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.

The Perils Confronting Classroom Teachers

            My first teaching position was in a preschool organized by the local recreation department. Students ranged in age from two to almost five. They had to be potty-trained, but they still peed on chairs, floors, carpet and outdoor equipment. They weren’t supposed to arrive sick, but they did. They wiped snot on everything in the room, from puzzles to paint brushes. They coughed on everyone and sneezed without thoughts of the safety of others.

            It wasn’t any better when I taught Kindergarten and Third grade. The older students still had accidents when urine pooled under their desks. One boy opened his desk and vomited inside where textbooks and materials were kept. Another threw up on my desk, covering attendance records, my grade book and lesson plans.

            My next full time position was as a Special Day Class teacher for fourth and five grade students. No longer did I have to deal with urine, but these kids, like the younger ones, loved to hold my hand. Considering where those hands had been, like digging deep inside nostrils, and taking care of bathroom needs, all most likely without using even a tiny bit of soap. It was no wonder that disease spread rapidly and constantly.

            Even when I moved to the high school I was not spared the contamination students brought into the room. They coughed and sneezed without protection. They came with pink eye and the flu. They distributed bronchitis and pneumonia germs with equanimity.

            Throughout all these years and changing circumstances, there was one constant: I fell ill. If I was lucky it was just a slight cold. If not, it was pneumonia. As an asthmatic, both were dangerous.

            Advance into the present. Parents want their kids in school and teachers love sharing the classroom with students, not teaching over the Internet. However, what has changed over the past thirty-plus years since I first took over a classroom? Nothing.

            Parents will still send sick kids to school. Kids will still wipe noses and cough all over everyone. Kids will pee and poop and vomit. Kids will want to sit on the teacher’s lap and hold the teacher’s hand. Kids will contaminate materials despite limited sanitation unless done by the teacher, who is then touching possibly contaminated objects.

            Imagine yourself in that classroom with little or no protection. Most classrooms lack AC and those that do have no windows to open to provide some circulation of air. Most classrooms have windows on one side of the room and only one door, on the same side. Some teachers installed ceiling fans in their rooms, at their own expense, but those fans do not provide sufficient circulation to keep people safe.

            Elementary classrooms generally have a sink, but not all do. Those with sinks often have empty soap dispensers. Unless the district provides sufficient sanitizer, the teacher has to buy it. There is limited cleaning done as maintenance are on a tight schedule.

            At my last position, the room was allotted three minutes of cleaning time. That meant a quick sweep of the floor and empting trash cans. Desks were cleaned by me or not at all. I only had time to clean them once or twice a week, at most. Think about the germs that developed in between?

            My students shared textbooks, crayons, markers, rulers and other materials. They were never cleaned. We had one set of dictionaries that were shared by two teachers. They were never cleaned. I shared an overhead projector with two other teachers. It was never cleaned.

            The entire time I taught, over a span of thirty-three years, we never had a pandemic such as the one the world faces today. The flu, yes. Pink eye, yes. But COVID-19? No.

            Considering that districts pack thirty-four students in most classrooms, squeezed together in poorly ventilated rooms, in-person teaching is a disaster peeking around the corner. With little kids the desks can be further apart, but not six feet. High school students have much bigger bodies and so desks are often inches apart.

            Elementary teachers are figuring out ways to use corrals to keep students’ emissions behind Plexiglas or cardboard. If it’s cardboard, how does the teacher make eye contact when the students’ eyes are hidden? You can’t put cardboard corrals around high school desks. Perhaps Plexiglas would work.

            Who’s paying for these dividers? Cash-strapped districts or the teacher? Are teachers expected to supply these devices just as they buy tissue, crayons and paper?

            While I am glad to be retired so that I am not worried about the germs floating around my classroom, I sympathize with teachers who do. If I was still working, I’d have to quit rather than risk my health.

            Parents want their kids in school. So do teachers. In order to make it work, responsibility has to be shared. Parents don’t send sick kids to school or kids who’ve been exposed to the virus. Teachers try to keep the classroom as safe as they can with the support of the district. Districts provide the PPE necessary to make the environment as safe as possible, even if it means buying industrial-size fans for every classroom.

            This is a huge dilemma for which there is no tidy answer. The virus is predicted to be with us for a while. What are the stakeholders doing to prepare?

