? I could give him an entire story based on first impressions.

            How many of us, seeing a young man of an ethnicity not our own, formulates impressions that cause us to cross the street or grab our purse tight to our bodies? We tell ourselves that we are not racist, that that’s not the reason we were fearful, but if not fear-based racism, what is it then?

            Recently I was hiking in a local park with a friend. We are used to bicyclists and other hikers. We know that people with dogs also hike the same trails. But when we heard motors approaching, we were taken aback. What could be causing the noise? What could they be doing?

            When we made out riders coming up the hill, we both said, that can’t be legal. We froze in place, wondering what to do. We have never seen a ranger hiking the trails, neither of us had a phone, and the reception is poor anyway.

            We had both decided that whoever these riders were, they were doing so illegally. Our first impressions matched. We just didn’t know what to do from that point forward.

            Then the riders popped out from around a turn and it became obvious that our impressions were completely wrong. Every rider was from some form of police unit. There were officers in police uniform, in sheriff’s uniform and in park greens. They saluted us in greeting as they passed.

            Imagine if we had allowed our misconceptions to report unauthorized riders? We would have been humiliated when some form of law officer arrived, only to change our story that only law officers had been riding through the park! We concurred that it was most likely some type of training exercise, then went on our way.

            Misconceptions happen all too often. Many times, they cause tragic events, such as shootings or chases down busy streets. Sometimes store owners perceive individuals as potential threat and call for backup, only to find that all the people wanted was cold drinks and snacks. Imagine if the police had stormed in with guns drawn! Someone might be dead, all because of misconceptions.

             There is a lesson to be learned here. We do need to check people out for potential threats to ourselves and others, but we also need to allow ourselves to change those impressions as soon as we realize that there is no threat.

            This also applies when someone new enters our space. Instead of ruling out the person as a possible friend, lets give the person a chance. She might be lonely and frightened. He might be a gentle giant. She could love books and movies and he might enjoy the same video games.

            First impressions often lead to misconceptions that deprive us of new friends and new experiences.

            Don’t let that happen.

One Lucky Lady

They say that cats have nine lives.  Through some quirk of nature, I must have some “link” to those lives, for I’ve gone through four already.  That’s about as lucky as a person can get, I suppose. 

Sure, I’d love to win the lottery, but that requires buying a ticket.  I could go to Las Vegas, Nevada and throw money at the slot machines, or go to the horse races at Golden Gate Fields and bet on a long shot, but those things seem unnecessarily wasteful.

I don’t play Bingo, Scrabble, or cards, so you’ll never see me entered in a competition.  Pool is not my game either.  The only contests I enter are for authors who love to throw good money away on entrance fees.

 Some things are worth much more than money.  Family, love, satisfaction, shelter, food, friends, and employment rank right in the top ten.  Simply having the good fortune to still be walking on this earth is about the luckiest that anyone could possibly be.

It’s equivalent to finding the golden ticket in the chocolate bar, or watching the long-shot horse cross the finish line well ahead of the others.  Every morning that I arise is my lucky day.  Every evening when I’m able to climb under the covers is another opportunity to count my blessings.

Once you’ve faced Death and emerged victorious, nothing can compare.  Four times I’ve walked away, knowing that Death had called my name and I had had the fortitude to stare him in the face and say, “Heck, no.”

About ten years ago a common cold moved in to my lungs.  It had the nerve to take up residence, and stubbornly refused to leave.  The sniffles turned into a full-blown, fever-induced hallucinogenic excursion into the netherworld.  Weakened by its ravaging forces, I was unable to motivate my combat troops to erect a formidable defense. 

Night after night I coughed my way through the lonely hours.  Food refused to stay down, and fluids ran right through, stopping only long enough to gather random reinforcements along the way.  Awareness took a temporary vacation, leaving me in an imbecilic state.

Eventually the battle reached a critical point.  As I pretended to sleep, each gasp was like playing a “cat and mouse” game. That’s when something bizarre occurred.  I floated.  Yes, I literally floated above my reclining body.

Looking down, I knew that I was dead.  My chest did not rise and fall.  No fluttering of eyelids or twitching of fingers.  A coldness drifted upwards as a pallor overcame what I thought of as simply, “my body.”

My husband slept peacefully next to my corpse, unaware that I was no longer there.  My heart broke, thinking of the devastation that this would cause him, and I cried, “No!” 

I fought to break free from my insubstantial self, screaming silently that my time had not yet come.  I closed my eyes and literally willed myself back into my body, one part at a time.  Fingers.  Toes.  Legs.  Arms.  Chest.  Head.

