Monthly Archives: June 2014

Exceptions to every rule

This weekend, I heard an episode of Prairie Home Companion which included a supposedly humorous song about what method of suicide a father would use to escape his responsibility. I found myself slowing the car and listening with incredulity. A verse or two later, Mr. Keillor sang about the father having six or eight children and then “getting a vasectomy so he wouldn’t have any grandchildren”.

I snapped the radio off and pulled over to the curb. I tried to conceptualize on what planet suicide and incest would be considered funny. In what galaxy is making songs for a family radio program with slap-happy context about taking one’s life or having sex with one’s children,  considered a reasonable way to make light of extraordinarily serious subjects?

As the sister of a person who committed suicide and being close to others who have tried or felt like trying, I think about suicide as tragic, the act of someone who finds his or her life insurmountably overwhelming or inescapably painful. Dying seems to such people to be the only way to escape, the last resort for relieving oneself of the flood of suffering. How can that be considered amusing? Even as one who will crack jokes at funerals about the natural appearance of the casket-dwellers, I would not ridicule the act of taking one’s own life. I wonder — am I overly sensitive?

As for the idea that we should laugh at a man getting a vasectomy to avoid procreating with his own children, I have no words to convey my disgust. Again, I contemplate my reaction and ask myself if I am simply humor-impaired. I don’t think so, though. I once had a foster son who, at age six, had FIVE documented suicide attempts on account of being sexually abused by his stepfather and various other men. The clients and children of clients whom I serve in Juvenile Court invariably have some trail of sexual abuse rifling their history. This is simple not a funny subject.  I might have made a stupid joke about Arkansas girls and their brothers twenty-five years ago, but in the intervening years, I have found out that those jokes echo reality.

After continuing on my journey home, I thought about what I had heard and whether I should do anything about my feelings. I logged onto the Internet and found an email address for the show. I tried to phrase my thoughts in a way that did not sound like complaining. I’m not sure I succeeded.

But on this issue, I’m willing to cut myself a little slack. It just ain’t funny, and I’m okay with saying so.

Hear me

Today my inability to hear overwhelmed me.

I started losing my hearing at around 15.  My mother thought I didn’t pay attention, but my grandfather, who sold hearing aids, tested me and found my hearing loss.  I well remember sitting at his kitchen table and wearing a heavy set of headphones.  He graphed my loss, showed me the graph, and called my mother.

I’ve had my hearing tested again several times since then.  Most recently, a Kansas City audiologist charted a 60-decibel loss in my left ear and a 30-decibel loss  in my right ear.  If I had a couple-three grand lying around, I’d be fitted for hearing aids.  Since I don’t, I’m still trying to teach myself lip-reading and making feeble guesses at what people have said.

I try to tell people that I can’t hear.  Someone with whom I regularly converse speaks softly and regardless of how many times I ask her to speak louder, she does not.  I don’t yell at her; I just ask her to repeat, tell her I can’t hear, and try to figure out what I’m missing.  Today I broke down:  I started crying. I told her, “Please, please.  I cannot hear you.  I feel terrible having to constantly wonder what you’ve said and ask you to repeat yourself.  I feel so bad. Could you just talk louder?”  I fell silent; she apologized and retreated.  I drew in a deep breath and told myself, “This, too, shall pass.”

Tonight on Ted Radio, I heard Temple Grandin speak about overcoming her autism and turning her supposed weakness into a strength.  I’ve heard Ms. Grandin speak on prior occasions, but not with this precise slant.   Turning your weaknesses into strengths.  I like that concept.

I am not yet certain how I will turn my hearing loss into  strength, but I’ll find a way.  I suspect that one clear option will be to turn my frustration into empathy for others whose weaknesses from time to time overcome them, as mine did me, today.



For those of you who are interested, here is a link to the Ted Radio Hour on “Overcoming”.

What a world

As I cheered for the marchers in the NWA Pride Parade yesterday, a flood of wonder overtook me.  I had met a couple before the parade started who had been together five years but had not yet been able to legally marry due to being the same gender.  One of them showed me pictures of the religious ceremony in which they had pledged their eternal devotion.  They held out their left hands, with matching diamond wedding bands.  One of them told me that her family did not accept their love; one of them said that her Baptist minister father welcomed both of them with open arms.  I marveled at the thought that anyone could scorn the unmistakeable bond that I saw between them.

