Monthly Archives: April 2017

Of Tipped Scales and Turned Tides

The person who first taught me about angels taking themselves lightly kept a sign on her cubby stating that the heavenly beings could only fly because they did.  Take themselves lightly, that is.  Though I haven’t seen the sign or the person in 44 years, both so impressed me that I can picture them still.

The girl was called Maureen.  We met as work-study students in the Financial Aids Office at St. Louis University.  She had bouncy black hair, pale skin, and deep green eyes.  She entered laughing every time she came to work.  Her bubbling trill preceded her into the doorway.  She strode everywhere with an easy gait, lightly swinging her handbag from her wrist.

On a particularly sweet day, she nearly doubled over with that mild hysteria displayed by the truly happy.  You won’t believe what just happened to me, she crowed.  We thought we would, but let her go ahead because she told every delightful story with such sweet delirium that our respective and collective days could be saved just by listening.

A man walked up to me and asked what time it was, she explained, holding her sides, giggling.  She gestured to the dainty watch on her wrist.  But I had just lost my contact lens, she continued.  In those days, we jammed hard little plastic disks into our eyes in vain hopes of not being girls who wore glasses.  And I had found it and put it in my mouth to keep it damp til I could get to the car and my cleaning solution.  So I couldn’t open my mouth to tell him the time, but I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I just stared at him.

She had worked herself to a lovely howl.  We all laughed along with her, though nothing had yet struck us as particularly funny except for the delicious way that Maureen cracked herself up.

She stopped to catch her breath.  We waited for the punch line.

Then he looked at me in a pitying tone of voice and said, ‘I can ask you an easier question if you like.’  And Maureen really lost it then.

As did we.

Yesterday I thought about Maureen while I lay face down on the driveway, at 8:00 p.m. with my phone in the cupholder of my running Prius.  The bag of groceries sprawled in front of me.  My computer bag sat in the mud of my neighbor’s front yard.  Blood spurted over the pretty purple scarf that Jennie Taggart Wandfluh gave me for Christmas.  The happy glow from my Rotary meeting and the following encounter with a neighbor at the Market dissipated as I tried to figure out how to get my body off the ground with no handhold.

And for some reason, no reason really, right after I had finished fretting about how I would tell Judge Chamberlain that I couldn’t come to court because I had smashed my face and was too embarrassed to venture out of the house — right after that, I thought about Maureen.

Suddenly the tide turned.  The scales tipped in the general direction of the not-so-bad-after-all.  I scooted myself over to the car and used the side-view mirror as a handhold to hoist myself onto my lily-white-spastic-feet.  For a long moment, I stood — just stood — trying to remember Maureen’s last name.  I thought about her sign, the one which told me that angels could fly because they take themselves lightly.  I figured that I’d have another bleak moment over this latest mishap — and I did, standing in a warm shower letting the water wash the gravel from my face.  But there, in the dark, I felt a sudden sense of the impossible becoming possible after all.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  With special thanks to Trish Hughes for buying lunch and making me laugh so much it hurt, I note this, now:  I’m taking myself lightly and hoping to fly.   Life continues.



Taking My Angels Where I Find Them

I groaned on Social Media about my house falling in disrepair around me, and got some immediate messages with offers of help.

Last evening, the husband of a former client (now friend) stopped by to assess my situation.  He diagnosed two damaged fences and gave advice about what to ask a fence person to do.  He fixed a broken cupboard door, showed me what needed to be repaired on another, carried some bags of clothes to my car for subsequent donation, and walked around my house saying how much he liked the place.

Your house isn’t falling apart, he admonished me.  You just need a little help.    And a weekly visit from such a cheerful guy, I thought to myself.  And a warm smile, and a natter in the driveway standing over the yard hoping for rain to water the “deep shade” seed mix that I broke my body planting.

An hour later, another friend’s husband (also a friend, I suppose you could say) made a date to come glue the cracked cabinet door, at the tail end of a day when two other people have planned to come help me clean the basement.  I’m feeling that the angels heard my cries for help Sunday, as I knelt in the front yard with the sprinkler barraging my back.

I had just discovered that someone had hanger-wired my side gate to a rotted 4 x 8 rather than effecting a genuine repair.  I have no idea who, or when.  I can only imagine why.  The  post has been deteriorating for several years, simultaneous with my own descent.  Unlike that piece of wood, I’ve still got some life in my veins.  I feel it surging, summoned by the voices of the angels heralding me from unexpected places.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Bobby & Dan Smith with their children, Greyson & Sadie. Bobby came to the house yesterday, an angel with an electric drill.


Along with being an expert faller, I’m fairly adept at floating.

Oh, not the kind of floating that we did as little kids, in the above-ground pool on the shopping center parking lot where bored teenagers demonstrated the dog paddle.  I don’t know what came after Pollywog because in the three summers that the Y taught swimming in my neighborhood, I never made it past level one.

I couldn’t float in water.

But I could float through the air in the few seconds between fall and impact.  Though the ground rose with alarming speed, I had plenty of time to imagine death, disfigurement, and disaster.  Later, I took tumbling classes at my mother’s bidding.  I learned protective motions which ultimately limited the broken bones to three or four, mostly in adulthood.  I became skilled at the kind of rapid-fire thought necessary to survival.  Time slowed while I twisted my torso and raised my hands to protect my head.  I stopped time.  I floated, just for a nano-second but nonetheless exhilarating.

On that memorable day when I got hit by a VW Cirocco driven by a crazy man from Persia, I  soared upwards, to the angels, then drifted to the ground in slow motion while the grandest guardian of them all reached her hand to guide me.

Floating.  I floated downward, thudded on the hood of the VW, and crashed into its windshield.  All the while, the same thought reverberated in my mind:  Well, I’m not going to die of a head injury, anyway.  My arms had wrapped themselves tightly around my mass of curls, just as I’d been taught so many years ago on a mat in a dance studio in Jennings, Missouri.

The most glorious floating that I ever did occurred at 5:00 a.m. outside my home in Brookside,  My neighbor Marcella found me dazed and bloody in the evergreen bush.  What happened, she asked in a stunned voice.  I came out to get the newspaper, I answered, taking her offered arm and wiggling to the steps.  She nodded.  I didn’t tell her that I had been there since before dawn.  I shook the needles from my robe and thought about the instant between slip and crash, the split-second of total release as I floated head-first towards the driveway.

I float in other ways, too.

My long strange odyssey from the cardiologists at St. Luke’s to Stanford Medical Center began with an urgent need to know what caused my dizzy spells.  We never found out.  Their frequency has slowed, but they still happen from time to time.  I float, but only in my head.  My body stays still.  Sometimes this happens before I open my eyes in the morning.  My mind becomes aware. I know I am awake.  But in that brief spate of time between waking and blinking, my mind floats.

I cannot lie:  The sensation feels exquisite, even if I’m sure it means that I’ve got something wrong with me that no one understands.

My heart has been floating for the last three years.  My life turned right and I stood still.  Some terrible lurch started which has not yet brought me to the ground.  I’m prepared for the worst.  But until it comes, I glide through the air in slow motion with something close to grace.

It’s the twenty-third day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




I’ve been an expert faller all of my life.

I started with treehouses and top bunks.  I’ve fallen down stairs and across walkways.  I fell at my high school and college graduations, stumbling on the stage boards.  My mother strained to distinguish me from a hundred other gown-clad law school graduates until I took a nose-dive off the edge of the steps.

I’ve fallen for lousy lines and cagey schemes.  I’ve taken many a tumble head-first into bushes and through flimsy screens.  I’ve fallen short of every expectation of those who crave conformity with their own standards.   I’ve fallen below sea level.  Once I fell off of a third-story balcony into a bank of snow.

My clotting time regularly falls into the danger zone, leaving me sluggish and limp.  My temperature hovers two degrees under the human average.  My voice often falls so low that it won’t reach the bench in the smallest courtroom.

My jokes fall flat and my hopes fall into the distant dark days of a questionable past.

When I walk with people, I start out beside them but soon fall behind even the most leisurely pace.

I’ve fallen in love.  I’ve fallen in lust. I’ve fallen on hard times.  I’ve fallen onto every floor in my house so often that permanent hand smudges  from my struggles to get back on my feet mar the door frames.  I’ve fallen twice in the shower just this month.

I fell for every practical joke that my big brothers played and a few concocted by the mean girls in high school.

I’ve fallen silent.

It’s been a long day.  I spent a lovely hour or two in a home to which I had not been invited for almost four years.   I did a few chores; I read some poetry; I watched a television show about building yurts.  Now I’m tired.   But I’m not complaining.  It’s the twenty-second day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.   Life continues.



One of Those Days

You know the day will hold challenges when you briefly contemplate whether you need glasses to find your glasses.

By the time I finally snagged mine from where they had fallen, the alarm had been sounding from my Android for several minutes and put itself to sleep.  Thank God, I muttered, stumbling to the bathroom as I jammed my thousand-dollar specs on my bloated face.

Old age poses challenges.

I stepped on the scale, muttered some more, then grabbed yesterday’s coffee from the desk.  As I passed the alarm panel, I miraculously remembered to deactivate it which meant the new neighbor wouldn’t jump out of his skin when I let the dog outside.  Welcome to Brookside!  Hope you aren’t a light sleeper!

I hit the two-minute button on the microwave to warm that leftover java.  Heating coffee seems to be the only thing for which I ever use the silver box, but dang, how convenient that can be at times.  When you spent $11.00/pound on beans, no sense pitching the six ounces you don’t drink right at first.

At the back door, I have a moment of thankfulness that I found a company to mow.  Never mind that they trampled the tulips about to burst with color around the front of the house.  What little grass clings to the scratchy earth by the street can now see the sun, the old moldy leaves having been raked to smithereens.  I feel kind of bad that the foot-high purple clover in the back has been shorn, but I don’t miss the dandelions and at least I can see the dog sniffing along the back fence line.

Five minutes work gets me perfect scrambled eggs and I sit down to read the digital New York Times.  Bannon’s out; Sessions slams Hawaii; the White House wants to take away our medical insurance again. Ugh.  I move over to Facebook and spend a few minutes smiling at the photo of Leslie and Kurt with their new baby.  Couple number one on the dance floor produces a perfect Little Sailor who no doubt already has her father right where she wants him.

Pale sunlight dances outside my windows.  I sip luke-warm leftover coffee and think about the day, the weekend, May, and the rest of the year.  The tide hovers, about to turn.  I might have choices.  I could be cleaning cupboards and jettisoning extra baggage.  The hold could spring a leak.  Waters could rise.  Winds could rage.  A twister might carry me to a magic land or dash me to the cracked earth.

It’s one of those days when I can’t be certain if I’m  depressed, hallucinating, or just about to break out of the deepest part of the woods.  But I’m not complaining.  In the immortal words of the late Judge Leonard J. Hughes, Sr., Ladies and gentlemen, I woke up this morning, which is more than a lot of people can say.  So let’s get the show started.

It’s the twenty-first day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



I surround myself with pictures.  They crowd my walls in cheap frames and overflow from shelves onto the cracked concrete of the basement floor.  They spill from cabinets and drawers and some even sit on the yellowed pages of the cumbersome albums we used to collect in the analog years.

The thought of parting with all these memories frightens me.  Should I shred the lot?  Should I sort through them and find the photos of people who have long since died?  Will my son want to bear the burden of the boxes of envelopes crammed with Polaroids and Kodacolor prints with curled edges?

A sheaf of photographs topples into my arms when I scrounge on the highest shelf of the cedar closet.  I collapse into the nearest chair and hold the mess, lifting the pictures to the window’s light.  Here is my son in kindergarten surrounded by the same trio of boys who spent every weekend together.  Here are the mountains where I felt so isolated, the staggering beauty lost on me as I wept each morning.  Here are the faded testimonies to love, and life, and laughter; to loss and longing.

I’m overwhelmed by mounds and mounds of memories.  I’m not complaining — or maybe just a little.   Duty draws me away from these reveries.  I push the pictures aside, and head for the hills.  Another day, I tell myself.  Another day, I’ll decide what to do with all of this.

It’s the nineteenth day of the fortieth month of My Year  Without [Too Much? Maybe Just A Little?] Complaining.  Life continues.


For the last several days, I’ve been feverishly attending to the duties of a family law practitioner with an active practice and inadequate assistance.  But I’m not complaining:  I haven’t fallen; I got a fairly good settlement in a difficult case with uncertain trial potential; and spring has sprung.

The ghost of a poem has been trying to form itself in my mind of late.  I’m a terrible poet, especially considering that my greatest aspiration during high school involved The New Yorker and poetry.  A would-be lover once browsed through my scribbling and pronounced the pages to be worthy of the trash-bin.  Mediocre at best, he said.

I sent him packing and thew his faded flowers out the window after him.  They fell four stories and landed in a heap on the sidewalk.  I felt a bit sad, seeing the petals scattered all over the concrete.  I did not mourn his retreating footsteps.

But he had it right, I admitted years later.  Only a  handful of the verses which I’ve penned over the years can be considered worthy of a second reading.  Three got published, and the smart editor of Eads Bridge set them on the page as one.  “Red”, “Green” and “Blue” became stanzas of a flowing imagery, colors of my life.  The words never left me.  They’ve been rattling around in my brain for decades; and they rattle still.

Say what you will of me.  Thirty-nine years ago this month, I wrote one decent triptych of a poem.  I’m counting that as success, even if it only got published in a long-defunct “little” in St. Louis, Missouri, and not The New Yorker.  I can die satisfied.

It’s the seventeenth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

its rage is great
its enthusiasm endless
its beauty renowned

while GREEN is only
the chilled way
and the cool voice
that I use
to send you home.

And what is BLUE
but all that I have in me?
The rain we felt in April
the wind;
all the flowers that you gave me.
Dresses that I wore to school;
mirrors from which my image shown;
a butterfly trapped briefly, then released;
a child – once real – then gone.
More, much more;
too much to say —
but there;
and all in BLUE.

c. C. Corley 1978

To John — or his memory — with love


On the way to Liberty this morning, the concept of needing help haunted me.

A conversation with my secretary (slash) friend Miranda prompted the spectre of helplessness to linger.  I told her that I had fallen that morning.  Anybody could have fallen like this, I rationalized.  I reached for the door frame, missed, and the momentum carried me to the floor.

As I did what I’ve been taught to do to avoid serious injury, flashes of resentment coursed through my brain.  Damn damn damn,  I muttered, even as I twisted to face upright and threw my shoulders forward.  The motion landed me on my butt, just as it’s intended to do, but my head jerked back and I got a good goose egg for my efforts.

Better a goose egg than broken teeth or a concussion.  But after last week’s nasty wrenched back, I had the mindset of going a week or three without further mishap.

Miranda told a story about seeing a man one morning at a gas station disembark from a van pulling his wheelchair behind him.  The man had no legs.  She later explained the man’s situation to her four-year-old daughter, who doubtless had never seen anyone so impaired.  I didn’t know whether to help or not, Miranda admitted.  I figured he probably knew how to take care of everything himself.

Ah, yes.  The age-old dilemma:  To help or not to help.

When confronted with a person struggling to get through a door or off the ground, the important point to keep at the forefront of your mind involves the reason you might offer assistance.  Here’s the thing.  Whether or not I need or want help has nothing to do with the person making the offer.  It has only to do with me.  Your offer of help and my response does not measure the strength of your devotion or the quality of your character.  I do not judge your manliness or virtue by the arm you offer or the hand you extend.

And sometimes, I don’t want help.

Sometimes, I don’t want to need help.

Other times, I want help to silently arrive in the form of a miracle that will lift me from the ground and reverse the clock so I’ll never have fallen.  The other customers in the store won’t have seen the instant flood of tears or the wobble in my walk.  A bag of apples won’t have spilled across the tile.  My pride and my derriere will be unbruised.  I won’t regret existing.  I won’t feel stigmatized, inept, or ugly.

Other times, I want to be quickly pulled from the ground by two strong hands and dusted lightly, reassured that I’m not an idiot by the unspoken word in a brief touch on my arm.

If stairs confront me, I judge the likelihood of my steady ascent and do a weird tri-point measurement.  My hand, a wall, my feet.  I crab-walk down.  I can manage reciprocating stairs on the ascent.  I know where the side of a building or the hull of a plane will be if I fall.  Of someone else’s body, I’m less certain.  I’ve had sixty years to figure out how much weight I can bear depending on what time of day, what shoes I’ve managed to buckle onto my feet, and how emotional I feel.

I don’t know if the concept of help complicates the lives of all disabled persons in quite the same way.  I’m sure I over-think the whole affair.  Maybe the fact that I’ve had encountered more than my share of people who made me promises that they didn’t keep taints my ability to trust, even in the briefest of social encounters associated with a hand offered in a restaurant.

But there it is.  When you offer to help me, I don’t know how to respond.  I might know just what you can and cannot do for me but I might not trust myself to lean on you or your arm to hold me.  I might have an intricate compensatory set of muscle reflexes that will do the trick, and adding your body into the mix might put us both in danger of collapse.  Or maybe I’m just pissed at the intractable realities of my body’s limits.

So if you see me, and I look like I need help but I scowl in your direction, please don’t take it seriously.  Just raise an eyebrow and lift one hand.  If I need help and am able in the moment to accept  it, I will be grateful.  If I don’t need help, or if I’m overwhelmed by my own inadequacy, please don’t take offense if I remain silent or turn away.  Don’t get upset if I stumble forward even if my lurch terrifies you or you think that I’m deliberately ignoring you.  It’s not personal.  At least, not to you.  I might just be biting my tongue to keep from complaining.

It’s the fourteenth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Who I am and Why I persist

I am an eater of mandarin oranges.

I stand at the entry way to every Rotary meeting and flash a smile at the members as they come through the door.

My feet pinch in regular ladies’ shoes.  I clomp around in the heaviness of vintage Doc Martens and Mary Jane’s with thick straps and black buckles.

Standing in front of the mirror clipped to an old door leaning against the bedroom wall, I hold the gaze of the woman staring back.  One of her eyes droops, and her teeth do not gleam.

I sit in the driveway listening to the end of the episode of Moth which started playing on the way home.  I strain to hear the passion in the voice of a man describing how he argued with the Italian ladies at the Deli Counter who wanted to be served before him.  He only needed a quarter pound of Boar’s Head roast beef so he could go home and sit in a miserable heap at the kitchen table.

I could relate.

On my fridge  shelf, I have six cans of Le Croix (plain); a half-empty container of hummus; two dozen eggs; a loaf of Gluten Free bread; and an assortment of bottles which I can’t remember having opened or used.

I have four types of coffee makers, none of which uses electricity.  I boil water in a tea kettle to pour over the grounds for three of them.  One sits on a burner and makes a perfect cup of espresso in four minutes.

In the morning, I drink dark-roast coffee from heavy crystal mug that my friend Paula’s daughter left at the house one time when she baby-sat the dog.  In the evening, I brew tea in one of three infuser mugs that I got as gifts from different women who love me and know that I don’t like tea from bags.

I prefer metal hair pins to any other form of ornament.  Everybody compliments my French braids and my chignons but I like my hair down and wavy.

I cry at Hallmark commercials.

Whenever possible, I keep people in my life — sometimes against their better judgment.

I have blue eyes; I’m right-handed; I have to wear European shoes because American sizes don’t fit my arthritic feet.  I have an uncanny knack for self-deception.  I have not mastered the art of budgeting,.  I lack the talent for predicting success.  I’ve never acquired the confidence to stride in any room with my head held high.

Nothing in life has quite gone the way I expected.

But I’m not complaining.  I still believe that hope floats.

It’s the twelfth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Unbroken Circles

In May of 1993, I moved into my home in Brookside.  At the time, it had a screen porch.  I filled shelves with potted plants and watched the flowers bloom all summer.  In the fall, I hauled the containers indoors, pinched their dead flowers, and started feeding them.

By the next spring, two or three had survived.  I gathered the stragglers, and the pots of dry earth with wilted sticks of dead coleus, impatiens, and begonias.  I took the whole lot back outside.  I swept the porch, hosed down the screens, and took my son to Soil Service for our Memorial Day gardening event.  On the way home, we detoured to buy a new flag to hang on the house.

I’ve followed this ritual every year since then.  The old porch has been replaced by one with a beautiful facade and open archways.  A deck sprouted beyond it one year, giving me more room for planting.  A few years ago, as spring started to arrive earlier and earlier, my annual porch-plant-potting accelerated; first to Mother’s Day weekend, then to Easter.

Yesterday, I found myself at sixes-and-sevenses, grumpy and vague, wanting something to break loose and free me from the gloom which seems to be clinging to me for too long.  I drove to Soil Service and browsed among the annuals, filling a small cart with herbs, and daisies, and a few white begonias in round plastic containers.

I spent a cheerful hour with my rough red hands plunged in rich, dark potting soil.  My back protested but I kept going until all the little plants stood on tables and shelves around me.  Then I sat, wrapped myself in a shawl, and closed my eyes.  The wind whipped around me.  The dappled sunlight filtered through the trees and barely warmed my face but still, it felt good.

I don’t know what next year will bring.  Perhaps I will linger here.     Perhaps I will find somewhere else to rest my bones, or another porch on which to rock as the sun sets.  This house has too many rooms for me, and too many ghosts.  But wherever I am — here, there, or somewhere else entirely — I feel certain that I will celebrate the new season in the same way: surrounded by flowers; comforted by gentle sunlight, light breezes, and the hope of unbroken circles.

It’s the tenth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.