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Be The Change

All the good stories of the past have been told.

The bad stories of the past have been referenced as obliquely as possible; as clearly as necessary; and with as much empathy as time and healing allowed.

Now it is time for me to embrace change.

Now it is time for me to be the change that I want to see.

For that reason, I have brought together a committee of courageous women, and a cadre of survivors who use their art to signal their own determination to embrace change.  Together, and with your help, we come together to support two agencies which also understand that those who have experienced violence must survive and thrive.

On Saturday, 23 September 2017, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., all of us will unite to present HOPE FLOATS: Surviving and Thriving after family violence.  We aim to raise funds and awareness.  The money raised in our silent and live auctions, our raffles, our tip jars, and in direct contribution, will be equally divided between SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center.  These agencies provide crucial services to women and children who have experienced family violence.

Please join us.  Bring your checkbooks, your wallets, your compassion, and your empathy.  The evening’s entertainment and art augment the primary purpose of the gathering, which is to provide a venue for contributing as much as you can to these extraordinary facilities.

But additionally, the venue allows survivors to have a voice.

We do not focus on blame or shame.  We want to cast aside feelings of victimhood.  Rather, we join arms to salute each other; the staff of SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center; the clients whom they serve; and you, who understand and appreciate what community can do for survivors in need.

Because I know the statistics, I realize that my words might be reaching many who themselves have survived the terrible trauma of domestic violence.  This entry might in fact fall into the inbox or onto the social media feed of some still caught in the throes of violence in their home.  If you find yourself grappling with such a situation, KNOW THIS:  You, too, can break free.

We know it is not easy.

We know in fact that it is damnably difficult.

But there is help.

You can call SAFEHOME’s 24 hour crisis line at: 913-262-2868.

You can call Rose Brooks Center’s 24 hour crisis line at: 816-861-6100.

You can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-(SAFE) (7233).

You are not alone.

I know, too, that I am not alone.  I could not have pulled off the preparations for this event without Miranda Erichsen, Karla Hull, Lori Hooten, and Jilli Nel.  Our fabulous participating artists, Lori Hooten, Jill Huxtable, Ruthie Becker, and Amy Fisher put themselves on the line to show their genuine emotion depicted in visual art and the written word.  The Accidental Project performs and will auction off a house concert.  Jackson County PA Jean Peters Baker, Johnson County DA Steve Howe, and Family Court Commissioner Martina Peterson again appear to support this effort with their knowledge and their words.   A host of individuals and businesses have contributed to the auction, the raffle, and the evening’s fare.

The event will be truly stellar.  I hope you will attend.

I know some of you have already sent donations, and thank you. Others have indicated that they are not available tomorrow due to prior commitments, but that you will be sending donations, and we thank you for that as well. You can mail checks made out to either SAFEHOME or Rose Brooks Center, to me:

M. Corinne Corley
CORLEY LAW FIRM
4010 Washington, Suite 100
Kansas City, Missouri 64111

Write “HOPE FLOATS” in the memo section, and we will include your donation when we tender the proceeds to the agencies. The agencies will send tax receipts for your monetary donations.

We are expecting a good crowd, despite the fact that it’s coinciding with the second night of the Plaza Art Fair. Our silent auction bidding starts at 6:00 p.m.  The official welcome, and introduction and remarks by speakers, commences at 6:45. The live auction starts at 8:00 p.m. Bidding closes on the silent auction at 8:45. Raffle drawings will be held intermittently. You do not have to be present to win an item in the silent auction, but you must be present to win in one of the raffle drawings.

I chose the slogan of HOPE FLOATS because of the touching and sweet imagery of the Sandra Bullock movie.  But I choose tonight’s message, “Be The Change”, and the attached image, in honor of my sister Joyce Corley, for whom transformation has so recently blossomed, and without whom my own change would never have been possible.

I hope to see you all tomorrow night.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Corinne Corley

You don’t know this new me. I put the pieces back differently. — Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

Home again, home again

I arrived at HI Fisherman’s Wharf with half a tank of gas in the rental car and zero energy.

