Category Archives: Friends

Praying towards beautiful

Girl Interrupted at her music, by Johannes Vermeer. 1660/61. Public domain.

Girl Interrupted at her music, by Johannes Vermeer. 1660/61. Public domain.

Not too long ago, I went for a walk with a friend. She linked our arms without asking if I wanted to, although by the way, I did. If there was a plan, it wasn’t mine. My plan would not have chosen then to talk about my list of insecurities, the number of rivers, or how deep they run. But one thing led to another and that is what happened.

We were by the water. The wind was blowing. I didn’t bother zipping up my coat. What was the point? Could a coat have made me any less naked? For good measure and because why not, I threw in some comments about clothes. Not a lot mind you. But I acknowledged that they existed and perhaps the ones I owned were not my favorites anymore.

My prayer for you, she said as we walked home. What I’m going to pray, she told me, is that somehow you will be able to see yourself the way I see you. As beautiful person that you are, and . . . she said a lot of other things but I got stuck there. On that word.

Tears filled up most of me except my eyes. Our walk came to an end and we went our separate ways. I appreciated the kindness of her prayer. But the hoping was beyond me. Not that I doubt the power of prayer exactly. It’s just I’ve been me for a long time. The idea of someone wanting to pray that for me moved me, but I can’t say I was thinking it would make a difference.

Okay, I said to my husband that night. I know this makes no sense. Even I don’t know why I’m saying it. But the thing is . . .I’m, well, it’s just that . .. well, I think I’m going to buy some clothes. And nobody is making me. I actually feel like it.

The practical man said he didn’t much care how or why or who was getting through to me, but it sounded good to him.

There is so much I don’t know. How we get to places where we live in closets for so long that we’ve long since given up even trying to see if we can turn the door handle. What I know is that when the door opened, the light was blinding and unexpected. I might have felt shaky, but I wanted to stand up and walk out.

The miracles we most need take place not in shining iridescence, but in the here and now that we can touch. In earthy, messy, broken places where we love well and poorly both. In between fear, frustration, and not knowing how to fix it.

Love calls, inviting us to rise. With little acts of courage we go out. My little act is a confession. (Here too, grace simplifies the matter. One need not have courage for the last step, merely the next one. That act begets the grace for yet another and so on.) So I confess. I liked the prayer my friend prayed. Replayed it in my head. Drank it like a thirsty woman handed a  glass of cold water after a long walk in the heat of the day. I confess. I want that same prayer answered. To love’s great beckoning. Anointing. I want to rise.

And so, to the raised eyebrows of my well developed social conscience, I’m going shopping. I’ve two failed attempts to my name so far in the last week, but that’s okay. I’m not sure it matters that I can’t quite manage this one alone. What matters is that I know what I’m doing and why. I’m buying clothes because sometimes love needs a marking. Needs an anchor thrown down along the portside to remind us of its presence. To stake a claim on its other-worldly power to heal, undo, make right, redeem, and raise our tears from ashes into strong, and free, and beautiful.

Temporary redirection

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Dear friends,

I am taking a few weeks away from the blog to devote my writing hours exclusively to my novel. The projected publishing date of said children’s work remains unknown. I surmise from various writing self-help pieces, that the chances of publishing before 2050 significantly increase if I don’t leave the manuscript almost finished yet unattended for consecutive months. If possible, I am keen to affect a nearer outcome. Ideally, I would be doing a little County Road 21 writing, a little of the novel, and a few other projects. However, extenuating circumstances of late have squished my writing time into a space too small for very much diversity.

Not terribly optimistic, but nevertheless determined, I sally forth on the chance that concerted, focused effort might find my novel in association with a printing press sometime this decade. If all goes well, I’ll be back in two or three weeks. If all does not go well, I will host a bonfire of all manuscripts I have ever attempted and roast all the chickens that aren’t laying any more over it.

As crazy as it sounds, I’ll honestly miss you. Strange given your rather invisible nature as my readers. I picture you all as a whole, but also as people in living rooms holding cups of coffee. Somewhere in the imagining it feels like we make each other real. I’m telling myself that the nature of this reader/writer relationship (which we’ve engaged in without any kind of formal contract about mutual expectations – perhaps this is part of the appeal?) can bear some temporary changes. That is the hope anyway.

Blessings on you all. Having made the decision to take time away, I was of course hit with an idea in the night that it pained me not to get up and write about. Luckily, I can no longer remember it. If it returns, I’ll put it on a list and tell you about it when I return.