My eyes opened, and I was back.  Joy flooded my thoughts, and I knew, then, that I was victorious.

Much later someone told me about out-of-body experiences, and that it was possible for someone to defy death.  That was life number one.

Life number two was taken five years ago when a chronic asthma attack landed me in the hospital for eight days.  Every breath was a fight.  My lungs gurgled, and the feeling was much like that of drowning.  The specialists gathered about my bedside throughout the day argued as to what to try next.  Nothing worked. I weakened by the hour.

Six days in, I begged my husband to call our children.  I wanted to hear their voices one last time before I died.  Yes, I said that, for I believed that my end had come. 

One by one the calls came.  I was so weak that all I was capable of doing was whispering, “I love you.”  That night, at peace, I readied myself to die.

When morning came and I was still there, I cried.  Another day of fighting for every breath, of coughing so hard that my ribs were sore, did not appeal to me in the least. 

When the crew of doctors gathered this time, one of them suggested antibiotics.  After the first injection, my fever broke.  Within hours air began to fill my lungs, the coughing subsided, and Optimism walked into my room. 

Two days later I went home, grateful to be alive. 

Within five months I returned to the hospital with another chronic asthma attack.  Because the specialists knew what was happening, they began the antibiotics immediately.  Once again, I cheated Death.

My fourth life disappeared when the car I was riding in slid off a snow-covered Interstate 80, thirty miles west of Salt Lake City.  Normally the road is crowded with huge semis traveling at seventy-five miles an hour.  For some bizarre reason, none were near us as the car swerved in and out of lanes. 

Time stood still as we drifted to the right, heading for a ditch.  The car seemed to float off the road, down the hill, and over the clumps of weeds.  When we stopped, we were right side up, perpendicular to the interstate.  My daughter, the driver, and my granddaughter, riding in the back seat, were unharmed.

Within minutes rescuers arrived.  One was so kind as to drive the car out of the ditch.  Shaken, we returned to the highway, knowing that we would exit at the first safe-looking ramp.

On our journey home, we passed two similar accidents.  Both vehicles had flipped over as they slid off the road.  Both had landed upside down in icy water.  Both had fatalities.

So, while I have never won a grand monetary prize, I have won my life four times.  For me, that is luck enough for any one person.

Just Another Dream

            I wasn’t the kind of kid who played with dolls. At least not in the usual way. Like most girls I had been given a few dolls as gifts, but none of them piqued my interest. I never gave them names, never changed their clothes, never pretended to feed or diaper them.

            Mostly they resided on my pillow, a line-up of meaningless plastic constructions that my parents thought I should have. Several of the dolls were still enclosed in boxes. I had been forbidden from opening them, and since I really didn’t care, I never so much as broke the seal.

            Those dolls were beautiful, too beautiful for a “little girl” as I had been told by my mom. They had glossy pretend hair. I recall that one’s was black, one was blonde and another had long wavy brown hair. I had seen what other girls did to their dolls’ hair, turned it into unruly tangles, and I understood that I was not supposed to ruin my dolls in the same way.

            Since I didn’t care, threats were meaningless.

            Dolls were also pretty boring back then. Their arms and legs might move, maybe even the heads might rotate, but they weren’t cuddly and did nothing that imitated life.

            Christmas was nearing, the year I turned eight. We did have a television then, a small black and white model that carried maybe three stations. One evening an advertisement appeared that called my name. A walking doll! Can you imagine such a thing? A doll that would follow you around. A doll that could be your best friend, something I dearly needed.

            I begged for that doll. When it was time to visit Santa, the only thing I wanted was that doll. When I went to bed, pictures of me playing with the doll, happy and laughing and having the best time of my life filled my thoughts.

            I was young enough to still believe in Santa, but old enough to understand that my family had very little money. No worry: Santa would bring me the doll.

            Our family attended Mass and then ate breakfast before we opened the colorfully packaged gifts under the tree. Because it had snowed heavily, we couldn’t drive the miles into Dayton to attend church, so we gathered around my dad who read the entire Mass. My mind was not on prayer, not on the service, but on the gifts under the tree. Would there be a doll for me? I prayed and prayed for the doll.

            Breakfast was oatmeal. No surprise there. Almost all of our breakfasts were oatmeal. Never cold cereal. That wasn’t allowed until we moved to California. Never bacon and eggs. Sometimes the despised Cream of Wheat.

            We didn’t add anything to the oatmeal. No brown sugar, no raisins, no honey. Nothing to make it interesting or more palatable. I was a picky eater and because I hated oatmeal, it usually took me forever to get down one bowl. But that morning, that Christmas, I gobbled mine down in record time.

