Monthly Archives: November 2014

Getting ready to give thanks

In the “early holiday gift” department, yesterday I learned that something for which I have striven will come to pass.  Already bound for California and evaluation at the Stanford Infectious Disease Clinic, I’ve now been accepted in the Neuro-Sciences Clinic as well.  The schedulers found an appointment slot for me on the same day as the ID appointment.

I violated my goal of refraining from talking on the phone while driving on the highway to answer the call from Stanford.  By the time I got to the office, my mood had ratcheted a few notches skyward.  As I parked the car, I thought about my morning.

I had settled and made a record on a case in which my client had sought shared custody of his sons, aged two and seven months.  My efforts, and those of the Guardian Ad Litem, had brought about his first meeting with the baby just a few short weeks ago.  Now he has joint custody and three overnights out of every seven.  A good day.  A truly good day.

A smile spread across my face as I opened the car door and leaned to drag the computer bag toward me.  The movement caused a tearing sensation in my lower back, where three damaged discs lurk.  Tarlov cysts wrapped around the discs keep them from crumbling and the doctors from recommending surgery.  The combined mess announces itself if I move in certain ways which I normally avoid.  But leaning sideways feels like a burning rod has been plunged into my back.  My heart lurches and I feel a flare of resentment rise from somewhere in my gut as I strain to keep from collapsing on the car seat.

At the critical moment, my eyes raise and meet those of a man wandering down the sidewalk from the nearby soup kitchen.  He wears four or five jackets, each with some portion of its fabric torn, worn or shredded.  A canvas bag slung across his shoulder dangles heavily against his back.  He’s pulled a stocking cap down over his head but his hands have no protection against the cold.

The man stares into my car but not with malice.   He moves slowly, but whether from pain or because his mind swirls in a mass of distraction I cannot say.  His unshaven face hangs downward and it could be chance that casts his gaze toward me.  He seems unaware of me and keeps moving.  He continues past my car, southward, towards the coffee shop next to my building.  I watch his slow movements.  I see the dirty hem of his jeans dragging on the sidewalk against the worn heels of his shoes.  I glance around me, at the clutter in my car:  empty Starbucks cups, extra sweaters, a spill of pens from an upturned briefcase left where they lay.  I shake my head; I cannot overcome the sudden feeling that I am essentially clueless.

I grab my computer bag and pull myself from the car.  As I cross the sidewalk, the man turns and staggers into the street.  I am thankful, suddenly, that there is no traffic.



Wonders Never Ceasing

The day after my favorite curmudgeon and father-in-law, Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin died, I carried out his last instruction to me — to wit, I contacted Senator Pat Roberts on Jay’s behalf.  I told Senator Roberts exactly what my father-in-law had instructed me to say, which was, that Jay voted for Mr. Roberts in spite of himself; and delivered a message of my own, which was that I expected Mr. Roberts to acquit himself honorably, and not to betray the trust of the folks who returned him to Washington.

Today, Senator Roberts called my office.  Regrettably, our secretary had gone out to get  lunch for us; and the call went to voice mail.  My assistant heard the  message this evening as I worked late, and rushed into my office to say, “You have to hear this; and here’s a Kleenex.”  I listened to it, and then called Jim, son of Jabez, to play it for him.

In Senator Robert’s voice mail, he stated that he had been moved by my letter; and that my letter stood for him as a testimony to family love.  But  he also stated that he indeed would do his best for the people of Kansas, as charged by my father-in-law.  As  you all know, I am a die-hard Democrat; but Mr. Robert’s words, and tone, and the fact that he himself called not leaving this task to some faceless aide — well, I have to tell you, I was indeed moved to tears.  If I had the technical expertise to get that  message from my voice mail to my computer and thence to here, I would do so; but suffice it to say, that I am one Democrat who has just an inch more hope for our nation after hearing from one Republican.

Will wonders never cease?





The key to everything

I park my car across from the coffee shop and pull my computer bag towards me.  With it on my arm and my pocketbook across my shoulder, I make my way to the safe side of the street.  I realize the curb challenges me and stop to steady myself, eyes downward, bags dangling, the chilly air surrounding me and the bright sun casting its rays through the gentle sky.

A figure appears at my left elbow and passes me as I hesitate.  The man turns, slightly, to his right, looking back at me.  He wears a short ski jacket, a stocking cap and sunglasses.  He’s backlit by the morning glow and I cannot see his face.  Fear flushes through  me, followed by the instinct to stagger backward.  But I’m halfway over the curb, fully aware that sudden moves will send me sprawling.