Wish me well, my friends. And see you in a few weeks –

Michelle

 

Surprises in the ER

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I had some time this week to visit with a friend of mine. She’s quite a bit older than me (double my age or so) and we’ve known each other a long time. Some of the stories we tell each other we’ve told before but we don’t let that bother us. Sometimes, despite the hours and years of talking, we run into stories we’d not thought to tell. I knew she’d had cancer and a breast removed a few years ago. I knew she’d had her appendix removed in emergency surgery at age 86. But until this week, I’d never heard this story.

My friend was on a gurney, prepped for the surgery to have her appendix removed. She was waiting in a hallway with the anesthesiologist beside her. What they were waiting for she wasn’t sure, but there they were when a woman a few doors away came storming into the hallway. The woman was in her sixties and completely naked from the waist up. My friend says there were white round pieces taped around her chest from whatever monitors she was being hooked up to. She was angry and loud, with ample breasts swinging. The  hospital staff wasted no time in escorting her uncovered self back to her room.

With the hallway quiet again, the anesthesiologist leaned down to my friend. “Should we worry that you’ll put on a show like that?” he asked softly.

My friend, one of the few senior citizens in the ER with appendicitis that year, says she doesn’t know what came over her. “I couldn’t put on a show like that,” she saidback, “I’ve only got one.”

Anesthesiologist lost the ability to speak. When nurses asked him what had happened, he could only point to my friend. He was laughing too hard to answer.

Whether, wherever, the weather

This is me, casually sharing my insights with interested parties.

Me sharing my insights with interested parties.

I’ve been paying attention to Canada. The impending arrival of friends from a different culture  has me looking for easy ways to break down societal basics. Last week at the gas station, I stumbled on to something.

 

Beautiful day, isn’t it? said the man at the cash.

Lovely, I said. And it’s been the nicest fall.

Hasn’t it? he said. He looked at his monitor and waited. The gas is still pumping, he apologized, You can’t pay yet.

That’s okay, I said. I just came in to stay warm while my husband pumps. No sense in two of us being cold out there.

Yeah, said the man. It’s just miserable out there today, isn’t it?

 

Dear friends from afar,

Canadians aren’t cold: they’re reserved. Except when they really are cold. Then you’ll find them quite warm. We bond here in bad weather. If you’re lucky your first winter, you’ll be to be trapped somewhere with a bunch of cold people. By the time you get out, you’ll be best friends with everybody.

Weather is the gold standard of Canadian verbal exchange. It works with hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, and hope I never see you again. Discussion of windchill, the chance of precipitation, and road conditions are appropriate when making friends, looking for a job, asking for directions, buying a hot dog, or offering condolences on the death of a loved one.

Think of conversations about weather as a kind of social interaction Band-Aid.  The temperature on your porch when you got up at 3 in the morning can tidy up an awkward moment with ease.

You don’t have to speak coherently about the intermingling of warm and cold fronts.  The points that matter are:

1. It’s cold. (Even if it’s not, just say it is. Being cold is part of what makes us superior to the country south of us. It doesn’t matter that they have areas typically colder than southern Ontario. #Americans have the film and music industries: we own the weather.)

2. It’s hot. (You only get to say this for one or two months so practice more on the part about cold.)

3. It’s snowing.

The most important thing to understand about weather is that it’s personal. Frost might have killed one person’s plants and only dusted another’s. People might know it was windy, but they don’t know how many branches fell on your yard. Snow banks are best measured in relatives. Your kindergarten son’s waist or your Aunt Myrtle’s head.

Whatever else they teach you in your ESL class (English as a second language), make sure they tell you what you need to know to talk about weather. When you first get here, people might try to tell you how long the winter is going to be, or how bad it was last year. People especially like to talk about the worst winter disasters they’ve lived through. If that happens, they’re not trying to scare you. What they’re trying to say is, welcome to Canada; you’re one of us now.

 

Barn dances

 

The best representation I could find of the family this week . . .

 

 

 

 

I don’t know how someone thought to put the music in this second piece with the Peter Paul Rubens picture, but I’m glad they did. To me it captures the juxtaposition between the hundreds of dances we do and our profound longing for deeper meaning and reality. We engage in the here and now, and yet we sense something beyond us that is bigger and more beautiful. We reach for one another, twist and turn. Meanwhile in all the jostling, the shape of divine love walks among us whispering an invitation.