The appointment at Stanford on Monday held mixed reviews.  Peppered through the doctor’s Colombia gushing, pronounced in his adorable thick accent, words like “challenged mitrochondria” rolled over phrases like “compound the normal aging process”.  These dire warnings sounded only slightly less daunting when articulated by a twinkling man twenty years my junior who kept patting my knee.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him (a) that’s considered misogynist; and (b)  I can’t feel anything in that knee since it’s artificial.

He adjusted one medication and added another, a controversial “off-formulary” use about which I would murmur and assent to taking but secretly plan to vet.  With cautions like “don’t overdo it” and “you’re no young any more, Missus Corley”, the doctor shooed me down the hallway and scurried into the next room.  I stood at the counter waiting to talk to the nurse about the weird pharmacy requirements back home, feeling discouraged, wishing my flight could be moved to that day.

Ready to be home.

Home.  Where the heart is; where you hang your hat; where everybody knows your name; where my thoughts are creeping but nobody lies silently sleeping.

Instead of going “home”, I drove to San Francisco, to the hostel at Fisherman’s Wharf.  At the front desk, smiling Sarah checked me into the place two hours early so I could stroll down to the cafe and order a salad and a coffee.  The order-taker scouted a chair for me and nestled it by a tiny table.  I gazed over the Bay with my salad balanced on my knee and my electronics off, secured, unbidden.

I did nothing much of anything for hours.  In the evening, I fixed a simple supper in the ADA kitchen, then took my Kindle to the expansive lobby.  After I had moved over to accommodate a woman sneaking white wine from a screw-top bottle hidden in a paper bag, I leaned into the sofa and let the piano music flow over me.  Through slitted eyes, I watched the player, a sixty-something with  iron-grey hair, a weathered face, and a dingy backpack hanging from bony shoulders.  He sang covers of seventies songs and stopped after each one to ask if anyone minded if he kept playing.  No one did.

By nine o’clock, I had crawled under the comforter in my bottom bunk in the women’s dorm.  Just before I slept, a woman named Sammi, from Taiwan (“my parents had a good sense of humor”) recounted her itinerary:  Bus to Los Angeles; then fly to Miami, Havana, New York, and London.  You are very brave, I told her, my voice weary, froggy with sleep.  Nice to meet you, Miss Corinne, she said, the last sound I heard before drifting away.

I woke at five, showered in the ADA bathroom, and made my way outside to the rental car.  An hour later, I sat in traffic, watching the sun rise over the hills, the first leg in my journey home.

It’s the twentieth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Serendipity

In the hostel kitchen yesterday morning, a woman from Alameda talked about her road to California from Indiana, following her daughter.  A couple in the corner of the living room greeted a girl from China with the only language that she confidently shared: Smiles and gestures to the chair beside them.

It’s dark now, not yet six and the sun has not begun its radiant show.  We saw only a glimpse of its flash as it set yesterday.  The shimmer on the water awed us until a bank of fog rolled over the horizon and blocked our view.  But  the gulls still swooped through the air.  Several of us lingered in the evening chill, hoping that the last rays of the day would dispense the barrier and find their way to the water.

In a few minutes, I will step outside the front door of this building, the dorm house called Dolphin, at which I always stay when I journey to Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel.  In my wool slippers with their leather soles, I will venture onto the roadway.  I can’t see the sunrise from the west  kitchen window by which I now sit, so I must be outside, in the cold.  I don’t mind.  The earth makes its effortless turn. I shall be in attendance to watch this brief moment of the long journey.

Conversation ebbed and flowed in the house last evening.  A chance remark about religion brought the story of a woman writing her memoirs, along with an explanation of her blog on digital chaos.  I asked a gentleman how he fared, and stopped typing to listen to his genuine reply.  I offered coffee to the women traveling in a pack through their visit here; one of them accepted, and later held a door for me as I struggled to the room for sleep.  That’s how we roll, we hostel dwellers, we traveling restless souls.

The same group of women sat on the back porch talking about their lives, their loves, and the decisions which brought them to this instant in their lives.  I could have been another crow, inches from their table, for all they heeded  my presence.  I closed  my eyes and let their words flow over me.  I yearned to draw the lot of them into my embrace and assure them that their choices would be sound.  Just let it unfold as it will, I longed to advise them.  Don’t second-guess yourself.

The Indiana gal hugged me in the parking lot, then stood aside for her husband to do the same.  Isn’t serendipity a beautiful thing, she said.  Then they got into their truck and left, waving, smiling, watching me until they turned from the parking lot to Pigeon Point Road.