            After breakfast we’d gather around the tree. My brother and I would sit on the floor, my parents on chairs. My dad was the only one allowed to touch the gifts, so we had to wait patiently while he picked up one, read its tag, then delivered it to the recipient. Gifts could not be opened until each of us held one in our laps.

            When our dad sat and gave the signal, we carefully removed bows and ribbons, so that they could be reused next year, then ran our thumbs under the tape binding the wrapping paper. Once free. We had to smooth out the paper, fold it along its lines, then stack it neatly beside us.

            If the gift was in a box we again had to open it carefully so as to not bend it or crease it in any way. If the gift was in its own box so that the contents were revealed with the unwrapping, we were forbidden to open the box until after lunch Christmas Day.

            I don’t remember anything I opened except that none of them were the doll. When there was nothing left under the tree, my eyes filled with tears. Santa had disappointed me.

            We helped Mom sort ribbons, bows and paper into neat stacks. When the job was complete, we were set free to play. My brother was older and therefore determined what toys we played with, what games we chose. Most likely we played with his green Army men. He loved lining them up in formations and sending them to attack the meager Army I was given. My men never won. Instead they “died” gruesome deaths of his choosing.

There was something satisfying in watching my men die that day. Their misery was a metaphor for my own. Those plastic men had wishes and dreams that would never come true: my one wish had also not come true. Each death mirrored the death of my dreams. In some perverse way, it was comforting.

            Before we could move on to another activity, the Army had to be cleaned up and put away. Because I was lower on the pecking order, cleanup was always left up to me. My brother had most likely moved on to another of his preferred activities, abandoning me to place the Army in the storage box in which they lived.

            Lunch must have been served. Most likely bologna sandwiches with a slice of pretend American cheese. No chips. No soda. Maybe, if we were lucky, homemade applesauce that Mom had canned in the summer.

            Free to play with the new toys, we were set free. I wish I remembered the things I had received, but I don’t. I was having trouble learning to read and tell time, so there might have been something related to that. Most likely not. We owned no picture books. No books of any kind except for an old bible that we weren’t allowed to read.

            I did have coloring books and crayons, but no plastic dishes with which to set up house. I hadn’t wanted plastic dishes, so I didn’t miss them at all.

            My dad and brother were into trains, so I bet there was track and at least one train car or engine. My dad was trying to turn my brother into the skilled athlete that he was, so there might have been a new glove or baseball. I would have loved my own glove! Girls didn’t play ball back then, so there’s no way a glove would have been under the tree for me.

            We did play board games. Because we were often trapped at home during snowy Ohio days, my brother and I spent hours playing games. I love getting new games. Each presented a new challenge, a new experience. Until my brother dominated my pieces. He won every time.

            By this time it would have been late afternoon, early evening. At some point I probably sank into one of the two chairs in the living room, crossed my arms over my chest and let the tears fall.

            Crying for me was normal. I cried every day, sometimes all day long. I cried when my brother hurt me, beat me at a game, hit me with a ball, stole my share of the Army men. I sobbed when I was punished for being me, for not knowing my colors, my alphabet, money and time. I was a miserable child: not the kind of girl that people want to cherish, to hold, to nurture.

            At some point my dad entered the room carrying a large, colorfully wrapped box. I knew that it wasn’t for me. There was no way I’d get something that large. No way that a gift for me had been overlooked.

            My brother, on the other hand, would have been given a surprise gift. He would have been the one that my dad would set the box in front of, the one who would get to open a gift while I watched.

            Imagine my shock when the gift landed at my feet! When I stood, the box was nearly as tall as I was. Could it be? Was it possible?

            When told to do so, I gingerly removed ribbon and bow. Ran my fingers along the edge of the paper. As I did so the contents were revealed: it was the doll from the televison.

            She was beautiful. Her golden hair fell to her shoulders. It gleamed in the Christmas tree lights. Her plastic arms were pearly and smooth. She was wearing a blue fitted dress that had eyelet trim along the edge of the sleeves and the bottom of the hem. On her feet were black Maryjane shoes like the ones I wore to church.

            My dad opened the box while I waited, holding my breath. This doll would change my life. There was something about her, something so special that I knew, I understood, that I would never be the same weeping girl. I would be as special as this doll. She would become my best friend, my only friend, as she followed me around the house.

            Once the doll was set free, I yearned to see her walk. But I couldn’t. No batteries came in the box. We had no batteries at home. Because the roads were covered in snow, no batteries could be purchased until the snow melted. All I could do was push her about. You see, on the soles of her shoes were rollers. Tiny black rollers. Four on each shoe.

            In a way, that was somewhat satisfying. I’d never had a doll with rollers. Never had a doll whose eyes opened and closed. Hers did just that. I’d never had a doll that was close to my size. There was so much about her that pleased me, that I didn’t mind, much, that I couldn’t watch her walk.

            Because I couldn’t turn the doll on, my mom insisted that she be returned to her box until batteries could be purchased. I was disappointed, but also relieved. With her in the box, her hair would not be mussed, her dress could not be torn, her legs and arms could not be broken. I also couldn’t sleep with her, but her plastic body was so hard, so dense, that there was no comfort in touching her. The box was hidden in my mom’s closet.

            I don’t remember how many days passed, how many days I had to wait to see the doll walk. But one day, after I’d nearly forgotten that the doll was in safekeeping, my dad returned home from work with batteries.

            After dinner the doll was brought out. I watched, eagerly, as my dad inserted the batteries. I stood over the doll and waited, holding my breath, while my dad flipped the switch.

            A grinding sound began. It sounded like metal on metal as the doll’s right foot slowly, almost imperceptibly moved forward a few inches. The left followed at snail’s pace. Then the right. The left. Ever so slowly she moved, the rollers allowing her to go forward to the horrible grinding sound. Then she died.

            Just like that. She moved a few inches, then died. The batteries only lasted for a few minutes. End of story. The doll was repackaged and returned to the closet.

            Sometime later, when I had definitely forgotten the doll, more batteries appeared. By now I had lost interest. This doll, this longed-for treasure, the one thing that would change my life, was just another huge disappointment in a long list of disappointments.

            I watched the doll move because I was expected to. Once again her feet moved minuscule bits to the grinding sound. Once again the batteries died.

            At this point I was given the option of keeping the doll in my room. I could play with her as long as I was careful not to muss her hair or ruin her clothes. The doll’s thrill had ended on Christmas Day when I saw how little she could do.

            Her eyes did not open or close. Her head did not turn and her arms did not move. She could not sit or bend. She was not cuddly, and since standing or lying down were the only things she could do, I no longer wanted her. She was just a cold, hard, rigid body. An image of me. Or at least what I thought people saw when they looked at me.

            My mom put the doll in her box and took her somewhere. I didn’t care. Never asked about her. Never missed her.

            When I got older I realized that the doll represented my status in the family. Like the doll, I was a disappointment. My mom had wanted a girly-girl but I was a tomboy. I hated dresses and stiff shoes. I loved being outdoors, playing on the swing, imagining great adventures as I flew back and forth.

             I never became the girl she dreamt of. And when I went away to college, like the doll, I was out of sight, out of mind. The doll’s disappearance hinted at what was to become of me.

            I thought I had gotten over the doll, but obviously not. I came to accept that the things we yearn for do not always turn out to be what we really want. Desire is just an elusive feeling that is easily subdued, easily conquered.  

            As we grow older we put away childhood toys and games. We outgrow clothes, change our hair styles, pierce our ears. We fill our hearts and minds with other, more immediate joys. We pretend that we’ve pushed aside those things that let us down, but they lie buried, deep, deep inside.

Favorite Holidays

            As a child with a vivid imagination, I loved all holidays. The Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa were all real to me. Even when I should have been well past the age of belief, there was something about beings that would drop into my house and leave me gifts that kept me transfixed.

            The Tooth Fairy was a cheapskate as she only left a dime or nickel. Even back in the early 1950s that wouldn’t have bought much of anything. On top of that my father exacted a toll, a donation to the church on Sunday: a dime every week. So if the fairy left a dime, the entire amount became a tithe. I hated it.

            I figured out fairly early that there was no Easter Bunny, but I kept up the act, hoping that if I pretended to believe my parents would still hide baskets of candy about the house. Because I have a younger sister, the “Bunny” continued to come well into my teens.

            Christmas was always a special time. Tension in the house eased. There were fewer fights and punishments exacted. Perhaps it was the effect of the colorful decorations, the anticipation of opening gifts or knowing that the reason we celebrated was because of Christ’s birth. No matter the reason, the house was a bit happier and therefore easier to live in.

            We lived in Beavercreek, Ohio when I was in fourth grade. I still believed that Santa flew all over the world leaving gifts for good little girls and boys. I wasn’t the best child as I often fought with my siblings, usually over stupid stuff like who should pick up all the army men or who was responsible for cleaning my sister’s half of the room. I sulked a lot and found solace in the outdoors, away from family and all the troubles that came with them.

            On the last day of school before Christmas break, my class had a party. I don’t remember the details, but because I was not well liked, I doubt that I received any cards or gifts. However, sometime during the course of the party the subject of Santa came up. When my classmates insisted he was imaginary, for some reason, me, the normally mute child, spoke up defending him. I still recall the guffaws, the humiliation.

            I cried all the way home. My mother attempted to console me, but she only confirmed what my classmates had said. She was an impatient woman, so by the time we got home, she was angry at my inability to accept reality. I was sent to my room.

            When my dad got home from work, he tried talking to me. He explained that the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa were all imaginary beings created to entertain little kids. And that I was no longer a little kid. Nothing he said could change my mind.

            After dinner reports of Santa’s journey came on the television. Ah, ha! I was right. There was his sleigh, over Russia. Europe. The Atlantic Ocean. He flew over the eastern United States and was heading toward Ohio. By this time was siblings had gone to bed. My mom as well.

            My dad stayed up with me, watching the night sky for Santa. Somewhere around midnight, when the television went off the air, my dad told me to go to bed. I refused, insisting I needed to stay up so I could catch Santa coming in our house. We had no chimney, but that didn’t dissuade me.

            Eventually I was told to go to bed, and when my dad commanded, you had to obey or face the consequences. I don’t remember much else of that night, but when I got in in the morning and saw gifts under the tree, I tried to believe, but when I was shown store receipts, I was shattered.

            Christmas never held the same joy for me until I had kids of my own. We hid gifts, I’d sneak out the back window and creep around the side of the house so I could go shopping without the kids knowing. I’d pretend to be ill and lock myself in my bedroom, turn on a radio and wrap as many gifts as I could.

            After the kids were asleep, Mike and I would haul everything out. I loved the multicolor packages, the glittering lights, the homemade and store-bought ornaments, the tinsel on the tree. I loved the music, the decorations that Mike spread around, the nativity scene that took center stage in our front room.

            I loved the suspense, waiting until morning when the kids would creep out into the front room and shout, “Santa’s been here.” Mike would get up first to get a fire going in our wood-burning stove. Once it was a bit more comfortable, I’d join the family. We took turns opening gifts, a tradition from Mike’s family. It was wonderful. The looks of joy when it was something they wanted, the disappointment when it was socks or underwear. All the while Christmas music played in the background., reminding us over and over that we were celebrating the Lord’s birth.

            After opening a few gifts each we’d get dressed and go to church. Oh! The church would be so beautiful! Bright colors and poinsettia plants everywhere. Music of joy and comfort and redemption throughout the Mass. A homily seeking peace. Prayers lifted in community. It was, and still is, marvelous.

            Mike’s family has a traditional breakfast, so after church we’d go to his parent’s house for sausage, eggs, and something they called sticky rolls. There’d be gifts to open there as well. Eventually we’d return home, open the rest of the gifts, then watch a new movie.

            In the late afternoon we’d go to my parent’s house for more gifts and dinner. Most of the time my siblings came, filling the house with conversation.

            It made for a long day, but because everyone was on good behavior, (most of the time), things were quite nice.

            The one tradition that we kept up until our kids went off to college was the hiding of the Easter baskets. Mike always found the best spots, but the kids were clever and so didn’t take long to find their baskets under a blanket or stuffed behind a cabinet. The kids hid their candy, making sure that their stash was kept private. Even now as empty-nesters Mike and I love our Easter baskets.

            I think what I like most about those holidays was the good cheer. My family was not peaceful. It was all too easy to do something that angered one parent or the other. I lived in fear of the spankings that followed any incursion, no matter how inconsequential. The discord, the anger, was often put aside when we were expecting the arrival of an imaginary being.

            Perhaps this is why I clung to belief long after my peers. I wanted peace, comfort and joy, just like in many a Christmas song.

Love Me Tenderly

Love me with all your heart

Or bid me goodbye.

Very few have touched me

Even though many have tried.

My mind spins at cyclone speed

Even when asleep, and so

The challenge is complex.

Enough so that I stand alone.

No one by my side as I cry

Dear One, come to me

Each day, every night.

Reaching for that special person,

Looking for the light love,

Yearning for precious caught moments.

Election Day Thoughts

            I still recall my first opportunity to vote for a president. I was not a political activist, but I became one because I wanted to make what I thought was the right choice for all Americans. I attended rallies, workshops, seminars and listened to countless speeches. My university was predominately liberal, but all voices could be heard. And listen I did.

            When it came time to vote, I did so with great pride.

            My candidate won and went on to become a good president, a good leader. He lead with compassion and thought.

            I never regretted my decision even when I changed political parties for the next election.