 

 

This last offering was a recommendation from my oldest who says it’s the beautiful piece out there.

 

Epic battles vs. the long game

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

My husband looks forward to Sundays from September to January with great anticipation. Watching NFL games is like reading poetry for him. Unfortunately, his poetry does not fit softly around the edges of my preferred Sundays  (quiet slow spaces and outside time).

In the early years of our marriage, I spent considerable energy perfecting my approach to the epic battle. He for his part developed an outer disposition impervious to assault and especially predisposed to withstanding a battle irregardless of intensity. The matter of Sundays is one for the long game.

I don’t fight about football (this is the goal), I plan parallel things that are infinitely more fun. I’ve taken kids for walks, tennis,  and canoeing, organized cookie making and board games. This past Sunday held promise of two or three options until they all fell through. Disappointment sat with us for a minute or so and then a rather epic response occurred.

When my brother and I were young, we would bike with friends for miles to the top of a very large hill. The very last house where the road ended belonged to a couple from our church with a boundless supply of ice cream cones on hand. We never asked, but they always offered and the thrill never wore off. Some thirty years later, the rides remain bright in the fabric of our legends. So to follow suit . . .

Boy one was away. That left me with a seven year old and an almost 10 and 12 year old. We didn’t have a hill, but we had a goal: 22.6 kilometers and ice cream when we got home (14 miles for the unmetric friendly). My contingency plan for failing young legs was a drive by from the NFL man after an hour and a half of cycling. (Our destination coincided with his father’s superior NFL cable package so there was no worry of him minding the wait for those of us who went the distance.)

The first seven km was our roughest road. The traffic was fast and staying well out of the way involved plowing our bikes into thick gravel 482 times. After that, it was an absolutely perfect fall day. The voices asking how much longer until Dad came by to pick them up went silent. We saw a mailbox shaped like a miniature barn. we saw a house set back from the road we’d never seen before (even though we go by it every day). We passed three bee hives and a lot of dogs, none of whom chased us. We discovered that if you drive your bike over a dead frog, it can make a popping sound and that persons equipped with easy apparatus for road side peeing can stop twice in one bike trip for that purpose, even though they went before they started just like the rest of us.

When my husband came by as planned to pick up the weary, all proudly declined. We biked over brand new black top on a fairly deserted road and followed Boy two’s lead by reaching out with our toe to touch the orange striped construction barrels on the berm as we rode by. (Myself, I prefer the sound of toe tapping construction barrels to popping frogs.) We arrived together, proud as can be of our accomplishment, rested, snacked, then loaded our bikes in the car and went home for ice cream.

After this the moral of story and the point of the long game falls apart. Glowing with pride but rather tired, we sat contented without trying on the couch beside the NFL man (who was cutting up apples), to watch the little men in their helmets running around the painted lines and plastic field.

Shoes

picture compliments of morguefile.com

picture compliments of morguefile.com

I have been pondering shoes. I got into a conversation with someone a little while ago about photographing shoes instead of faces. Now I keep seeing shoes.

My feet are familiar with four sets.

  1. Sneakers. Black with pink Nike check. They impressed me on my sister-in-law’s feet a few years ago. She said it was okay to buy the same pair.
  2. Black shoes. I wear these anytime it is cold and can’t wear sneakers. They have a sturdy rubber sole and could have been worn by my grandmother, ergo, their style is timeless.
  3. Brown fancy sandals (by fancy I mean not a birkentock):  1/4 flat sole. Three strands of leather. Worn when it is too hot for the black shoes
  4. Rubber boots (also black). The gold standard of farm footwear.

 

I checked and found the following buried in my closet. Writing about them may push their expiry date.

  1. Brown loafers (Too big. Fall off if I don’t walk carefully.)
  2. Blue sneakers (Too big. Kept for sentimental reasons)
  3. High tops (Too small. Kept because I don’t like the idea of not owning good basketball shoes.)
  4. Old black shoes (recently revived by shoe polish they strongly resemble current black shoes.)
  5. Ugliest pair of brown sandals ever (worn only when I can think of no other ways to punish myself.)
  6. Blue heavy duty sandals (quite ripped and discolored. worn if there is water within a mile and I can pretend they are just my water shoes)

 

I probably don’t have to spell out the fact that my life has not involved a great deal of interest in shoes. Now that I am noticing them, shoes everywhere are catching me off guard.