            That’s the most important question to the most serious threat to public health that we’ve seen in modern history.

Pandemic Woes?

            The mayors of the San Francisco Bay Area announced the pandemic shutdown as we were returning from a trip. My initial reaction was shock and confusion. What will be open? What would I be able to do? How will this change the life I’ve created since I retired?

            Now that we’re all these months into the pandemic response, I have to admit that not a lot has changed. I still go hiking three days a week with a friend, with masks and social distancing.

My two book clubs are held via zoom, making it fun to share thoughts.

I belong to two critique groups that help with my writing. We also meet via zoom, so I’m still getting ideas about how to sharpen my stories.

My Red Hat group went into hibernation as we are all in the older population. The last month, however, we’ve figured out that we can bring chairs and lunch, sit six feet apart and keep in touch.

One addition that I hadn’t planned on was all the free interviews with authors! Several bookstores host these events on a regular basis.

Yes, the pandemic has changed my life, but alternative activities and methods have arisen that allow some semblance of normality. That’s what life is all about: adapting to changing circumstances.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The author in 1968.

            I recently came across my high school graduation photo from 1968. Granted, it was taken a long time ago, but I still recall how I felt. That time in my life was filled with confused emotions. I was excited about college, but knew nothing in my situation would change because my parents would only allow me to attend the local community college. That meant continuing to live at home, which was not an experience to look forward to.

            I’ve shared stories of what my life was like back then. Let’s suffice it to say that I was miserable. I understood that something was wrong at home, but I lacked the words or experience to understand what it was. As I aged and my knowledge base expanded, I learned the words.

            My mother smothered me and my dad terrified me. I was a middle child, close in age to an older brother who tormented, teased and at times, physically hurt me. I was many years older than a sister who commanded my mother’s attention and could manipulate mom into believing fantastical stories about the evil things I did when mom wasn’t looking.

            My sort-of-safe world was school. No one teased me there because I was invisible. My clothes were made from recycled material, pieces cut out of hand-me-down clothes. My mother chose the styles, so everything was old-fashioned and ultraconservative. I wore saddle shoes that had gone out of style years earlier but they were the only ones I was allowed to have.

            When I look at that photo I see a young woman with a forced smile. She’s showing just enough teeth to categorize it as a smile, but not enough to show joy. The woman is wearing wing-tip glasses which were in vogue back then and her hair is teased and lacquered in a somewhat popular style.

            When the photo appeared in the yearbook, anyone flipping through the pages might stop for a moment and wonder about the pearls. Would they think my family had that kind of money or that they were a gift from a relative? Or would they correctly surmise that they were a studio prop? Assuming they guess correctly that I never owned something so fine, then they might be able to see through the mask.

            I walked the high school halls as a nobody. Academics distinguished me from my peers, but in a social world, I blended into the bricks. To the best of my ability I styled my hair in a contemporary do. I was allowed to choose glass frames similar to what others wore.

            However my physical presence exacted no reaction. No smiles, nods, or words of greeting. I was alone. For four years.

            Is that loneliness reflected in my eyes? In the fake smile? The tilt of my head?

            I think it is, but then I walked in those shoes. All I wanted then was for someone to see me as a valuable human being, worthy to be called friend. Because of my poor self-esteem ingrained and reinforced at home I lacked the ability to initiate a relationship. The person would have to speak first, look my way first, nod first, wave me over first.

But who would want to do that? In high school you are who you are friends with. Anyone wanting to be known would not have called me over. You don’t invite a nobody into your social circle if you’re hoping to rise the ladder. My presence would either have knocked them down a rung or held them on the floor with one foot raised.

You didn’t know me then, so when you look at the picture you see a happy soon-to-graduate girl who’s got her hair done, a smile on her face and a glint in her eyes.

Looks can be deceiving.

Preparing for “The End”

            My husband and I think we’ve got everything lined up for when we die. We’ve taken care of the house and our important possessions. We chose the executor. We gave each of our kids a copy of the paperwork.

            The kids know where I store my passwords, but are there details we haven’t thought of?

            Our kids will become our accountants, bookkeepers, lawyers, house cleaners and detectives. Is this what we want? Or is there something else we can do?

            My husband put together a binder with financial information. Did he include electric bills? Car and house insurance?

            We both completed Medical Directives and gave them to Kaiser. But we haven’t updated them recently. Have our opinions changed now that we are older? Perhaps. That means that we both have to update them…soon.

            Who should get my “real” jewelry? What if my bird is still alive? What happens to her?

            Do my kids know what are religious preferences are in terms of music, funeral or not? Who should they invite? Is it worth it to pay for an obituary in the paper?

            What if one of our kids wants to move to California and live in our house? That impacts the other two. What if one wants my husband’s truck or my car? The truck is old, so probably not, but it still runs pretty good. My car is newer. It would be perfect for a grandkid. Where are the pink slips?

            I could go on and on, but it’s better that I take action. But I don’t like thinking of the end. So I procrastinate, putting it off for another time.

            When I’m supposed to be sleeping, these are the thoughts that plague me.

            What about you? Are your papers in order?

Anything Goes

            The first time I heard this expression I didn’t think it applied to me. I was a follower of rules. Because of my home environment, I understood that straying resulted in physical punishment, ranging from being beaten with a belt, shaken, slapped and humiliated.

            The concept of anything goes was as foreign to me a Greek. There was nothing in my lexicon that allowed me to process the meaning.

            When I left home to attend college, for the first time in my life, no one hovered over me telling me what to do or ridiculing the decisions I made. It was terrifying and rejuvenating at the same time. If I wanted to skip a meal, I could. If I felt like sleeping in and not making my bed, my mother was not there to chastise.

            In essences, I could do whatever I wanted. The caveat was that I had to attend classes and earn grades good enough to graduate with a degree.

            When the Vietnam War protests began, I could march and carry signs expressing my opinion, knowing that my parents would be horrified. There was nothing they could do to stop me. It was only when smartly dressed me in tight fitting expensive suits with ear pieces arrived on campus, did I retreat from the movement. At that moment I couldn’t do whatever I wanted because I knew they were keeping track and most likely taking pictures.

            Once I was an adult, anything goes ceased to have meaning. I had to be present for my kids. I had to forsake my own wishes to teach in order to make sure the kids had food, opportunities to learn and explore, clean clothes and a responsible adult overseeing them. I did haul them to pottery classes, preschool, parks, parties, sports practices and games. I made sure they got to school on time with clean clothes.

            In other words, I was back to being a follower of rules.

            One advantage of getting old is that once again, rules disappear. Anything Goes is truly my motto. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I can choose to not do something as well. My life is my own to monitor. I can go hiking with a friend or walk with my husband. I can write or read a book. I can send cards to family and friends or laze in front of the television. Laundry can stack up in the hamper until I feel like washing it.

            The only monitor I have is me.

            I hope that sometime during a person’s life they can fall under the umbrella of Anything Goes. It’s a powerfully liberating concept. Enjoy!

Research Junkie

When I finally learned to read I discovered that libraries are an endless source of information. I trolled the nonfiction section looking for anything that caught my interest. The first that I explored was my Native American heritage. Because my mom didn’t know what tribe we claimed, I read every book on the shelves.

I became an “expert” on all things related to the first people. I knew what foods they ate, the clothes they wore, how they traveled, what their homes looked like, all depending upon where they lived. Little did I know that those old books contained limited knowledge recorded as fact.

What was important, however, was the development of an interest in research that would last a lifetime.

I reveled in projects assigned by teachers. Write a paper on a famous person? It might take several trips to the library before I could settle on one.

Trace Hannibal’s journeys? No problem. Research Greek architecture? The same.

When I was at college I discovered the wealth of information in the stacks. I might have a broad idea for a paper which exploded once I got to reading journal after journal. I would sit on the cold floor and pull down one compilation, then another. I’d move to another row and resume researching.

The problem was that I loved the process of discovery so much that I couldn’t stop. It became a compulsion that I still fight to this very day.

For example, I needed to find out the names of countries during medieval times. That was easy. One click and a detailed map popped up. But then I needed an island in Europe, maybe off the coast of Spain. There are islands but I didn’t recognize the names.

I typed in an old name and research appeared! How wondrous! How clever! How enchanting.

But that wasn’t getting me any further than where I currently am.

I moved on to sample names of cities. That was an endless source of information.

What about names of rivers? Mountains?

What was the weather like? How did that influence clothes worn? What kinds of shoes did people wear back then? What did they ate and drink? How did they entertain themselves?

I got stuck in this cycle of discovery that lead me from one topic to another.

When my eyes got tired, I forced myself to stop research.

But then I moved on to another project: fining a recent photo of my daughter. That meant opening folder after folder hoping to find something good enough to print. I didn’t find one, but I did discover images that were ten years old that I would never use for any purpose. They are now gone.

I sometimes wonder why I love research so much. I’ve analyze whether or not it’s a form of procrastination. Do I delve into these projects in order to avoid that which I should be doing? Or am I really engaging in productive work? It’s usually a little of both.

On the other hand I am a curious person. I love meeting new people so that I can learn what their life is like. Part of this is to weigh how my life measures up, the other is to expand my knowledge base. The more information you have stored away, the more conversant you can be.

When I catch myself researching I now force myself to pause and reflect. Do I really need that information in order to write the story I am working on? If yes, then I give myself permission to continue. If the answer is no, then I quit even though it’s painful to do so.

It’s also an addiction. It’s not harmful the way drugs and alcohol can be, but it does prevent me from engaging in those activities that are most meaningful, that bring the most joy.

As with any addiction you need a rope to hang on: something to grab ahold of while an outside force moves you away. For me it can be a phone call or going for a walk with my husband. It could be a news program or a book that I can’t put down.

When the lifeline arises, I have to tear myself away. That’s why I consider myself a research junkie. When I fall into the allure, I need help to get out of the mire otherwise I will spiral out of control.

Born to Shine

Imagine how different the world would be if every child, no matter how rich or poor, heard those words on a regular basis. Think about how special they would feel after their guardian tucked them in at night and spoke those words.

There might be no bullies because, if you feel worthy, you have no need to belittle others. No one would be afraid of trying new things, of being rejected, of being pushed aside.

What a beautiful place the world would be!

As a child I never felt special in any positive way. What if my mom had told me that I was born to shine? Would I have been a different child? Would my attitude toward school have been different? My grades better? When meeting people, would I have been more outgoing because that confidence sat on my shoulders?

I know that I never said those words to my children. I wish I had. I did, however, sign them up for classes and swim lessons and sports hoping that they would discover something that they could enjoy for the rest of their lives. I helped with schoolwork and met with some of their teachers. I volunteered at their schools, as a team mom in little league, as a scorekeeper in baseball and as a soccer coach and referee. I did these things because I wanted to share those experiences with them, but also because I enjoyed it.

Born to Shine. Powerful words. My children grew up to be wonderful adults. They all contribute to society in different ways, yes, but they are helping future generations shine.

If I could go back in time, instead of reading books aloud as I cradled my kids, I would tell them that they were born to shine. As I watched them struggle in sports or academics, I’d say those words and then watch the effect they had.

Even though I don’t recall a single word of praise or encouragement, I told myself that I was born to shine. Perhaps not in those exact words, but the message was the same. Often I thought I was lying to myself, but I persevered nonetheless. When I was feeling inferior to my siblings, I’d think of the things that I could do better than them.

For example, I was the better athlete at a time when girls played few sports. I picked up languages quite quickly and enjoyed learning about different places and cultures. I was an excellent math student, so good that I got a full-ride scholarship.

But I also struggled with self-esteem and self-confidence. What if my dad had told me I was born to shine? Those words would have meant more to me than a bucket of gold. I would have known that he saw something valuable in me. My self-esteem would have risen. I wold have liked myself better.

Born to shine. I wish that every parent would say those words to their kids, no matter how old. Over and over, look them in the eye and say born to shine. Pat them on the back, give them a hug, turn it into a song. Say the words weekly, daily, hour by hour.

Slowly, ever so slowly the world would change.

Born to shine. Power.

Reflections on Faith

My parents were Catholics when convenient. They baptized us as infants because it was expected and demanded by family. Going to church, however, didn’t begin until it was time to enroll my older brother in Catholic elementary school. The parish checked tithing records and saw that my parents didn’t donate regularly. Once they established a pattern, then my brother could attend.

I enrolled a year later, no questions asked.

School began with daily mass. Prayer occurred at regular intervals. Massive school-wide processions took place with regularity, rain, snow or shine. Students were disciplined with ruler, clicker, social isolation and words. We studied the saints and wrote countless reports about our favorites. All art was related to church and church teachings. No frivolous country scenes. Only crucifixions or stained-glass windows.

We read the bible, not contemporary literature except for the occasional Dick and Jane and see Spot run. We were conditioned to believe that church was our life now and in the future. Every year priests and nuns and missionaries spoke to our entire school about a life of service.

Throughout all these years I often attended Sunday Mass, but only if there wasn’t an excuse to skip it. It crops had to be planted or harvested, no Mass. If it was too snowy, icy or rainy, no Mass. Too hot? No Mass. Memorial Day? No Mass only endless visits from one cemetery to another. Relatives to visit? Well, you get the picture.

My parents made sure we received our first Communion. We processed in with our classes, hands neatly folded with a white prayer book nestled between and a white plastic rosary draped over the tips of our fingers. My brother got by with a white school shirt but I was stuffed into a stiff Communion dress and a tight-fitting veil pinching my puffy cheeks.

Once that milestone was accomplished we once again attended Mass when my dad saw fit. Interestingly enough, ten cents out of the quarter weekly allowance was handed back to my dad as our donation to the church we never attended.

My brother and I stayed at the Catholic school through Confirmation. My teacher, a strict nun, made sure I understood that this sacrament sealed my commitment to a life of service to God and church. I took it quite seriously. When the annual recruitment took place, I was ready to sign up for a monastic life of solitude and prayer. I envisioned myself in a place of peace, a place of reflection, a place devoid of the tension which was my home life. My parents wouldn’t let me go.

When we moved to California in 1964 my dad began his search for the fastest mass in town. He took us over the hills to Half Moon Bay and Pacifica where the priests spoke of fire and brimstone, damnation of everlasting hell. They terrified me.

We tried churches in San Mateo and Burlingame. We didn’t fit in those well-to-do parishes due to our extreme poverty. He found one in San Bruno that he liked until the priest asked for regular donations. There were two in South San Francisco:  one which was supposed to be our assigned parish and the other, a tiny one, with a thirty-minute mass. That’s the one my dad chose. In and out, over and done.

When away at college I discovered the Neumann Center, a tiny chapel on campus with a welcoming atmosphere. The music was contemporary with drums, guitars, keyboard and cymbals. Dancing in the aisles. Hallelujahs and lots of praise be to God. I fit in.

My husband grew up in a family that attended mass faithfully regardless of whether even when they had to sludge to church through downpours.  Going to church was part of who he was. It influenced his thinking, his behavior, his attitude toward others.

His beliefs built our family into who we are today. If we were camping, he found a church. Skiing? Church. Traveling? Right, church. Sometimes we drove for miles to find a church, but we got there nevertheless.

For almost 46 years Sunday Mass has been an integral part of our relationship. In fact, when I travel on my own, I seek out church and attend.

Not being able to attend due to the coronavirus takes me back to my childhood days of any excuse to miss going to Mass. Except for one caveat: this isn’t voluntary, but enforced.

We found a Mass on television, which is a nice substitute, but there’s a huge difference between sitting in your family room and being in the church building. There are stained glass windows in the TV church and statues and the readings and the service, but the lack of physical presence takes you away from the reverence, the spirituality.

Today things changed for me. I was asked to be the lector for today’s Sunday Mass. I put on a dress and necklace. Studied my readings. Made sure my hair was neatly combed. Put on my mask when I entered the church. Three others were there: the parish secretary, the parish office manager and the choir director. The church felt hollow. Voices echoed.

But the pews were there. Candles, flowers, statues, stained glass windows, all the things that identify that church as mine. When the priest entered and the service began I was filled with awe. Several times my eyes filled with tears. Singing with the director took me back to a few weeks ago when I’d be standing with five other choir members, lifting our voices in praise. Now there was just two of us.

The priest shared a time when he had strayed from God and how, when the call came, how powerful it was. His words carried me back to  my childhood when it wasn’t me that chose to stray, but circumstances beyond my control, and how powerful it was when I found God in my late teens. He spoke for all of us, reminding us to talk to Jesus.

Next Sunday we’ll watch the television Mass once again. It won’t be the same, but I’ll share the experience with my husband, the man who taught me that attending church was a powerful connection to our faith in God.

In these times we need reminders that there is someone up there, someone ready to listen when we’re ready to pray.