Then the man says, Are you all right, Miss? and the panic fades.  He stands, waiting, until I clear the step and steady  myself on the sidewalk.  I’m fine, I tell him, then he adds:  I hope I didn’t startle you.  I shake  my head.  I say, I saw you stopping to see if I was going to make it.

He smiles.  And in that smile, if only for an instant, I see the key to everything.  He turns away and continues down the street. I go inside, where I see a writer scribbling in her journal; a woman with rainbow hair cradling a cup in her two cold hands; and a student hammering away at a keyboard surrounded by books and pens, wearing an earnest look.  I think to myself, it’s going to be a good day. I order coffee.  Excellent beginning.

This is my niece, Chelsea Rae Booker.  When I think of smiles and the key to everything, her lovely face crowds my mind along with the faces of many in  my family-by-birth and the various branches of my family-by-choice.  I'm posting her picture here because she shines so brightly in this photo.

This is my niece, Chelsea Rae Booker. When I think of smiles and the key to everything, her lovely face crowds my mind along with the faces of many in my family-by-birth and the various branches of my family-by-choice. I’m posting her picture here because she shines so brightly in this photo. She holds a coffee mug which I’d just given her, the story of which awaits another day for telling.


From there to here

My friend Andrew Starr read my online, typed chortle about a T-shirt advertised as a “limited offering”.  He ordered one for me; it arrived today, left on my doorstep like a signal from the Post office the importance of which I did not mistake.  Like the message from Shelley of condolence; like the card in the mail from a client;  like the Angel from my friend Cindy; the shirt told me:  someone thought of you.

The shirt tells everyone that I  hale from Jennings, Missouri.  Below a drawing of my state appear these words:  IT’S WHERE MY STORY BEGAN.  I’m willing to bet that everyone in this nation and possibly overseas can get a shirt like it for any town they want.  But this shirt has my home town’s name on it.  Jennings is where my story began.

In Jennings, at the age of three, I got lost in my parents’ basement.  I emerged from the dark depths of our home to appear in the living room, where a tight, tense group of police officers, Boy Scouts and my parents gathered to discuss the impending neighborhood search for me.  In Jennings, too, I joined Camp Fire Girls, though a year late, because my mother could not afford the dues.  I never quite matched pace with those who had begun as Blue Birds but I did try.

In Jennings, I crouched in our driveway with my sister Joyce to view what she called “Shiny Rock”, a black rock embedded in the concrete, which we speculated would be worth a fortune if we could pry it loose.  We thought it was a rare diamond.  At the top of that same driveway, I sat on my rump and used a toy Singer Sewing machine to punch holes in paper to be pretend postage stamps.  I stuck them on envelopes with gobs of hot tar and sent letters to my Nana.  Come get me, I wrote.  I earnestly put them in the mailbox.  I assume my mother threw them away.

On dark frozen streets in Jennings, I played football at midnight with my brothers, and walked, hand in hand, with my siblings while my father raged and rampaged and we prayed for him to fall asleep.  On those same streets, or nearby, I marched in school parades and trudged home from school, weary, confused, sometimes crying.  Down the street which formed a T with ours, I barreled at break-neck speed, on a tricycle with no rubber left on its wheels, legs splayed, hair streaming, terrified but exhilarated.  I built up velocity as I headed across McLaran and down our driveway, through the gate, onto our curved sidewalk at the end of which I grabbed the young maple’s trunk and let the trike fly forward to crash three feet down in the neighbor’s backyard.

In Jennings, my past solidified; my future unfolded; my present swirled around me in glorious peaks and horrifying valleys.

I hold a thousand stories of Jennings life within me.  The farms which lingered there, even in my childhood.  The schools that gave us merry-go-rounds and softball diamonds.  The long sad whistle of the evening train in the hot summer air and the cool wind of winter.  In Jennings, I learned to laugh; and fear; and yearn; and bargain.  I knelt in churches and lifted my eyes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gazed down on me with sightless eyes.

What I experienced in Jennings started my story; and all that I have seen and done since I left Jennings in 1973 has spewed chapter after chapter on the yellowing pages of my life to middle-age.  This t-shirt seems a silly, small extravagance now that I have it; but nevertheless, I’m wearing it, beneath my crooked smile and my wild gypsy-girl hair pulled into a Sneetch hair style.  It reminds me of where my story began, and of the potential places my story might go.

And the sending of it to me, by Andrew, mirrors the message on the back of my pocket angel from Cindy Cieplik, which sits beside me on the table, reminding me that despite my terrible fears, and my buried secrets, I am valued.

The message from Cindy.

The message from Cindy.

My shirt from Andrew.

My shirt from Andrew.

My six weeks without complaining

iIve been in training for 46 weeks.  I’ve climbed hurdles, pushed aside obstacles, endured setbacks and plunged through detours.  But I’ve learned so much — seen so much — heard so much.  I feel I’m ready now, to live without complaining.  So:  Hold me accountable, people.   I’m on the downhill stretch of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m dusting off my enthusiasm, tightening my boots, grabbing the ski poles, and pushing off.



And the sign does not frighten me

I dried a rose from my favorite curmudgeon’s internment.  I clipped it upside down on the wire of a piece of stained glass which hangs in the kitchen window.  Today, I took it from its place and examined it, perfectly formed,  lovely.  I put it in the vase with the roses which I had dried from the posy that Paula Kenyon-Vogt gave me.  I noticed that the angel which stands beside that vase has turned, to face a bit more eastward.  While there is another adult living in this house at present, I doubt that she adjusted the items on the window sill.  I’ll ask her, of course, but I expect raised eyebrows and a slight knowing smile with the shake of her head.  We both believe in signs.  And this sign brings me no fright.  The doings of angels can never be harmful.

Here is how the angel on my window sill looks this evening.

Here is how the angel on my window sill looks this evening.

And here is how the angel looked a few days ago.  I did not move her.

And here is how the angel looked a few days ago. I did not move her.

The sweetness of my Saturday

I made the rounds of all my Saturday places today.  After a crucial stop at the Vet’s place to secure my dog’s medicine, I went snow-panic shopping at Hy-Vee.  On the sidewalk outside of the grocery store, two men in their 70s flanked shopping carts full of donated food and a table with a banner which read, CATHOLIC CHARITIES FOOD DRIVE.  One of them smiled in my direction, and I said, So: I’m a recovering Catholic, what do you want from me? and he laughed.  I’ve never heard that phrase, he admitted.  Does that mean you’re on the way to Heaven?  I shook my head, returned his smile and said, I’ll bring some food out, and he promised that if I did, he would give me a hug.  As long as you don’t pray over me, I cautioned, and both of the men looked amused.

In the store, I collected cans of what I  imagined would help a foodbank:  Corn, beans, beets, tomatoes.  All store-brand and salt-free.  When I checked out, I told the cashier to segregate the canned goods into their own bag.  Donations?  He asked it without expecting any answer but yes, and I gave it.  Thank you for that, he told me, quite seriously, as though he meant it.  I told him I come all the way to HyVee because they have Sunflower Seed Butter, and his face beamed.  The kind without added sugar, right?  His question hit the mark and we nodded to each other:  Kindred spirits.

Outside the store, I steered my cart to the Catholics and one of them held his arms open for that promised hug while the other took the two bags of canned food.  I’m not praying for you, the man insisted.  I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t care, either.  I made my way to the car and unloaded my own groceries.  When I turned, one of the two men had followed me and asked if he could help me by returning my cart.  I let him.

Three hours later, I’d bought a book at Mysteryscape; a skirt at Pete ‘N Repeat, and a cup of coffee at Latte Land.  I pulled into the parking lot of Savers at about 3:00 p.m., intending to look for white coffee mugs.  As I walked to the store, a young woman exited and said to me, You look really cute today!  I felt a warm flush spread from my face to my belly.  I struggled to speak and when I found my voice, said only, Thank you.  She could not be deterred.  She smiled, a wide, unbridled grin and replied, You’re welcome!

An hour later, unloading my purchases from the back of the Saturn, I realized that I had just gone an entire day without thinking one unpleasant thought.  I stood in the driveway, feeling the first sting of a light evening snow.  The sun glowed in the western sky, and a wind fluttered the flag on its pole in the bracket on the pillar of the porch.  The stillness surrounded me.  I closed my eyes and let the air ease what remained of the tension in my face.  It might return.  But for that moment, it  had been vanquished and I felt clean, and sweet, and peaceful.


The dawn finally breaks

I’m tendering a long-winded account of a client’s case to Jessica, who’s listening as though I stood before her in a lecture hall.  Her eyes light; she’s asking sharp, pertinent questions, and making keen observations about the dynamic interplay between our client and his ex-spouse.  Then out of the blue she says something complimentary about me and I am suddenly six again, feeling inadequate, inept, and inane.

A brief conversation ensues about whether I am, or am not, brilliant.  Jessica propounds the positive and I stubbornly argue the converse.  Her frustration with me increases as she tries to convince me that I’m accomplished and more than capable while I insist that neither are true.  And suddenly I find myself saying, That’s the problem with being told as a child that I could do anything I want. When I failed, I concluded that I was defective.  Like, if my Mom thought I could do anything I wanted to do, and I couldn’t, what did that make me? 

Jessica wants me to believe that I’m wonderful.  I try.  I listen to her and then say:  I wish my mother would have told me not that I could do whatever I wanted to do, but that what mattered was the effort. That it was okay if I didn’t accomplish exactly what I set out to do, as long as I made an honest attempt.

And the dawn breaks.  That’s it, of course.  My mother thought that she was giving me wings with which to soar.  She thought that by telling me that I had no  limits, she would encourage me to reach as far as my arms would stretch.  But instead — for whatever reason — I believed that my inability to do that which I set out to do reflected my fundamental lack of worth.

She meant well, did my mother.  The only things I asked to do which she  refused to let me try were those for which we had no money — and there were many — and dance class.  I don’t think you can be a ballerina, she told me, though she left it to me to figure out why.  Having concluded that every time I fell short, I evidenced complete incompetence and thus unworthiness, I suspect that I blamed myself for my prospective inability to dance, too.

With a brief nod in the direction of those (and I know of two) who think I should never blog about myself, I offer this conclusion: After sixty years of feeling absolutely worthless because I could not, in fact, do whatever I wanted to do, I’m giving myself permission to change my values.  Henceforth, I’m only grading myself on effort.  As for the results of my effort, well, let the chips fall where they might.


Daybreak over Lake Michigan, at Epworth in Ludington, Michigan.

Daybreak over Lake Michigan, at Epworth in Ludington, Michigan.

Turning my thoughts around

Driving home from work yesterday: Cold, tired, a bit discouraged.  One or two good developments brewing with cases but my bones ache and my head feels hewed in two.  The tight spot beneath my left shoulder blade tingles with the foreboding of a threatened shingles outbreak.  Complaints crowd my mind and I beat them back, willing myself to resist, feeling the elusiveness of success in my efforts.

I round the corner to my street and suddenly think about my friend Brenda.  Not surprising that I should, a few steps from where she lives but I haven’t seen her for weeks.  Though we are neighbors, I only met her this summer, so I don’t know what all might be occupying her time.   Then I’m pulling into  my parking space and there she is: bundled in a navy blue coat, gloves, a beret, and a thick scarf, walking the 17 double-blocks from her workplace to her home.

And in a twinkling, tea is brewing and I’m hearing about her trip to San Francisco.  She’s telling me that she just read two weeks’ worth of my bog entries and quietly expressing her sympathy on the death of my favorite curmudgeon.  And, although the aches, pains, and tingling nerve endings still lurk, my thoughts have turned their own corner and I find myself smiling.


Justifiable Complaint

I’ve seen a commercial several times about which I have decided I am justified in complaining.

I won’t advance the product by saying its name.  But you’ve seen it.  “Hi, I’m Rob Lowe.”  and “I’m painfully shy Rob Lowe,” says a clone in what apparently we are meant to conclude is an unattractive outfit.  And:  With a stutter.  The rest of the commercial attempts to convince us that “painfully shy Rob Lowe” with his stutter and attire is a loser and will be a loser because he doesn’t have the product advanced by Rob Lowe.  The cool one.  Rob Lowe cautions us, “Don’t be like this guy.”

Oh puh-lease!  I don’t use the product/service touted by “cool Rob Lowe”, but if I did, I would immediately switch to another product/service.  I’ve had family members who stuttered; I’m what we called in my childhood “crippled”; and I know many people who daily wear the type of clothing worn by “shy Rob Lowe”, the person whom we are encouraged not to resemble.  I have to say it chafes my chaps to see a company and an actor trade on what I consider bullying.  What kind of example does this set for children watching television?  How do children who more closely fit the mold of “shy Rob Lowe” feel about a handsome actor ridiculing them?

Shame on him.  Shame on the company that hired him for such nonsense, to which I will not give publicity by calling their name.  But they know who they are.  Oh, and by the way:  a link to this blog entry will go to Twitter and will include “@RobLowe” in the link.  Take that, “cool” Rob Lowe.  And send “shy Rob Lowe” over for dinner, you stuffed shirt.