Indeed, I whispered in reply, to no one, to everyone, to the gulls in their breathtaking, beautiful, endless pattern of flight overhead.

It’s the seventeen day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Please click on the gallery to see the images in full.  Thank you.

Evening at the edge of the world

As fate would have it, the call from one of my doctors at Stanford set off a chain of events that typify my life.

Ms. Corley, came the gracious, slightly lilting accent of the handsome, extraordinarily talented Jaime Lopez, M.D.  Are you still in Missouri, or are you in California already?  I listened for a few moments, replied, and murmured my assent to his request to change my 9:00 a.m. Friday appointment to Thursday afternoon.  Any time, said Dr. Lopez.  Three, four, five, it doesn’t matter, I will be there when you arrive.  Just call this number, it’s my personal cell phone.

I left Montara then, making my way east to the Delta Bay.  Along the way, I stopped and bought dates at the market just as I turned from one highway to the last leg of the journey.  Then I drove along Brannan Island Road, and thus into the heart of the Delta, where the San Juaquin gets lazy, and the boats drift, and the people lift their hand from the steering wheel as you pass.

Later, I slipped back down the interstate and crossed into Palo Alto from the South Bay bridge.  My breath never left my body for the entire trip, as the sun rippled on the waves and the tiny birds skimmed across the surface.  I pulled into the parking lot at 4:30, texted Dr. Lopez, and then entered the building just as the evening staff came on duty.

We talked for quite a while, Dr. Lopez and I.  He explained about the conference at which he had agreed to speak, thinking it was Saturday.  We talked about his lecture, on the allocation of resources for neuro-diagnostic services.  He explained his theory of putting aside a strict cost-benefit analysis favored by the administrators, and focusing on quality, patient perception, and result.

Then he applied the deadly toxin to my spastic legs, deep into the muscle, talking all the while in his melodic Mexican voice.  Later he would tell me how astonishing he found his life.  He came to America legally, with his parents at age four.  He said, I tell my colleagues, I will not starve.  I can do a little work for free.  I asked if he had grown up in poverty.  He smiled, leaned against the elevator door, and nodded.  Unbelievably poor, and look at me now.  This is why I do things for people in need, because of the bounty which is my life.

The elevator doors closed on the brilliant flash of his smile and the warm brown glint of his eyes.

That night, as I curled to sleep in the little bed in the tiny house which I had secured online for the one night in Palo Alto, I thought about his good fortune, and mine for finding him and the other doctors who have helped me.  A surge of humility overcame me and kissed my dreams as I slept.

In the morning, I went over e-mail and realized that a flood of messages had fallen into my inbox on the wake of a couple of telephone calls on one of my sticky-wicket guardian ad litem cases.  And so, because I had accommodated Dr. Lopez’s request to reschedule, I had three or four hours to devote to helping a ten-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother; and perhaps to set in motion changes which might relieve them of extraordinary anxiety.

As I wrote, I heard two men describing a program which they had started to teach yoga and mindfulness in the local schools.  Having just told my ten-year-old client to try yoga before bedtime as a way of easing into sleep, I found their conversation irresistible.  I shamelessly eavesdropped, then rose and gave them my card.  I introduced myself, took their names, and explained the appeal to me of their mission.

Then, suddenly, I had no further reason to tarry.   I made Half Moon Bay by noon.  Thus did I find myself in The Posh Moon, where a lovely woman in a navy blue hat sold me a sweet little present for my secretary Miranda’s five-year-old daughter, Aubrielle.  The same woman had tucked a little medallion of an angel into my hand when I complimented her hat.  She had no idea what angels mean to me.  I cried.  I admit it:  I stood at the counter and cried, having no shame, and certainly no concern for who might see.

Out on the sidewalk, I ran into Kristin Hewett, an artist whom I see year in and year out.  But she no longer has her shop and had moved to Oregon, so it made no sense that I could walk down the stretch of broken concrete in front of her old store just as she exited, having come to town to consign a few of her jewelry pieces and chat with the new owner.  No earthly reason brought me to that exact spot at the perfect time, except the chain of events which began the prior day with that call from Dr. Lopez.

We hugged one another, caught up on our respective lives, and exchanged phone numbers.  Then she hobbled on one bad knee, a cane, and a shaky leg up the three stairs into Silk and Stone.  She showed me the pieces of her design, and later, after she had left, I bought one for Miranda, who deserves all the gifts I can afford.

And then, at last, when lunch had been eaten and presents stowed in my suitcase, I made my way just a bit further east, to the Cabrillo Highway, and twenty miles south.  At three o’clock, I arrived at the place where my grand and glorious love affair with the sea began:  Pigeon Point.

I’ve eaten dinner now.  The other guests chattered at the table or took their bowls of rice and pasta to the picnic benches outside.  I sat over my potatoes and mushrooms, smiling, silent.  I gave one of them my oil to use, and offered corn tortillas.  I scooted further down so a young couple could sit adjacent to one another.  Outside of the kitchen window, the sun began to set, and I breathed — long, deep, and satisfying, that breath, like no other I have taken in the awkward weeks since my last visit here.

Night falls.  The gulls call to one another across the water, noting the dying light to the west.  Here in Dolphin, I sit alone at the table.  It always comes to this:  The setting sun, and the cry of the birds, and me, alone with my words.  My peace.  My joy.  Here, at the edge of the world, as evening draws to its gentle close.

It’s the fifteenth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Here in the west

Here, in the west, in Northern California, I wear Jenny Rosen’s purple socks without shame.  I sit at a kitchen table in full sight of other travelers, in pajamas and a melon-colored shawl.  I drive for hours and sit drinking coffee with an artist whom I hadn’t previously met but whose kinship I never questioned.

I watch the sea through the window of the hostel.  She ripples gently today.  Yesterday she rose to meet the fog and crashed against the rocks.  We smaller beings sat on benches awed by the dance.  Fog entwined itself around the pulsing waves of water.  The tendrils sparkled with the kiss of those other waves, waves of healing light from the autumn sun.  We humans, on our benches, did not question where we stood in the chain of power.

Out beyond the reach of my inadequate lens, a ridge of rocks rises from the sea.  I could see a  boat coming around its edge, if one should venture there.  But none does and the sea laps against those rocks undisturbed.  Seagulls rise and fall in their unfailing line across the pale sky.  Grey clouds glint with the promise of the day.  Here, in the west, on the edge of everything, I wonder if that  commitment extends to me.

It’s the fourteenth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

Here’s to the unknown mother

When Carolyn Karr’s husband dropped me at the airport, I had not yet had a cup of coffee.

My flight to LAX arrived 45 minutes ahead of its own schedule.  A young woman with tart brown eyes and red finger nails wheeled me with extraordinary efficiency to Gate 17A, and tarried in pretend activity waiting for a tip.  Had she not done so — had she smiled and started just as efficiently away — I would have drawn the smallest bill from my bag and given it to her.  But I knew that bill would be a five-spot, and she seemed so demanding.  Instead I bestowed my winningest smile, watching her respond with all the surliness of a disappointed tiger in heat.

The SWA employee at the gate desk gestured to a kiosk beyond my sight in answer to my query about the nearest coffee.  Shoved into a tiny wheelchair, with my computer bag in my lap and my cane dragging the floor, I could never have made it.  I peered down the concourse.  When I looked back at him, he had turned to the pretty woman on his right and begun a conversation about the date he had the previous evening.

Inconsistent though it might have been, I snapped his photo and posted it on the SWA Facebook page with a note that he had declined to assist.  I knew my need might have exceeded his jurisdiction but so many people help others despite the inconvenience.  He seemed insensitive; perhaps that’s what compelled me.   I pictured someone like my son — maybe very much like my son — running a program much like the program which he runs.  I wondered what that invisible person would say, the one who manages their social media.

Victoria, she called herself.  She invited me to ask for coffee on board the flight, two hours hence.  I did not use any sour language, just noted that my layover encompassed a long stretch for one who had drunk only water since the prior evening.  Victoria did not respond.  Perhaps her jurisdiction, too, had been surpassed.

So, coffeeless, I sat.

Then Holly came, the relief gate attendant, and a minute later she nipped down to the staff coffee pot and brought me a cup of the strongest stuff in seven states.  I drank it greedily and thought about the smile I had given her when I laughingly recounted the story of the Facebook post.  Then she started the announcements and I took her photo, too, and put it with the one of the guy who’d scored big, on a Sunday date with his wife.  She said, Did you take my photo?  I hope I looked good!  We had another chuckle just before she whisked me down to the plane.

An hour later, the airline with a heart safely delivered me to the city by the Bay, where I had left mine three months ago.  The woman who took control of me for the long ride to the car rental terminal weighed less than my suitcase.  I gave her the five.  She beamed.

I’ve never got the hang of unfamiliar blue tooth dashboards.  As I left the terminal, I struggled to figure out why the phone lady had lost her voice.  I’m sure I broke a dozen California statutes, holding my Google map in front of my eyes.  I strained to make sense of the route and then, just then, the highway dipped as highways do out here, and I saw her.

My Pacific.

Now I’m sitting in the hostel kitchen.  I’ve brewed my own coffee, and I’ve made the bottom bunk which they reserved for me.  I’ve tossed my sweater on the rail and stood by the rope at the point itself, gazing at the sea, as the fog lifted just slightly, stirred by the afternoon sun.

Here, in the East Kitchen of the hostel at Point Montara, I raise my mug to the mother who gave us the babe who would, by virtue of adoption, become Edward Albee.  I don’t know why she did not raise the child herself, but because of what I like to think of as her sacrifice, he came to the home in which he received the specific nurturing needed to develop his voice.  And by way of that voice, I stumbled upon my mantra, the words which drive me to this place even when I have to come by way of Los Angeles.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”  — Edward Albee, The Zoo Story.

It’s the twelfth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

North by Northwest from the back walk at the hostel at Point Montara Lighthouse, Montara, California.

The Best Advice I Ever Got

I’ve gotten a lot of good advice in my life.  But the best piece of advice which I ever received came from the woman whose birth we honor today.  My mother, Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, would have celebrated her 91st birthday today had she lived.  Instead, she never saw 59, succumbing to cancer on 21 August 1985.

I owe this woman everything.

My life, my attitude, my ability to persevere, and my relationship with my son.  I strove to parent my child with the same authenticity that my mother brought to the experience.  Admittedly, she made choices that I did not make.  She lived with an abusive husband who drank to the point of violent intoxication.  I had the choice to stay married to a man “with a drinking problem”, and as much as it pained me, I walked away to protect what remained of my son’s childhood.  My mother converted to Catholicism; that, too, I sloughed from my existence as unhealthy and destructive.

My burdens stem from my mother in large degree.  She kept us in a terrible situation, and the damage that I suffered as a consequence was, I suppose, her “fault”.

But in other respects, I admire my mother.  Even as I make my choices regarding when I would not or did not follow her lead, I concede that she had other variables at work.  She lived in a different time. She had fewer options.

She loved us, though, and she wanted us to know that she admired and cherished each one of us.  To me, in particular, she gave astoundingly unfailing encouragement.  One particular area concerned “my walking problem”, which we did not understand and could not skillfully manage.  Because the doctors could not explain why I “walked funny”, experienced severe pain, and tired easily, my mother could only tell me how to handle the state of affairs with which I found myself confronted.

Her advice stays with me, day in and day out.  Here is what she told me:

If you walk every day of your life, you will walk every day of your life.  So keep walking.

I knew what she meant.  Don’t let them put you in a wheelchair.  Don’t limit yourself by their predictions.  Do as Nana always told you:  Put your best foot forward.  Keep walking.

I’ve done that too.  Past all predicted dates of death or complete incapacity.  I’ve rejected doctors’ dire predictions and scoffed at therapists who wanted me to limit myself to part-time work or hobble myself with walkers and canes.  I understand that I put myself at some risk.  I’ve broken several bones.  But I can slow myself, get my bearings, and keep going.  I can do it.

Today I answered a Stanford survey in advance of next week’s quarterly check-up.  The questions seem absurd to me.  How often are you too tired to keep going?  How many naps do you take each day?  That was multiple choice.  Ten, twenty, forty?

Who has time to nap?