Across the street, a lone protestor hollered Bible quotes that he claimed proved that all of us would be condemned to hell — all of us, even we who attended to show support and solidarity for those whose sexual orientation differed from ours and had brought them decades of discrimination.  No one paid him any heed, except the occasional head shake.  As the parade started, another man strolled by carrying a sign claiming to know that God hated any who are not heterosexual, whom he described with an ugly word which I will not here repeat.  He moved down the street in silent grimness, as the parade started, the crowd rose to its feet, and the music began.

I snapped photo after photo with my little phone, feeling an inexplicable wellspring of emotion rise within me.  As “a disabled person”, I’ve experienced a fraction of the ridicule that gay, Lesbian and transgender folks experience; a fragment of the unpleasantness that persons “of color” encounter.  But the small societal rejection which I encounter brings me enough pain that I mourn the exponentially greater suffering that those even less “mainstream-looking” than I am must endure.  And endure silently, most of the time — to save a job, to sit in church, to walk the halls of public high schools.  Change has come, yes; but not enough and not soon enough to save scores of young folks who take their lives rather than admit who they are, or endure the mocking of others when they have come out.

What a world, where anyone could think that any being called “God” could condone hatred based upon skin-color or the gender of lovers.  No divine being of whom I can conceive would use that criteria to judge.  If we do, eventually, face a being that assesses our performance here on earth, I imagine that the standard by which we will be allowed or denied access to paradise will include how we behaved towards others who shared this planet with us, including those with less money, twisted bodies, a foreign tongue, or a spouse of the same gender.

Of all the groups marching in the parade yesterday, the one which brought both joy and tears in my beholding of them included a woman carrying a sign that proclaimed her love for her trans-gender son.  Their banner proclaimed them to be families of persons whose sexual orientation and nature was not heterosexual, and the bright, shining faces in that group told the whole story, more clearly than any words I might scribble here.  What a world, indeed.  A world in which love can, after all, conquer hate.



Hope springs eternal

I’m sitting on the porch at Brian and Trudy’s house, thinking back over my life.  I’ve done so many things; been so many places; taken so many chances.  I’ve loved; I’ve lost; I’ve stood on the sidelines and waded into the fray. I’ve judged myself inadequate; I’ve been judged inadequate by others.  I’ve reached out when I could to people whose pain I could try to soothe.  I’ve held the hands of people whose pain took them beyond my reach.  I’ve done things that I would not do again, but everything I’ve ever done from love, I would do again regardless of the outcome.  When the sun sets, I will know that I have tried.  I have examined what has gone before and tried to change my path as I go forward.  The feelings that others experience matter to me.  I listen to their hearts and offer comfort.   When I am wounded, I forgive.  When I ache, I try to take it in stride.  When I experience delight, I let it burst out from me and wash over those around me.  What more could I do?  What more?  My eyes and my heart remain open, always, because only with open eyes and a welcoming heart can one move forward.  Only if one is willing to experience pain can one feel joy.  Only by forgiving can one be open to the peace that soothes.  I hold onto that.  I hold on.




As  I slid south on 71, aka 49, tension eased and I felt myself drawing closer to a town that I once called home with sweet anticipation.  I don’t quite understand how I managed to endear myself to Brian and Trudy (MacDonald) Aldridge, but I have and now their guest room holds my satchel and my writer’s bag.  I’m here, on the porch.  Brian putters in the kitchen getting vegetables ready for the grill.  His daughter Christina has gone to fetch Trudy from work.  A delicious breeze drifts through the screens and their little dog darts back and forth on the lawn, his tags jingling.  How can I even think of complaining, when a hammock sits just outside the window, a cool swathe of green spans the view all around me, and the shimmering afternoon light kisses the row of flowers at the far corner of their yard?  I could not; I do not.  I have come to Aldridge Acres for some tender, loving care and I fully expect that when I leave on Sunday, the afterglow will endure for many days.



During my early teen years, my mother gave me a book of short stories called, “The Reason for Ann”.  In the first story, two guardian angels watched down upon a young man who could kindly be called a rogue.  He drank, smoked,  gambled and probably treated his mother or cats poorly, I can’t recall.  Along the way, one angel kept track of the sins in red ink; the other kept track of the fellow’s few good deeds in black ink.

Halfway through the story, the man met a comely, kind, virtuous lass named Ann.  Her presence in his life confounded the watching angels.  Her goodness gave shame to his antics, and the angels fretted that he would sully her.  They could not understand why “He” had put Ann in harm’s way by sending her to this cad.