Take B’s shoes, for instance. Each pair I have noticed are woefully unprepared for fight or flight and surprisingly not the least bit concerned about it. They look smart – as in intelligent. Can a shoe do this or am I projecting? I would not describe B as someone who sashays across a room. Her shoes, on the other hand, well, B’s shoes are unapologetically having a good time. My shoes look at each other sideways. Are they supposed to be having fun?

RA would no more wear a shoe devoid of style than one would chop off a toe. It isn’t done. But style, I learned, is not enough. There is a running shoe for actually jogging and a different one entirely for hiking in the park. From this I infer there to be shoes made for church but not for weddings and vice versa. Could there be shoes for dinner dates and movies? Concerts and parties? My black shoes pretend not to be curious.

J’s shoes are stylish but understated. Always sharp and classy, one can imagine them being gracious, even compassionate towards the serviceable shoe. All my shoes appreciate the vote of confidence.

C loves the cute shoe. C sees particular shoes in relation to specific situations, but unlike RA (whose primary concern is the correct choice) C’s shoes are about celebration. If they could sing or dance, C’s shoes would do the cha cha.   Celebrate with me, they say. Life is good . . .  and even when it’s not, you’ll feel better looking at me!   None of my shoes know how to respond to this. What self respecting shoe would want to be looked at?

One day the sun comes up and moves across the sky just like the day before. The next day, I unwittingly discover an alternate world about five feet below my line of vision. Unbeknownst to me, it has co-existed all around me for years. My feet are asking questions. My shoes are not sure what to expect.

 

Not alone

compliments of Kenia from morguefile.com

compliments of Kenia from morguefile.com

We are not alone. None of us are. We’re stumbling in the dark trying to figure out how to be it or do it. Hold on to it or let go of it. Sometimes we don’t even know what it is –  except we’re sure that everyone else does.

Voices whisper that there is no one like us. No one would understand. We are lonely and afraid to be ourselves. We live expecting someone to come through the door and tell us we’re not doing it right.

If it’s not we, at least it’s me. My childhood was soaked through with confusion. Life was a puzzle with the box missing and it was never clear which picture we were trying to assemble. I prayed, went to the library often, and wished I knew who to talk to.

As far as I could tell, talking wasn’t what people did. It took years for me to understand that this was because most people assume that they are alone. That they believe their feelings of inadequacy (and all the proofs thereof)  are unique to them alone. Life was, I discovered, a great deal of pretending. Performance and appearance are some of our world’s most sacred values.

I’ve made some new friends who don’t have it all together. They don’t try to hide their struggles. No one has any energy or interest in pretense. My friends are giving me something that I want and without meaning to, I find myself studying them, trying to understand it.

This caught my eye in a paragraph from writer, Heather King talking about what we have to give each other. We have, she says, “our wounds, our holy longing, our groping in the dark.”

What we have to give each other is the truth that we are not alone.  Despair and shame assail, but against the sharing of “our wounds and holy longing,” they are rendered mute by the voice of love.

It’s like we live in ditches, sitting up to our armpits in mud with the garbage of every car that’s gone by squishing up against us. We can see neck and shoulders of the person across the road. We’re equipped with a washcloth, a voice, and a curling iron. Standard etiquette is to keep your face clean, your hair curled, and make frequent reference to the sunshine or the birds.

One day the unthinkable happens. The woman across the way stands up from her stretch of supposedly manicured lawn. The ear rings you’ve admired from afar are the last nice thing about her. Not only is she muddy, she only has one leg. A diaper and a squashed coke can are stuck in the mud on her.

Relief floods you. Tears wash down your face. You are not alone.

In your ditch, there might be diapers and coke cans. In mine, there is a winter’s worth of dog poop, some very frustrated dreams, uninvited levels of emotion over little things, a lot of uncertainty, some recurring unhealed mess that is completely fine until the days it isn’t (which really ticks me off unless it makes me cry), shame, self doubt, and an abiding loneliness. My bounce backer function is also behaving rather erratically these days.

We are not alone. This is the truth that we have to offer each other. These are the words of our gift until the final word which is love.

Jr. prophets and teachers

compliments of morguefile.com by dave

compliments of morguefile.com by dave

A week ago I was on a very well planned vacation. I knew everything about who, what and when. There were lists of options and lists of set itineraries. I knew it so well I stopped looking at it.