I imagine the average patient clocks themselves at 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 pain-wise, and admits to spending several hours each day resting.  I draw this conclusion because of side comments made by different doctors and their staff over the years.  Most famous among them was the nurse who insisted on calling me at home instead of my office during  the work day.  I finally asked her why she did that, even though her efforts were wasted since I am at the office 9 to 5.  Her reply amused me.  Most of our patients who are as bad off as you are, get disability.  They don’t work.  I just keep forgetting about you.

Me.  The stubborn one.  As her boss once said, I’m too stubborn to die.  One tough cookie.

After I finished the survey for Stanford, I logged into the Patient Portal and sent a message to my doctor.  I copy it here in full, for your amusement or edification:

To: Hector Bonilla, MD
From: Corinne Corley
Received: 9/10/2017 1:37 PM CDT

I received your CFS questionnaire. I answered the questions but it’s clear from the survey that whoever wrote it has no real feel for how most persons with disabilities strive to live. I work full time (and always have), I have friends, I participate in activities, I do charitable work, all “normal” activity for me. This continues despite how hard it is, how much pain I am in, how tortured my body is, etc. The reason I do, is because, if you don’t, you surrender to your disability. I have lived this way all of my life, no more, no less. I would no sooner succumb to my disability or medical condition than I would cut off my right hand. Which is to say, I would not. You get up, you get dressed, you show up, life continues. Your survey is largely irrelevant to me. I might be tired, because I’ve always been tired, but I keep going. I suppose you have patients who feel as tired and in as much pain as I do, who go to bed when they are tired or in pain. But I am not one of them.

 

I had more to say, but I hit the word limit.

 

Happy birthday, Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley.  If there is a heaven, I know you went there when you died.  You’re probably not resting, though.  You have the little kids organized into games on the lawn.  You’re making pickles, and canning fruit.  You’re on your knees in the celestial garden planting bulbs, covering them in two or three inches of perfectly enriched soil.  I know you, Mom. You won’t sit still for a moment.  You’ll cuddle the babies and hold the hands of the old women.  That’s just the way you roll.

 

Here on earth, I’m still walking.

 

It’s the tenth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

The End of Innocence

I have been crafting a list of all the labels that have been put on me this week.

I least like “too intense” and “contradictive”.  The latter isn’t really a word, not in American English any way.  But it reminded me of the dreaded nursery rhyme which uses my first name.  “Mary, Mary, quite contrary”.  I get hives just thinking of the number of  boys who stumbled behind me shouting that poem.

The same person who said that I was too intense also expressed grave concern about my taking care of myself, so I found forgiveness easier than usual.  I get it; I’m too intense, so you want me to go away but you don’t want me to suffer or want for anything.

I sorted through all the condemnations, the categories, and the names, looking for good.  Even the judge who said I was “thorough” looked askance, as though I had caused too much trouble.  I remembered that she had appointed me; that I wouldn’t be paid for the case; and that my client had been molested by some unknown person.  I shrugged.  So sue me.

I’ve given up wondering if somebody, somewhere, assesses me as something other than the litany of failure that all their appellations seem to suggest.  But my innocence slides to the floor, like a satin slip in a soundless hotel room.  I won’t complain.  I’ve chosen most of my steps.  I set myself on this path.  I had to have known that my true character would eventually show through the clumsy facade, despite my best efforts.

I take my time stacking the index cards on which I’ve noted the ways in which others want me to change.  I wrap a band around them and shove them into a drawer.  I close it carefully, and walk away.  I’m not bold enough to toss them out, but I won’t leave them around to glare at me when I leave dishes in the sink or spend too much on groceries.

It’s evening, on the eighth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

 

While In The Bosom of Family

The day unfolds with its usual awkward grace.   After coffee and shower, I carefully wrap two fragile items which need to go from me to someone who has taken a path away from me. I nestle them in a box that I’ve culled from the stack of bins.  Then I carry the box to the footwell of the Prius for transport.  I pretend not to see the piece of my heart caught in the folds of the bubble wrap.

At the grocery store, I run into an old friend who works there.  We give each other insincere hugs and plastic smiles.  I press him to tell me how he is, though I can see it in the crimson streaks splintering his eyes.  I suppress a gasp at the stern set of his jaw.  I think, but do not say, that alcohol has gotten the better of him.

I’m greeted at the door of my office building by the impossibly young woman who serves as my secretary, despite my flaws, despite the mountains she must climb to meet the task.  She reaches into the car to draw out all the things which I cannot carry.  Juggling her load, she holds the door of the building so that I may enter. I’m halfway up the stairs before the absurd tenderness assails my senses.  I choke on my gratitude and the moment passes.

A little while later, after I get control of my morning, I sit and listen to a grandmother cry about the four-year-old who does not yet speak, who cringes at the sight of her mother, at the foul language of the maternal grandfather and the shenanigans of the child’s mother.  Her son sits by her side, rarely speaking, bursting forth once in a while.  What I read between the lines tells me more than their words.  The son, who is my actual client, leaves after an hour.  We women sit and speak with an unguarded frankness, of her boy, and his baby, and all that she fears.

At one, the three women who serve on my benefit’s organizing committee arrive.  We go through the agenda, item by item.  I feel unsettled by the process.  I speak my piece on a few hard items, try to keep us on task, and once again succumb to the inevitable wave of admiration for their spirit. I do not feel up to their standard, but I try.  At least I try.

Miranda, the faithful secretary, spends a half hour listening to my sorrow and then, I leave, to go prepare for the potluck supper which my Rotary Club hosts each First Thursday.  We’ve adopted an apartment building which houses young adults aging out of the foster system. Each tenant has a developmental disability, but despite challenges, most have jobs or attend school.  We’re having a taco bar for them this month.  I’m to bring vegetarian baked beans, since I don’t eat meat, flour, or dairy.  I find myself laughing as I hurry back to the store for ingredients and then, home. . .

. . . where I find, on my doorstep, a belated birthday present from my son.  I open the card.  As I read what he has written, I begin to weep in earnest, noisily, without relent.  The present seals the deal.  He’s shot an arrow tipped not with poison but with love.  It hits its mark and I collapse into a chair, unable to keep myself upright any longer.

An hour later, I pull into the parking lot of 7540 Washington for our Community Partnership dinner.  A group of young folk sit at the picnic table in the little yard.   As I get out of the car, several stand and say, Do you need help? They move over to me then, without waiting for my answer.  I gesture to the warm pan on the seat beside me, and one of them lifts it, and says, What else can we do?

Together we enter the building.  One of the Rotarians comes over to me and exclaims, I didn’t know you would be here!  

And there, in the bosom of family, I find my peace, if only for an hour.

It’s the eighth day of the forty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Though this cell phone shot does not do the piece justice, what you see is a digital image of my house, with our first pet, the loyal cat Sprinkles, in the rocker; and our last pet, the brave dog Little Girl, an 18-year-old whom we rescued as a pup in 2001, sitting on the floor in front of the steps.

Digital Image c. Patrick C. Corley, 2017

 

Both Sides Now

Two birthday presents.  Two friends.  Two sides to the same person.

As I sat, admiring the two gifts that I received from two women whom I greatly admire, I reflected on the marked difference.  Yet each pleased me.  Each bore the unmistakeable stamp of the giver and of the disparate views of my persona that I imagine each has.

One delicate, symbolic, religious.

One vivid, bold, modern.

I’ve recently been pegged, again, as damaged and needing therapy.  The remarks resonated with me, but I’m “not the therapy kind”, to quote a former client.  I’ve tried it; I get its virtues, but as a methodology, it falls flat for me.  So I plug away at reintegrating the cracked pieces.  The jigsaw of my shattered soul comes together slowly, with a few ragged edges.  I strain to figure out where all the dicey bits fit.  I gather the discarded hammers left by the brutes who broke me.  I tuck them away in a jumble of tools which I keep on the off-chance that they might one day be useful.  It’s a messy process but by and by, I will succeed.

Meanwhile, here at  my elbow, I have two wildly different pendants which I will wear from time to time to adorn myself for the world to see.  One demonstrates my underpinnings and casts a gentle glint from a gilded edge.  One glistens with the flickering lights, mesmerizing, flashy.  I like them both.  I’ve a love/hate relationship with the religion from which one comes.  I have an aversion to seeming even mildly sure of my looks, which causes me to hesitate before donning the other.  So wearing either will force me to confront my own humanity, not to mention reminding me of the affection of each giver.

Life brings me so many chances to reintegrate my splintered self.  Here beside me, two lovely presents bring my opposing halves together, side by side, in unexpected harmony.

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