The fellow joined the army and went to fight in Europe, circa 1944.  By and by, his plane met the expected fate and the angels, seeing him dangling, unconscious, in a tree with his tangled parachute practically serving as a spotlight for German guns, the “debits” angel went off to watch sentencing, sure that the many pages of red would send this poor miscreant’s soul downward.  The angel who kept track of the man’s good deeds sat forlorn and dejected.  But his compatriot returned, mystified, to report that the man had not appeared in heaven to face his judgment.

Suddenly, they realized that the Record Book had become filled with lovely black ink, page after page.  They peered downward to see the man being rescued; and then, glancing over to the man’s home town, they saw Ann, kneeling in church, her hands folded, her head bowed, and as quickly as she prayed, the marks of grace appeared in the Record Book.  At last, they knew the reason for Ann.

Tonight I came home to a flood of water pouring down on either side of my street.  Annoyed, I stood on the center line, aghast, peering upwards, one block, two, straining to discern the origins of the torrent.  Why on earth do I have to deal with this? I grumbled to myself, as I slung my bag from the car seat.  I stood by the front of the car and tried to determine how I would cross the river which flowed between me and the sidewalk.  I could not fathom why this malady had to befall me on this, of all nights, the one night every other week when I actually have a standing place at The Wellness Table of my friend Cindy Cieplik, where good food would be eaten, and wonderful conversation would be shared.  Why did this have to happen now?

I saw a figure walking towards me on the sidewalk,, striding slowly, but purposefully, heading southward on the sidewalk adjacent to the swiftly moving stream of water.  As the woman grew closer, I could see a wide smile, a smooth brow, a friendly manner.  She stopped near my car and greeted me. She spoke her name, Brenda; and I spoke mine.  Encouraged by her presence somehow, I steadied myself with one hand on the hood of my car and stepped across the water, landing safely on the parkway, then easing myself to stand beside her.

We spoke for a minute or two about where we each lived; there, I said, gesturing to my house.  She told me she lived two blocks south and we smiled; practically neighbors.  We gazed at the rapidly flowing water and she mentioned that it originated two blocks further north and to the west, flowing down 61st street, around the corner, and on down Holmes.  Then she looked around, smiled, and told me that she worked at UMKC and walked to and from work as much as she could, at least until the weather became unbearably hot.  I shifted my bag, and found myself smiling.  Brenda.  My neighbor, Brenda.  Who works at UMKC.  With a serene face, and clear eyes, and time enough to walk home from work on a cool day in June.

She nodded, we said goodbye, and she continued on her way.  I went into the house, no longer wondering why the waters of the city burst forth and spilled on my roadway.

I’d complain, but…..

When you ask people how they are, they usually reply, “Oh, I can’t complain.  Well, I’d complain, but nobody would care!”  The lady who waited on me at the HyVee last night handed me that line. I told her that I, for one, would care, and invited her to complain away. She seemed a bit taken aback and perhaps a little offended.

The exchange set me to wondering what people expect from their interactions.  I talk to clerks every day.  I try to lay some pleasantry on them: comment on their names, their appearance, all favorably.  I lug my bags to the car and ruminate over what has transpired, perhaps somewhat obsessively.  Have I behaved in a manner that met that person’s need to be treated decently by customers?  That’s my goal.  That’s where I aim.

I cast my mind back to interactions where I haven’t done so.  Recently:  The Google Fiber guy, the tenth or fifteenth technician to try to get our Google Fiber working. While he was out moving his van from the handicapped space in front of our house, my son raised his eyebrows at me.  Mom, he remarked.  That man is a guest in our home and you just chewed him out for where he parked.  Guilty as charged.

The net goes back farther:  Waitresses at whom I’ve snapped; the pharmacy clerk — though admittedly, nobody likes her; the office personnel at a doctor’s office where I was trying to get records.  I’m a little ashamed.  Gosh, I find myself wondering:  I was pretty awful; I sure hope I’ve changed.

The conversation with the Google Fiber guy rose to a happier level as we sat and experimented with new settings.  I haven’t chewed out a server in quite a while, maybe months, maybe a year.  The people in most — if not all — of my current doctors’ offices seem to like me, which I think indicates that I’ve managed to treat them all well.

I drove through Starbucks in Liberty recently and told the young man at the window that everyone who works there overwhelms me with niceness.  He flashed a brilliant smile.  That’s how we roll here, he told me.

I like it.  I really like it.  I think I’ll roll along in that direction for a while, and see what shakes out.  As for the HyVee lady, I’ll recognize her, and next time, I’ll try to seem more genuine, if that was the problem; or at least, I’ll give her a chance to see that one or two people in the world would care about her complaints, and maybe even empathize.  And I’m one of them.