And then my brain missed an entire day. The plan was to leave Georgia at 6:00am sharp on Thursday morning. Somewhere in there I started saying, “Thursday is our last day.” This despite weeks of excited planning about meeting a friend along our route on that same Thursday. It was 7:15am Thursday when I realized that I had invited my aunt and her family out for the day to a home in which we no longer had accommodations. 7:15 when I realized that there was no physical way to meet my friend by  1:00. We weren’t packed. No one had eaten.

I felt sick. This does not happen to me. Except it was. My aunt was looking forward to another day with us. The much anticipated hours with my very dear friend were being cut down to very little. There was no way of fixing it with either of them.

We drove to my aunt’s home. She met me dressed to the nines in preparation for our visit. I explained the situation and apologized. “It’s alright,” she said. But it wasn’t alright. We visited there for an hour. I wiped my eyes and tried to hold it together. We said goodbye and got on the road. I set to crying in earnest. My husband could not get past the idea that eating a sausage egg Mcmuffin was the answer. I ate it and he felt better.

There was no way to undo anything. Now we were late. For more than 7 hours we were late. I am not wired that well for ongoing failure. I’m big on making things up to people but there wasn’t any way to make it up. Until 5:30pm we were not there yet.

It should be called a good day. Although shorter than intended, the visits with both my aunt and my friend were deeply meaningful. I was still muttering about my massive failures getting ready for bed when my oldest daughter began singing softly.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do . . .

It’s a song Girl two brought it home from school a few years ago. Turns out it’s from Sesame Street:

               Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do

               Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too

               Big people small people matter of fact all people

               Everyone makes mistakes so why can’t you?

 

At home a few days later, I was telling the story of Michelle’s most awful disaster. “My aunt, my friend, the kids, they all forgave me, but it was awful . . .”

Which is when a freckled eavesdropper marched over to the sink where I was going dishes and tapped me on the arm.

“You know what I noticed,” said my youngest daughter on her tip toes so only I would hear her. She is missing her two middle teeth at the top. “Everybody else forgave you but you didn’t forgive yourself.”

She turned on her heel quickly and walked away, armed folded across her chest the way she does when she is sure that she is right.

 

Chicken coops and sunshine

Really, I promise we will fix up the outside of the coop this summer (and paint it)

The first two of many brave chickens. (And really, face lift for outside of the coop is  coming…)

I received the following in an e-mail this week:

You worry too much, woman. You call YOURSELF a square peg. No one else does. We love you dearly. Know that. Believe that. The burden you place on yourself is far harder to carry. Far. Harder.

Considering how completely together I have it, there is probably a sense of shock that someone would feel the need to say this to me. Or not.

I read the e-mail. Cocked my head (kind of like a chicken) and read it again. Huh. I read it one more time and then started folding laundry so I could think. I called my husband.

. . . I got this kind of weird e-mail. Now I’m walking around with this crazy thought in my head. Like what if I’m not a failure? Maybe I’m not even failing. Maybe the book taking so much longer than I ever thought doesn’t mean anything other than long sagas are frustrating and things take time even when you don’t want them to. Maybe I’m not doing anything wrong.  Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe everything is ok and I can just keep plugging away at things when I can and not worry about the rest. I mean, is that crazy? Seriously, what if I’m not a failure?

He didn’t think I was a failure. I said goodbye and put on my snow clothes. The chickens love the outside but they don’t like standing on two feet of snow. I shoveled some paths and space in the outside part of their coop. They didn’t come running so I stole some hay from the cows, made a dry place to stand, and lined it with food scraps.

Somebody had invited me out into the sunshine. The chickens were the only ones home I could think to pay it forward to. Invitation complete, I watched for a minute and enjoyed with them the way it feels when you’re stuck in a coop for so long all winter that you forget about the way out and then someone points to the door, calls from the outside and beckons. You cock your head to the side, let it bob around a bit to show you don’t take risk lightly, tip toe back and forth a few times, then bob out into the fresh air and sunshine to look around. Breathe. Smile. It’s not so bad out there.

 

Dear Reader,

Having been so graciously invited myself, I pray that similar invitations will be extended your way. Beginning now or sooner, may a path be shoveled through your two feet of snow, your coop entrance cleared, and enough hay put down to make your feet happy. In answer to your courageous head bobbing from your very wiggly neck, may the sun rise each day and the treats at your toes be as pleasing as rotted fruit or discarded vegetable scraps.

Yours in the Journey –

Michelle

People gawking to see why something's different. Par for the course.

People gawking to see why the chickens are daring to opt for fresh air.