            In over 50 years I have never missed an election cycle because I feel it is my civic duty to vote. When I study the issues and the candidates I am constantly aware of how, many years ago, not all Americans had the right to vote. If you weren’t a white man, you had no voice. When women finally won the right to vote, many chose to vote as their husbands, fathers or brothers told them to do. Politics was considered above the head of women and discussing political ideas was considered unseemly.

            My candidates didn’t always win, but I told myself that the winners would still represent me, would still keep me in their minds as they brought forth bills. At times I was sorely disappointed. Decisions were made that angered me or negatively impacted me, such as when taxes were increased or boundaries were gerrymandered to enhance the strength of a different political party than mine.

            For the most, part, however, I understood that the voice of the many was what drove decisions, what won elections, what dictated how laws were interpreted and enforced.

            Until 2016. My candidate did not win, not because of popular vote, but because of an archaic system called the Electoral College. I understand why the founding fathers established the College many years ago: it was to make sure that all states had equal voice in choosing who would be president. However, at that time, much of America was rural, with people scattered across vast swaths of land.

            Those “fathers” most likely didn’t expect things to remain static, that America would remain mostly rural. They also probably expected change to take place as time and circumstances dictated. There has been no change. So what we have is a system in which a wide-open mostly rural state has the same two votes as a densely populated state. Essentially this means that not all voters are equal, not all votes count.

            The current president won because of the Electoral College. His “two votes” came from predominately rural states, states that for the most part are mostly white, run by white males. His victory represented those white ideals, not the majority of Americans, not the majority of women or people of color. We have seen the results, over and over as mandates have been signed and laws have been passed or rules have been challenged which weaken the voice of anyone who is not white male.

            The importance of voting has become more and more apparent as the years have passed. During 2016 many sat out the election because they didn’t like a particular candidate, sort of a protest non-vote. There were Independents who chose to vote for candidates who stood no chance of winning because of our primarily two-party system. Because of the many who chose not to endorse the candidate who did win the popular votes, our country ended up with a president who represents a narrow spectrum of America: white males.

            By the time you read this, it will be too late to vote. Hopefully you did turn in a ballot. Hopefully you chose wisely after much thought and research. Hopefully you are pleased with the outcome.

            After the results were announced in 2016, many across America mourned. Hopefully the same will not happen again.

            Americans have always been proud of how we come together, regardless of many diverse circumstances, in pride in our country. We are not perfect: far from it. We make mistakes. Often we learn from those same mistakes, but it sometimes takes many, many mistakes before we do something about it.

            We need to understand that choices have consequences. Just as when one buys a particular brand and model of car after much research, choosing a political candidate requires the same amount of careful research. The difference is that car buying affects only one family while the political candidate affects thousands, millions, billions.

            My hope is that Americans who chose not to vote last election, Americans who chose to vote for a third-party candidate, have awakened to exactly what that wrought.

Creatures of the Night

            When we’re little we’re intrigued and terrified of the evil that lurks in the dark. Monsters are in our closets, under our beds, outside the window and creeping in our yards. We might not know what harm they can cause, but the very thought of them keeps us awake and haunts our dreams.

            The blood thirsty, as portrayed in movies and books, are pretty scary. They creep up on unsuspecting people who are going about their normal business. These monsters pop up behind innocent people, sink their fangs in and drain them of their blood. In some stories the victims turn into vampires and in others they die.

            Stories of vampire attacks are reinforced by strange markings on necks and missing sufficient quantities of blood to cause death. Looking back, though, could the victims have died from a form of plague? Is it possible that the blood oozed from eyes, ears and mouth as a result of being ill?

            Medical science wasn’t too well advanced back in the early plague days and so the causes were blames on nightly beings. Rumors spread that garlic, crosses and driving stakes through the heart could either kill or scare the blood thirsty away. Exorcisms became popular as a way to extricate evil sources who had taken possession of an individual.

            Interestingly enough, an entire “look” identified vampires: fangs, dark tuxedos and billowing capes. Movies helped solidify how vampires behave, including sleeping in caskets and doming out only at night. Vampires had pale skin, huge incisors and red–rimmed eyes.  They hailed from Transylvania and so spoke with an Hungarian accent.

            Some of the most well-known vampires are Dracula, Buffy, Edward in the Twilight series and an entire community of vampires living peacefully among us in the Ture Blood series. Some of the vampires are terrifying because they meet the iconic image: lurking around in a cape in the dark of night. Others were portrayed with a sense of humor, such as the Count on Sesame Street and the bunny in Bunnicula.

            Then there are the zombies, the walking dead who arise out of graves wearing the remnants of their clothes and stalk the living. They march as a horde through the streets killing those that get in their way. Perhaps modern versions of zombies are based on ancient beliefs, particularly that sorcerers could reanimate the dead to do their will.

Zombies are frightening because they seem to operate without purpose. They move without eyes in a slow motion progression across fields and into towns. They are supposed to stink of death, a putrid smell of rot.

Ghosts scare us because they are thought to haunt the living. Some mystics believe that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business. Something or someone is holding them static. Until the issue is resolved, the ghost cannot move on.

Some buildings have a reputation of being haunted. Perhaps an individual died in the master bedroom and the crime was never solved. The “dead” hovers around, drifting in and out of rooms, searching for someone to set them free. Tours exist in these buildings, often taking place at night, hoping to capture a billowing curtain or wisp of a breeze that can be blamed on the ghost.

There are friendly cartoon ghosts who hang around with humans, playing games and causing great fun. Most ghosts are seen as poltergeists, mischievous beings that cause great racket, who knock things over and move things about. They have been blamed for deaths occurring under suspicious circumstances that make little sense and therefor remain unsolved. Believers try to track ghosts with thermometers looking for drops in temperature, by locking themselves inside haunted buildings at night, and using cameras to try to capture their images.

Some of the scariest nighttime creatures are werewolves. During the day they appear to be normal people who look no different than you or I. They have jobs, friends, family and homes. They eat the same food, drink the same drinks and play the same games. Until there is a full moon.

As the moon rises in the night sky, inflicted people morph into werewolves or, in some cases, werebeasts. They prowl about searching for flesh and blood. They are thought to be impervious to ordinary bullets and can be killed by silver bullets, stakes and fire. Like with vampires, it is thought that werewolves can create more by a simple bite.

Parents often scare children into good behavior by the threat of bogeymen coming to get them. They are evil spirits who lucre in kids’ bedrooms, hiding under beds and in closets. If the child misbehaves or doesn’t go to sleep at the proper time, the bogeyman is supposed to leap up and carry they child out of the house, never to set them free.

Goblins often appear in fantasy films and novels. They are portrayed as ugly, slight and often an ugly green. Goblins can be helpful, as in the old tale about the shoemaker or they can be mischievous sprites who like to enter a house just to torment the residents.

Halloween is the night for children to dress up and haunt their neighborhoods. They knock on the doors of strangers and demand treats. Costumes range from the cute to the frightening. Imagine princesses walking down the street next to the grim reaper. All is fair on Halloween: if no treats are given, costumed kids feel it is perfectly okay to trick the homeowners. Trees are covered in toilet paper, windows are soaped, eggs are thrown and graffiti is sprayed on houses and cars. Mischief and mayhem are part of Halloween.

All Hollow’s Eve,  as it’s also called, is the time for goblins and ghosts, witches and wizards, werewolves and vampires to prowl the earth without fear of death. All manner of evil is set loose in the spirit of fun.

While science has been unable to prove the existence of the nighttime haunts, many continue to believe in their existence. Children still fear the bogeyman, but enjoy a good cartoon with ghosts and other spirits. There’s nothing like a scary movie to block out thoughts of work, home and relationships gone bad.

It’s interesting that the same old creatures continue to spook and scare. We fear those creatures of the night because they remind us that there are noises and occurrences that confound even the most learned scientists. Plus we still enjoy a good scare now and then.

Why do we Pray?

            If you believe that God is in control, what’s the point in praying? Some people think that the purpose is to leverage from God a favor for themselves or others. This is a recipe for disappointment for God isn’t a poker game where chips are played to get something in exchange.

            However, if you see prayer as an ongoing conversation with God, you might discover that He has reasons for what He does and that He blesses you in uncountable ways.

            We live in a chaotic world. All around us things happen that we have no control over that affect our lives. Many live in dangerous situations where bombs may fall, bullets may fly, fires may rage and hurricanes may destroy. All of these are out of our hands which is a cause for anxiety. God might not be able to stop the bombs and bullets and fires and winds, but He can offer peace of mind.

            God might not do what you want Him to do at the time that you ask Him to act. For example, if praying for a cure for cancer, it might not happen within your lifetime. However, the cure might come along thanks to research and discovery.

            Doubters of the power of prayer might argue that there’s no reason to pray because God already knows what’s going to happen. For example, let’s say you’ve planned an outdoor birthday party for your child, complete with a giant bouncy house. Guests will gather in the backyard for a picnic buffet. Good weather is a must: not too hot, not too cold, not too windy and definitely no rain.

Should you ask God for these things? Why not, for you never know what He’s thinking. He might believe that an indoor gathering is more intimate or that renting a bouncy house is too extravagant considering your finances. Maybe the earth is desperately in need of a good soaking in order to reduce fire danger in your area. But, just because we don’t know God’s response doesn’t mean we can’t pray for the things that will bring us the most joy.

            Some people pray to thank God for blessings in their lives. That’s what I do. Every day I thank Him for my wonderful husband, my three awesome adult kids and my seven talented grandchildren. I thank Him for financial security, for relative good health, for our home and the safe environment in which we live. I thank Him for the sacrifices He made and the patient way He showed us to believe.

            When our hearts are burdened, we might not be able to hear God. With thoughts swirling through our minds there’s no space for God to intervene, to stick in a few words of comfort.

            If we consider our relationship with God as a conversational one, then we have to be prepared to hear. When we offer our thoughts and concerns to Him, we must trust that He is listening. Patience is the next step, for God is busy and cannot always quickly respond. Building that connection with God takes time. This is why we should pray as often as possible. God may be listening as we barrel down the freeway or pull laundry out of the washing machine. He might be present as we mow the lawn or paint a child’s bedroom.

            Talking to God is like talking with a friend. When the friend speaks we listen. Through those conversations we grow closer together. So it is with God. The more we talk, the more we listen, the stronger the relationship.

            Believers who take delight in their relationship with God, who look forward to those times when they can open their hearts and enjoy being in His presence, are often surprised by the blessings He bestows. His voice might not come in words, but in a gentle touch. He might appear in the grateful eyes of an elderly man that you help with his groceries. He might kiss your cheek as lightly as a feather, but most likely He won’t scream at you from the heavens.

            We pray because Jesus prayed. I am not a Biblical expert so I cannot cite chapter and verse, but I know that He prayed with the woman at the well, at the marriage feast, over the meager loaves and fishes and as He was dying on the cross. If Jesus, the Son of God prayed, maybe we should follow His example.

            You pray because you understand that you are not the almighty, that you cannot do everything on your own. You need help, sometimes in the form of friendly neighbors who help repair a fence, a fellow traveler who stops to replace your tire or the minister who lays his hands on your head and bestows a blessing.

            Prayer is a way of surrendering control over to someone else. We’ve been raised to believe that we are in charge of our destiny and only we can take the steps to accomplish our dreams. Insert God into that equation when you accept that you need Him in the driver’s seat. You need outside help that only He can offer.

            Prayer is not simply talking to the ceiling even though it might appear to others that that’s what you’re doing. Often when we pray we do lift our eyes heavenward because we believe that God is up there, somewhere. Looking up is a way of centering ourselves, of giving us a place to send our needs, hopes and thanks. It’s a way of involving God in our lives so that the connection is maintained.

            Just as we use the phone to text and the computer to chat and share photos, prayer is just another way to reach out in our busy lives. We know that God is aware of what’s happening in our lives, but He wants to hear it from you.

            God knows what He wants to accomplish in the world and in each of our lives. He might be waiting for you to turn to Him or He might be waiting for the right moment to act. Whichever is true, He might be inspired to hurry things up when He hears us speaking to Him. Not demanding, but whispering. Not whining, but giving thanks.

            Don’t be afraid to pray. There are written prayers that many have memorized and those are good. But what if you are not one of those people? Can you still pray and will God listen when you don’t use the prescribed words? Of course.

Prayer is one of the most active things you can do for it requires you to do something, even if it’s a tiny step. Prayer may feel like hard work, but it isn’t. Just like learning to ride a bike, prayer takes practice. Even spending just a few minutes each day allows you to build that relationship with God.

Because there are no rules about how often or how long you must pray, establish your own routines. Maybe after a harrowing drive through traffic, you give a quick thanks for getting you to your destination without incident. Perhaps you’ve tried a new recipe and it doesn’t look like the picture. Offer a prayer that it tastes okay and you might be surprised when your family loves it. Just when it’s time to move the clothes into the dryer, the power goes out. When you offer a prayer for help, God reminds you that you can string a line outside.

Prayer can be a form of praise, it can be an offer of thanksgiving, or it can be asking for forgiveness. Prayer can be devotional, meaning that it is a formal recitation from the Bible or a prayer book, or it can be free-flowing, coming as connected thoughts or random bits of praise, supplication or expressions of need.

Prayer can also be an inspiration for action.  It could get you walking, hiking, dancing, and singing. Prayer might spur you to volunteer to build something, to run for a charity, to donate time, goods or money for those in need.

Because prayer can take place in many forms, in many places, for many different reasons, it has no boundaries. We pray because it feels good to do so. We pray because it fills a need. We pray because it connects us to God.

The reasons we pray are endless, but most importantly we pray because it gives us something in return.