Delightful discoveries

It’s been a fairly good day, both at the Corley Law Firm and the Holmes House, my cozy Brookside bungalow.

I knocked myself out preparing for a hearing scheduled for today in Platte County.  I walked out of Court with an agreement giving my client, a father who had not seen his daughter for 44 days after having residential custody for the prior seven months, 50/50 shared custody rotating week on, week off  with him having the first week.  I count that as a win, at least in the “temporary order” division.

One or two hiccups in the day slowed my enthusiasm, but they ironed themselves out with a little tender loving care.  I came home early, ostensibly to rest.  Tired and dragging, I discovered my second Nature’s Box on the doorstep — my mother’s day present from my son and stepson.  Oh, joy!  A cup of tea and some Mesa chips await me.

My first task, though, was to find a box big enough for the several pairs of shoes which got left behind when my son packed his car on Sunday.  Scrounging around the basement, I spied a Priority Mail box that looked promising.  I dragged it upstairs and popped open the flaps, curious as to what might be inside.  Lo and behold, I found four sweaters, shipped to me in that very box by my sister Joyce this fall and forgotten.  Wonder of wonders.

I promptly emptied the box, used it to pack the shoes, and shrugged myself into the warmest and prettiest of the sweaters for a rainy dash to the UPS store.

Delightful discoveries today.  I’m a lucky woman.




There’s a bone-tired, satisfied feeling that comes after a day of doing things that just need to be done.

Years ago, during my son’s early years, I had a housekeeper.  In a weird way, I think my health has improved to the point that I can do without one.  True enough, I can’t get the place quite as clean as a professional or as an able-bodied amateur.  But I can get it organized, orderly and scrubbed enough for my purposes.  Doing so feels grand.

I’m easy to please in some ways.  I don’t need luxury — just a tidy, inviting home.

The chores to which I set my attention yesterday made the house livable in ways that mean something to me.  After 10 years or so of flimsy, thrift-store sheers, I got curtains for the dining room.  I re-arranged furniture, swept the room that my son just vacated, and packed away some things he decided not to take.  The dog bed has a new, temporary cover devised from an idle mattress cover and a couple of binder clips. It works, for now, and is certainly cleaner and in better shape than what I discarded.

By the end of the day, the house smelled fresh and new. My bones ached and in fact, still do.  My muscles feel challenged.  But the satisfaction of completing every chore on my list outweighs the brutal consequences of having done so.  I’m not complaining!  It’s a great day to be alive, and when I get home this evening, the afterglow of my weekend efforts will welcome me.

In ten hours, my son embarks on a fantastic journey, and I find myself overwhelmed with pride, hope and joy.  We spent this evening on a farm in Plattsburg, at the home of my friend Ellen Carnie.  Patrick mingled with people twice his age and more, never needing me to guide him, never lacking for a segue into conversation with folks whom he had never previously met.  People came over to me periodically and asked if “that young man” was my son, and upon learning that yes, he was, they would invariably tell me something quite complimentary.  “He’s so smart,” they would say.  “So curious, so engaging.”  I smiled at each happy disclosure, and gave my standard answer:  “He grew up will in spite of his mother, and mostly because he has it in him.” And I mean it, too; I stumbled madly through motherhood, unsure, hesitating, lost.  Many times that young man did silly tricks to turn my tears to laughter.  He’s called me from Mexico, Hollywood, Chicago and Tennesse.  He’s gone days, weeks, and once, even an entire month without calling me at all.  Without my advice or consent, he pledged a faternity, sought an internship, applied for graduate school.  I always feared being the type of mother who would never let her child leave home, so I insisted he do so every chance, to battle my natural tendency towards over-protectiveness.  In the last year, he has surpassed any teaching I could have given him, and now, he is the teacher and I stand in awe of his accomplishments as a human being. He sets forth tomorrow with whatever he has become to serve as a springboard for his future.  As I sit here, I think of every hope that I have ever had for him, and I know that in his hands, any dream he cares to pursue will become a reality.  I have no complaints about my son; only gratitude, that I have had the opportunity to see what he has made of himself and to be some small part of his grand adventure. And so — he goes.  And I can’t wait to hear what happens next. I’ll borrow these words of a true Wordsmith, to set him on his way good and proper:

“Still round the corner there may wait

A new road or a secret gate

And though I oft have passed them by

A day will come at last when I

Shall take the hidden paths that run

West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien